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June 6, 2019

Transfer Grade: Real Madrid Sign Eden Hazard for €100 million

Tyler Everett June 6, 2019

The Deal

Who: Eden Hazard
From Where: Chelsea
To Where: Real Madrid
For How Much: £88.5M (add-ons could take it to £130M)
Grade for Real Madrid: A
Grade for Chelsea: B

Eden Hazard to Real Madrid Overview

Real Madrid’s busy week continues with the signing of Eden Hazard, who is likely the highest-profile – and best – player who will be changing teams this summer.

As we’ll do for each major signing this summer, below is High Press Soccer’s breakdown of the transaction:

Who is he?

Hazard, 28, leaves Chelsea after scoring 110 goals and piling up 81 assists in seven seasons at Stamford Bridge.

The Belgian appears squarely in the middle of his prime: he scored 16 goals and had 15 assists in the EPL this year. Last year, he scored 12 goals. Dating back to ’13-14, he’s scored at least a dozen goals in the EPL in five of the last six years.

In addition to his consistency, another of Hazard’s strengths is his positional versatility. He’s proven that he’s capable of playing well just about anywhere in the midfield or up top. That will come in handy at a team as in flux as Los Blancos. Expect him to be as impactful as any transfer this summer. 

Is the price fair?

RM is certainly paying an arm and a leg, but that’s to be expected for such a proven commodity.

It’s been reported that Real Madrid is paying at least £88.5M (€100 million/$112M USD) – a figure that could reach £130M based on add-ons (which are presumably incentive-based).

I don’t have anything too profound to say on the cost: this is simply what players with this kind of pedigree go for. If I’m a Madridista, I’m OK with this price because of how consistent Hazard has been for such a long time.

Teams who spend this kind of money on young players are making a massive gamble; the risk is much lower on a player who’s played this well for this long. The flip side of that is that at 28, Hazard is not exactly an up-and-comer. We should still, however, expect to see another four of five years of him as one of the best players in the world.

What impact should we expect?

As has been established at this point, Hazard is a mega-star who will provide a much-needed boost to his new team. The only question is fit. His versatility is more of a blessing than anything, but it does make you wonder where he should line up for Zinedine Zidane. Playing him up top alongside Karim Benzema, who prefers to play centrally, seems like the best move IMO, but time will tell.

Having two players who are as good at facilitating for their teammates as Hazard and Benzema should make RM extremely dangerous. The only potential issue is chemistry/fit, as both players like to have the ball.

Despite all that, it’s really hard to imagine this addition being anything other than a huge boost for a team that sorely lacked both playmaking and goal-scoring this past season.

2019 Champions League Knockout Rounds Starting XI

Tyler Everett June 6, 2019

With this year’s Champions League in the books, many have already turned their attention to the transfer market.

But before moving on from this year’s thrilling UCL, let’s recognize the tournament’s Starting XI. The emphasis is on everything that happened in the round of 16 and after, so yes, the semifinalists are going to make up the bulk of this group (which to be fair, they should).

2019 Champions League Starting XI

To keep things simple, we’ll line them up in a 4-3-3.

Keeper: Alisson (Liverpool)

This was the easiest decision.

Alisson would likely have been the pick before Saturday’s final vs. Tottenham. His work with the trophy on the line, particularly after the 70th minute, cemented his place in the line-up. He recorded clean sheets in both the second leg of the semifinals vs. Barcelona (when one slip-up would have meant his team was eliminated) and in the finals for a strong finish to an excellent season both domestically and in Europe.

Center-backs: Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool) and Matthijs de Ligt (Ajax)

As we’ve said several times – most recently on this week’s High Press PodVVD was absolutely impenetrable. He was the most impressive player on the pitch in Leg 2 against Barcelona and somehow played even better against Spurs in the final. No one had more to do with Tottenham generating next to nothing for the first 70 minutes of the final than van Dijk.

De Ligt also has an unquestioned place in this group. Ajax turned heads with their attacking play in the midfield and up top. But they would not have made the semifinals without their defense quietly being rock-solid.

Real Madrid never got anything going in Leg 2 of the round of 16 until it was too late, and Juventus was lucky to score in Leg 2 of the quarters as de Ligt and the Ajax back line were stout.

He also added impressive goals on headers against Juve in Leg 2 of the quarters and in Leg 1 of the semis. If not for a still-incomprehensible meltdown against Spurs, the 19-year-old (!) and his teammates would have gone down as the biggest Champions League story in years, regardless of the outcome in the final.

