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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.

2019 Champions League Final: Liverpool – Tottenham Combined Starting XI

Chops May 22, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liverpool – Tottenham combined starting XI

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

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

Chops: Damn right!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tyler: Can’t wait!


Let’s Go Shopping! Tottenham Hotspur Summer Transfer Edition

Chops May 21, 2019

With the 2019 Champions League Finals around the corner, we’re tackling Liverpool and Tottenham’s summer transfer targets.

We covered Liverpool summer transfer targets this weekend. Now it’s time for Tottenham Hotspur, the vanilla ice cream of the Big 6. Nobody truly hates Spurs, they’re pretty inoffensive, and sometimes you’re just kind of like, “Yeah, I forgot vanilla is pretty good sometimes.”

This could and should be incredibly brief. Over the past year, Spurs literally bought no one. Not a single person.

However, their gazillion-dollar stadium is now built which opens up greater revenue potential. And they’ll have a windfall of (most likely) $90M to (less likely) $100M in UCL winnings.

Will they actually spend it? If so, how?

Let’s go shopping!

Tottenham Summer Transfer Targets

Top needs:

  • Depth in general
  • Attacking midfielder
  • Backline

Chops: Ok, Spurs HAVE TO buy someone this summer right?

Tyler: It would blow my mind if they stood pat yet again. The recent lack of spending hasn’t made a ton of sense to me, and it would be even more ludicrous this year considering the impending windfall from the UCL. How do you explain to your fans that you can’t make any signings after you get an unexpected cash injection of around $90M?

Katya: Completely agree with Tyler – if this summer isn’t the time for the Spurs to do at least a little shopping, I don’t know when it would be.  Keeping your team the same and building it up has its benefits (like making it to the Champions League final) but eventually, it needs new blood and a new outlook.

Chops: It’s not just that they have UCL money coming in, they may actually be sellers. Christian Eriksen has been a Real Madrid target for what feels like years. If they do sell him, that’s someone they must replace. What other spots in their roster need to be bolstered?

Katya: With a high likelihood of Eriksen leaving to Madrid, the midfield will definitely be missing some of its depth. Not to mention, they would benefit from a box to box midfielder – I wonder if the Spurs will reignite their interest in Adrien Rabiot. It was rumored that Rabiot’s sign on fee demand was pretty outrageous – perhaps, he may rethink his demands just a bit for the Champions League finalists/possible winners.

Chops: Finalists.

Tyler: Eriksen would be a big loss, obviously. I’d like to add here, though, that I don’t sense a move to Madrid. Maybe such a transfer is in the works, quietly. But most players who end up with RM are the subject of rumblings from As and Marca, among others, that start months before a deal is signed. Eden Hazard has been considered a lock for months, and a slew of other names have been mentioned in recent months. But at the moment, the Spanish papers have not given me the sense that this is imminent, for whatever that’s worth. And he could always leave Tottenham for one of a number of other European powers besides Los Blancos.

At any rate, the midfield would arguably be OK if Eriksen bolts, especially when Son Heung-min lines up there. If this team is healthy — as we saw this year, that’s unfortunately a massive if — it is talented up top and in the midfield.

The issue is depth and the backline. To me, the best “available” player who is proven, but still in his prime, is Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane. He would help Spurs immensely. He reportedly wants out of Madrid, but as we talked about in the Let’s Go Shopping! for Manchester United, he’s going to require a hell of an outlay.

Chops: Is there a “Poch” player? As in, what player would be an ideal fit for Mauricio Pochettino?

Katya: This is a tough one. But I will says this – it seems that Poch really values mentality over technical ability. Considering the fact that, at this level, any player will come with technical ability –  if we take a look at how Spurs have played in the Champions League from the perspective of their team unity, fight, and passion, we can see that this mentality has been honed at Tottenham. With this being said, Poch needs a hard working player who won’t cause problems off the field and is reliable on the field.

Tyler: To echo Katya, there’s not one that immediately comes to mind. If the top characteristics Poch is seeking are mental toughness and perseverance, his targets are probably pretty under-the-radar right now — grit doesn’t land you on a lot of online wish lists. Tottenham has never hesitated to look to Amsterdam for up-and-comers from Ajax. It’s hard to call anyone on that roster “unheralded” after that incredible UCL run. But I’ll float defenders Nicolás Tagliafico (26) and Noussair Mazraoui (21) as players who might follow the Amsterdam-to-London path. Spurs fans would certainly welcome the latest in a long pipeline that includes current players Christian Eriksen, Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen and Davinson Sanchez.

Chops: Mazraoui in particular makes sense. Big clubs have (mostly) gotten smart on what age to buy players, and he helps strengthen a long-in-the-tooth backline.

What will it take for Spurs to catch either Manchester City or Liverpool, other than breaking FFP regulations like the Sky Blues?

Tyler: The entire organization will have to adapt a very different mindset to close the gap on the teams at the top of the EPL. Because the Champions League is formatted in a way that makes upsets commonplace, runs like the one Spurs are on this year are possible even if your roster leaves something to be desired. That’s not the case domestically, where you play 38 games, meaning the deepest, most talented teams are going to pull away in the standings.

Maybe the windfall from both the Champions League and the deal with whoever signs on as title sponsor of Spurs’ beautiful new home — I can’t imagine it remains “Tottenham Hotspur Stadium” for long — will prompt Daniel Levy to change his ways and open up his wallet. Otherwise, third or fourth place in the EPL is going to remain this team’s ceiling. At some point soon, Spurs are also going to lose Pochettino if the “no incoming transfers” policy stays in place.

Speaking of Poch, how seriously should we take his comment — prior to leg 2 of the semifinals — about possibly leaving the club if it raises the UCL trophy on June 1? Could the winner of the Champions League drop the mic/trophy (see Zinedine Zidane/Real Madrid a year ago) and walk away in back-to-back years?? Seriously, though, is this a good time to talk about how much longer we should expect Poch to stay with this team?

Katya: Playing catch-up with the likes of Manchester City or Liverpool is a tough one – especially if, like Tyler mentioned, Daniel Levy isn’t willing to “open up his wallet.” Money is king and Manchester City and Liverpool have both spent quite a lot on transfers in the past – with Liverpool dropping the most cash out of all the EPL teams last summer.

In regards to Poch’s comment about leaving if the club hoists the UCL trophy – I have a feeling that Poch would come back for more. It definitely would be a tough accomplishment to repeat, but he would have something else he could focus on as well: catching up to the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City…

Chops: Ok, let’s narrow this down and see if there is anyone that makes sense based on their past history. While Spurs didn’t buy anyone last year, they did the two previous summers (while shipping Kyle Walker out to Manchester City).

As Tyler noted, Spurs have history with Ajax. Their record signing (Davinson Sánchez) came from there for $45.6M. They’ve done some business with Newcastle as well, shipping out DeAndre Yedlin ($6.73M) and bringing in Moussa Sissoko ($39.9M). Semifinal savior Lucas Moura came from PSG for $32.38M.

Those are the parameters. With that in mind, I’m going to steal an idea Tyler had in the Liverpool summer transfer edition and say Donny van de Beek makes sense as a Christian Eriksen facsimile. The price and pipeline make sense.

Fortunately for Rafa Benítez, there’s not a player on Newcastle whose contract or age make a ton of sense for Tottenham. However, there is one from Paris Saint-Germain: Timothy Weah. On loan to Celtic, PSG has indicated they’ll listen to offers for the US international. He could help provide attacking depth and U.S. market access for Spurs (opening up a revenue stream from a new fanbase for the club if he does well). Make that one happen, Spurs. Do we have to do all of the hard work for you?

Tyler: It will be interesting to see what happens with van der Beek. Ajax sporting director Marc Overmars has said publicly that the club will do what it takes to keep both him and Manager Erik ten Hag. It strikes me as something that will be far easier said than done, but maybe the Dutch side can keep a few coveted pieces a year longer than many expect them to.

Chops: Given the financial windfall Ajax is going to see from the UCL and selling players like Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt, maybe we need to do a Let’s Go Shopping for them. Ajax is going to be sitting on potentially $200M in newfound cash this summer.

Regardless, Fulham and Londener Ryan Sessègnon is expected to join Spurs to bolster their midfield. He’s not exactly the “challenge City” import that moves the needle. Same goes for 19 year-old attacking midfielder Nicolo Zaniolo from Roma. Maybe one of these targets becomes a start like Son or Kane. Under Poch, that’s possible.

However, the reality is until Tottenham are willing to splash on a few true blue chippers, they’ll be perpetually playing European football without competing for actual titles. Maybe that’s enough for ownership. It won’t be enough for Poch. You simply don’t hear Tottenham even mentioned for the same targets that City, United, Madrid, Barca, and to a lesser degree, Liverpool are linked to in the press.

The way soccer’s landscape is shifting, as the rich keep getting richer (and buying the best players), this really is a pivotal summer for the Spurs. They have to start spending. If not now, then when?

