What happened was…
Full disclosure: at half-time we had a whole ‘nother post written. But soccer is a cruel and fickle sport. It might be the most cruel and ficklest.
Ajax, you deserved better. You also should’ve made some adjustments to shut down Lucus Moura.
While the narratives may not be as headline grabbing with Spurs as it would’ve been with Ajax, this is still an interesting match-up with many angles to cover.
Here are the narratives we expect to hear leading up to the game.
NARRATIVE ALERT #1: The Premier League is officially the best domestic league in the world!
It’s kinda hard to argue against this one now, right?
While the top of the top of La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A, and Ligue 1 (lol) are all among the top 7-8 clubs in the world according to FiveThirtyEight’s global soccer rankings (well, maybe not Juventus), England have four teams in the top 10 and the Premier League has dominated this year’s UCL.
Liverpool and Manchester City are the top two ranked teams in the world. All four Premier League teams in the Champions League made the quarters, and both finalists come from England. And with a few exceptions, any Premier League team can win on any given day.
These things tend to ebb and flow. Every few years one league is up, another is down. The Premier League is currently way up.
NARRATIVE ALERT #2: Soccer done the right way!
This point is a remnant from the assumed Liverpool – Ajax match-up, but it still holds, although for slightly different reasons.
Liverpool and Tottenham have overcome some serious obstacles to get here. These are resilient teams who, obviously, never give up. They score and are exciting on the counter-attack. They have star power (although Tottenham’s biggest star, Harry Kane, isn’t a given to return from injury, though recent reports are encouraging that he will).
Maybe it won’t be as exhilarating as Liverpool vs Ajax, but this will be a great match-up with two squads and coaches familiar with each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
NARRATIVE ALERT #3: Klopp and Poch are the best coaches in the world!
About those coaches…
Jurgen Klopp has already gotten his just due for the job he’s done at Liverpool. A Champions League win would be the icing on the cake there.
Mauricio Pochettino is respected for sure. This, however, takes him up a few notches.
Neither are up in the Pep Guardiola stratosphere yet, but both are on their way. Prepare for pundits going full-on drool emoji over Klopp’s style and philosophy and Poch’s tactical acumen.
One thing to watch for that will be fascinating: both coaches have been fantastic at making in-game adjustments and substitutions. This will be a chess match. The second half in particular could be stunning.
NARRATIVE ALERT #4: Why aren’t Liverpool heavier favorites?
Despite being a full 24 POINTS AHEAD OF SPURS in the Premier League table–Liverpool aren’t really that heavy a favorite.
Over on FanDuel Sportsbook NJ — odds are:
|Tottenham +280||Draw +250||Liverpool -105|
More specifically, Liverpool find themselves as -220 to lift the cup to Spurs’ +155.
Why aren’t they heavier favorites? They also beat Spurs twice this year already. Is it the familiarity of the teams? We’ll keep an eye out if public money starts hitting Liverpool hard and those odds adjust.
NARRATIVE ALERT #5: Redemption for Liverpool!
This one is tired, but you’ll surely hear about Liverpool redeeming themselves for last year’s loss to Real Madrid.
The loss was somewhat fluky. Sergio Ramos thugged out, tried to rip Mo Salah’s arm out of its socket, then cheap-shotted Loris Karius, giving him a concussion that led to two howlers.
This isn’t quite “2014 San Antonio Spurs” climbing back atop the mountain after a crushing finals defeat–but it is impressive nonetheless.
NARRATIVE ALERT BONUS: Is this Liverpool one of the best teams ever?
This one is only applicable if Liverpool somehow manage to pull out a Premier League title on Sunday (odds are against them, DraftKings Sportsbook NJ has City at -1000, Liverpool at +600).
But if they do…
Liverpool will have won the Premier League with the third highest point total ever. They’ll do so by toppling the reigning champs and greatest team in Premier League history, Man City.
They’ll have defeated the Bundesliga champs (Bayern Munich),
Primeira Liga champs/runner-ups (Porto), and La Liga winners (Barcelona) en route to the UCL crown. That’s after coming out of the “Group of Death” with Paris Saint-Germain and Napoli.
