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Chops

Chops

Chops is the executive producer of High Press Soccer. He's an unabashed Liverpool fan who will absolutely let that bias seep into his reporting and analysis.

Let’s Go Shopping: Real Madrid Summer Transfer Window Edition

Chops March 19, 2019

With the 2019 summer transfer window approaching, we’re rolling out a new regular feature: Let’s Go Shopping! We’ll examine teams likely to spend over the summer and weigh in on who they may target and who we think they should buy. First up: Real Madrid.

Los Blancos are coming off a year of record revenue…and record disappointment. They were eliminated from the Champions League before the quarterfinals for the first time since 2009-10. They are more likely to miss UCL qualification than win La Liga (spoiler alert: they’re still qualifying). They have a new(ish) coach in Zinedine Zidane who is there to restore order and aging roster that needed a reboot a year ago. The times they are a changin’ for Real Madrid. Here’s a look at who they’ll likely sell and more importantly, who they should buy.

Who’s Out at Real Madrid?

Chops: First things first, who is most likely out: Gareth Bale? Karim Benzema? Agree?

Tyler Everett: I agree, Bale seems 100% gone. Marcelo is as likely to be out as Bale, and Isco is probably out as well (though new coach Zinedine Zidane already seems like he may have other plans). Luka Modric and Toni Kroos may very well be gone too. Those aren’t the only ones, and obviously I wouldn’t be shocked if Benzema stays, but I think there’s at least a chance he’s back.

Katya Gokhman: Before Zidane’s first match back, I was heavily leaning towards Bale being out no matter what.  But, if Bale continues to perform as he did under Zidane’s lead last match, he may convince Zidane otherwise.  Zidane came back to Real to win. If Bale can produce – why kick him to the curb? In regards to Benzema … Benzema is a product of Zidane’s schooling … and he’s French. He also hasn’t been doing a bad job of scoring this season with everything going on. With 13 goals in La Liga and 22 goals total — it’s not a bad average to have. In fact, he’s Real’s leading goal scorer. When the big names and changes happen, whether or not he starts will be the big question but I think he’d be a good sub coming off the bench at least.

Chops: I think with Bale, it comes down to the contract. Who’s buying him? However, it seems like he needs a fresh start away from Madrid fans who’ve tired of him. How about Sergio Ramos? On one hand, he’s on the wrong side of 30 (as in, he’s over 30). He’s [opinions are mine and mine alone] a thug [who I’d be fine with having on my team]. He’s an undisputed leader, though, and reportedly lobbied for Zidane to management.

Katya: Ramos could go either way. On one hand, I see Zidane being a loyal guy to the players that he gained success with in the past, especially his team leader. So, Zidane may be adamant of having him stay (especially since, as you mentioned, Ramos reportedly lobbied for Zidane). Otherwise, I think it’s time for Real Madrid to gain a new leader. Ramos is 32 — edging toward the end of his career. If Real is going to rebuild, they need to do it with newer, fresher players. Also, let’s not forget the huge argument he had with club President Florentino Pérez. I see Sergio Ramos getting sold this summer.

Tyler: Thinking about it more, with Zidane back at the helm, Isco and Asensio will both have their future decided by what happens the rest of the season. Santiago Solari obviously wasn’t crazy about either, but I bet they get plenty of minutes down the stretch.

Katya: I agree with Tyler. Isco and Asensio could go either way too. But if Real Madrid build the team as many think they should with younger players, I think Asensio is a good one to keep. He’s only 23 and has a contract until 2023 anyways. He’s had a slump of a season but, if we look at what Ryan O’Hanlon says, a player’s success highly depends on who he’s surrounded by. Asensio has done well when Zidane was around and I don’t think he’s reached his peak yet.

Isco is a great talent but his success, again, will come from who he will be surrounded by. I could see him being Real’s “Iniesta” (ok I may be pushing it with that comment, but all I’m saying is that I see the attack building up through him) but it depends on how the team will be built up. And then there’s the fact that he’s been wanting to leave Real Madrid anyways…

Chops: Isco in particular could stick. He’s on the right side of his prime curve. I can see Modric getting one more year to help the transition of young to old. There’s value there. He’s the reigning Ballon d’Or winner afterall.

Katya: I’ve always loved Modric and definitely agree. He’s well-respected and has always seemed to keep his cool — he would be a great transitional leader, especially if Ramos leaves.

Let’s Go Shopping

With that out of the way and a little extra money in the coffers, who should Real Madrid be targeting this summer?

Chops: The most interesting target to me is João Félix (if Manchester United don’t snag him first). Who better to take the old Ronaldo’s place than The Next Ronaldo? They’re already tracking him. He gives Zidane a chance to take a young player (20) and build him up, grow with him. He fits a definite need (attacking midfielder/striker). It seems like a no-brainer.

Katya: I think João Félix would be a great signing but we’ll have to see if Real can battle out Juventus and Man United for him … Man United I’m sure they can beat out. But Juventus would be a tough one …

Tyler: Eden Hazard was the first name I was going to say they will look at, but I think they go after Kylian Mbappé and or Neymar too. Many expect this summer to be like 2014, when they loaded up, adding James Rodríguez and Kroos. I doubt Zidane would have come back without a guarantee that they’ll spend like crazy — and it’s already started, as RM has reportedly agreed to a €50M deal for 21-year-old Porto center-back Eder Militao.

Katya: I’m with you, I definitely think that Hazard will be coming. He’s been talking about his interest in Real for quite some time and, now, with his childhood hero Zidane back at the helm while another coach may or may not be sacked by Chelsea this summer, I think it’s a no-brainer for Hazard. From a coaching standpoint, I think Hazard will do well under Zidane as well.

Chops: Yeah, the Sarri coaching situation is a trainwreck, and if Hazard’s patience at Chelsea is worn out, it’s hard to blame him. Mbappé seems destined to one day play for Real Madrid though.

Katya: Yeah, for me, the biggest signing would be if they got Mbappé. I love Kylian Mbappé so I am a bit biased, however, I think he could be the Ronaldo “replacement” at Real Madrid. I’m not sure he would be willing to leave France though. He’s had offers outside of the country before and he’s always been adamant to stay “local.” He grew up in Paris, so being back in Paris close to his friends and family now is a dream come true for him I think.

Tyler: I think 20-year-old River Plate midfielder Exequiel Palacios is a strong possibility. There were rumors he would join RM in January, but no deal was signed. Palacios has been on the radar of Spain’s top three clubs, as well as a number of others in Europe, for a while now. Another young player I expect RM and Europe’s other wealthy clubs to make a move for is Luka Jovic. The 21-year-old is excelling for Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt — he has 15 goals and five assists in 24 matches in the German league this year — and it is widely believed that he’s in for a big payday this summer.

Chops: There’s been talk of Harry Kane being a target for awhile. As with Christian Eriksen. And reports had Zidane interested in Sadio Mané at one time (how…dare…you). Do any of those Premier League scorers get a big offer?

Tyler: I don’t think money’s going to be an object for RM. With that in mind, I think Kane will get some interest, if not an offer, but that it won’t be enough to land him.

Katya: Harry Kane would be a tough one considering he’s valued at about 250 million pounds. Also, I wonder how he would do within a different playing style. Christian Eriksen seems to be a more likely purchase. As for Mané, he’s a huge Zidane fan, that we know. But Liverpool is definitely not a bad place to be right now …

Chops: All right, give me your one big name you think is the most likely to join Los Blancos this summer. I’m going to be super boring and say Hazard, with a run at Felix and Mbappé in two years.

Tyler: At this point, I’d more surprised if they didn’t land Hazard. But that seems more and more chalk by the day, so I’ll be a little bolder and say that they manage to land Mbappé. Yes, I’m predicting they get them both. And yes, I understand how outrageous that sounds. But if we believe the reports they’re willing to spend nearly $400M — and keeping in mind they’re likely to make a ton of money from player sales — I’m going to go with it.