Let’s Go Shopping! Liverpool Summer Transfer Edition

Chops May 18, 2019

With the 2019 Champions League Finals around the corner, we’re tackling Liverpool and Tottenham’s summer transfer targets.

First up, Liverpool.

Liverpool spent heavily in 2017-18, using their Philippe Coutinho money to acquire Virgil van Dijk (£75 million), Alisson Becker (£66M), and Fabinho (£39M).

Despite hauling in another $90-100M for their UCL run this year, and setting profit records last year, early reports suggest Liverpool may only spend £20-25 million this summer (to be fair, other reports have them pegged around £100–so let’s assume it ends up somewhere in the middle).

What will it take to get Liverpool past FFP violating Manchester City domestically? Let’s go shopping!

Liverpool key needs:

  • Wingbacks
  • Attacking midfielder
  • Winger / striker

Liverpool Summer Transfer Targets

Chops: Yeah, so, £20-25 million, really? On one hand, I don’t think Liverpool really need to do much. Jurgen Klopp reportedly just wants continuity, and I get it. No regulars on the squad (other than Boring James Milner) are over 28 years old. They get Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain back. Rhian Brewster should be recovered from his ankle and knee injuries and ready to provide attacking depth. Ki-Jana Hoever already has a first-team start under his belt. Then there’s recently resigned DIVOCK ORIGI.

But on the other hand, buy errrrrrrybody.

Tyler: First of all, wow — cannot believe Milner is the only regular over 28. That is a terrifying thought for the rest of the EPL and Europe. I’m with Chops and Klopp on continuity being crucial for a team that is this good and has this level of chemistry. So the list of additions I’d suggest for the Reds will be short.

This season, as Chops has talked about several times, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson have been great flying up the wings from their positions in the back to help out the midfield (and pile up assists). But it would probably be nice to add some quality in the midfield itself, especially for games when TAA and Robbo have to play more conservatively. Could Ajax’s Donny van de Beek be a possible target? Transfermarkt pegged his value at $28.5M as of March 13 — a figure that has surely risen since — meaning he’ll cost a big chunk of what Liverpool have to spend. Another midfield target who’s probably completely unrealistic (but this isn’t called “Let’s be sensible!”) is Dele Alli. Is there any chance of that happening??

Chops: Donny van de Beek! I like it!

Katya: 20 to 25 million would be a surprisingly minimal budget for the Champions League finalists (and potential winners) but who can blame them after their huge shopping spree the summer before.  Who I think would be fun to see join the Liverpool squad is another Ajax player – what about Hakim Ziyech? Granted, he’s valued close to $40 million but after Coutinho leaving to Barcelona, Liverpool’s midfield could benefit from a player like Ziyech. The Reds already have a deadly attacking trio – now, how about adding a midfielder who can open up the spaces for that trio?…that is unless Coutinho comes back…

Chops: No no no. We don’t want Coutinho back.

Let me just cyber-pillage Ajax even more and say–how about David Neres? He fits the age profile (22) and certainly provides the attacking muscle they need.  

I’d love to see them go after Jadon Sancho. Yeah, he’d be all of their UCL money, but 1) that means Manchester United don’t get him, and 2) he’s a Manchester City cast-off, and it feels like we need our own version of what Raheem Sterling is to them.

Katya: Looking again at the midfield, another player that I think could help the Reds get over the Manchester City hump is Frenchman Nabil Fekir. Liverpool had almost acquired Fekir last summer and then, in dramatic fashion, pulled the plug at the very last minute.  He went on to have another good season at Lyon as captain and, maybe this time, Liverpool is ready to acquire the 25 year old…he will also, however, come with a similarly hefty price as last year at around 53 million pounds.

Tyler: Sancho would be a fantastic addition. Otherwise, it’s hard to think of one player who could close the gap on the EPL champs, especially if they spend another £200M this summer. As Liverpool fans are painfully aware, they were historically good domestically this year. It’d be nice if replicating their 97-point output from this season would be enough. But City has now averaged 99 points per season the last two campaigns, so maybe Klopp’s team does need to add something. A year ago, it was obvious: they needed a better keeper and a more solid defense. A year later, thanks to Alisson and Virgil van Dijk, the to-do list is far less explicit.

I’ll be boring and say that running this back — though obviously some young, currently obscure players will join the fold at the bottom of the roster — is the way to go. I just don’t look at this roster and think, “Oh, if only they were better at this one spot, they would have avoided settling for several draws during that stretch from January 30-March 3.”

Chops: Is there any one Liverpool could and should ship out?

Tyler: He certainly is not a player this team “should ship out,” but Roberto Firmino has reportedly caught PSG’s attention. Chops, any concern he heads to Paris??

Chops: Bobby isn’t going anywhere. Between Katya’s “bring back Coutinho” and your “ship Firmino out” chatter…it’s like you want me to find new writers.

Tyler: On a more realistic note, left-back Alberto Moreno would not exactly be sorely missed, as he played less than 200 minutes this season, including both the EPL and UCL. Robbo is a tough guy to be stuck behind for anyone seeking to grow. At 26, and having been with Liverpool since ‘14-15, (not to mention his contract is up in June) Moreno will almost certainly be out the door this summer. As a Spanish national with prior experience at Sevilla, a move to La Liga seems like a good bet. But I don’t see any of Spain’s top clubs paying much for a player at his age who has been used sparingly — he made 14 EPL appearances in ‘17-18 — the last two years.

Chops: Tyler you’ve redeemed yourself with that Moreno comment.

Katya: Definitely agree with Tyler on Alberto Moreno – he’s had a bit of a weird time at Liverpool and he’s out of contract this summer anyways. Another interesting case is Adam Lallana. Back in 2017, he was one of Liverpool’s star players and one of Klopp’s most reliable men. He had his ups and downs but even towards the end of this season, he seemed to be on the up again (even being named man of the match against Burnley in mid-March)..and then he got injured…again.  He’s over 30 now and he seems to be having way too many injury problems to stay consistent. This season he only played around 500 minutes and had only 6 starts. With all this being said, I don’t see the Englishman making it to the next season with Liverpool…but maybe he can win a Champions League final before his exit.

Chops: Katya…you had me at Moreno.

I hear you on Lallana. He was my personal favorite on the squad pre-Salah/Robbo. But he’s on the wrong end of his peak years, especially with the injuries. I’d hate to see him go but somebody has to leave Anfield if new players are coming up and in. Hey Stellar Group–you already represent Julian Gressel–so if you’re reading this, ship Lallan to Atlanta United. Great city. He’ll love it. Thanks.

Ok so wrapping this up: Liverpool should Viking raid the Ajax cupboards for Donny, Ziyech, Neres, or Matthijs de Ligt (ok ok ok we’re good at CB) while re-pursuing Fekir. In reality, just one of those targets along with a wingback to spell Robbo and TAA (Lucas Digne, anyone? same age as Robbo and in the lower end price range).

Just two of those moves keep them top 2 in the EPL and in the hunt for another Champions League run. Getting a healthy Ox and Brewster back are almost like new signings, and Ki-Jana Hoever will earn more first team reps next year as well. Liverpool are in a great spot for the next few years.

High Press Pod Ep 7: Philadelphia Union, MLS Transfers, NYCFC & NYRB Rising

Chops May 17, 2019

The latest soccer podcast deep dives into the MLS.

Listen to “High Press Pod Ep 07 – MLS Extravaganza” on Spreaker.

Best of the Premier League 2018-19: Starting XI and Reserves

Chops May 15, 2019

Welcome to the first High Press Soccer Premier League XI.

At the end of each season, we’ll take a look at major domestic leagues / cups and parse through the data, player voting, and weigh it against the general context of the year to determine the best XI and reserves. This year will only be the EPL and Champions League, but we’ll expand next year to cover La Liga, Bundesliga, and Serie A (we’ll just copy+paste PGS’s line-up for Ligue 1).

How the 2018-19 Premier League starting XI was determined

The XI (and reserves, 18 total) were determined based on:

  • Statistical output: Analytics and data matter.
  • Importance to team performance: Analytics and data don’t measure context. Did Lukasz Fabianski change West Ham’s season more than Alisson Becker did for Liverpool? Was their degree of difficulty the same?
  • PFA voting: While the pros definitely got a few spots wrong (mostly due to recency bias on a few streaking players), in general it’s easier to provide weight to their opinions since, you know, they actually play the game against these guys. That’s important.
  • Overall player value: A free market is a good indicator on something or someone’s overall value. It often doesn’t account for factors such as injuries, but it serves as a good measure for who is worth the most at their respective positions.

To those bullets, here are the points we mostly used as reference.

Transfermarkt Value: As stated above, a free market is usually a solid indicator of a player’s value, no? The one issue here is it doesn’t account for injuries that limited playing time (Harry Kane) or someone having a down year due to a new coach casting him in a ill-fitting role (N’Golo Kante).

