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November 7, 2019

What Next For Arsenal After Poor Results And Manager Speculation

Avatar November 7, 2019

Unrest in the Arsenal camp is growing amid poor results, disciplinary issues, and supporters growing increasingly frustrated by the Unai Emery regime.

The Gunners’ unbeaten run in the Europa League came to an end with a 1-1 stalemate away to Vitoria Guimaraes thanks to an equalizer in the 91st minute.

Yet again, as has happened several time this season, Emery’s team failed to protect a lead.

Last Saturday, the Spaniard’s team walked off the pitch to a chorus of boos. This time it was thanks to Wolves, who deservedly claimed a point at the Emirates in another 1-1 draw delivered late by Raul Jimenez.

Against Crystal Palace last month, Arsenal flew out of the traps and gave themselves a two goal lead within nine minutes. Almost inevitably it all went downhill from there, and Palace hit back to square the game.

Yet it was a match remembered for the ill-tempered confrontation between captain Granit Xhaka and his own supporters. Xhaka was substituted to the applause of the home fans. He reacted by sarcastically waving and cupping his ear. As a newly appointed captain of the club, it didn’t land well. He was then stripped of his captaincy by Emery.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has now taken over as the Gunners’ skipper.

Arsenal’s League Form a Concern

Arsenal’s league form has not been calamitous. They have only lost two EPL games so far this season, and one of those defeats was at leaders Liverpool.

The discontent stems from the lack of progress in Emery’s second season.

Arsenal are currently fifth in the EPL, but six points off the pace for a Champions League place, which would have been a basic target as the season started.

On current form, it hardly seems likely that they can break into the top four. Above them are inevitably Liverpool and Manchester City. However, Emery’s men are six points behind a resurgent Chelsea under Frank Lampard and high flying Leicester City.

This Saturday sees the Gunners visit the King Power stadium in what will be a crucial game for them to make up ground in the race for a Champions League spot. A defeat would leave Emery’s men nine point behind Leicester, a wide margin to reduce.

The leads that Arsenal have failed to hold, which again happened in September at bottom club Watford, are a symbol of a soft underbelly that can be exploited.

It’s a weakness that was apparent in the final years of Arsene Wenger’s reign, and so far has been anything but rectified. After eleven EPL games last season, Arsenal had won 23 points, six more than this season.

Arsenal Transfer Decision Under Scrutiny

Arsenal’s transfer dealings have also provoked debate this season, as the squad appears to be top heavy in attacking talent.

There is no question that Lacazette, Aubameyang, and the surprisingly mostly ignored Mesut Ozil would find a place in most teams across Europe.

Yet the signing of Nicolas Pepe, for a club record £72 million from Lille, has created the most contention. Pepe was bought to create more penetration on the right wing. Emery seemed to believe that it was a problem position, as he previously targeted Wilfried Zaha before he bought the Ivorian.

While its still early days for 24-year-old, its fair to say he has had a very poor start to his Arsenal career. Pepe was dropped to the bench for the visit of Wolves.

Defensive solidity has been the main problem. While the signing of 22-year-old Kieran Tierney from Celtic at left-back might help shore up that problem in the longer run, the purchase of David Luiz certainly has not.

Luiz was an economical purchase at just £8 million. But despite his experience, he was never going to provide the steel that Arsenal badly need at the back.

Using the money for the Pepe signing would have been better placed towards a commanding centre-half.

The Candidates to be Next Arsenal Manager

If Unai Emery was to fall on his sword, there are many potential applicants for the Arsenal hot seat. Here are the most likely contenders.

Mikel Arteta

A former midfielder of the club for five years, winning two FA Cup medals under Arsene Wenger before he retired from playing in 2016.

Since then he joined Pep Guardiola’s revolution of Manchester City, where he has helped them win back-to-back titles and last season’s domestic treble. There is no doubt that Arteta has experienced one of the best football management educations under Guardiola. His current tutor also believes that Arteta would make a great manager.

Yet even though the 37-year -old has no management track record, and would represent a gamble, Arteta was thought be a strong contender last year when Emery was awarded the job.

As a former player he would be a popular amongst most of the fans. And you would expect him to play in a Wenger like style, but perhaps that would not be such a good thing.