Katya: I like the boldness, Tyler, and I would love to see Mbappé at Madrid! I’m also sticking with Hazard — I think he’s ready for a change and has nothing to lose. But my bolder prediction is Christian Eriksen — his contract will be up soon (2020) and I think this will be a good next step in his career.

 

 

Manchester City Have 18% Chance at The Quadruple: Odds for Each Trophy

Chops March 18, 2019

With their FA Cup quarterfinals come from behind victory over Swansea, Manchester City continue their march towards The Quadruple (i.e. winning all trophies, Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup, and Carabao Cup).

According to ESPN FC, their Quadruple odds are now at 18%.

 

Here’s a look at the cups still in play (they’ve already won the Carabao Cup), who they’ll have to play, and their odds for each.

FA Cup

Manchester City had a best case scenario in drawing Brighton in the FA Cup semifinals. They’re odds-on favorites to win the cup at -290.

Premier League

Even though they’re trailing a game-in-hand Liverpool by 2 points, Manchester City are still odds-on favorites to capture this year’s Premier League crown.

Latest odds on  FanDuel NJ Sportsbook have City at -280 (Liverpool are +195).

FiveThirtyEight give City 66% probability to win over Liverpool’s 34%.

Champions League

While City again got a favorable draw, facing Tottenham in the Champions League quarterfinals, if they’re going to stumble, this looks like the most likely place.

City are favored at +220, but closely followed by likely semifinal opponent Juventus (+300), Barcelona (+360) and Liverpool (+390).

Their probabilities indicate there’s a 65% chance they don’t win the UCL. Liverpool (24%) and Barcelona (22%) are their two biggest challengers. However, lucky for them again, they won’t face either until the finals.

 

Should I Stay or Should I Go: Frank de Boer Edition

Chops March 14, 2019

For the first time in the two year history of Atlanta United, boos filled the Mercedes-Benz Stadium after a game.

The boos weren’t necessarily directed at the players though. The jeers were aimed at new manager Frank de Boer and the noticeable change in style, system, and results he’s brought the Five Stripes.

Is it fair? Is it way, way, waaaay too early to judge de Boer?

Let’s debate in a new section called “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” with High Press Soccer site-runner (and Atlanta resident) Chops and MLS writer Harrison Hamm.

Frank de Boer: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Chops: Put me in the contingent of skeptics of this hire from Day 1. Frank de Boer had a good run at Ajax, yes. Four straight titles, even in the Eredivisie when your only real regular competition is PSV and occasionally Feyenoord, is still a difficult feat. But his incredibly disastrous stints at Inter Milan (oof) and Crystal Palace (double oof) seemed to be a better indicator of what the future held. It’s easy to feel validated from early results.

Harrison Hamm: You’re right that de Boer failed at Inter Milan and Crystal Palace. Those were tiny sample sizes, though, with groups of players that didn’t have time to coalesce around de Boer’s possession system. His six years at Ajax, on the other hand, produced world-class players and those four titles. Atlanta and its emphasis on cultivating and selling on youth is more similar to Ajax than Inter or Crystal Palace. It’s a long-term project.

Chops: I’m totally willing to admit that 1) it’s still early, and even the likes of Klopp and Pep needed a year and a transfer window (or two) to start seeing the kind of results everyone expected, and 2) for the most part, United has faced a difficult schedule. But it’s also irresponsible to ignore how badly de Boer’s last two stops went. I mean, Palace didn’t even score a single league goal. Not one!

Hamm: There are legitimate concerns there. Perhaps, though, this is only an indication of the complexity of de Boer’s system. Players will adapt, and de Boer will figure out how best to deploy them. I’d guess this oddball 3-4-3 he’s been trying will go away sooner rather than later. That his tactics are this difficult to implement is undoubtedly a flaw, but it doesn’t mean Atlanta won’t eventually come around under de Boer.

Chops: To your point, he already shifted the 3-4-3 offensively to create more opportunities on Wednesday against Monterrey. Where he wants to build from the back, ATL just doesn’t have the personnel to play like that. Seriously, Guzan had more possession last night than Josef Martinez. It was nuts. Although adding Florentin Pogba to the backline may help, he looked solid with that ball at his feet (can’t believe I just typed that). And Miles Robinson looked like a poor man’s Virgil van Dijk. Still, I’m grasping at straws. Aside from last night, I was there at the season debut with FC Cincinnati. The early Josef Martinez goal obfuscated how toothless Atlanta’s attack was for the game and their general lack of urgency in general. Counter-attacks were listless. The team looked disinterested and unhappy. You can see it on their faces and in their body language. There was no link-up creativity. Everything that defined United the past two years–that made the city embrace them–was missing.

Hamm: All of that will improve as players figure out what de Boer wants. Pity Martinez looks tentative and out of place, but MLS is a difficult league to decode for foreign players, especially given the rude awakening of Concacaf Champions League. He, along with Ezequiel Barco (at some point!) and others, will adapt. Atlanta is talented enough to scuttle along until de Boer gets what he wants out of this group.

Chops: FdB probably will get a long enough leash to make it work. If Arthur Blank runs ATLUTD the way he runs the Falcons, he’ll give the manager enough time to either hang himself or right the ship. For de Boer apologists, this is a good thing. You’ll have enough time to be proven right. However, with the 1-3 aggregate loss to Monterrey, and no wins in MLS, at what point do results start to matter over process?

Hamm: I think it would become a serious concern at the point that Atlanta are consistently dropping results and looking directionless doing it. I can’t see that happening any time soon, considering the cohesion they brought from last year and de Boer’s pedigree. But fans are restless, and Atlanta’s ambition suggests they could prove quick to the trigger if poor form continues. It’s worth noting, however, that Atlanta had similar issues attacking bunkered shapes last year under Tata Martino. A lot of these difficulties aren’t new.

Chops: The problem there is players hear and see everything now. They now the heat is on de Boer. If they don’t buy in, and right now it doesn’t look like they have, this very quickly becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. One problem they can’t solve is the absence of Miguel Almiron. It’s also become very obvious that Miggy was the the fulcrum of the attack. Pity has potential (I think, still waiting, but small sample size) but he’s not the replacement we thought he’d be (yet) and neither is Barco (who shines in fleeting flashes). Both have high work rates, much like Almiron, but neither have the ball-handling skills or vision that the new Newcastle man has.

To that point, do you think that de Boer needs to bring in new players to fit his system? And can the MLS facilitate that as quickly as the Premier League or La Liga? Isn’t that going to be a problem?

Hamm: I don’t think there’s an urgent personnel need; only at left wingback is there a noticeable gap in quality. They will surely search hard for a splash in the summer transfer window with as much cash as they can muster, given their lack of a DP spot, but this is on de Boer to fix with the players he has, and to prove he is the managerial answer. I’m sure that Atlanta would love to mine Europe for talent at this point in the season, but that will likely have to wait until the summer.

Chops: I certainly hope FdB finds the answers. No true fans want to see him fail (even after he called them “spoiled”). De Boer though needs to be more flexible in his thinking and approach, and tweak his system to suit his players strengths, or the #FDBOUT chorus will just sing louder and louder.

Champions League Round of 16 Leg 2 Week 2: Five Things We Learned

Chops March 14, 2019

What a week of European football.

Odds were once again flipped on their head, all time great players turned in all time great performances, and the field is now set for the Champions League Quarterfinals. Here are five things we learned this week.

1. The Premier League is Tops. For the first time since 2008-09, four Premier League teams have advanced to the Champions League final 8. It’s not just that Premier League teams have been dominant this campaign (they were also the only domestic league to produce four Round of 16 qualifiers)–it’s that two titans have capsized in their wake. Real Madrid will miss out on the quarterfinals for the first time since 2009-10. Bayern Munich won’t advance to the final 8 for the first time since 2008-09.