Maybe there have been better teams–but there hasn’t been a squad with a more challenging road towards winning titles.
In erasing a 3-0 deficit, Liverpool not only shocked Barcelona and the soccer world, but also asserted themselves as the clear favorite to win the EPL. The Reds’ futures at FanDuel Sportsbook NJ were last priced at -230 before Wednesday’s other semifinal between Ajax and Spurs.
Ajax appeared to be on its way to the UCL final, but lost in unforgettable fashion as Lucas Moura’s astonishing third (!) goal, in the 96th (!), gave Spurs the 3-2 win. Tottenham advanced on an aggregate score of 3-3 thanks to their away goal advantage.
Plenty has already been – and will be – said about what happened at Anfield Tuesday night, but here’s a quick look ahead at how they match up with Tottenham, which was left for dead at halftime Wednesday but pulled off a miraculous comeback.
Anyone who’s paid attention to the UCL knows how dangerous Tottenham are despite being shorthanded, but we’re talking about a Liverpool team as good as any we’ve seen in a while. A year after nearly winning the UCL, the Reds added PFA Player of the Year Virgil van Dijk and Premier League clean sheet-leading Alisson at two of the only positions where they needed upgrades. If not for a historic run by Manchester City, Liverpool would be closing in on a historic EPL-UCL double.
But can they do what nemesis City, among others, could not: turn away a Spurs team running on fumes but finding a way, one game after another?
Will Liverpool be able to overpower Tottenham?
Having gotten through City, the one team that is arguably more talented than Liverpool, in the quarters, Spurs are the last group likely to be intimidated by what Jurgen Klopp’s team pulled off Tuesday. Spurs can’t possibly be afraid of anything after what they pulled off Wednesday.
But they’re meeting a Liverpool squad that just outran and outmuscled Barcelona in unforgettable fashion.
It’s no secret that Barcelona’s a seasoned club. It was still staggering, however, to see the issues Barcelona’s thirty-somethings besides Lionel Messi — who struggled to play up to his own impossible standard – had against Liverpool’s collective athleticism. Luis Suárez was largely anonymous, Sergio Busquets looked completely overwhelmed and Jordi Alba had multiple awful turnovers. And those were by no means the only Blaugrana players who could not keep up.
A lack of footspeed will not be a major problem for a team as familiar with Liverpool as Tottenham. The question is whether an injury-depleted Spurs lineup will finally falter against the physical challenges they’re going to face from VVD, Jordan Henderson and the rest of a Liverpool squad that bullied Barcelona from the start yesterday. While I certainly don’t see Spurs responding by wilting the way Barcelona did, it will be fascinating to see how Mauricio Pochettino’s men react to the pressure of both the UCL final atmosphere at Wanda Metropolitano and their opponent.
Make no mistake, these teams deserve to be here
One thing is for certain: both of these teams are absolutely deserving of their spots in the finals.
Liverpool are en route to the third-highest point total in Premier League history. To get to the finals, they’ve beaten the Bundesliga champs (Bayern Munich), the potential Primeira Liga champs (Porto, though they’ll likely end up second), and La Liga champs Barcelona. A win against Ajax and they’ll have slayed the likely Eredivisie winners as well.
Tottenham made it out of a difficult group that included Barcelona, Inter Milan, and PSV Eindhoven. From there they conquered an in-form Borussia Dortmund that many expected to make some noise this Champions League campaign. After that, they only beat Man City and overcame a strong Ajax team on the road — DESPITE BEING DOWN 3-0 AGGREGATE AT HALFTIME — all with their best player, Harry Kane, injured.
No seriously, watch this–this actually happened:
In the meantime, keep an eye out for our 2019 UEFA Champions League Final predictions and combined starting XI next week.
MLS Matchday 11 odds are released. Starting off the week we already have four matches on Wednesday night, including our marquee match of the week:Atlanta United and Toronto FC.