Massmiliano Allegri

Allegri is a name that is being touted for all the top jobs across Europe. He is currently out of work after leaving Juventus last summer, where he won five consecutive Italian Serie A titles, and four Italian Cups in a row.

After Bayern Munich sacked Niko Kovac this week, if Arsenal are serious about appointing Allegri, they might need to work fast.

Tactically Allegri would unquestionably turn Arsenal into a tougher opponent than what they currently are. However, it may be a little too pragmatic to fully fit in with the Arsenal ethos.

Allegri may need a club that is almost guaranteed Champions League football to tempt him to UK shores.

Jose Mourinho

The Portuguese has not found another suitable position since his sacking at Manchester United nearly a year ago.

Like Allegri, his style of play would make Arsenal harder to beat. However, Mourinho’s negativity may be unpalatable to supporters and owners of the club alike.

His relationship with Arsenal has generally been a sour one, which has included several spats with Wenger, one which even led to touchline blows.

A further issue with Mourinho is that has his style of play may now be past its sell by date in terms of winning trophies. Out of his eight titles won in four different countries, and two Champions League victories, all but two of them came in 2010 or before.

Mourinho’s second spell in English football has been littered with bust-ups with staff and players. His handling of players to the press has left a lot to be desired at times.

The current hound dog demeanor of Mourinho is a far cry from the charismatic “special one” figure that entered into English football 15 years ago.

Brendan Rodgers

After a successful spell in Scotland, Rodgers is now working minor miracles with Leicester City.

Since he arrived in the East Midlands in February, only Liverpool and Manchester City have accumulated more points in the EPL.

Having already sampled big club life with Liverpool and Celtic, it appears that it would only be a matter of time before the Ulsterman is offered another high profile club.

The 46-year-old is without question ambitious, but would moving to Arsenal now really be that much of a step up from where he is currently employed? Leicester have wealthy owners, and the transfer budget that Rodgers received last summer was only £32 million less than Emery was allowed to spend.

A figure that certainly would have been the case, even without the sale of Harry Maguire to Manchester United.

Rodgers might now concede that he took the Liverpool job too early, and could be wary of making any rash moves. Yet he will know how things can change in football management, and still may plump for a historically bigger club if he was given the choice.

Patrick Viera

The former heartbeat of the most memorable sides of the Wenger era, Viera would be welcomed with open arms by many of the Arsenal faithful to manage the club.

His contribution as a player was invaluable in winning two league and cup doubles, plus being a member of “the invincible” side of 2003/4.

Like Arteta, he began his coaching career with Manchester City, albeit with the youth team as a coordinator. He then was promoted to managing the under-21 side.

After two years managing New York FC, who are also part of the City Football Group, he is now in charge of Nice in Ligue One, who were bought by billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe.

So far Nice are in 13th place, although it would be harsh for Arsenal’s owners to judge him after just a few months.

Similarly to Arteta, he would be a gamble down to his lack of experience, but would eclipse the Spaniard in the popularity stakes by far.

Liverpool vs Manchester City Combined Starting XI

High Press 10 November 7, 2019

Who: Liverpool vs Manchester City
When: Sunday, November 10th @ 11:30am ET
LineLiverpool +165 | Draw +265 | Manchester City +150

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As you might’ve heard, Liverpool play Manchester City on Sunday at Anfield.

Read: Liverpool vs Manchester City Preview

Making a starting XI for City is always a chore because their squad is ridiculously deep. They can sit Sergio Aguero and one of the Silvas and not skip a beat. Given the rash of injuries they are facing and tactical adjustments Pep Guardiola may make, the problem of identifying who makes the team sheet for this match is compounded.

Liverpool on the other hand have a preferred starting XI that Jurgen Klopp consistently calls upon. Expect that XI to be his choice here, with the possible exception of Alex Oxlande-Chamberlain getting a midfield start.

Liverpool vs Manchester City Combined Starting XI

Here’s the combined XI. Justification as to some choices to follow.

Forwards

As awesome as Roberto Firmino has been this season, it’s hard to displace Sergio Aguero. Raheem Sterling is operating at another level this campaign. Sadio Mane has created as many goals as Mohamed Salah this season (6g, 2a to 5g, 3a) but the eye test suggests he’s the current alpha of Liverpool’s attacking trio.