Regardless, here’s transfermarkt’s top XI:

Mostly looks good, although it’s hard to argue that David de Gea would attract more interest today than Alisson Becker or Ederson.

Soccer Analytics: For this, we’re using WhoScored. Overall captures most of the key data points need to paint a full picture of a player’s season. As written above though, it doesn’t provide context. We’ll dive into the specifics of that point once we get to the selections.

PFA Voting: Again, players know. They always know. However, a few selections show recency bias from the time when voting took place. Raheem Sterling (who had an awesome year) and Paul Pogba were peaking at the time of the voting. Mo Salah was slumping. Over the course of a full season, and particularly at the close, was Sterling better than Salah? Was Pogba better than Hazard?

HPS Starting XI and Reserves

With all of that out of the way, here’s our first Premier League seasonal team. In the coming years, we’ll continue to refine the methodology and team selection.

To keep things simple, we use a 4-3-3 formation. Since the starting XI is made up entirely of Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, and Chelsea players, they get a blended red/blue kit.

Let’s start between the sticks.

Goalkeeper: Alisson. Won the Golden Glove award as he led the Premier League with 21 clean sheets. Statistically, West Ham’s Lukasz Fabianski rated as the league’s best goalkeeper, but this is where context comes into play. Alisson was the final piece that turned Liverpool into a rollercoastery offensive juggernaut to one of the most well-balanced teams in the world. He faced and saved less shots than Fabianski, but he made huge saves all year when it mattered most. He did so without missing a minute of Premier League play and while shouldering the pressures of a Champions League Finals fun. It was close, but Alisson gets the edge.

Right-Back: Trent Alexander-Arnold. This came down to splitting hairs between the best defensive right-back (break-out Crystal Palace youngster Aaron Wan-Bissaka) and an offensive juggernaut in TAA. Wan-Bissaka
was second in the EPL in successful tackles and crosses blocked. TAA was third in the Premier League in assists (12) and first on his team. He also improved defensively as the year progressed. Again, context here. TAA and his left-wingback partner Andy Robertson were often the fulcrums of Liverpool’s attack. With a lack of attacking midfielders, they provided the spark that ignites the Reds’ frontline trio.

Center-Back: Virgil van Dijk. Easiest selection on the board. VVD was a monster all year and won the PFA vote as well. A constant stable presence that anchored the league’s best overall backline.

Center-Back: Aymeric Laporte. Anchored the league’s second best defense (only 1 goal conceded more than Liverpool). A fantastic passer (92.3% success rate) who chipped in three domestic goals and assists this year. At 24, still has room to improve. When VVD ages out in a few years, Laporte will be the league’s best center-back.

Left-Back: Andrew Robertson. Same dilemma as with right-back. Lucas Digne was sensational all year for Everton. Robertson though was a non-stop motor for Liverpool who, along with TAA, provided their potent attack from the back. Robbo had 11 assists for the year (Digne tallied 4 goals and 4 assists). He outpaced Digne in tackles, interceptions, and dribbles per game as well. The clincher, fairly or unfairly, was how Robertson compared directly to established “world’s greatest left-back” Jordi Alba in the Champions League semis. Robertson was more effective overall, particularly in Leg 2. Advantage, Robbo.

Right-Mid: Paul Pogba. Admittedly, this is the one we went back and forth with the most. Christian Eriksen and Bernardo Silva (and the always underrated Son Heung-min) got consideration for this spot, but advanced stats and player voting liked Pogba’s uneven season. He tallied 13 goals, 50 created chances and 21 xG-xA. United were at their best when Pogba was at his–and they would’ve likely fallen out of the top 6 if not for his mid-season resurgence. Bernardo Silva was just a tick less productive in fewer minutes (and games) played. This is Pogba, barely, in the hardest spot we had to fill.

Center-Mid: Fernandinho. Similarly to Pogba, City were at their best when
the 34 year-old Fernandinho was on the pitch. They only dropped 8 points in the 29 games he played. Players and analytics agreed he was among the best XI for the year on arguably the best assembled squad of all time.

Left-Mid: Eden Hazard. We’re not sure whether or not PFA voting was some sort of meta-game on Hazard (“if we don’t vote for him and he thinks we don’t respect him, maybe he’ll leave…”). What we know with certainty is, when fit, Hazard is unarguably one of the three best players in England. WhoScored ranked him #1 this year. He tallied the most combined goals and assist in the league with 31 (16 goals, 15 assists). His likely departure will set Chelsea back for some time. Players like Hazard don’t come around often.

Left-Forward: Mohamed Salah. Terrible year. Golden Boot winner. Second in the EPL in goals+assists. First in EPL in team points created from goals. Second highest seasonal player rating on WhoScored in EPL. Just a terrible, awful year. Orrrrrr…Salah finished fewer of his opportunities than his record-setting 2017-18 campaign, but was Liverpool’s most important offensive players and, along with Hazard, a massive glaring oversight in the PFA voting. Along with Harry Kane, Kevin de Bruyne, and Eden Hazard, he carries the highest transfermarkt price tag in the league. Salah is among the global elite.

Center-Forward: Sergio Aguero. Unless you’re a [bandwagon] City fan, nobody is as terrifying around the ball as Aguero in the Premier League. He’s always a threat, always finds the angle, and finishes at an elite goals/minute clip (best in the Premier League among regular starters). With Kane injured much of the year, there’s not much to debate on this one.

Right-Forward: Raheem Sterling. This was the second most difficult decision. Choosing Sterling means no Sadio Mane. It’s impossible to ignore what the co-Golden Boot winner Mane meant to the Liverpool attack (particularly when Salah was in poor form, Mane stepped up). However, Sterling’s advanced stats were better, he finished second in voting among his peers for the PFA award, and he tallied more goals+assists than Mane (27 to 23) on one of England’s all-time best offensive teams.

Reserves:

Lukasz Fabianski, Sadio Mane, Lucas Digne, Fabian Schar, Christian Eriksen, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Bernardo Silva

Near misses: Son Heung-min and Leroy Sane were tough to overlook and will likely at least make the reserves by next year. Felipe Anderson also considered.

Just a few words on the reserves:

  • Lukasz Fabianski: Best analytically between the sticks.
  • Sadio Mane: A handful more assists he would’ve edged Sterling. Felt like he got stronger and faster as the year progressed.
  • Lucas Digne: A complete LB.
  • Fabian Schar: Crazy good value on this Newcastle player. Expect teams like Manchester United to be all over him next year.
  • Christian Eriksen: Almost immediately regretting putting Pogba in over him. Pogba’s numbers just better.
  • Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang: Co-Golden Boot winner and really shined for Arsenal in Europa League.
  • Bernardo Silva: Will be in the XI next year.

High Press Pod Ep 6: La Liga Recap, Man City FPP and 2019-20 Premier League Odds

Chops May 15, 2019

New High Press Pod is ready to stream or download.

  • La Liga Recap: Tyler Everett joins (0:20) to review the La Liga season and break down the race for 4th.
  • Manchester City FPP Violations: Then some general talk (12:00) regarding potential fallout from the reported UEFA Manchester City FPP ban.
  • Title and Top 4 Odds: Gluten-Free Charles joins (20:00) to first discuss more City FFP! Then (35:00)2019-20 Premier League title odds.
Listen to “High Press Pod Ep 6: La Liga Recap, Man City FPP and 2019-20 Premier League Odds” on Spreaker.

UEFA May Ban Manchester City from Champions League for One Year

Chops May 14, 2019

Before Sheik Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan purchased Manchester City, they were basically Newcastle United, minus any tangible recent success.

Just 20 years ago, City was in England’s third domestic division. They fought their way up and down since, but have been permanently back in the Premier League since the 2002-03 season. They were a mid-to-bottom table for the following years.

Then 2008 came.

The team was purchased by Shiek Mansour, whose brother rules the United Arab Emirates. They went from almost complete irrelevance to having a cash infusion into the billions, a new stadium, and an out-of-nowhere bandwagon American fan base. They won their first Premier League title in 2011-12, and have won four the past eight overall.

They spent billions–but they spent it wisely (just because you have the money doesn’t mean you get the right players…Exhibit A: Manchester United). But did they achieve this success within the parameters of the rules at hand?

While it’s not our place to speak to the background or motivations of their ownership group, one thing that’s becoming increasingly evident: City seems to have knowingly broken financial fair play rules.

UEFA considering Champions League ban for City


According to the New York Times, UEFA is potentially recommending a one year Champions League ban on City for misleading European soccer’s financial regulators and breaking financial fair play rules (the full article is worth a read).

The violations and City’s internal comms were first brought to light by Der Spiegel. UEFA has investigated. A recommended punishment is forthcoming. City will likely aggressively fight any ruling.

A Champions League ban would hurt City the most.