MLS Matchweek 11 Game Odds
All listed odds from May 08 onFanDuel Sportsbook NJ.
|Wednesday, May 8|
|Atlanta United -180||Draw +340||Toronto FC +450|
|Columbus Crew +100||Draw +270||LA Galaxy +250|
|New York Red Bulls -135||Draw +280||Montreal Impact +380|
|Chicago Fire -165||Draw +310||New England +430|
|Friday, May 10||Draw +270||LA Galaxy +250|
|Vancouver Whitecaps +130||Draw +260||Portland Timbers +190|
|Saturday, May 11|
|FC Cincinnati +120||Draw +260||Montreal Impact +210|
|FC Dallas +100||Draw +260||New York Red Bulls +260|
|Toronto FC +100||Draw +280||Philadelphia Union +240|
|LA Galaxy +100||Draw +280||New York City FC +250|
|Columbus Crew +150||Draw +270||Los Angeles FC +260|
|New England -105||Draw +280||San Jose Earthquakes +250|
|Chicago Fire -120||Draw +280||Minnesota United +290|
|Colorado +105||Draw +280||Real Salt Lake +220|
|Sunday, May 12|
|Atlanta United -195||Draw +370||Orlando City +480|
Visit FanDuel Sportsbook NJ as games near for updated odds and, for NJ residents, to place your wagers.
Odds and Ends
- In our marquee match of the week, Atlanta United (-180) take on Toronto FC (+450) at home. We chose this match for a few reasons: 1) Atlanta had a fantastic upset versus Kansas City last week 2) Atlanta has yet to beat Toronto FC and 3) Barco will be missing from Atlanta’s line up as he is off with Argentina for the U20 World Cup. Pity Martinez, who is still without any assists or goals this season, will be leading the midfield for Atlanta against Toronto and their superstar transfer Pozuelo. The betting odds are in Atlanta’s favor but this match may prove to be more difficult than expected.
- Also playing tonight, New York Red Bulls (-135) take on Montreal Impact (+380) and things seem to be looking up for NYRB. Last week, NYRB put a stop to LA Galaxy’s 7 game winning streak in a 3-2 thriller. Now, NYRB take on Montreal Impact (who are currently sitting third in the Eastern Conference) at home again. NYRB have done well at home…let’s see if they can continue the trend.
- On Saturday, LA Galaxy (+100) will be back at home taking on New York City FC (+250) after their difficult loss to NYRB. This was their first loss in 8 games while New York City are coming off a 2-0 win in Montreal and have been unbeaten in the last 6 matches. In the last head to head match up between these two teams (March 11, 2019), New York City won at home 2-1.
Maurizio Sarri has to be breathing a BIG sigh of relief.
It shouldn’t last too long.
The good news
Chelsea’s win at Watford on Matchday 37 combined with exceedingly poor performances from Manchester United and Arsenal means that the Blues secure a top 4 spot in the Premier League. They have an automatic entry into the 2019-20 Champions League.
That’s the good news. Considering where they were at varying points of the season, it’s very good news indeed.
The bad news?
Well…Sarri is still in charge unless the rumors of AS Roma taking him away materialize (take that as you will, it is silly season).
Chelsea still have no technical director in place.
The transfer ban hasn’t been overturned (but Christian Pulisic can still come!), which leaves the Blues challenged with making the best of what they have on the bench today.
But wait, there’s more! Gary Cahill is seeking greener pastures (which makes sense, as Sarri hasn’t shown him the pitch often), among other potential transfers, of course leading to…
Last but certainly not least, Chelsea’s best player (and arguably one of the best in the Premier League, despite PFA voting) Eden Hazard is almost certainly leaving for Real Madrid.
Twitter-centric folks will also be quick to note that the Blues have bombed out of the FA Cup, EFL Cup, and Community Shield. With the UCL qualification in hand, it might do Sarri some good to rest his best vs Leicester City this Sunday. Chelsea still have a Europa League trophy to play for this season. They are odds-on favorites to claim the title. FanDuel Sportsbook NJ has them priced at -135. Arsenal follows at +165. While soccer is fluky and random, you’ve gotta like Chelsea’s chances if those two square off. Chelsea has the better team and will have the best player in Hazard.