Midfielders

Kevin de Bruyne is the best player in the Premier League. Fabinho is the best DMC. Pick either Silva for the other spot.

Defenders

Given City’s backline injuries, Liverpool dominates here. Had Joel Matip been available he’d make it a Liverpool sweep. But he’s not. And Fernandinho deserves consideration for the job he’s done.

Goalie

Alisson by a hair, especially if Ederson is injured.

Champions League Group A Recap: Is It Time to Consider PSG a Real Contender?

Chops November 7, 2019

On Wednesday, PSG secured passage to the knockout rounds of the 2019-20 UEFA Champions League with a 1-0 win over Club Brugge. At 4-0-0, the Parisians are perfect in the competition.

Look at that below table. They’ve scored 10 and conceded ZERO goals. Even Manchester City, in their annual cakewalk of a bracket, have conceded twice and dropped points. No other UCL squad can claim 4 clean sheets.

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2019-20 UEFA Champions League Group A Standings

ClubMPWDLGFGAGDPoints
PSG44001001012
Real Madrid42119547
Club Brugge402228-62
Galatasaray401308-81

Are PSG a legitimate Champions League contender?

At this point, you have to say “yes,” right? ddsmakers agree, as they’ve leap-frogged Liverpool (+650) to third favorite at +600.

It’s certainly fair to be skeptical. We’ve seen this drill before with PSG: impressive group play followed by Round of 16 flame-out. However, something about this squad just feels different. O

  1. They’re actually flying under the radar. Neymar has the ability to shift all focus on him both on and off the pitch. The Brazilian picked up a hamstring injury 12 minutes into an international match with Nigeria last month. He hasn’t seen the pitch since. While he should be back soon, Neymar has only played five games for PSG this campaign. The club is doing fine without him, in part because…
  2. …Mauro Icardi has been awesome. Typically, Icardi hears about Neymar drama and says, “Hold my beer.” But the Argentinian has been solid and mostly drama-free at PSG. He’s netted four times in the UCL and displaced Edinson Cavani in the starting XI. Assuming Neymar comes back and is in form, the attacking trio of him, Icardi, and Kylian Mbappe is downright scary.
  3. Angel Di Maria is on fire. The 31 year-old Argentinian is having his best season since 2015-16. He’s got 2 goals and 3 assists in the UCL to go along with 4 & 5 in Ligue 1. If PSG can keep him fresh into next year, he’s a terror in midfield.

This is PSG. Some dramabomb could drop at any moment. Cavani can’t be happy and may start making more noise. Icardi could steal someone else’s wife. Neymar could, well, be Neymar. The Mbappe rumors to Liverpool and Real Madrid could be a major spring of 2020 distraction. But for now, PSG should be considered top contenders.

What about Real Madrid?

Don’t read too much into their Wednesday 6-0 home paddling of Galatasaray. They were at a negative gd before the 6 goal outburst. RM will advance. But they’ll continue to be the wildly inconsistent bunch we’ve seen so far this season.

Los Blancos could be in for Round of 16 exit. They’re going to finish second in the group. That means they’ll be matched against a group winner in the Round of 16. We know it won’t be Manchester City as they’ll just continue to pay off UEFA officials for securing the easiest opponent. Would RM be favored to get past Manchester City, Liverpool, Bayern Munich, or Juventus? Nope. And while they likely would be favored against Chelsea/Ajax by oddsmakers, neither are favorable match-ups.

Group A Odds to Advance

Top 2 odds for Club Brugge and Galatasaray are now off the board. PSG and Real Madrid are going through. Over on DraftKings Sportsbook, PSG are -10000 to win the group. RM are +2500.

Toronto FC vs Seattle Sounders: A Tactical Preview of the MLS Cup Final

Avatar November 7, 2019
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Welcome back to MLS’s version of Cavs-Warriors and Alabama-Clemson: Toronto FC vs. Seattle Sounders in the MLS Cup Final.

We’ve seen this matchup twice already, and you might know what to expect from both teams by now. Seattle will play a 4-2-3-1 and keep the ball in front of them. Toronto will build through the middle and give the ball to Michael Bradley a lot.