Having won four of the last eight Premier League titles (with a current roster that costs over a billion dollars), a Carabao Cup and FA Cup, the UCL crown is the only major title that eludes the club. While a Champions League title is the crown jewel in Europe, it’s also a bonafide cash cow. Winners expect a $100M+ financial windfall. Finalists earn north of $90M. This won’t just hurt the hubris of City’s ownership group, it’ll hurt their bottomline.

What is financial fair play?

UEFA set up financial fair play (FFP) rules as soccer’s popularity (and wages) exploded in the early 2000’s. Enacted in 2011, FFP is a means to protect clubs from themselves and establish some general economic rules and boundaries. More specifically, FFP prevents soccer clubs from spending more than they earn on players as they chase titles. The goal is to limit a clubs’ financial stress and better ensure their long-term survival (particularly when a wealthy owner gets bored with the team or doesn’t want to invest in a losing project any more).

How Manchester City violated FFP

Now to that bolded “spending more than they earn” from the above section…

According to the Times and drawn from Spiegel, “The files are said to include emails and internal club documents showing efforts by City to circumvent UEFA’s financial fair-play regulations by masking cash infusions from a United Arab Emirates state-backed investment company through inflated sponsorship agreements with entities including the U.A.E.’s national airline, Etihad. Etihad is City’s principal sponsor, its name adorning the team’s stadium, its signage during matches and even the front of the players’ jerseys.”

If true, they not only violated the rules, but according to the Times, misled investigators about it.

When would City’s potential Champions League ban take place?

If UEFA recommends a ban, it’s unclear if it would be for the 2019-20 Champions League or the 2020-21 campaign.

The reality is, City’s ownership group will most definitely legally fight any ban, so don’t City to miss out on the upcoming Champions League. 2020-21 would be the earliest to expect.



Liverpool Player Ratings vs Wolves (May 12, 2019) – Finish with 97 Points, Third Highest Total in Premier League History

Chops May 12, 2019

Well, it all came down to the final day.

The Premier League title rarely is decided on the final matchday of the season. It’s only fitting that two squads with the most memorable final matchday deciders in recent history, Liverpool (1989 vs Arsenal) and Manchester City (2012 with Sergio Aguerooooo’s 94th minute goal) had their title hopes hinge on the outcomes of Matchday 38.

Will Liverpool really finish with 97 points–third best total ever in EPL history–and miss out on a trophy? And should their fans care, given their epic comeback over Barcelona and trip to the 2019 UEFA Champions League Final?

The answers: Yes. And probably not. About those fans:

What an amazing group.

Anyway, the back and forth live futures during the game were bonkers. Liverpool started at +550 to win the title to Manchester City’s -750. From there:

Liverpool Mane goal City +340Liverpool -390
Brighton goal City -115Liverpool +110
City Aguero goal (83 seconds later)City -450Liverpool +300
City Laporte goalCity -1350Liverpool +900
City Mahrez goalCity -4000Liverpool +1600
City Gundogan goalOdds off the board

Huge credit to Anfield. They were supportive throughout, closing the match with a full-throated “We shall not be moved.” 🙌🙌🙌🙌

Liverpool end the season with a 2-0 win, one loss for the season, and 97 points.

Liverpool Player Ratings

Manager

Jurgen Klopp (8) – Got the line-up selection right, as the most in-form / deserving players got starts. Made the right decision by subbing out Origi (who was having a fine enough game) and bringing in Milner to crowd the midfield with a 4-4-2.

Goalkeeper

Alisson (8.5) – While under attack, not necessarily challenged until the 69th minute, coming off his line for an important save. Another big save in the 73rd. Finished the year with an EPL leading 21 clean sheets.

Defenders

Trent Alexander-Arnold (8) – All TAA does is fire beautiful crosses. Gets the assist for Mane’s opener (UPDATE: actually wasn’t credited for the assist after a halftime examination…whatever…deserved it). Great deflection to close out and block a shot in the 55th. Got his assist though on the second Mane goal.

Virgil van Dijk (6.5) – Typical monster self on aerials, but saw himself under attack often after Liverpool went up 1-0.

Joel Matip (7) – A deserved final matchday start. Towards end of second half, was getting gashed, though headed away danger in the 45th. Utterly leveled Jota in the second half in a display of strength you don’t associate with Matip.

Andy Robertson (6.5) – Back in the line-up after a minor injury scare, great touch to the near-Salah goal. Another wonderful cross that Gini almost converted. Still, not his best all around game. Save that energy for the UCL finals.

Midfielders

Jordan Henderson (7) – So good closing the season. Henderson earns the hockey assist on Mane’s opener with a brilliant ball to TAA. Tracked back well in the 52nd minute to clear a dangerous cross.

Fabinho (8) – Is just a magnet for the ball. Always in the right spot. Some key tackles. It’s not just that Fabinho is a fulcrum of attack in his distribution, it’s the accuracy of his passes that stands out (over 90%).

Georginio Wijnaldum (6.5) – Finds his way back into the starting XI after his heroics on Tuesday. Was more noticeable / active early, with a key interception to stifle an attack in the 16th. Subbed off late for Ox.

Forwards

DIVOCK ORIGI (6.5) – Divvy gets a well-deserved start in place of injured Roberto Firmino. Looked confident early, solid distribution and good runs. We’ve written it before, but Origi is just so damn strong. Where Firmino is solid on the ball due to superior balance, Origi’s simply solid. Wonderful pass to Mane and goal attempt in the 63rd before being subbed out for Milner.

Sadio Mane (9) – Clinical finish on the opening goal. Earned a brace with another header, tying him for the Golden Boot lead with Salah and Aubameyang.

Mohamed Salah (7) – Welcome back, Mo. After missing the Champions League semifinal match at Anfield with a concussion, Salah got to trade in his “Never Give Up” shirt for his red New Balance jersey today. Showed no ill-effects early. Cheeky and aware back flick in the 7th minute. Robbed of a goal in the 25th off a great strike and feed from Robbo. Kept fighting (for that Golden Boot) until the end of the game.

Substitutions

James Milner (7) – Came on for Origi to help control the Wolves attack, as Klopp shifted to a 4-4-2 with four midfielders. It worked.

Joe Gomez (NR) – Came on late to spell Andy Robertson.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (NR) – Came on late to rousing cheers for Gini.

MAN OF THE MATCH

Would’ve been Fabinho if not for the second Mane goal. Mane ties for the Golden Boot title with a brace, he earns it.

2019 UEFA Champions League Final Predictions

Chops May 12, 2019

It’s going to be really, really hard for the 2019 UEFA Champions League Final to match the excitement and unpredictability of the semis. We still can’t believe what we watched this past week. Congratulations to Liverpool and Tottenham, you certainly earned your spots.

While yes, an Ajax vs Liverpool final might’ve been more captivating with more compelling narratives (still bitter we had to change that post at the last minute), these two teams didn’t fluke their way into the championship. Consider this:

  • Liverpool: Survived the “Group of Death” that included Paris Saint-Germain and Napoli. Then defeated the Bundesliga champs (Bayern Munich) in the Round of 16. Then defeated the Primera champs/runner-up (Porto) in the Quarters. THEN defeated La Liga champs Barcelona by overcoming a 3-0 aggregate deficit. They did this while competing in the most grueling Premier League title race EVER. They haven’t lost domestically since January 3rd and will finish with the third highest point total in the history of English football.
  • Tottenham: They survived arguably the second most difficult group in the Champions League, with Barcelona, Inter Milan (3rd in Serie A) and PSV Eindhoven (2nd in Eredivisie). In the Round of 16, they walloped an (at the time) surging Borussia Dortmund who were (again at the time) first in the Bundesliga. The quarters saw Tottenham only beat the best team in the world, Manchester City. And as you know, in the semis, they overcame a 3-0 aggregate–all in the closing 45 minutes of Leg 2–to defeat presumptive Eredivisie champs Ajax.

On to the predictions! We bring back the same cast of characters as our previous two rounds. Read our previous round here.

Champions League Final Predictions

Chops:

I’m writing this on Friday. I still haven’t come down from the high of Tuesday. What even compares? Maybe I was still this amped four days after my daughter was born–but then again, she was colicy and I didn’t sleep for 3 months so maybe not.

Anyway–all of my YNWA friends are thrilled about this match-up. Liverpool beat Spurs both times they played in the Premier League and are 24(!!!) points ahead of them domestically.

I’m not so overly optimistic. This won’t be a cake walk.

Yes, Liverpool will get Mo Salah back and will presumably have a fully fit team.

Yes, Liverpool has perhaps the all-time greatest striker in the world in DIVOCK ORIGI–who is averaging a goal per every 98 minutes this year–better than Robert Lewandowski, Ronaldo, Sergio Aguero. And he’ll just be coming off the bench! Oh, the luxury!

In all seriousness, this Spurs team is not “Spursy.” They’re the opposite of being Spursy. They’ll be rested. They’ll also likely be healthier. These two teams are familiar with each other. This will be a chess match. It will feature Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino in starring roles.