2. Sadio Mane is the new Mo Salah. Remember a year ago right now, when Mo Salah was scoring Messi-like goals on a weekly basis? May I introduce you to Sadio Mane? The Senegalese striker is on fire, scoring in both volume and quality at a team his team needs it most. From backheels to poise under pressure, enjoy this run of form from Mane.

3. Bayern Needs a Reboot. A few years from now, we’ll likely look back at the 2018-19 campaigns of Real Madrid and Bayern Munich the same way: the year that prompted both to reset, spend, and get younger. It wasn’t just that Liverpool looked better than Bayern yesterday, it was that Bayern looked limp. Toothless. Old. Expect big changes this summer from the German giants.

4. Ronaldo and Messi are the Best Ever. Yeah, on a personal level, Ronaldo is exceedingly unlikable. But you can’t disrespect his game. Messi is like a good bottle of Andrew Murray wine, aging better and better. Enjoy these two and the moments of brilliance they produce. While their primes are both stretching to Tom Brady-like levels, it won’t last forever.

5. Don’t Discount the Underdog. While the probabilities weren’t flipped on their head as drastically as the previous week, Juventus (25% to advance) and Liverpool (47%) both overcame the odds to make the quarters. As we keep writing, on a game-by-game basis, soccer can be fluky. A team can greatly exceed their xG (cough Manchester United cough) and shock the world. At least one team will probably do that in the next round.

Champions League Round of 16 Leg 2 Week 2: Can Juventus, Schalke, or Lyon Pull a Manchester United Style Upset?

Chops March 11, 2019

If last week’s Champions League Round of 16 matches taught us anything, it’s to completely disavow the concept of math and probabilities.

Manchester United had a 3% chance to advance. Ajax only had a 25% chance to move on. Porto, despite being at home, were at 44%. All three managed to punch their tickets through to the Champions League Quarterfinals.

Do any of this week’s big underdogs, Schalke 04, Lyon, or Juventus, stand a chance to overcome the odds and advance? How about slight underdog Liverpool, playing at Bayern Munich? Let’s examine.

Manchester City vs. Schalke 04

Manchester City -750 Draw +750 Schalke 04 +1600

According to FiveThirtyEight, despite only being up 3-2 on aggregate, Manchester City is 99%+ to advance to the quarters.

As we saw with Ajax and Manchester United last week (or Atlanta United vs. FC Cincinnati on Sunday), on a game-by-game basis, soccer can be very fluky. A team can dominate possession and fire off more shots on goal, and still lose to a team that converts most of its shots. It happens.

Yes, Manchester City is the best team in the world. Yes, Schalke 04 are decidedly not the best team in the world. And yes, the match is at the Etihad. But should Schalke really be less than a 1% chance to advance?

No.

City is rolling right now. However, they’re less than two months removed from a 3-2 home loss to Crystal Palace, and 2-1 road loss to Newcastle United. City utterly dominated both of those games in terms of possession (over 70%!) and shots on goal / target (almost quadruple and double, respectively).

Will City advance? Almost certainly. Is there better than a 1% chance that Schalke pulls off an upset? For sure.

Juventus vs. Atletico Madrid

Juventus -150 Draw +260 Atletico Madrid +450

Atleti is listed as an 88% chance to advance. While they should certainly be heavily favored, oddsmakers view Juventus as a -150 favorite to win the match. Despite Atleti’s stout defense, Juve have the firepower to overcome a 2-0 deficit against anyone in the world. Ronaldo has spent his entire career breaking hearts.

We’ll have more analysis of this match tomorrow, but if you’re an Atletico fan, prepare for a white-knuckler.

Barcelona vs. Lyon

Barcelona -450 Draw +550 Lyon +950

If you’re looking for a, “soccer is fluky, stuff can happen” kind of game, this one has the potential for an upset written all over it.

Barcelona hosts Lyon at Camp Nou, tied with an 0-0 aggregate. FiveThirtyEight has Barca at 76% to advance. Oddsmakers are more optimistic, listing them at -450 (with Lyon as a heavy dog at +950).

If you’re looking for clues in recent form, Barcelona haven’t lost since January 23rd (to Sevilla in the Copa del Rey). Sure, there are a number of draws recently and they’ve had their struggles (although the kind of struggles Barcelona has other clubs will kill for). Lyon lost February 24th to a struggling (though recently mildly resurgent) AS Monaco in Ligue 1.

With PSG eliminated, futures markets have Barcelona solely at second favorite overall to win the Champions League at +430 (Man City is +220). Barcelona should win this match. All it takes is that 10 second burst of brilliance from Lionel Messi. If Lyon wins, it’ll be one of those “park the bus, get a pk in the box in the last 10 minutes” kind of outcomes. Unlikely but not improbable. To paraphrase Lloyd Christmas, “so you’re telling me there is a chance.”

Bayern Munich vs. Liverpool

Bayern Munich -110 Draw +250 Liverpool +240

Your guess is as good as mine.

Seriously, who knows.

Oddsmakers and prognosticators don’t. FiveThirtyEight has Bayern at 53% to advance. While Bayern is a favorite to win at -110, books are hedging their own bets, giving Liverpool better futures to win the championship (+900 to Bayern’s +1100).

So much of this match depends on Jurgen Klopp‘s tactical strategy and line-up selection. Does he give a back-in-form Adam Lallana the start as a means to offensively energize Liverpool’s midfield? Or now that Lallana has looked strong, does Klopp ice him like he’s done with Shaqiri and Keita? If Liverpool aren’t breaking down Bayern’s backline in a 4-3-3, does Klopp go to the 4-2-3-1 he’s had success with this year?

Liverpool kept a clean sheet at Anfield despite not having Virgil van Dijk. He’s back this game. Bayern are without Thomas Müller again. Arjen Robben and Kingsley Coman are iffy. The reality is this game will come down to Liverpool’s front three. If Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, and Mo Salah look as they did against Burnley this weekend, the Reds will advance. If they are plagued with heavy touches and poor link-up play, they won’t. If there was every a time for Mo Salah’s expected goals to see a regression to the mean, it’s now. Either way, expect this game to be a classic.

 

 

 

 

 

These Premier League Matchweek 30 Sunday Games are Kinda Important Now

Chops March 9, 2019

With Tottenham‘s latest Spursian stumble, Sunday’s Premier League games are shaping up to carry some weight.

Liverpool vs. Burnley: After Raheem Sterling netted a hat-trick in 13 minutes at 12 seconds after half-time, propelling Manchester City to a 3-1 win over Watford, the pressure is once again on Liverpool. Yes, they’re a heavy favorite (-650 / +650 / +1500) and at home vs Burnley, but this may be more difficult than you’d think. Burnley has been in better form of late (only two losses in their last six fixtures) and are under relegation pressure again after Cardiff City‘s win today. Anything other than 3 points for Liverpool and this title race may be over.

Chelsea vs. Wolverhampton: Has Sarri gotten the train back on the tracks? Hard to say but Wolverhampton will present a real test. Chelsea currently sit in 6th (although Tottenham has two games in hand, and Manchester United and Arsenal both have one). A win and they could move back into fourth (via goal differential) depending on how United and the Gunners wind up. A loss and their Champions League aspirations become significantly harder. They’re only -190 to win (draw +300, Wolves +600) so the odds makers don’t see this as a surefire win (although FiveThirtyEight has them at 71%).

Arsenal vs. Manchester United: Get this, if Manchester United wins, they move into third (although most likely behind on gd) with Tottenham. Oh how the pendulum swings! Arsenal wins and they get a leg up on a top 4 finish over United and Chelsea. Simply put, this fixture carries major UCL qualifying implications. Oddsmakers see it close (Arsenal +135, Draw +240, United +190). United has confidence after their advancement into the Champions League quarterfinals, and that +190 looks intriguing.