Left-back: Andy Robertson (Liverpool) Right-back: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)

Andy Robertson is the choice at LB by a hair. It was tempting to ignore natural positions here and go with Gerard Piqué. But while his team’s meltdown at Anfield was hardly his fault, in a close call, I’m going with the player on the winning side of that unforgettable evening.

Speaking of left-back, if you’d have told me before Leg 2 of the semis that I wouldn’t have Jordi Alba in the UCL Starting XI, I’d have wondered what on earth was about to happen. Well, Alba made two uncharacteristic mistakes that led directly to Reds goals in Leg 2 of the semis, making it impossible to put him in this line-up.

TAA was an easier decision at right-back. He and Robertson combined to make bigger offensive contributions than any other defensive duo in this tournament. They did that without any drop-off on their own end. For that, they’ll go down as two of the biggest heroes of this run. The Liverpool native also came up with one of the most memorable plays of the year. Everyone will remember the carelessness by Barcelona that allowed it to happen, but TAA’s feed to Divock Origi for the semifinal-winner in the 79th was perfect and should not be forgotten.

Midfield: Frenkie de Jong (Ajax), Lucas Moura (Tottenham), Hakim Ziyech (Ajax)

De Jong was among the easiest decisions. No midfielder was more consistently impressive throughout the tournament. His versatility and ability to cover the entire field were evident against RM, Juve and Tottenham. Despite how young and unknown most of the Ajax roster was before the UCL, it was hard to consider the Dutch club a “scrappy underdog” after watching de Jong and de Ligt for a game or two, regardless of their age.

I’m going to allow one burst of brilliance to completely sway me on Lucas Moura. His one-half hat trick, including one of the most incredible game-winners you’ll ever see not just in a Leg 2 semifinal–but anywhere ever– gives him a spot here.

His team was dead in the water and had been dominated for three halves before he took over and stunned Ajax. Other than CR7 in Leg 2 of the round of 16 vs. Atleti, no player singlehandedly influenced a result more than Moura, who became an improbable Spurs legend.

We’ll round out the midfield with the player who was the most fun to watch. Hakim Ziyech’s swagger stood out, even on a team full of players with no shortage of confidence. His talent and speed justified his daring approach, as he made opposing fans hold their breath every time he got the ball.

In addition to his goals against RM (one in each leg) and vs. Spurs in Leg 2 of the semis, he also tallied assists vs. Juve and Tottenham. And it wasn’t just the eye test or the goals: Only two players in the WhoScored UCL XI (Lionel Messi and Raheem Sterling) finished the tournament with a higher rating than Ziyech’s 7.7. Here’s to hoping we haven’t seen the last of him in Amsterdam.

Forwards: Messi (Barcelona), Sterling (Manchester City), Son Heung-min (Spurs)

There were plenty of choices here, but Lionel Messi’s ridiculous production – 12 goals and three assists – made him an indisputable pick.

The fact his team failed to reach the semifinals with the most talented roster in Europe is the reason Raheem Sterling is the lone Manchester City representative. They couldn’t be left off altogether, though, and Sterling (five goals, two assists) struck me as the best pick. He was tremendous against Tottenham in a losing effort in Leg 2 of the quarters, scoring twice. In most years, that game would have been the most incredible one of the tournament, but Liverpool and Tottenham had other ideas in the semis.

Sticking with that game, the last spot goes to Son Heung-min, who carried his team time and again – domestically and in Europe – when Harry Kane was unavailable this season.

His goal in Leg 1 of the quarterfinals vs. Manchester City came on one of the best individual efforts of the UCL, and he came up huge again in Leg 2 of that match-up, scoring twice. Though he was quiet in the semis and final, more than one player from the runners-up had to get some recognition here, and Son was Spurs’ Champions League MVP.

Manager: Mauricio Pochettino (Tottenham)

Though the logical pick might be Jurgen Klopp, I’ll go against the grain and give the nod to Pochettino. It’s hard to imagine any other coach leading his players to the finals considering the obstacles they faced (did I mention they had to knock off Manchester City??) and how shorthanded they were. It’s also hard to blame him for the loss in the final after the way that game played out.

In the end, a tough break in the opening minutes and a significant talent shortage compared to Liverpool denied his team a trophy, but Pochettino nevertheless deserves a ton of credit.  

ClubElo Ranks This Year’s Liverpool as One of the Greatest Teams of All-Time

Chops June 6, 2019

Is this year’s Liverpool squad one of the greatest soccer teams of all time?

Well, yes.

According to ClubElo, the 2018-19 Liverpool squad’s peak score ranks as the sixth best ever.