I see this game going similarly to how a lot of their games have gone this year. They’ll feel each other out early on. Liverpool will likely go up a goal in the first half. Both Klopp and Poch have been expert all year in making in-game and half-time adjustments and substitutions. Poch will have Spurs coming out the gate strong in the second half. Klopp will wait just a bit too long to adjust / sub, and Spurs tie it 1-1.

However, Liverpool have more overall talent and fitness, and they’ll find a way just like they have all year to pull out a win. Liverpool grinds out a 2-1 victory.

Katya:

Well, I’ve come to realize that betting is not my forte.

My predictions have rarely held up (except Liverpool last round, and even that was questionable after the first leg).  What this says to me is that any logic at this point is out the door.

Here we have two teams that clearly deserve to be in the Champions League Final.

Logically, it would make sense for Liverpool to win.  They are statistically stronger than Tottenham. But Tottenham have proved their worth.  I see this match being more of a tactical battle between two brilliant minds – Klopp and Pochettino.  Each will be looking to outwit the other and you better believe that they will both be prepared for the other’s rebuttal.

With all this being said, I am still pulling for Liverpool.  They seem to be more well-rounded with goals in the last 4 games coming from: Origi, Wijnaldum, Mane, Salah, Firmino, and Keita. Meanwhile, Spurs have been heavily relying on Son and Moura (ok Llorente scored one as well).  Klopp has a deeper bench of players to rely on. Players, all of which, who have proved themselves on the pitch this year.

And yes, technically, Liverpool will be more rested but I don’t see that really playing a part when both teams will still have 2 weeks of recovery time after this Sunday’s EPL matches.

Either way, this will be a close match.  I don’t see either team pulling away with a big lead (unless, we continue with the theme of one player having an insane game and scoring 2-3 goals).  I’m going to follow Chop’s lead (afterall, he does know Liverpool pretty well) and say Liverpool “grinds out” a 2-1 win.

Tyler:
Liverpool was incredibly impressive in knocking off Barcelona despite losing Leg 1 3-0. How on earth do you climb out of a hole like that with a line-up missing two of its top pieces in Salah and Firmino? With both those players back, and with nearly three weeks’ rest between the EPL finale on Sunday and the final on June 1, the Reds will be fresh and at full strength for the first time in a long time.

I also think what happened last year in the UCL final vs. Real Madrid works in Liverpool’s favor: this team has been on this stage before and knows what it will take, and also doesn’t have to worry about Sergio Ramos.

The only “negative” I can think of for Klopp’s team is that it will be a long way from Anfield, and it’s last trip to Spain (Leg 1 against Barcelona) did not go well.
What to say about Spurs? I didn’t like their chances at all against City, and I didn’t think they’d beat Ajax, either. Still can’t comprehend what we saw Wednesday, by the way. This team needs the rest it will get between now and June 1 more than anyone, and it could have Harry Kane back as well. They have been gritty as hell, and from a motivation standpoint, having lost to Liverpool twice already works in their favor in that they’ll be determined not to go 0-for-3 against the Reds, but it won’t be enough. I think this will be tight for 45-60 minutes or so, but Liverpool will pull away late. I’ll stick with what I said this week on the High Press Pod (and continue to show Spurs no respect):

Liverpool 3, Tottenham 1.

Carl:
What we all witnessed in both semi finals was what the Premier League is all about. That never say die attitude.

Without taking credit away from Liverpool and Spurs achievements, Barca went into Anfield with a philosophy to contain, which is the total opposite to their identity.

Ajax showed signs of complacency in the second half of the first leg and that complacency showed up again in the second half of the second leg due to inexperience. Both Liverpool and Spurs took advantage of their situations.

Yes we’re used to these two teams playing against each other, but what they’re playing for changes the dynamic in every way. We won’t see one team containing or the other fading due to inexperience in the second half. It’ll be a fast and furious 90 minutes of football and as much as I admire what Spurs have achieved — and proving myself and I’m sure many others wrong throughout the CL campaign– I called it from the beginning that this was Liverpool’s year. I believe they have the best manager and crop of players best equipped for lifting the trophy which should’ve been theirs last season.

Liverpool 3
Spurs 1

Our predictions team consist of former Russian national team member Katya Gokhman. Joining her are site-runner Chops, contributing writer and La Liga expert Tyler Everett, and former Premier League striker Carl Cort. After a stint in the US with the NASL, Carl now conducts Las Vegas private soccer training and clinics.

High Press Pod Episode 5: The 2019 UEFA Champions League Is Awesome

Chops May 9, 2019

New High Press Pod is up–and it’s a fun one!

Joining High Press Soccer site-runner Chops at first is contributing writer Tyler Everett. They discuss the Tottenham miracle at Ajax (1:00) and what the future could look like for the Dutch club.

Then at 16:00 minutes, Gluten Free Charles joins Chops and Tyler to discuss Liverpool (obv), who was the Red’s MVPs when singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” with Anfield, who was Barcelona’s LVP, and closing with some initial, non-binding Champions League Final predictions.

Listen to “High Press Pod Episode 5 – The UEFA Champions League Is Awesome” on Spreaker.

Liverpool vs Tottenham Champions League Final: NARRATIVE ALERT!!!

Chops May 8, 2019

Well…

So…

What happened was…

After two of the most bonkers and thrilling soccer matches you will ever see, Liverpool will play Tottenham in the 2019 UEFA Champions League Final.

Full disclosure: at half-time we had a whole ‘nother post written. But soccer is a cruel and fickle sport. It might be the most cruel and ficklest.

Ajax, you deserved better. You also should’ve made some adjustments to shut down Lucus Moura.

While the narratives may not be as headline grabbing with Spurs as it would’ve been with Ajax, this is still an interesting match-up with many angles to cover.

Here are the narratives we expect to hear leading up to the game.

NARRATIVE ALERT #1: The Premier League is officially the best domestic league in the world!

It’s kinda hard to argue against this one now, right?

While the top of the top of La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A, and Ligue 1 (lol) are all among the top 7-8 clubs in the world according to FiveThirtyEight’s global soccer rankings (well, maybe not Juventus), England have four teams in the top 10 and the Premier League has dominated this year’s UCL.

Liverpool and Manchester City are the top two ranked teams in the world. All four Premier League teams in the Champions League made the quarters, and both finalists come from England. And with a few exceptions, any Premier League team can win on any given day.

These things tend to ebb and flow. Every few years one league is up, another is down. The Premier League is currently way up.

NARRATIVE ALERT #2: Soccer done the right way!

This point is a remnant from the assumed Liverpool – Ajax match-up, but it still holds, although for slightly different reasons.

Liverpool and Tottenham have overcome some serious obstacles to get here. These are resilient teams who, obviously, never give up. They score and are exciting on the counter-attack. They have star power (although Tottenham’s biggest star, Harry Kane, isn’t a given to return from injury, though recent reports are encouraging that he will).

Maybe it won’t be as exhilarating as Liverpool vs Ajax, but this will be a great match-up with two squads and coaches familiar with each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

NARRATIVE ALERT #3: Klopp and Poch are the best coaches in the world!

About those coaches…

Jurgen Klopp has already gotten his just due for the job he’s done at Liverpool. A Champions League win would be the icing on the cake there.

Mauricio Pochettino is respected for sure. This, however, takes him up a few notches.

Neither are up in the Pep Guardiola stratosphere yet, but both are on their way. Prepare for pundits going full-on drool emoji over Klopp’s style and philosophy and Poch’s tactical acumen.

One thing to watch for that will be fascinating: both coaches have been fantastic at making in-game adjustments and substitutions. This will be a chess match. The second half in particular could be stunning.

NARRATIVE ALERT #4: Why aren’t Liverpool heavier favorites?

Despite being a full 24 POINTS AHEAD OF SPURS in the Premier League table–Liverpool aren’t really that heavy a favorite.

Over on FanDuel Sportsbook NJ — odds are:

Tottenham +280Draw +250Liverpool -105

More specifically, Liverpool find themselves as -220 to lift the cup to Spurs’ +155.

Why aren’t they heavier favorites? They also beat Spurs twice this year already. Is it the familiarity of the teams? We’ll keep an eye out if public money starts hitting Liverpool hard and those odds adjust.

NARRATIVE ALERT #5: Redemption for Liverpool!

This one is tired, but you’ll surely hear about Liverpool redeeming themselves for last year’s loss to Real Madrid.

The loss was somewhat fluky. Sergio Ramos thugged out, tried to rip Mo Salah’s arm out of its socket, then cheap-shotted Loris Karius, giving him a concussion that led to two howlers.

This isn’t quite “2014 San Antonio Spurs” climbing back atop the mountain after a crushing finals defeat–but it is impressive nonetheless.

NARRATIVE ALERT BONUS: Is this Liverpool one of the best teams ever?