Atlanta United Not the Same Under Frank de Boer

Chops March 8, 2019

Is it too soon to admit that Frank de Boer might not have been the right hire for Atlanta United?

With a 3-0 loss to Monterrey on Wednesday in the CONCACAF Champions League, his start at Atlanta United has been far from inspiring.

Full disclosure: I’m in the camp that thought this was a dreadful hire the second it was announced. I appreciate the measured take by writers like J. Sam Jones at DirtySouthSoccer. It’s the right way to view it. Wider lens. However, this is a situation where you can have opinions on both sides of the argument and still be right.

While de Boer’s (super) brief tenures at Inter Milan (yikes) and Crystal Palace (YIKES!) were certainly reasons for skepticism, the more substantive take had to do with how his coaching philosophy and system might not have been the best fit for the personnel the team had. This was an “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” situation. Poor de Boer wasn’t set up for immediate success. And if immediate success didn’t happen, a viscous confirmation loop was going to start among those who care more about his recent history (me me me!) than his (distant) past success–and a rabid fan-base who may not have the patience to see if de Boer can make it work.

Typically when coaching changes are made, organizations go for the polar opposite of the previous coach. That’s because most coaching changes are made because that previous coach wasn’t succeeding.

Not the case with the Five Stripes.

But here were are. Tata was loose. FdB is strick. Tata started practices late sometimes. FdB considers five minutes early to be late. Tata came from recent success. FdB not so much.

Atlanta Has Earned Benefit of Doubt…Right?

Atlanta United has gotten just about everything right since its inception. They deserve the benefit of the doubt. They’ve earned it.

New coaches and systems don’t click overnight.

However, the players and the system did work fantastically the past two years.

All but one of their key players is back (caveat: the key player who left, Miguel Almiron, was the MLS’s best player and has transformed Newcastle United since arriving on record-transfer). One player brought in, Pity Martinez, is a moderate facsimile to Almiron. The emergence of Ezequiel Barco (looks legit) is almost like adding a new player. The talent is there. The drop off shouldn’t be significant if the players buy into de Boer’s system.

But if the results aren’t there as they were last year, will they actually buy in?

Is It Fair to Judge de Boer Against Recent Opponents?

Timing is so important in every element in life. FdB wasn’t given the easiest early slate.

In the CONCACAF Champions League, he drew Monterrey in the quarterfinals. Monterrey is literally the best team on the continent.

While FiveThirtyEight might want to tweak their prediction algorithm, their Global Club Rankings is still a valuable tool. Monterrey ranks 96th, the highest Liga MX team and by far higher than the New York Red Bulls (187) and Atlanta United (196). Monterrey is ranked higher than Brighton, Fulham, and Cardiff City in the Premier League. Atlanta shouldn’t beat them. It should be closer, though. Sure, United led possession 51-49%, but Monterrey fired off 17 shots (5 on target) to Atlanta’s 5 shots (1 on target). Reigning MVP Josef Martinez’s work rate looked like LeBron playing defense for the Lakers. Despite all of this, the game was still close until the end. This is where de Boer having a better feel for his team would come in handy. As Joe Patrick at The Athletic noted:

In the MLS, the Five Stripes started their season away against a strong DC United squad. The 2-0 loss was disappointing, but its not like they were playing Orlando.

Where Does It Go From Here?

I’m in Atlanta. This city has real pride when it comes to the Five Stripes. The team is loaded with talent. While United owner Arthur Blank has shown patience when it comes to coaches and his Falcons, will he take the same approach with Frank de Boer if the Five Stripes keep laying eggs?

The good news for United fans is: there’s almost nowhere to go but up from here, and the talent is there. Hopefully de Boer is watching Maurizio Sarri‘s struggles at Chelsea and learning that being rigid and not adapting systems to players isn’t always the best approach to success.

 

 

Champions League Round of 16 Leg 2 Recap: Five Things We Learned This Week

Chops March 6, 2019

Well, that was more drama than expected.

Four teams punched their tickets this week into the 2019 Champions League Quarterfinals. At least two of them were decidedly not expected to do so. Here are 5 things we learned from these Round of 16 Leg 2 matches.

1. Your FiveThirtyEight percentages mean nothing! Soooo…that’s why they play the games, right? Going into Leg 2, FiveThirtyEight Champions League probabilities had Paris Saint-Germain at 97% to advance. Real Madrid was at 75%. Roma was basically a coin-flip at 56% to advance, but still favored. All three were sent packing. The Ajax win over Madrid and Porto advancement we saw coming. Manchester United we did not. We love the club rankings at FiveThirtyEight and the probabilities, but it might be time to tweak that algorithm. Soccer can be fluuuuukey and there is higher variance game-to-game then the probabilities are accounting for right now.

2. VAR is going to be controversial af. So, yeah…about Manchester United and Porto advancing. Both came on VAR reviews on missed calls in the box. Both weren’t originally called as penalties for a reason (and players weren’t necessarily doing Neymar-level histrionics over the missed calls). However, VAR officials called down to the field and eventually awarded game-deciding pk’s in the closing minutes to United and Porto. We’re not saying there wasn’t some level of merit to the handball by PSG and jersey tug by Roma. But the refs missed both calls on the field, the evidence in either case wasn’t overwhelming (oddly, the PGS handball looked worse at full-speed than slow-motion), and to allow ticky-tacky outcome-altering penalties at that stage of the game in this tournament was a bit harsh. VAR will be a hot topic the rest of this Champions League competition.

3. We know nothing about Tottenham. To paraphrase Slim Shady, will the real Tottenham please stand up? Is Tottenham the world-beater who depants Borussia Dortmund? Or are they the team that just lost to Burnley 2-1 and then to colossally struggling Chelsea 2-0? We won’t know until the quarterfinals, a round Tottenham hasn’t seen since 2010-11.

4. It’s time for Real Madrid to reboot. Other than maybe Manchester City, is there a harder team to root for than Real Madrid? Rooting for them is like cheering on the flu. Isn’t it kind of fun that they have to reboot? Things are a mess and amiss with Los Blancos. The only sure thing is whatever squad they bring to the 2019-20 Champions League, it’ll look different than this group.

5. Kylian Mbappe may be the best player on the planet and we’re robbed of seeing more of him. This was covered over at No Grass in the Clouds last week, but it really leapt off the screen today: Kylian Mbappe is a beast. Mbappe moves at a different speed and at a higher technical proficiency than his peers. Since he plays in Ligue 1, Americans really only get to see him during the Champions League, World Cup, or YouTube highlights. It’s a shame. He’s challenging Messi for world’s best footballer.

Should the USWNT Still be Considered 2019 Women’s World Cup Favorites?

Chops March 6, 2019

The USWNT didn’t drop a single match in 2018.

In 2019, they’ve played five matches, going 2-2-1.

On the surface, that doesn’t look too bad. However, the team got blown off the field by France. They were leaky on defense in draws against Japan (giving up a lead twice) and England, and haven’t defeated any opponent by more than a goal.

The two opponents they did beat, Brazil (1-0) and Spain (1-0 off a Christen Press stunner), are 10th and 12th in FIFA’s latest rankings. The loss to France (#3), and draws to England (#4) and Japan (#8) have them winless against the top competition they’ve faced.

Should the USWMNT Still Be Considered World Cup Favorites?

Based on their 2019 SheBelieves Cup performance, no.

The USWNT finished second place in the Cup, but throughout the tournament, England (the winner) looked like the superior squad. They’re hungrier. According to their coach, Phil Neville, they don’t want “semi-final” trophies any more. Their target is solely set on first place finishes. That showed in their final SheBelieves Cup match against Japan, a 3-0 walloping.

From the loss to France, to the recent performances of England and continued steady showing of Germany (#2 FIFA), at best, the USWNT should be even odds as those squads.