Would UCL qualification plus a Europa League win make this first season under Sarri a success? It should. The two men he’s staring up at in the Premier League table–Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp–didn’t accomplish that much in their first seasons at Manchester City and Liverpool.
FC Cincinnati, somewhat out of the blue, fired manager Alan Koch on Tuesday. Koch had been with the club in the USL and helped it hit the ground running for their first MLS season. He is now the quickest manager fired by an MLS club in their debut season.
You don’t usually see quick triggers in this league. Hot-seat watchers across MLS (having a busy couple of weeks) assumed Koch had more time, and I admittedly hadn’t even considered the possibility of a managerial change this early in the season.
Cincy have looked pretty competent, for the most part, or a least more competent than you’d expect for a team canning their coach 11 games in. They haven’t been played off the field, and they don’t have defenders who may as well lay down and let the other team score, like the Colorado Rapids do. Koch sets his team up well enough to stay in games.
But scoring goals is as important or more important as stopping them, and Cincinnati do not do much of that. Koch loves his defensive midfielders so much that he plays them as his primary attackers. Unsurprisingly, Fatai Alashe and Eric Alexander are not piling up the goals and assists. FCC have scored a total of one goal since March 30, and have been shutout in five straight games.
Personnel part of the problem
The personnel, clearly, is a bit of a problem. There are holes all over the roster. Gambling on Fanendo Adi and Darren Mattocks as starting forwards has not gone well; in a combined 854 minutes, Adi and Mattocks have just one goal on the season, with Adi missing time due to injuries and a DUI arrest. Deciding on the correct defensive midfielders has proven a tough task for the tinker-y Koch, who also has no one to trust as an attacking facilitator.
While the backline has been the most stable element of the team, Koch hasn’t done the rest of the squad any favors with his constant changes and inability to settle on consistent personnel. He is constantly playing players out of position and revamping the team’s lineup game-to-game, erasing any chemistry or identity that might develop.
Koch’s tinkering was ultimately his downfall. Players started to lose support. Adi summed up all of FCC’s problems in a host of golden quotes provided to Cincinnati Enquirer writer Pat Brennan.
“We don’t have an identity yet. Of course, we’re a new team and a bunch of new players but we change formation and, you know, it’s no good … Obviously, we’re playing a lot of players out of position and this is something we need to identify.”Adi to Pat Brennan
Everything Adi said was relevant. He may as well have written this article for me. Koch realized he didn’t have the greatest personnel (he said as much) and compensated by changing everything all the time, trying to conjure some winning formula.
That never works. Jurgen Klinsmann tried it for the USMNT and you already know that didn’t work. Koch still put Cincinnati on the field with legitimate, hard-to-break-down organization (more than some MLS managers can say), but it’s hard to win when your manager switches everything up all the time. FCC muddled through a bunch of clean sheet losses and gradually fell down the standings, never producing a concrete identity or a favored group of players.
The final straw…
The final straw, evidently, was the loss in San Jose last week. The Quakes dominated for the first 45 minutes and held a 1-0 lead when they took a second yellow card, giving Cincy 40 minutes to equalize or take the lead against 10-man opposition. The game finished 1-0. FCC barely managed a significant chance on goal.
And thus went the organization’s confidence in Koch. General manager and club president Jeff Berding will look for another manager (David Moyes’s name is swirling), hoping to revive what they seem to perceive as a sinking ship.
Koch was an issue, but it was shocking to see him gone so soon, especially given the personnel Berding produced. FCC built this team in a way that was set up to fail; they spent too much (the Nick Hagglund trade is and was comical), they didn’t sign enough real attackers, and they left depth chart holes all over the place. It’s hard to fault Koch too much given the roster he had.
Now, they move on. They’ll need a more concrete style and lineup, and a manager who is able to maximize the talent at his disposal. We’ll see if this gamble pays off.