Not everything is quite the same. Jozy Altidore is likely out, at least from the start, which means we’ll probably see Alejandro Pozuelo at the false nine. Seattle host this version, possibly encouraging more aggressive play. Let’s preview Round Three:

MLS Cup Final Preview: Toronto FC vs Seattle Sounders

1. The last time we saw Toronto FC this late in a season was 2017, when they blitzed the Sounders in that year’s final and secured MLS’s first treble. They’ve morphed into a lesser version of that team in the time since. They collapsed in last year’s regular season and inexplicably missed the playoffs, souring relations with Sebastian Giovinco and wasting a year of the core they established back in 2015.

TFC let Giovinco walk in the offseason and replaced him with Pozuelo, a bona fide star. Pozuelo put up 12 goals and 12 assists this season as an attacking fulcrum. He surprisingly managed to find his way onto the league’s Best XI this year, a misleading indication of his abilities. He can float in and out of games, with his best moments overshadowing his quiet stretches. He is no Giovinco.

The rest of the team isn’t dramatically different. TAM winger Nicolas Benezet, acquired late in the summer window, replaced Victor Vazquez. Tsubasa Endoh carved out a role in the starting lineup. Quentin Westberg stole the starting goalkeeper job from the struggling Alex Bono.

The defense, which became the biggest problem in 2018, experienced similar struggles this year. However, they survived much better this time. Omar Gonzalez helped significantly, making his debut at center back in July and shoring things up at the back. Gonzalez hasn’t played in the playoffs due to injury, though.

Greg Vanney is still the coach, and he’s maintained the tactical flexibility he’s become known for. Hype for Vanney as one of the best American coaches has died out, but he has done well in the past month or so to help TFC navigate a tough playoff road despite injuries to two of their three best players.

2. The good money is on Toronto playing a 4-2-3-1 formation with Pozuelo up top as a free No. 9. They will take their opportunities to play on the ball, knowing that the Sounders will try to counter-attack when possible. TFC’s buildup will come primarily through the middle of the field, where Bradley is the fulcrum and Jonathan Osorio and Marky Delgado are capable ball-movers. Expect Auro and Justin Morrow to maneuver forward from outside back as well, though Auro will have to be cautious with the threat of Jordan Morris running the other way.

Seattle know how to play compact in midfield; you don’t beat LAFC without being able to get pressure to the ball. Gustav Svensson and Cristian Roldan are one of the most solid and trustworthy deep midfield duos in MLS.

One potential deficiency for Seattle that Steve Zakuani brought up on the HPS MLS podcast is Nicolas Lodeiro’s movement. Lodeiro goes everywhere, and while he is the key to everything the Sounders do, his positions when Seattle loses the ball could be a liability. When he vacates the middle of the field, Toronto could capitalize on the resulting space.

3. Some have theorized that TFC play a five-at-the-back, in anticipation of Seattle controlling play at home. Vanney should consider that approach. If Toronto take a lead at any time, we may see a midgame formation switch.

The Sounders are better when they’re attacking into space and playing fast. Their flaws poke through when they’re trying to move the ball and control the flow of the game. They tend to get bogged down in trying to move it into the final third, and then get trapped once they get there. By playing a deeper, more stout line, TFC would be able to induce Seattle into possessing the ball more, deflating Morris and the threatening counter-attack.

4. Concerns about the Sounders heading into the playoffs surrounded the center backs, where they no longer have the presence of the retired Chad Marshall. Xavier Arreaga has acquitted himself well. Roman Torres is a liability if he has to enter at some point (or if he starts over Arreaga). Toronto arguably have more pressing defensive concerns, especially without Gonzalez.

5. Seattle are the definite favorites. They have home-field advantage, and they profile as the more solid team. Altidore is an X-factor, given that he could come off the bench and influence the proceedings. In this year of unpredictable playoff results, I’m not stepping outside the box: Sounders in regular time.

Also Read: MLS Cup Final Odds

Liverpool vs Manchester City Matchday 12 Preview

Chops November 7, 2019

Who: Liverpool vs Manchester City
When: Sunday, November 10th @ 11:30am ET
LineLiverpool +165 | Draw +265 | Manchester City +150

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In the span of 24 hours this weekend, US sports fans will be treated two colossal match-ups. On Saturday, it’s a massive showdown from the two best teams in college football from college football’s best conference: Alabama vs LSU. Expect 40% of America to tune into that one.