That’s impressive company (and wow, Pep Guardiola). Let’s dive-deeper to see where Liverpool truly stacks up.

What is ClubElo?

First, for those unfamiliar, “Elo estimates the strength of a club based on the results against opponents and their strength.”

The site aims to look past point totals and trophies to zero in on how strong a team is compared to its peers in a given year.

After their Champions League victory on June 1st, Elo moved Liverpool up to the #6 spot, ahead of this year’s Manchester City.

The all-time Elo rating measures the peak strength of a given year’s team. This year’s Liverpool team hit their peak rating after defeating Tottenham for the UCL crown.

A more traditional case for Liverpool as sixth best team ever

Elo’s rankings measure a club’s statistical strengths against the strength of opposing teams. However, a more traditional case can be made for Liverpool’s elite standing as well.

  • En route to their sixth Champions League title, Liverpool defeated the Bundesliga champs (Bayern Munich), Primeira runner-ups (FC Porto), and La Liga champs (Barcelona). All four of the squads rate among the top 17 clubs in FiveThirtyEight’s rankings. Elo rates those teams even stronger, with Barcelona (3), Bayern (4), Tottenham (5) and Porto (15) all in the top 15 at the end of the year.
  • They finished with the third highest point total ever in Premier League history.
  • They are one of only three teams to lose less than two matches in a Premier League season (Chelsea’s ’04-05 and Arsenal’s ’03-04 being the others).
  • Their +67 Premier League point differential ranks 4th all-time.

A case for Liverpool being ranked higher?

Of the teams in the top 10, only two actually ended their season with their peak ranking: this year’s Liverpool and this year’s Manchester City.

Both teams were at their strongest in the midst of a historic Premier League title chase. While City bowed out in the Champions League quarterfinals to Tottenham, they managed to win a domestic treble, capturing the Carabao Cup, FA Cup, and Premier League title.

Liverpool, of course, pushed City to the brink in the Premier League while winning the world’s most difficult soccer event, the Champions League.

So while this year’s peak score might not equal some of the giants ahead of them, is there a case that Liverpool was ultimately a better team? Here’s a look at how the teams ranked ahead of Liverpool finished their seasons:

  • 2012 Barcelona: Fewer domestic points (91), greater goal differential (85, albeit in a less deep league), more domestic losses (3 total), and no La Liga title (they finished second). They did win the Copa del Rey, Supercopa, UEFA Super Cup, and FIFA Club World Cup.
  • 2014 Bayern Munich: They won the Bundesliga along with
    UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup. They bowed out in the UCL semis. While they had a slightly better goal differential than Liverpool domestically (70 to 67), they finished with fewer points (90) and more losses (2).
  • 2014 Real Madrid: Finished third in La Liga with fewer domestic points (87), more losses and a worse goal differential (66, so by 1). Super elite offense with 104 domestic goals. Won the Copa del Rey and the 2014 Champions League.
  • 1961 Real Madrid: Hard to compare but won a 30-game La Liga.
  • 1993 AC Milan: They won Serie A which back then actually meant something. In a 34 game season, only had a +33 gd. They were runners up in the Champions League.

While this is subjective, yes, are any resumes above starkly more impressive than this year’s Liverpool (or Manchester City, for that matter)?

Premier League teams held all four spots in the Champions League and Europa League finals. The EPL was deep. Despite this, City and Liverpool had historically great seasons. On top of that, Liverpool beat Elo teams #3-5 to win the Champions League title.

Best team ever?

Had a ball traveled just 11 millimeters further across a goal line, 2018-19 Liverpool would’ve had a strong case for the best soccer team ever.

Even so, what the squad accomplished against a stacked Premier League and treacherous Champions League path is hard to ignore. Elo and basic common sense put the 2018-19 Liverpool squad as an absolute all-timer.

The HPS MLS Podcast Episode 3

Avatar June 6, 2019

New HPS MLS Podcast is up.

This week, Harrison Hamm is joined by Will Conwell of Stumptown Footy, who is on to talk about the Portland Timbers, their home opener, and how they project for the rest of the season.

  • (0:00): What the atmosphere was like at the Timbers’ home opener, and how the additions to Providence Park looked.
  • (5:00): The Timbers’ rocky start and how they’ve stabilized.
  • (11:15): How new DP attacker Bryan Fernandez will continue to be utilized, and how Giovani Savarese may assemble his attack.
  • (19:50): The pros and cons of a 4-4-2 diamond formation.
  • (25:30): Where might the Timbers look in the summer transfer window?
Listen to “The HPS MLS Podcast Episode 03” on Spreaker.
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