This one is only applicable if Liverpool somehow manage to pull out a Premier League title on Sunday (odds are against them, DraftKings Sportsbook NJ has City at -1000, Liverpool at +600).

But if they do…

Liverpool will have won the Premier League with the third highest point total ever. They’ll do so by toppling the reigning champs and greatest team in Premier League history, Man City.

They’ll have defeated the Bundesliga champs (Bayern Munich),
Primeira Liga champs/runner-ups (Porto), and La Liga winners (Barcelona) en route to the UCL crown. That’s after coming out of the “Group of Death” with Paris Saint-Germain and Napoli.

Maybe there have been better teams–but there hasn’t been a squad with a more challenging road towards winning titles.

Liverpool Player Ratings vs Barcelona: Champions League Semifinal Leg 2

Chops May 7, 2019

No lengthy preamble needed.

Liverpool entered its Leg 2 match against Barcelona down 0-3 and in need of a miracle. At stake: a trip to the 2019 UEFA Champions League Final

Mo Salah‘s shirt in the stands said it all though for the Reds and their fans: Never Give Up.

Liverpool entered the half up 1-0 but arguable were outplayed after the opening 10 minutes. The two squads were even on shots on target, Barca held a possession advantage (55-45%), had more passes (301-248), and pass accuracy. 

Picking self up off the floor…

Ok, the second half saw Liverpool tirelessly chip away at the aggregate. Gini Wijnaldum was subbed in for an injured Andy Robertson and obv scored two goals, bringing the aggregate level 3-3.

Then in a moment of brilliance, Trent Alexander-Arnold took advantage of sloppy Barcelona defending on a corner, setting DIVOCK ORIGI up for the semifinal winner.

Liverpool advance 4-3 on aggregate. Unbelievable. What a team. 

They’re now odds-on favorites at -270 on FanDuel Sportsbook NJ to win the Champions League. Unreal.

Liverpool Player Ratings

Manager

Jurgen Klopp (10) – MUCH better line-up selection. Every decision was the right one. The subs, the tactics, well done, Klopp.

Goalkeeper

Alisson (10) – Strong and confident, challenged more early than Liverpool fans would like to see. Great save on Coutinho in the 18th. Came up HUGE on a Jordi Alba attempt at the end of the first half.

Came up big early in the second half on a Suarez attempt. Saved everything in sight. Amazing.

Defenders

Trent Alexander-Arnold (10) – Would’ve been a mini-riot had he not gotten the start. Quiet first half. In second half, made a poor pass that was intercepted, then he gengenpressed the fuck out of it and fed the first Gini goal.

Then, just brilliant defending and what he saw on the corner to Origi was wise well beyond his years.

Virgil van Dijk (8) – Strong on ball and aerials early. A menace on Luis Suarez. Great clearances. Great game.

Joel Matip (8) – Is he just improving by osmosis from being in close contact to VVD, or was he always this good? Brilliantly brought Messi down to stifle a penetrating dribble in the 66th minute. Matip is awesome.

Andy Robertson (8)  Let’s just say had anyone on Barcelona done to him what he did to Messi early on this recapper WOULD NOT BE HAPPY. But it’s Robbo, and he can do no wrong. Except going for assists instead of shots. Missed a chance to take a touch and shot in the box in the 22nd. Then he apparently immediately read this because he WENT FOR GOAL in the 23rd with a solid on target shot that was deflected out. Was literally everywhere, making a brilliant touch to stifle a lob into the box in the 25th minute. Went for it again in the 43rd with a daring shot. We’re not even at HT and I’ve already written more about Robbo than the rest of the team combined. He’s having a good game.

And oh ffs, he’s out at half. Of course he is. That’ll hurt distribution and basically everything else. Great game, Robbo. On track for another Man of the Match had he finished. He’s getting it along with everyone else though so all good.

Midfielders

James Milner (7) – Solid first half before getting shifted to LB when Robbo went out. Gini Wijnaldum takes his midfield spot.

Fabinho (8) – Chippy af from the opening whistle. Just seems to magically appear where he needs to be all of the time.

Jordan Henderson (8) – Definitely was out on his front foot early. Went down in the 31st with either just a dinger on his knee that he needed to walk off or he has no ACL left. (Came back on so just a ding) Kept fighting all game until the end.

Forwards

Xherdan Shaqiri (6.5) – Was equal parts nervous and confident early on if that makes sense. Or maybe the word I’m looking for is “inconsistent.” Still, wanted to attack and did. Became less steady as the first half went on, particularly on his passes.

Sadio Mane (8) – He fast. Seriously, looks a step faster lately which seems almost impossible given he’s top 25 in field player minutes in the Premier League. Wonderful read and interception to lead to the opening opportunity. No goals but kept fighting hard until the final whistle.

DIVOCK ORIGI (9.5) – DIVOCK ORIGI HAPPENED. Yep, the Belgium netted one in the 8th minute to give Anfield a boost of adrenaline. He might lead the known world–including U10 7vs7 youth soccer–in goals per minutes played. So strong on ball all game…then in the 79th minute on a TAA corner…DIVOCK ORIGI HAPPENED AGAIN. He gave Liverpool the aggregate 4-3 lead.

Subbed off for Joe Gomez in the 85th.

Substitutions

Georginio Wijnaldum (9) – Came on at midfield when Milner had to shift to LB for Robbo. AND THEN HE PROMPTLY SCORED TO PUT LIVERPOOL UP 2-0. AND THEN HE SCORED AGAIN ON A HEADER IT’S LEVEL 3-3.

Joe Gomez (NR) – On late to provide extra defense for DIVOCK ORIGI.

Daniel Sturridge (NR) – In late for Shaqiri.

MAN OF THE MATCH

Literally everyone. All of Anfield. All the players. Klopp. The whole organization. That was wonderful. 

Manchester City Defeat Leicester 1-0, All But Ending Liverpool’s Title Hopes (Updated Premier League Odds)

Chops May 6, 2019

Well, it was fun while it lasted.

Manchester City defeated Leicester City 1-0 on Monday at the Etihad, all but securing the 2018-19 Premier League title.

It was a chippy, spirited game where Leicester challenged, but City never felt like they didn’t have control. Kasper Schmeichel did his best to keep Leicester in the game with some brilliant saves. However, the victory was secured off a brilliant Vincent Kompany strike (after Leicester failed to have anyone close him out) in the 70th minute.

If City where going to drop points, the stars aligned for it to be against the Foxes. Leicester have been third in the Premier League in form recently. Leicester is managed by Brendan Rodgers, who helmed Liverpool the last time they were this close to the Premier League title (2013-14…when they lost to City). Ultimately, Rodgers couldn’t help deliver a title to the Reds today just like he didn’t five years ago.

Premier League title odds going into Matchday 38

Liverpool title odds ping-ponged all match at FanDuel Sportsbook NJ, but they are now massive longshots.

At halftime, Liverpool saw their futures drop from around +250 to +155. After the Kompany goal, those title odds jumped to +430.

By game’s end, they settled to City -900, Liverpool +550.

Manchester City play 17th place Brighton at home on Sunday. Liverpool host 7th place Wolverhampton.

Premier League: Top 4 Settled, Relegation Determined–Now It’s All About Liverpool and Manchester City

Chops May 5, 2019

You wanted clarity? You got it this week in the Premier League.

The ever-elusive Top 4 spot for UCL Qualification that nobody seemed to want was finally settled, as Chelsea and Tottenham didn’t want it just a little bit less than Manchester United and Arsenal.

Cardiff City fulfilled their relegation destiny, but not without putting up a respectable fight in recent weeks.

Ultimately, that leaves us with the only battle that matters: the one between the living and the dead the clash for the Premier League title.

But first…here’s what we know for sure.

Relegation and Promotion

Huddersfield Town (seriously stay down in the Championship for awhile), Fulham (there’s literally no “d” in Fulham or Craven Cottage), and Cardiff City (respectable fight, lads) have been relegated.

Coming up are definitely Norwich City and Sheffield United.

The third spot will be determined via a playoff and will go to either a flailing Leeds United, a been-there-recently-and-been-relegated West Brom, a welcome-back-kotter Aston Villa, or “hey, cool ram, bro” Derby County.

In the playoffs, FanDuel Sportsbook NJ likes Aston Villa and Derby County (barely) in their Leg 1 matches.

Aston Villa +100Draw +240West Brom +260
Derby +160Draw +230Leeds +165

2019-20 UEFA Champions League Qualification

Manchester City and Liverpool secured their UCL spots basically last July.

Saying Chelsea and Tottenham limped into the final two spots would be an insult toVerbal Kint / Keyser Söze. Arsenal and Man U…uffda.

Leicester…ONE TIME! Premier League title down to one game now…

Regardless of what happens Monday between Leicester City and Man City, the 2018-19 Premier League title will come down to the final matchday of the campaign.