Across the pond, the two best teams in the best domestic league in the biggest sport in the world face off: Liverpool vs Manchester City. If it pulls anything like last year’s match-up (it should draw more), expect about 40% of the adult world population or over 1 billion people to tune into that one.

Liverpool are six points clear of Manchester City going into the match. If they win, they go 9 up and put some comfortable distance between the two sides. That 9 points is even bigger considering something we’ve written and written again and now have written yet again:

This season in the Premier League, Liverpool have played and beaten or drawn:

  • Chelsea
  • Arsenal
  • Leicester City
  • Manchester United
  • Tottenham

Man City has played and tied:

  • Tottenham

Throwing Leicester (deservedly) into the big club popular clique, Liverpool will have gone up against all of them. A win on Sunday, and they’ll have captured 16 out of a possible 18 points from the best teams in the EPL.

That’s going to be tough for City to replicate. So while Sunday’s match won’t determine who ultimately wins the Premier League this season–it carries a ton of weight as to who eventually will.

Liverpool vs Manchester City Match Preview

Last season, Liverpool drew City 0-0 at Anfield. It was perhaps the biggest 💩 of a game either team could’ve played given the stakes. Neither team ever really opened it up. Both seemed content with a draw.

The only match Liverpool lost all of last season of course came at the Etihad. They lost it because of 11 millimeters. If you’re a genuine masochist, relive that painful 11 millimeter moment here:


That’s it. That’s how close these two teams were last season. That was the difference. Jurgen Klopp knows this. He won’t be content with a draw. Given the quality of teams City still has to face, Pep Guardiola knows he can’t afford a draw either.

So which match will this more closely resemble from last year? The one at the Etihad or Anfield?

Liverpool vs City has turned into a genuine rivalry. Pep Guardiola and City have consistently shown an inferiority complex when it comes to Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool. (Speculating here) Pep knows that City’s bandwagon fans will never create the kind of atmosphere and passion that’s shown at Anfield. Additionally, City, whose owner suppresses human and women’s rights in his home country and wistfully breaks FFP regulations in England, simply bought errrrybody in sight. Liverpool used a forward-thinking analytics approach to assemble the smartest roster in Europe.

Now to be fair, City spent wisely on that billion dollar roster. And while Pep and the boys bottle up in the Champions League, they showed real resiliency and backbone in holding off Liverpool’s charge down the stretch in the EPL last season.

These teams don’t seem to particularly like each other. They know they’re the two best teams in the world (and two of the 10 best all-time). And they know what’s at stake.

Expect this to more closely resemble the Etihad match from last season.

That’s partly because the defenses are giving up more big chances

Both Liverpool and City have been vulnerable defensively this season. For City, injuries are mostly to blame. All-world center-back Aymeric Laporte is out. Left-back Oleksandr Zinchenko is out. Defensive center-mid Rodri is out. Ederson may be out. John Stones is NOT out. So yeah, the defense has issues.

As Grace Robertson points out on Statsbomb: “City are now a higher pressing side than ever, but at the same time are conceding chances of better quality than ever before, and have paid the price more than once.”

Some of that was happening before Laporte and Rodri went out. While Pep has tightened the defense up some recently, Liverpool is a different beast.

Liverpool’s defense is suffering similar issues as City, though (mostly) not just due injury concerns.

If you’ve watched every minute of every Liverpool match this season, you’re getting some queasy 2017 flashbacks. There are nervy moments and big chances conceded that simply didn’t happen last year.

A big part of that issue–from the eye test–is that Virgil van Dijk isn’t in the same form as last season. That’s understandable, as he had one of the most transforming years a center-back has ever had at a club.

But he’s a tick off this year.

The statistics back it up too.

There are lapses in concentration and organization that didn’t happen with the frequency as last season. VVD is the lowest statistical performer of his backline this campaign. He’s still great. He’s just not the colossus he was at this time last year. That’s in part reflected by the lack of clean sheets Liverpool is keeping. Yes, they’re winning. But they’re conceded goals they did not concede last year.

YET!

Liverpool have the same goal differential this year after 11 matches as last year (+16). And Liverpool are four points ahead of where they were at this point last season too (31 to 27). They’ve actually scored more this season compared to last at this time (25 to 21). They’ve just conceded more (9 to an absurdly low 5).