2019 Women’s World Cup Odds

Nothing has changed yet for 2019 Women’s World Cup odds. The US is still +250. Some books have moved England from +1100 to +900. As DraftKings Sportsbook, FanDuel NJ, and BetStars NJ list odds, we’ll update the site and provide insight leading up to the Cup in June.

Liverpool Is Dead! Long Live Liverpool!

Chops March 3, 2019

The soft rush of wind you felt in your hair around 1:15pm ET was the result of a collective sigh exhaled simultaneously by all Liverpool fans after the final whistle of a crushing 0-0 draw against Everton.

The third 0-0 draw in their past four matches (!) caused the Reds to fall a point behind Manchester City in the Premier League title race. That Quadruple CrownTM, with Manchester City winning four trophies this year, is looking more and more like an annoying reality.

Sloppy Play Kills Spirited Effort

Liverpool’s lack of non 0-0 results certainly isn’t due to a lack of effort. They’re not flat in any of these games. They’re just not sharp on offense.

As has been written ad nauseum, the Reds aren’t getting much goal production from their midfielders this campaign. That is making them entirely too easy to defend now. If Mo Salah, Sadio Mane, and Roberto Firmino aren’t “on,” then the whole offense is off.

Against Watford last week, this wasn’t an issue. The offense linked up creatively and generated scoring opportunities aplenty, securing a 5-0 win.

Against Everton, they were sloppy. The passing wasn’t crisp. The midfielders and wing-backs couldn’t locate forwards in the right spots. And most critically for Liverpool’s title chances, Mo Salah couldn’t convert two golden chances. Whether it’s the pressure of the title chase, the pressure of an away Merseyside Derby, or both, this simply isn’t going to cut it in a title race with razor thin margins.

But Oh Wait, It Gets Worse!

Oddsmakers are clearly off the Liverpool bandwagon. After installing Liverpool as prohibitive title favorites after Boxing Day, Liverpool have continued to slip, now finding themselves at +210 on FanDuel NJ. They’re closer today to their preseason +400 listing than their -175 heights.

Do NOT Look at FiveThirtyEight!

Bird Box this shit right now! Do NOT look below at FiveThirtyEight‘s Premier League title odds. Don’t do it!

Why did you look?

Before a third 0-0 draw in their past four games (did we mention Liverpool haven’t scored a goal in three of their past four games of which three ended in 0-0 draws?), Liverpool still were the slightest of slight favorites according to FiveThirtyEight. Now? Oh well, whatever, nevermind.

Are There Any Silver Linings?

Not really.

Yeah, the backline play and Alisson are obviously saving Liverpool’s season.They’re performing at a world-class level every game.

However, Jurgen Klopp‘s managerial decisions seem to be missing the mark of late. Whether he rips his squad in the locker room we don’t know, but his public excuse-making for their performances aren’t providing a level of accountability they perhaps need. The midfield hasn’t generated goals all season. With Klopp’s constant rotating out players after solid performances, that’s not going to change. And it’s March now. If Salah, Mane, and Firmino are going to all start clicking at once again, it’s getting a little too late for it to matter.

Sure, Liverpool are only a point behind Manchester City today. But that it’s one point that feel like one mile. This race no longer feels close. The oddsmakers and analytics agree.

It was a fun race while it lasted, but these problems aren’t fixing themselves. At least Liverpool can throw it’s record-setting riches at some offensive talent this summer, reload, and have a got at it again.

 

 

Who Has the Harder Remaining 10 Games? Liverpool or Manchester City?

Chops March 2, 2019

Only 10 games remain in the 2018-19 Premier League season. Liverpool have a narrow 1-point lead over Manchester City. Every single game played and point earned is critical.

If my math skills serve me correctly, by winning every single remaining game, Liverpool would win their first Premier League title (and first domestic championship in 29 years).

However, I suck at math.

The geeks at FiveThirtyEight do not.

There are 30 points to be had. Where will some be dropped?

Let’s look at all 10 remaining games for Liverpool and Manchester City, their odds to win those games, and how the rest of the season could play out.

 

Liverpool Opponent FiveThirtyEight Win % HPS Take Manchester City Opponent FiveThirtyEight Win % HPS Take
03/03 @Everton 70% Win At Anfield, Liverpool needed a last minute fluke Origi goal to get three points. It was one of Everton’s best games of the year though. Liverpool win by a goal and take all 3. 03/02 @Bournemouth 80% Win This one is more troublesome than Cityzens may want to admit. City draw, take 1.
03/10 Burnley 85% Win Liverpool fans should feel good about this one. Expect an onslaught in tune-up for their Champions League Round of 16 Leg 2. Take all 3. 03/09 Watford 84% Win Watford won’t get smashed like they did against Liverpool, but City prevails convincingly. Take 3.
03/17 @Fulham 75% Win Perfect match to either 1) rebound or 2) continue momentum from Bayern Leg 2. Take all 3. 03/30 @Fulham 80% Win One of those City 5-0 wins. Take all 3.
03/31 Tottenham 60% Win Percentage-wise, this is the hardest match remaining. However, at Anfield and with Spurs always capable of a Spursian collapse, this is an easy 3. 04/06 Cardiff City 92% Win Cardiff at the Etihad? This seriously isn’t 100%? City take 3.
04/05 @Southampton 67% Win Half the players on the pitch will have played for the other squad at one point. This is a concerning one, more than you’d think. Squeeze by with a hard fought 3. 04/14 @Crystal Palace 65% Win Palace is the proverbial pain in every Top 6’s ass. They’ve historically given City problems. Not today though. City take all 3.
04/14 Chelsea 61% Win The hardest fixture to predict. If it’s still a Sarri-shitshow, then an easy W. If it’s the Chelsea that showed up last weekend, it’s a fight. Will split the difference and call it a draw. 1 point. 04/20 Tottenham 64% Win It would be very Spursian to work their way into the title picture and lose at Anfield, then win a game once they’re too far out at City. And that’s what happens. City get the L.
04/21 @Cardiff 75% Win It’s Cardiff. Take all 3. 04/24 @Manchester United 57% Win The Manchester Derby! Hardest remaining game on City’s slate. Talk that the title race is over after the Spurs collapse–City smash United. Take 3.
04/26 Huddersfield 89% Win It’s Huddersfield. And at home. Take all 3. 04/28 @Burnley 74% Win An easy 3.
05/04 @Newcastle 66% Win Don’t like this one at all. Not one bit. Newcastle looked transformed with the addition of Miguel Almiron. Liverpool take the L. No points. 05/04 Leicester City 82% Win Like Palace, the Foxes cause problems. Not today. City take 3.
05/12 Wolves 81% Win Not an easy way to close out the season, especially with the title on the line. The pressure will be immense. Thank god it’s at Ansfield. Liverpool take 3. 05/12 @Brighton 76% Some of this may come down to if Brighton is on the brink of relegation. They’re at 12% right now. However, City need a win here and pull through for 3.

Based on the above highly scientific analysis, both Liverpool and City will drop 4 points in their remaining 10 fixtures. In that scenario, Liverpool wins the Premier League for the first time. 96 points to City’s 95. FiveThirtyEight has it similar, with Liverpool squeaking out a 1 point title. Either way, this is a title chase for the ages from two historically great teams.

The Beautiful Trainwreck That Is Sarri-Ball at Chelsea

Chops February 27, 2019

God bless European soccer.

American pro sports has scrubbed all of the human emotion from competition. Athletes and coaches are bland. No one is quotable. The public and media clamor for personality, but many times when an athlete provides an actual honest moment or shows real emotion, they’re raked over the coals (especially if they’re women).

Not really an issue in Europe.

Earlier this year, Jose Mourinho guided Manchester United through a weekly soap opera of Shakespearean grandeur. Just as hard as it was to understand why Mourinho was saying what he was saying, it was equally as hard to take your eyes off the slow motion trainwreck he was conducting.

