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May 22, 2019

2019 Champions League Final: Liverpool – Tottenham Combined Starting XI

Chops May 22, 2019

The 2019 UEFA Champions League Final is just 10 days away!

The Premier League’s two best teams who didn’t mislead UEFA over breaking FFP rulesLiverpool and Tottenham–will face off at Wanda Metropolitano Stadium at 3pm ET on June 1st.

Our Champions League Finals prediction panel all tabbed Liverpool to win with little issue.

Liverpool are odds on favorites to win the finals as well, priced at -210 on FanDuel Sportsbook NJ and -182 on DraftKings Sportsbook. Tottenham is +145 FanDuel Sportsbook NJ at and +150 DraftKings Sportsbook.

While Liverpool are the odds-on pick, they’re not as heavily favored as you’d expect for a team that finished 26 full points ahead of Spurs in the Premier League table (and almost +50 goal differential).

Does the Liverpool – Tottenham Champions League combined starting XI indicate the match up will be as close as oddsmakers think? Chops and Tyler Everett tackle that question. Let’s find out.

Liverpool – Tottenham combined starting XI

Chops: We really didn’t disagree on any of this. No screaming hot takes for the sake of screaming hot takes here.

Tyler: Not at all. Unless I decide to make a sudden and unexpected Daenerys Targaryen heel turn and bang the drum for more Spurs representation just for the sake of balance/entertainment, this is going to be a lot of Chops explaining why a Liverpool player deserves the spot, and me nodding in agreement.

Chops: Damn right!

Chops: Let’s start between the sticks. Alisson was the Golden Glove winner in the Premier League this year. He had 21 clean sheets. He’s come up huge in key moments throughout the year. Easy pick.

Tyler: Hugo Lloris has been solid in his own right, but Alisson has been excellent.

Virgil van Dijk would be a lock regardless of the opponent. The PFA Player of the Year had what might be considered a “bad day,” by his standards, in Leg 1 of the semis at Camp Nou. But he bounced back in a huge way at Anfield, terrorizing Barcelona’s front line and looking like the best player on the pitch for long stretches.

Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson have been huge for Liverpool all season, piling up a ridiculous number of assists for a pair of defenders. Joel Matip makes it an all-Liverpool backline, as no Spurs defender has a very compelling case for inclusion in this unit.

Chops: You are wise beyond your years, Tyler Everett.

We had no disagreements at midfield either, although there was at least one close call there.

Son Heung-min has been a beast all season and is the primary reason Spurs got past FFP violating Manchester City (who violated FFP regulations and misled UEFA about it) in the quarterfinals.

There’s a reason why Christian Eriksen is possibly going to just stay in Madrid after the finals are over, as Los Blancos have been chasing him for some time now.

The one that was kind of sort of in question was Dele Alli. I respect Alli’s game and would like to see Liverpool buy him–but his advanced stats aren’t as strong as I thought. Fabinho has been incredible as the season has progressed for Liverpool. He deserves a midfield nod as well. My only trepidation is it’s not a 100% given he gets the start. Jurgen Klopp LOVES him some James Milner for important European road games. While I *think* Klopp will select Fabinho on June 1st, it wouldn’t be a total shocker to see a Milner-Wijnaldum-Henderson midfield trio either.

Tyler: Eriksen and Son are both excellent players who made for easy decisions. Son does not get enough recognition as he should for being one of the EPL’s top players. He can change that forever with a big day at Wanda Metropolitano next weekend. Eriksen has had to hold things together for a depleted roster and has done so admirably.

One question we had was whether we should include Lucas Moura here after his second-half magic vs. Ajax. No one will ever be able to take that away from him, but that doesn’t mean he should supplant Alli. While we’re on the subject of players who were extremely impactful in the semis, Moussa Sissoko’s performance in the first leg changed that match after it looked during the opening minutes like Spurs might get buried before halftime. But like Moura, that doesn’t mean he belongs in this XI.

Chops: Much respect to Moura. But those types of performances happen once-in-a-career [immediately regrets typing that].

Tyler: Up top, Mo Salah and Sadio Mané were shoo-ins considering they tied for the EPL lead with 22 goals apiece. Harry Kane was another easy decision as long as he’s healthy, which he seems confident he will be. Because of how how hard it is to predict the form for a player who has been out as long as Kane has been — he has not played since his injury in Leg 1 of the quarterfinals vs. Manchester City on April 9 — he’s this game’s biggest X-factor.

Chops: Speaking of getting fit, let’s not forget Roberto Firmino. He’s often the straw that stirs the Liverpool attack. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Bobby outplay Harry all day long, but Kane deserves the nod.

The manager slot is almost a draw here. It’s genuinely difficult to say who has done a better job this year. Klopp has had some head-scratching line-up selections, but he’s been expert at in-game adjustments. Most of all, he’s got Liverpool peaking at the right time. Their best play was at the end of the year.

Tyler: The two most impressive/unlikely outcomes of the UCL this year were a depleted Spurs team knocking off [editor’s note: FFP violating / UEFA misleading] Manchester City in the quarters and a depleted Spurs team knocking off Ajax in the semifinals. We’ve said plenty on this site about Spurs winning both those match-ups, but at the same time, we probably haven’t said enough.