However…

If there is a God, Leicester will draw or defeat financial-fair-play-violating City at the Etihad on Monday, thus giving Liverpool a lead heading into matchday 38.

And if that same God is a fan of Man City like this God apparently loves Alabama football, he’ll find a way to rip Liverpool’s collective heart out like he does annually to the University of Georgia while holding that still-beating-heart up for the billion people watching the game and shouting all-the-while, “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED???!!!”

Anyway…

LOTS of public money has come in on Leicester the past 72 hours. On
FanDuel Sportsbook NJ they’ve gone from “excruciatingly long” underdogs at +2000 to simply just “painfully long” underdogs at +1300. HOWEVER! Leicester is third in form over their past five games, trailing only Liverpool (first) and City (second).

ONE. TIME.

Any dropped points to Leicester by City, and all Liverpool needs to do is defeat a surging Wolves team, who will finish an amazing 7th in the table, and do so most likely without two of their best three offensive players as Roberto Firmino (muscular injury) Mo Salah (concussion protocol) may not play. 🤦‍♂️🤢

Nothing is easy for the Reds. That’s why if they somehow, against all odds, pull this off, it’ll be viewed as their greatest domestic league title since… ever.

Liverpool Player Ratings vs Newcastle (May 04, 2019): Divock Origi Happened Again, Late Header Secures 3-2 Win

Chops May 4, 2019

Liverpool traveled to St. James Park to play Newcastle United on Saturday.

How would the squad respond to a crushing defeat Wednesday to Barcelona?

With another inexplicable line-up selection again, obv.

In a must-win game (they all are now, of course), Jurgen Klopp elected to insert a perennially ineffective Dejan Lovren at center-back (more on this in a moment) and a recently ineffective Daniel Sturridge (instead of Xherdan Shaqiri or Divock Origi) at center-forward for an injured Roberto Firmino.

🤦‍♂️

Regardless, Liverpool took a 2-1 lead into HT against Newcastle. While Liverpool dominated first-half possession, Newcastle managed to create more big chances than the Red, with 7 shots on goal (5 on target) to Liverpool’s 7 / 3.

Then in the second half…

Liverpool give the lead away…Mo Salah leaves the game (and maybe leaves the season) with a head injury…but fear not…because DIVOCK ORIGI HAPPENED.

The Belgium bails Liverpool out yet again in the closest minutes, leading the Red to a 3-2 victory.

Liverpool were somewhat lucky to come away with the win, but whatever. Gutty, gutty, win.

Manager

Jurgen Klopp (6) – On one hand, yes, the man has turned Liverpool around. He gets what Liverpool is and means. He’s leading Liverpool to the third best point total in Premier League history. He’s a great manager.

On the other–the squad is out of Champions League contention (sorry, it’s true) so the only trophy left is the Premier League. All in. All eggs in that basket.

The Lovren decision in particular was a head-scratcher. If you’re resting Matip, ok. Shouldn’t be resting him as ALL EGGS IN EPL BASKET but fine. How about Gomez? If you felt strongly enough about Gomez to insert him for TAA during the UCL semis…then why not today instead of Lovren? By the way, Lovren was responsible for the Newcastle opener.

As is his standard though, he made the right substitutions (albeit a bit too late) after making the wrong initial selection.

Goalkeeper

Alisson (7) – Strong showing between the sticks in the first half, as the opener was not on him. Forced into more saves than he was likely expecting. Got down quickly to make a solid save on a Rondon shot early in the second. Had no chance on the Rondon equalizer at 2-2. Swatted a critical clearance on a corner during stoppage time to help secure the win.

Defenders

Trent Alexander-Arnold (8) – Great to see TAA back in after an inexplicable one game absence. Fed Mo Salah the assist on a great cross for Liverpool’s second goal. Do you know what Liverpool could’ve used more of against Barcelona? Good crosses! He was great, as always, as he should’ve been on Wednesday.

Virgil van Dijk (8.5) – Headed in the opener — a goal you will never see someone as open and unmarked as he was. It was Liverpool’s league leading 14th corner goal of the year. His big noggin cleared the final Newcastle attacking effort at 90+8. Also, it was VVD’s suggestion to have Shaqiri take the free kick over TAA that led to Origi’s winning header.

Dejan Lovren (3) – Ugh. Lovren is a good guy. Great teammate. Not the right choice today. A poor pass to an under pressure Alisson led to a turnover that led to a goal. On the goal, Lovren stood watching as Christian Atsu darted behind him to score after TAA made a brilliant goal-saving deflection (off his arm, which would’ve been called a handball anyway, but whatever).

Was beat by Rondon on a run in the 53rd that led to a dangerous cross. Megged in the 62nd which almost led to a close range shot. Pulled about 81 minutes too late for James Milner.

Andy Robertson (7.5) – Not as ambitious as he was on Wednesday but he didn’t need to be. Fed a brilliant cross (after a even more brilliant switch by TAA to him) in the 48th minute that Sturridge almost got a head on for a shot. Anticipation defensively was fantastic. However, again, needs to take shots instead of finding crosses. Could’ve buried an opportunity in the 63rd but went for an ineffective cross instead. Picked up defensive urgency in closing 20 minutes.

Midfielders

Jordan Henderson (7) – Started today again just like he should’ve started on Wednesday. Was zipping all over the field. Made a strong, daring run in the 40th minute. Drew a critical foul on Rondon in the closing minute to cease an attack.

Fabinho (6.5) – Continues strong run of form. Always in the right spot. Thwarted an attack in the Liverpool defensive third in the 44th minute simply through smart body positioning. Earned the winning free-kick. Solid all-around.

Georginio Wijnaldum (5) – Another silent but not-violent performance in the first half. Picked up in the second. Found Sturridge in the second half on a ball that Sturridge eventually sailed into the stratosphere.

Forwards

Daniel Sturridge (4) – I mean, some decent linking up with Mane and Salah. But seems to be lacking confidence right now. Missed a great cross from Robbo at the start of the second half, then launched a shot from 15 yards out that, well, you just have to strike better. His back-heel hockey assist to TAA -> Salah was nice.

Sadio Mane (6.5) – Plagued by a heavy touch again. Off-sides at key moments again. Looked like the fastest human on the pitch today though.

Mohamed Salah (7) – Just a great finish (where was that Wednesday???) on TAA’s cross to put Liverpool up 2-1. Not quite the same work rate as we’ve seen lately. Hopefully not tiring. Came off with a scary head injury in the 70th minute. Likely concussion. He left the pitch on a stretcher and in tears. Well done this season, Mo. You deserved better than to have your season potentially end this way.

Substitutions

Xherdan Shaqiri (7) – In for Gini at the 66th minute. Made a poor clearance immediately which kept Newcastle in Liverpool’s third. Then more than made up for it after VVD calls TAA off a free kick, tells Shaq to take it, and he finds Divock Origi’s head for the go-ahead.

Divock Origi (8) – Forced in after Mo Salah’s head injury. Then, in the 86th minute, on a Shaq free kick…DIVOCK ORIGI!!! His header put Liverpool up 3-2 and maybe, just maybe, a chance at the Premier League title.

James Milner (NR) – Came in for Lovren about 81 minutes too late. Was a wrecking ball, willingly risking bookings to stop attacks.

MAN OF THE MATCH: DIVOCK FREAKING ORIGI. He did it again. Bails Liverpool out on the road with a last minute header. Close second to VVD.

Video: Lionel Messi Punching Fabinho

Chops May 2, 2019

Well, we’ve found something Lionel Messi actually isn’t a God at on the pitch: landing punches.

Other than Jurgen Klopp‘s indefensible line-up selection, the other surprising take-away from yesterday’s 2019 UEFA Champions League Semifinal match-up was the amount of whiny douchebaggery exhibited from the Barcelona squad.

From Messi pulling his best Neymar impression (complete with self-satisfied grin), to Luis Suarez‘s celebrations and fake tough-guy routine, to the Catalan’s constant begging for Liverpool bookings…Barcelona’s technical class on the pitch was only matched by their complete lack of class in overall behavior.

Nothing encapsulates that more than Messi’s feeble attempt at landing a punch on Fabinho:

Obviously, the refs awarded Messi a free-kick after this incident, which he gloriously struck for a goal in the 83rd minute.

Here’s another video of the punch that YouTube will surely take down within a few hours.

A Liverpool fan has started a petition to have Messi suspended from the Leg 2 match-up next week. Don’t expect that to happen.

Liverpool Player Ratings vs Barcelona Champions League Semifinals Leg 1

Chops May 1, 2019

The 2019 UEFA Champions League seminfinals got off to a rough start–long before the game began–for Liverpool fans.

Twitter was ablaze with manager Jurgen Klopp‘s starting XI that left many scratching their collective head. Klopp basically tipped his hand in saying, “Welp, they’re better than we are,” by going with an ultra-conservative, defensive squad that was built to draw, not to win.