Mou was sacked, stability came to United, and a giant dramabomb chasm was left, desperately needing to be filled.

Enter Maurizio Sarri and Chelsea Football Club.

A Timeline Of the Sarri Spiral

Seemingly within days of Mou’s departure, as the greatest coach in the world displaced manager was bouncing around interviews doing a bit of revisionist history on his crazy tenure, somewhere Sarri was clearly watching this and said to himself, “Hold my beer.”

While it seems like four seasons ago now, Chelsea’s season started promisingly enough. Let’s look back, shall we?

August 11th – November 11th: Honeymoon at Stamford Bridge

Out the gate, Chelsea looked to be a potential contender to Liverpool and Manchester City. Sarri, whose tenure at Napoli led to great excitement at Chelsea, looked like a brilliant hire. They were undefeated in their first 18 games across all competitions (for real!).

  • August 18: They beat Arsenal at home (8/18).
  • September 26 & 29: They defeated Liverpool in the FA Cup 3rd Round and tied them in the Premier League.
  • September 27: Articles are being written that Eden Hazard is the best player in the Premier League (which even continued into December).
  • October 20: They tied Manchester United.
  • October 29: Chelsea’s early success leads to Sarri being applauded for his leadership and influence. This was only four month ago, btw.
  • November 11: A tie at home vs. Everton. No complaints from the fans, really. Little does anyone realize that the honeymoon is almost over.

November 24th – January 5th: Knocking Over the Coke Machine

There’s an old Seinfeld analogy about ending relationships: it’s like knocking over a Coke machine, you have to rock it back and forth for awhile before it’s over.

That’s kind of like Sarri’s weeble-wobble run through December. The wheels hadn’t totally come off, but there was a lot of rocking before the inevitable tip that’s coming. Let’s examine!

  • November 24: A loss! Spurs clip Chelsea 3-1, giving the Blues their first “L” all season. Maybe browbeating your team that you’re not at the same level as Liverpool and City wasn’t the best motivational tactic?
  • November 28: N’Golo Kante is arguably the best #6 in the world and certainly a top 5 player in the Premier League over the past few years. Advanced stats back this up. So let’s play him out of a position he’s recognized as among the world’s best, and then criticize him to the media while praising the outsider / teacher’s pet you brought in from your old club who is not performing at the same level. That usually plays well in the locker room.
  • November 29: A rebound! Defeating global powerhouse PAOK 4-0 in the Europa League, nobody is panicking. Order has been restored.
  • December 5: Another Premier League loss? Sure, but it was away at Wolves, who are actually good. Everything is fine. Except for your player’s attitudes, of course. The browbeating and constant criticism is causing some leaks in the dam.
  • December 8: Take THAT Manchester City! Chelsea win 2-0, handing City their first Premier League loss of the season. For one day, all Liverpool fans bled blue (just not Sky Blue). Sarri’s tactics work afterall!
  • December 18: Mourinho is sacked. Sarri decides to lean big into the void left by Mou, he just hasn’t told anybody that yet.
  • December 22: His first chance to lean into the void, Chelsea lose at home 0-1 to Leicester City. He sows more seeds of player discontent by saying he found it “strange” how his squad reacted once going down 0-1 along with some mental confusion. Oh, only if this was the most strange or confusing thing that has happened since December 22nd. Maybe his tactics aren’t working?
  • December 26 – January 5: Chelsea rebound over four games, with three wins and a draw at Southampton. However, Sarri makes a curious not-so-veiled knock at (at the time) arguably the best player in the Premier League and the best player in his XI (especially playing Kante out of position). After the draw, Sarri hints at needed a new and better striker than Eden Hazard, whom he’s using as a false 9 even though literally nobody thinks that’s his best position. The constant nitpicking at Hazard and Kante begin to fray the team at the seams.

Also in this time, because why not start all relationships on the right foot, Sarri exudes nothing but joy over the Christian Pulisic summer transfer, saying he knew nothing of it.

January 8th – Present: The Downward Spiral

From January 8th, oh boy.

 

And here we are.

Sarri, Not Sorry

Just google “sarri stubborn” and you’ll get the idea that Maurizio Sarri might not care that you think he needs to change his ways.

And if you’re a fan of European football, or unsanitized personalities in general, why would you want him to change? This is fascinating. It’s entertaining. And it’s not as bad at Chelsea as you’d think.

Last year right now in the Premier League, Chelsea sat at 50 points. This year, same time? 50 points. They made it to the FA Cup 5th round (longer than Liverpool), played in the Carabao Cup final (better than four of the other Big 6 clubs), are co-favorites with Napoli to win the Europa League (they won’t), and are just three points shy of UCL qualification. At 65%, Sarri in his brief tenure has the exact same winning percentage as Antonio Conte, and a better percentage at Chelsea than Mourinho (version 2), Benetiz, and Di Matteo.

Enjoy the Sarri histrionics and theatrics for their fleeting remaining moments. We get so little of this in American professional sports (although stroll any youth sports sidelines, and parents and coaches more than make up for it). Is Sarri probably bringing his team down now? Yeah. Is Chelsea having as bad of a season as it currently seems? No. Will Chelsea hire another manager soon who won’t last more than two years? Most definitely.

Updated Premier League Title Odds: Manchester City Increase as Odds-On Favorite, Liverpool Longer

Chops February 25, 2019

On Sunday, Liverpool moved ahead of Manchester City on the Premier League table…and saw themselves become longer underdogs to win the title.

Yes, Liverpool turned in an uninspired performance against Manchester City, earning a 0-0 draw. However, the draw moved them a point clear of City in the title chase. For this, Liverpool saw their title odds go from +110 two weeks ago to +155.

After a thrilling pk shootout win over Chelsea to capture the Carabao Cup (above), City improved as odds-on favorite to win the Premier League from -165 to -210. The Carabao Cup win gives Manchester City one of four trophies for the ’18-19 campaign. They’re now favorites on FiveThirtyEight again to win the Premier League (52%), nearly 50/50 to make the Champions League final, and favorites on all New Jersey sportsbooks (such as FanDuel NJ) to win each remaining cup.

Tottenham‘s loss to Burnley saw their odds plummet from +2000 to +5500 and likely out of the title chase for good.

2018-19 Premier League Title Odds
Manchester City -210 Liverpool +155 Tottenham +5500
Manchester United +17000 Arsenal +25000 Chelsea +25000

 

Champions League Round of 16 Recap: Five Things We Learned This Week

Chops February 20, 2019

Another week of Champions League Round of 16 matches in the books. Here’s what we know:

  1. F’ing City Aren’t Going Anywhere – For 85 or so minutes, it looked like Schalke 04 was going to pull off a stunner against Manchester City. The Sky Blues were down a man after an Otamendi  red card. Then Leroy Sané equailzed in the 85th and Raheem Sterling iced it at 90′. If you’re a Liverpool fan [looking in the mirror], City’s resilience is a bad harbinger for the next few months.
  2. Liverpool Need to Dig Deeper – For a half, Liverpool looked like the far superior team to Bayern Munich. But then Bayern’s passing through the back, grind it down strategy took the steam out of the Reds attack (and their fans’ enthusiasm). Given City’s resilience in both the Champions League and Premier League, Liverpool need to dig deeper if they expect to land elusive hardware.
  3. Don’t Sleep on Lyon – Among HPS’ers, we felt there was a chance Barcelona could trip up against Lyon on Tuesday. The 0-0 tie still leaves Barcelona in the driver’s seat, but Lyon aren’t your typical Ligue 1 joke. They’ve beaten PSG recently and have a Champions League draw against Manchester City. Barcelona have tripped up unexpectedly in the UCL (Roma, anyone?). While we think Barcelona advances, if there’s an underdog with a puncher’s chance going into Leg 2, Lyon is worth a look. They keep games tight and low scoring, meaning a lucky break or fluky bounce can alter a seemingly given outcome.
  4. Atlético Madrid Will Advance – After a convincing 2-0 win against Juventus, Atleti’s odds to make the Champions League quarterfinals jumped to 86% on FiveThirtyEight. Keeping a clean sheet is the difference maker here. Juventus definitely wasn’t banking on this when they rolled the Brinks truck up to Ronaldo’s doorstep.
  5. VAR Is Going to Change Destinies – This is the first year the Champions League has used VAR, and it’s already altering games. VAR was critical in the Atleti-Juve contest, and it’ll change the trajectory of more games to come. VAR is here to stay, and we don’t think that’s a bad thing.