Against City, no Kane, no problem. Against Ajax, no Son for the first leg, no Kane (at all) and down 3-0 on the road at halftime against one of the most fearless teams we’ve seen in the UCL … no problem. There’s no overstating what a job Poch did to get this team here. Based on the Champions League alone, we’d go Poch (I think), but it’s got to be Klopp for the job he did all year leading Liverpool to a historically good EPL point total while navigating his team through a brutal Champions League path from the group stage all the way to the semis vs. Barcelona.

Chops: And that’s it. Liverpool places 7 of the 11. When you step back and look at this, what really stands out is Spurs have more quality attacking options, and Liverpool have the personnel to shut down those options.

As we always write, soccer can be fluky on a game-by-game basis. If Spurs are finishing well on June 1st, they could pull this out. But Liverpool could absolutely over-run them on counter-attacks, especially in the second half. Their fitness is absurd.

This will be a fascinating game to watch as Klopp and Poch chess match the hell out of it.

Tyler: Can’t wait!

Getting To Know ‘19-20 Champions League Qualifier Valencia

Tyler Everett May 22, 2019

For most of the season, it looked like underdog Getafe (or, for a while, possibly Alavés) would join Barcelona, Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid in next year’s Champions League. Instead, the hottest team down the stretch, Valencia, ended up with the coveted UCL spot, as Getafe, Alavés and Sevilla limped to the finish line.

With the regular season in the books, we know the four Spanish teams in next year’s Champions League. We also know that it will be fifth-place Getafe, sixth-place Sevilla and seventh-place Espanyol representing Spain in the Europa League.

About Valencia

Valencia became the rare outfit that decided against a coaching change after a bad start to the season – and have their patience rewarded. Nobody is questioning that non-sacking now.

Manager Marcelino is now 2-for-2 qualifying for Europe’s top competition as Valencia’s boss. This team also finished fourth a year ago. Valencia finished ’17-18 with 73 points, a record of 22-7-9 and a goal differential of plus-27. It was dramatically worse by each of those measures this year, recording 61 points with a 15-16-7 record and goal differential of plus-16. We’ve previously covered the fact that Valencia won a very watered down race for fourth place.

Want further proof the Spanish league was weaker this season? Valencia’s 73-point output from a year ago would have put this team comfortably ahead of third-place RM (68) and right on the heels of runner-up Atlético (76) in the ’18-19 La Liga table.

How did Valencia get here?

The biggest factor in Valencia winning just 15 games this season was its brutal start. On Nov. 3, after 11 games in La Liga, the club had an abysmal record of 1-8-2.

Valencia then went an impressive 14-8-5 over its last 27. Dividing the season into two halves, Valencia were 4-11-4 (23 points) at “halftime” on Jan. 12 after 19 matches. From the win over Celta Vigo on Jan. 19 through the season finale victory over Valladolid last Saturday, this team went 11-5-2 (38 points). In other words, this team has been playing well for a long time. And we haven’t even mentioned the runs it made in the Europa League (advancing all the way to the semifinals) and the Copa del Rey (it will meet Barcelona in the final on Saturday at 3 p.m. Eastern at Estadio Benito Villamarín in Seville). 

What made the difference? 

As this team won just one of its first 11, the goal differential at that point (seven scored to nine allowed) was minus-2. It was an indication they had a chance to get on track if they could find their scoring touch. Allowing nine goals in 11 games was not the issue; the problem was the inability to score. By season’s end, Valencia’s offense had improved substantially — they finished with 51 goals, seventh-most in the league.

More importantly, they remained solid defensively, allowing just 35 goals on the year, less than one per game. Only perennially stingy Atlético (29) gave up fewer in the league. Brazilian keeper Neto earned 10 clean sheets in 34 appearances. The last two seasons, Valencia has given up 36.5 goals per year, meaning Los Rojiblancos are no longer the only Spanish team that is hard to crack. Barcelona are by no means a sieve, but the first thing that comes to mind with the Catalans is not their back line.

Head-to-head against the big three

Let’s talk about the six games (home and away against Barcelona, Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid) that should tell us the most about whether they can hang with Europe’s elite next season. In those matches, Valencia tallied 1 win (vs. RM), three draws (two vs. Barça, one vs. Atleti) and two losses (vs. Atlético and RM). The combined score of those matches: 8 goals scored to 10 allowed. That was a long way of saying they played La Liga’s heavy hitters close.

Ready for the limelight in Europe?

We caught a brief glimpse of this team in the Champions League last fall. Playing in Group H with Juventus, Man United and Swiss side Young Boys, Valencia earned eight points in six games, going 2-2-2 to finish third and bow out. Have I mentioned Valencia were not playing their best soccer at that point?

As for the Europa League, they advanced to the semis after beating Scottish Premiership club Celtic in the round of 32. They then knocked off Russian Premier League side Krasnodar in the round of 16 before taking down familiar foe Villarreal, which finished 14th in La Liga, in the quarters.

Players to watch

This team’s top player statistically is 30-year-old midfielder Dani Parejo, who led the squad in both goals (9) and assists (7) this year. Valencia’s roster lacks the big names that the top clubs in Spain and Europe boast, but it’s a balanced group. Nobody finished the season with double-digit goals in La Liga, but five players scored at least five times, and six players had at least three assists.

Check out High Press Soccer later this week to find out what to watch for in Saturday’s Copa del Rey final vs. Barcelona.

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