Liverpool allows the second fewest shots against them per game this season. City allow the fewest. So things aren’t so dire after all, right? For City, especially with the injuries, there is a concern. While they’ve only conceded 10 goals this season, their xGA is 12.5. Liverpool have conceded 9 to a xGA of 10.26. Liverpool have consistently out-performed their xG.

There’s the potential for a perfect storm on Sunday where City give up big chances, Liverpool converts one or two and then rolls.

So…the bottomline is: both teams will have real chances to score. It’ll come down to who is finishing better.

Then who will finish better?

The easy answer to this is Man City. Raheem Sterling looks like one of the three best forwards in the world right now. Sergio Aguero has been one of the best forwards in the world for a decade (and still is). Gabriel Jesus can score. Kevin de Bruyne can too, although he’s mostly crushing souls through his absurd xA output.

Liverpool heavily rely on Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, and Mohamed Salah to carry the goal burden. Typically they’re more than enough. They may not be on Sunday.

Part of that issue could be the reliance on Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson to service the build-up to them. As bad as Manchester United have been this season, OGS and crew provided a sturdy template for how to stifle Liverpool’s attack. The basics of that strategy are to bottle up and disrupt TAA and Robbo as much as possible. Pep has watched the tape. Pep may try a similar approach.

To combat this, Klopp should look at inserting a wonderfully in-form Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to the line-up. While Liverpool lose a little defensively with Ox compared to Jordan Henderson or Gini Wijnaldum, he provides a legitimate scoring threat that doesn’t remotely exist in the midfield right now. Ox is playing with confidence, scoring 4 goals in his last 4 games. He could be a true difference-maker.

What are other key match-ups to watch?

While obvious, Fabinho will be critical to Liverpool’s success. His ability to disrupt City’s counters may prove the difference maker. Fabinho could really have his way this match if fellow Brazilian Fernandinho is deployed at center-back instead of defensive center-mid.

It’ll be interesting to see the proximity of Fabinho to KdB in this one. De Bruyne appears to have taken over the “Best Player in the Premier League” mantle from Eden Hazard. Sterling may be the best goal scorer, but KdB is the best player.

Otherwise, this is all about Mane, Firmino, and Salah being in sync at the same time. City’s backline is ultra vulnerable. There will be pockets of space available to exploit. Liverpool’s final product must be crisper and more clinical than it has been at times this season.

Prediction

Liverpool haven’t lost a Premier League game at Anfield since April 2017. They’ve earned the benefit of the doubt at home. Oddsmakers and 538 have City as the slightest of slight favorites. Despite all of the bellyaching above about how porous the defenses are, oddsmakers have under 3.5 goals at -215.

Expect VVD to step up and have a mountain of a game. Expect Liverpool to be a little wasteful in the final third. It’ll be an exhausting, physical match that ends in a 1-1 draw.

Where to bet the Premier League in the US

In the US, you can legally bet on soccer in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

For New Jersey, we recommend DraftKings Sportsbook NJ or FanDuel Sportsbook.

Champions League Recap: Tuesday Was Kind of Bonkers (Podcast)

Chops November 7, 2019

It was an utterly enthralling and bonkers day of Champions League action on Tuesday. Consider:

  • Ajax led Chelsea 4-1 at Stamford Bridge…which included an unfortunate Kepa own-goal…then had two players sent off and white-knuckled their way to a 4-4 draw over the final 20 minutes.
  • Inter Milan go up 2-0 at Borussia Dortmund in the first half, scoring a glorious goal in the process…and end up losing 3-2.
  • Liverpool somehow struggle to a 2-1 win at home vs Genk…despite rattling off nearly 30 shots.
  • Barcelona laid another 💩 by drawing Slavia Prague 0-0 at home…and remain atop their group.
  • Red Bull Salzburg’s ERLING BRAUT HAALAND score again…yet Napoli still pull a point at home.

Here’s a High Press Soccer Podcast breaking down Tuesday’s game. Listen in the post or subscribe and download from Apple’s Podcast Center. Look for another Champions League podcast recapping Wednesday’s action and looking ahead to Liverpool vs Manchester City tomorrow.

Listen to “High Press Soccer Podcast Episode 39: Champions League Matchday 4 Recap” on Spreaker.

 

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