Missing Persons: Liverpool vs. Bayern Munich Combined Starting XI Indicates How Champions League Round of 16 Leg 1 Match Could Go

Chops February 18, 2019

The marquee match-up of the Champions League Round of 16 is Liverpool vs. Bayern Munich on Tuesday, February 19th at 3pm ET.

Through a combination of suspensions, injuries and illnesses, both squads are fielding mini-MASH units going into the Leg 1 match at Anfield.

Injuries and Odds

Despite being at Anfield, the odds aren’t as heavy for Liverpool as many would expect. At FanDuel NJ, Liverpool are only +105 to win.

Liverpool +105 Draw + 250 Bayern Munich +250

Yes, not having arguably Europe’s best center-back, Virgil van Dijk, is part of the reason Liverpool isn’t in the -110 range. In fact, Liverpool are down three center-backs, with Dejan Lovren and Joe Gomez both out. Today it was reported that Roberto Firmino is dealing with an illness that may or may not keep him from playing.

The Reds aren’t the only ones suffering though.

Bayern will potentially be without a slew of veterans, including Franck Ribery (personal, though may still play), Arjen Robben (injured), Jerome Boateng (illness) and Thomas Muller (suspended two games) on Tuesday.

Combined Liverpool vs. Bayern Munich Starting XI

Over the weekend, ESPN FC’s Shaka Hislop stated that there may not be one healthy Bayern player for Leg 1 that would make his combined starting XI. As an unabashed Liverpool fan, as much as I’d like to agree with that statement, I don’t. However, looking at a combined starting XI for the two squads helps provide some clarity as to how this match could go.

First, let’s make the following assumptions: Roberto Firmino is recovered and will play the 9, James Rodriguez slides into the 10 for Bayern, and Jurgen Klopp goes for continuity from Liverpool’s last match at midfield, meaning Naby Keita, Fabinho, and Gini Wijnaldum get the start.

Second, on defense, while an argument could be made for letting 17 year-old phenom Ki-Jana Hoever get his first Champions League start, the more likely scenario is Joel Matip is paired with Jordan Henderson (or Fabinho, in which case, expect Hendo to start in midfield).

And third, for the sake of this exercise, we’ll make this a 4-3-3 (although you might see Klopp rollout a 4-2-3-1, more on that later).

With that in mind, here’s the combined starting XI for Liverpool and Bayern Munich:

In this format, Liverpool have six of the starting XI to Bayern’s five. Bayern’s strength is up the middle, Liverpool on the wings. Given the seasons that Mane, Robertson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, and Salah are having for Liverpool, that shouldn’t be too surprising. While Niklas Sule and Mats Hummels don’t stack up in quality to VVD and Gomez, they’re the stronger pairing here. Even in what many consider to be a down year for him, Robert Lewandowski is scoring at an elite clip, and leads all players in Champions League goals with 8 (Lionel Messi follows with 6, and Mo Salah leads Liverpool with 3). James was a tough call at the 10, but edges out Fabinho and / or Henderson centrally.

If Bayern are stronger up the middle (particularly with both of Liverpool’s CBs out), then Klopp going to a 4-2-3-1 like he has multiple times this campaign will provide some backline support against Lewandowski and James. In that scenario, a starting XI of Robertson, Matip, Fabinho/Henderson, Alexander-Arnold, then Henderson/Fabino and Wijnaldum as dual sixes, with Mane, Firmino, ex-Bayern player Xherdan Shaqiri, and Salah up top nuetralizes Bayern’s strengths and keeps what could be a wide-open, high-scoring affair into a more grind-it-out battle.

Captain Obvious here, but the fewer away goals Liverpool concedes the better for them, and this could be a very conservative approach by Klopp. Expect a heavy reliance on Robbo and TAA going full-on wing-back in helping spark the attack, and a full-throated Anfield crowd to make the difference in a close one.

Also Read: Liverpool Player Ratings vs. Bayern Munich Champions League Leg 1

FA Cup 5th Round: Chelsea vs. Manchester United Try to Rebound

Chops February 15, 2019

The FA Cup 5th Round matches take place Friday – Monday.

The majority of match-ups feature Premier League also-rans against Tier 2-3 opponents (as well as poor Newport County, 15th in English League Two, hosting Manchester City). However, one marquee drawing pits two global brands coming off humiliating defeats in a match-up that could change the trajectory of their respective seasons: Chelsea vs. Manchester United.

Chelsea vs. Manchester United FA Cup 5th Odds and Preview

Chelsea +100
Draw +210
Manchester United +260

Match Time: February 18, 2:30pm ET, ESPN+

While the FA Cup isn’t necessarily the trophy either Chelsea or Man U circles as a priority at the start of the season, the timing of this specific match heightens the importance of this game for both squads.

Chelsea is coming off an utter de-pantsing at the hands of Manchester City this past weekend. It was the kind of shellacking that could ultimately lead to the sacking of Chelsea boss, Maurizio Sarri.

Manchester United likely saw their hopes of a Champions League run vanish after being thoroughly out-classed by a short-handed Paris Saint-Germain.

Both Sarri and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer are fighting to keep their jobs. Both need to rebound quickly. Chelsea have fallen to 6th in the Premier League and face Manchester City in the 2019 Carabao Cup Final on February 24th. United, having just climbed into 4th place in the Premier League, play Liverpool at home on the 24th.

While a FA Cup trophy won’t necessarily assure either manager a long-term tenure at their respective clubs, hardware is hardware, momentum is momentum, and this match could be the springboard to a successful Spring for each.

Hi, Yes, I’m New Here and a Sicko, What’s the Line on Newport County vs. Manchester City?

Newport County hosts Manchester City on Saturday the 16th at 12:30pm ET on ESPN+.

City is like that Big 10, Urban Meyer-coached team that just runs the score up because they can. If City wanted to, this match could end up 47-0.

City could play its U12 youth team here and advance. They won’t, but City’s back-ups would still be a top 6 Premier League squad. That’s why Newport County is an absurdly priced +3000 underdog. The draw is +1000 and City is -1600 to win.

Champions League Round of 16 Predictions

Chops February 12, 2019

The Champions League Round of 16 kicks off today at 3pm ET.

Each Champions League stage, we’ll have a combination of writers and former players weighing in with their picks. For this round, we have High Press Soccer contributors Chops, Tyler Everett, Harrison Hamm, as well as former Premier League striker Carl Cort. After a stint with the NASL, Carl now conducts Las Vegas private soccer training and clinics.

Match-Up Chops Everett Hamm Cort
Roma vs. Porto Porto’s true form is hard to pin down, but Roma isn’t exactly on fire. This is supposed to be a coin-flip, so heads, Porto. It’s hard to know if Porto’s strong play in Group D was a result of weak opposition or a sign of the Portuguese side’s quality. Will nevertheless take Porto to emerge from two matches I expect to come down to the final minutes. Roma are a wild team, not far removed from a 7-1 loss to Fiorentina in the Coppa Italia. A non-Big Five club always seems to end up in the quarters, so Porto here.

Leg 1 I think it will be a close game. Porto are in good form but I just think being at home the Italians will be too disciplined and sneak a win. 

Roma win.

Manchester United vs. Paris Saint-Germain Was leaning PSG until the Cavani injury. Have to go Man U now, although they need to pour it on at home in Leg 1. I see this one as essentially a tossup, but believe ManU will upset the French team, which will struggle without Neymar. This is a different ManU club than the one that was languishing under José Mourinho. United are playing pretty well, but it won’t be enough against PSG, who wait just a little longer to disappoint in the Champions League.

No Cavani, no Neymar. With the recent sacking of José Mourinho much to the players delight Man U have hit great form. 

Man U win. 

Schalke 04 vs. Manchester City City could play their bench and handily win this one. Man City will easily handle a Schalke 04 club that was in 12th (!) place in the Bundesliga as of Friday. City are rampaging right now. Hopefully Weston McKennie plays. Leg 1, and the match-up in general, will be over by halftime. Easiest pick of the round. Man City win.
Lyon vs. Barcelona Barca could play their bench+Messi and handily win this one. Barcelona has too much firepower for me to doubt them against any Ligue 1 club other than PSG. Don’t complicate it. Over/under on total Messi goals+assists should be three. Maybe four. Barcelona advance.

The only positive outlook for Lyon is that they are at home for Leg 1. Other than that they don’t stand a chance. 

 

Atlético Madrid vs. Juventus All Ronaldo does is preen. And win CL rounds. Another tough call, but I’ll go with Juve, as Cristiano Ronaldo will once again thwart his former crosstown rivals. An Atletico win would be another mark in the column of “La Liga is superior to the Premier League.” Leg 1 will be a close game but a disciplined performance will see Juve through with CR7 giving them that edge.

Ajax vs. Real Madrid A month ago, I was going to grow a beard, wear skinny jeans, and go with the hipster pick of Ajax. Real Madrid’s recent form is too good to ignore. Los Blancos advance.  I’m buying in on a hot Real Madrid team. Like ManU, they’ve drastically improved since sacking their coach — even though the first leg will make it three road games in a row in tough environments. I was heavily tempted to pick Ajax. I can’t quite get there. It’s hard to go against Real at this stage of the CL. Even with Ajax being at home and always good on the eye this is the end of the road for them.

Real win.

Liverpool vs. Bayern Munich With VVD and Gomez out, if Leg 1 was in Germany, the pick would be Bayern. Game 1 being at Anfield, as well as Klopp’s experience managing in Germany, are the difference makers. Although now I’m worried that everyone else also picked Liverpool. The Reds will squeak by the perennial German power to move one step closer to a chance to avenge last season’s disappointment in the final against Real Madrid. Bayern aren’t winning the Bundesliga. They’re not beating this Liverpool team in the Champions League. Two top teams with a long history of CL football. I think the difference between the teams will be Klopp’s tactical experience with CL and German football.

Liverpool win.

Tottenham vs. Borussia Dortmund This is another coin-flip. Both are underrated. Tails, BVB. I could see this one going either way, but I’ll go with the Bundesliga leaders, who will prevent the EPL from going 3-0 against the Bundesliga in the Round of 16. Full disclosure: I mainly hope Christian Pulisic plays. But I’m picking Tottenham. Another close one for me. You have a Dortmund team who are very dynamic and doing well domestically but even with a Spurs team who are missing Harry Kane I think with Leg 1 being at home they still have enough to win the game.

Spurs win. 

It’s Official: Liverpool Post Record £106m Net Profit While Spending £190m on Players

Chops February 8, 2019

As High Press Soccer wrote last month when the Deloitte Football Money League report came out, Liverpool was poised to post record net profits.

The final numbers are in, and it’s official: Liverpool earned a European club record £106m ($137M USD) net profit last season.

This tops Leicester City’s previous record of £80m.

How They Got There

Liverpool’s two biggest unexpected revenue chunks came from the sale of Philippe Coutinho‘s £142m transfer to Barcelona, and earning £72m by making the Champions League finals (an extra sweet bonus after jettisoning Coutinho).

They also massively boosted their media, sponsorship, and match revenue.

Long gone are the days of near bankruptcy for the Reds.

More impressively, the record net profit comes after dropping £190m ($251M USD) on players. Liverpool is earning, but unlike Premier League peers such as Newcastle United, they’re actually spending it where it matters most too.

 

 

Jose Mourinho Better at Dropping Points Than Pucks

Chops February 4, 2019

Jose Mourinho was skating on thin ice this season at Manchester United before eventually falling out of favor with his bosses and getting dropped as manager.

Mourinho, often cold with his stars, would stick it to them to the press, slapping them around after poor performances.

All of this is to say that Mourinho was in Russia on Monday to drop the puck at a SKA St. Petersburg and Avangard Omsk game, and unfortunately for him, fell on the ice.

On the bright side, there’s nowhere to go from here but up.


Wait, So Tottenham And Arsenal Were the Only Top 6 Premier League Teams to Not Drop Points?

Chops January 31, 2019

Well, that was unexpected.

The Premier League returned with midweek Matchday 24 games. And things didn’t go as expected.

The Big 6 Premier League clubs trending up laid eggs, and the ones trending down showed up.

How will this impact the rest of the season?

Also read: Premier League Big 6 Futures

Liverpool Miss An Opportunity to Separate

Manchester City inexplicably lost to Newcastle United 2-1 despite going up 1-0 in the first minute on Tuesday. Liverpool had an opportunity to move 7 points clear playing at home. I even started writing this post on Tuesday night.

As High Press Soccer wrote though in the Liverpool Player Ratings vs. Leicester City report, only Mane, Bobby Firmino and Robbo really showed up, and even though they went up in the opening seconds like City, they also dropped points with a draw.

Instead of going up 7, they go up 5, and that ever elusive Premier League title is still up for grabs.

Tottenham and Arsenal Solidify Top 4 Spots

Welcome Arsenal to Champions League consideration!

After getting throttled 5-1 by Liverpool, Arsenal appeared destined for the Europa League in 2019-20. Then, they pulled off a key win against Chelsea 2-0. This was at the beginning of Chelsea’s slow and comical implosion, culminating with a 4-0 shellacking by AFC Bournemouth. Arsenal now find themselves tied for fourth in the Premier League table. Who’d have thunk?

Tottenham has seen Harry Kane and Dele Alli go down with injuries (and Son Heung-min go to the Asia Cup), yet, they’ve now gained points, moving within 7 of Liverpool. Son keyed a late 2-1 win against Watford on Wednesday, scoring the winner in the closing minutes.

Chelsea is the new Manchester United

Remember when Jose Mourinho was a curmudgeonly blowhard torpedoing a talented, expensive, and under-achieving squad? Maurizio Sarri was like, “Hold my beer.”

The addition of Gonzalo Higuain was supposed to solve their offensive woes, yet, they go scoreless to Bournemouth as his runs were overlooked and passes to him were consistently off target.

What a mess.

Suddenly, Chelsea is tied with Arsenal for fourth and trending the wrong way. If nothing else, they’ve filled the void left by United’s dysfunction.

A Tale of Two Manchesters

Manchester City, possibly feeling the pressure of a title pursuit from Liverpool, somehow drop points to relegation candidates Newcastle. The (Blue) sky is falling!

Manchester United, down 0-2 in the second half, storm back for a tie, and despite dropping valuable points in a race to get back into the top 4, still feel like they have all of the momentum.

Their derby on March 16th should provide plenty of fireworks. A title for City and Champions League qualification for United may be at stake.

The More Things Change…

Despite (or because of) this mixed bag of results, FiveThirtyEight title and top 4 percentages basically remain the same as they were at the beginning of the week.

After City’s loss, Liverpool was bumped to over 80% to win the Premier League, but fell back down to 74% after their draw. Chelsea is still almost 50% to qualify for the Champions League, while Arsenal and United stay around 35% and 23%, respectively.

With another matchday down, the Premier League picture only got more intriguing.

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