He admitted that doctors gave Roberto Firmino the thumbs up to play a full 90, yet left Firmino on the bench…for Naby Keita.

Trent Alexander-Arnold, who is in fine form, just named to the PFA starting XI for the year, and critical to the Liverpool attack…was benched for Joe Gomez…who hasn’t started in over six months.

Jordan Henderson, another in fine form since given the freedom to move higher up the pitch and attack, was left out of the starting XI.

Liverpool was playing for a draw–like they did against Manchester United earlier this year–which likely cost them the Premier League title.

So how’d this selection work out?

Terribly.

Ultimately, Liverpool played against a squad of 13–Barcelona’s whiny, flopping XI, the refs (did no favors), and Klopp.

The end result was a frustrating 3-0 loss to Barcelona. To be fair, it was a game closer than the score indicates. Liverpool dominated in stretches and missed some big opportunities. However, there’s absolutely no margin for error against teams like Barcelona. And Klopp’s selection and tactics were full of errors.

Barcelona will be massive favorites against Ajax in the 2019 UEFA Champions League Finals.

On that note and in case you’re wondering, Barcelona is now odds on favorites to win the UCL at -250 on FanDuel Sportsbook NJ — Ajax is +300. Liverpool is +1400.

Manager

Jurgen Klopp (-497) – What. The. Fuck. The line-up selection — particularly the insertion of Joe Gomez for TAA — is indefensible. Went with Gini as a 10 basically after Keita went out with Salah and Mane as strikers. Why not just bring Firmino on instead? It’d be more effective.

Waited to bring Firmino on entirely too late. Bobby’s steadiness and strength on ball would’ve been beneficial when Liverpool was on constant attack in the first 30 minutes of the second half before the Messi goal.

It’s Klopp’s job to put his players in the best chance to succeed–he did not do that for Gomez, Gini, or Keita to day. One of his worst managerial performance for the Reds.

Goalkeeper

Alisson (5) – Found a good angle to cut off a strong strike from that dainty Coutinho in the 15th minute. Nothing he could do about the Barcelona opener from Suarez. Able effort on Messi’s insane penalty strike in the 83rd.

Defenders

Trent Alexander-Arnold Joe Gomez (4) – Happy to see Gomez back. Actually very happy. Just not under these circumstances. His welcome back gift? He’s given the unpleasant task of containing Lionel Messi. Was gashed repeatedly. Barcelona’s entire attack was on Gomez’s side. Why didn’t TAA start again? The opener originated from Gomez’s side of the pitch. Lame cross attempt in the 57th minute that, um, TAA would’ve delivered better. Poor defending almost cost Liverpool again in the 68th, right after a terrible strike. Constantly out of position, jogging back at the end of the game on a Barcelona counter. Really not fair to throw him in like this, he’s a great player. Just an inexplicable decision from Klopp here.

Virgil van Dijk (6) – Typical VVD: calm, steady, and assured. Well defended a Semedo attack in the 63rd minute. However, caught looking on the first Messi goal instead of defending.

Joel Matip (7) – You can fault him *maybe* for not dropping a yard or two back to defend the opener, but that was a perfectly executed service and strike. If Klopp was going to start Gomez, it would’ve been wiser to see Matip on the right. He’s in better form.

Andy Robertson (8)  Was encouraging to see Robbo getting up the pitch on the attack early and often. Given Klopp’s selection and omission of TAA, it felt like the Scot would be asked to hang back. Not the case. Didn’t capitalize on some opportunities where a shot was a better decision than an assist.

A joy to watch Robbo and Jordi Alba shine though as the world’s best left-backs.

Midfielders

James Milner (7.5) – Would’ve bet my life that Milner would get the nod. Klopp loves Milly on the road in big games. Fought hard. Played with confidence. Good dispossessing. Made a strong attempt in the 38th that went wide. Another strong attempt to begin the second half was well defended by Marc-André ter Stegen. However, struck a perfect feed from Salah at MAtS that he will wish he had back. Came off for Origi because why not sub out one of your better players of the day who was actually going for it and taking strong shots.

Fabinho (7) – Gorgeous touch to Mane early that should’ve led to a pk when the Senegalese was brought down in the box by Pique. Always in the right place.

Georginio Wijnaldum (4) – Non-existent in the first half. Seemed to leave acres of open space in the midfield for Barcelona to fill. Moved higher up the pitch and was totally ineffective. Futzed up a chance in the 53rd. Then headed a free kick in the wrong direction a minute later. Klopp did him no favors. Klopp only did Barcelona favors today.

Forwards

Naby Keita (NR) – A shocking starter over an apparently fit Roberto Firmino–and used as a 9. Went down around the 20th minute and eventually replaced with Jordan Henderson.

Sadio Mane (6.5) – Threatened early and should’ve been awarded a pk early when Pique brought him down in the box. Had an opportunity at the 35th he absolutely needed to finish. Slowed down in the second half.

Mohamed Salah (7) – Stronger on ball then I’ve seen for some time. Beautiful run in the 14th almost opened up a chance. Work rate continued in the second half as well. Great strike in the 53rd well defended by ter Stegen. Fed a perfect ball to Gini/Milner that wasn’t converted in the 59th. Missed a critical opportunity off the bar with his right in the 84th that may come back to haunt Liverpool [although not as much as Klopp’s selection]. Mo clearly “wanted it” today though and out-battled Alba.

Substitutions

Jordan Henderson (7) – Fed Mane a perrrrfect ball in the 35th that should’ve led to a goal with a better finishing effort. Continued his good run of form.

Roberto Firmino (NR) – Came in finally in the 79th minute. Too little, too late.

Divock Origi (NR) – Whatever.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Andy Robertson. He was great. Salah a close second.

NOT MAN OF THE MATCH: Klopp–from the second the line-up selection was announced, every Liverpool fan knew this was not going to be a good result.

Ajax, Once 200/1, Now 2/1 and Almost Certainly Going to 2019 UEFA Champions League Finals

Chops April 30, 2019

Well, that was interesting.

Ajax traveled to North London for their 2019 UEFA Champions League Semifinal Leg 1 match against Tottenham Hotspur.

After a shaky first couple of minutes, Ajax started steamrolling Spurs, just as we predicted. At the 15th minute, Donny van de Beek was barely on-side for a perfect through-ball from Hakim Ziyech, delay his shot with a veteran savvy beyond his years causing Hugo Lloris to go to ground early, and buried the shot to put Ajax up 1-0.

After 35 minutes, Ajax (and their fans) were feeling confident, and for good reason.

A nasty head injury, a sub, and a totally different game

In the 31st minute, Jan Vertonghen went for an aerial and busted his face open. He was bleeding profusely. After a 4-minute delay, Vertonghen attempted to re-enter play, but couldn’t stay up on his feet and left the game with concussion-like symptoms. It was tough to watch. Moussa Sissoko came on the pitch for him…and almost instantly the tone of the game changed.

Spurs went on the attack, flipping the advantage of possession, passes, and shots on goal.

For 35 minutes, Ajax was the better team in every way. With the injury, Mauricio Pochettino did Mauricio Pochettino tactical things, changing the formation to a 4-4-2 diamond. The fullbacks (Kieran Trippier in particular) got more involved and they overloaded the midfield.

Dele Alli, Lucus Moura and Christian Eriksen in particular were superb in the second half, but it wasn’t enough. While possession FLIPPED to Tottenham 51-49% by the end of the game, and Spurs ended up with more shots on goal (12/1 to 10/2), Ajax white-knuckled to the 1-0 victory.

Ajax now heavy favorites to advance

With an away goal, 1-0 shutout, Ajax find themselves in uncharted territory: they’re heavy favorites.

At one time Ajax was 200-to-1 underdogs to win the Champions League.

Today, they’re +210 on FanDuel Sportsbook NJ (tied with Liverpool for second favorite!), taking significant in-game action. Tottenham drop to +1200.

Think about that though for a minute though–about four months ago Ajax was 200/1. They’re now, essentially, 2/1. Wow.

While Ajax is by no means a lock to advance, the away goal is huge, especially with Spurs missing Harry Kane.

They’ll have fresher, younger legs, they’ll be home, and for the first time this Champions League, they’ll be favorites.

2019 UEFA Champions League Semifinal Predictions (Repost)

Chops April 29, 2019

The 2019 UEFA Champions League Semifinals are set.

One half of the bracket features the most complete player in the world vs the most complete team in the world.

The other half showcases a young team on the rise taking their one shot at glory before their best players are sold off to global behemoths playing against a team that literally never buys anyone and no one expected to make it this far.

Barcelona vs Liverpool. Tottenham vs Ajax. Who ya got?

How did our High Press Soccer panel of experts do last time? A quick recap:

  • Chops (3 out of 4) — Would’ve had 4 of 4 but wimped out with a “Heart says Ajax, mind says Juventus” call. Accurately described the Tottenham win as something they’d “white-knuckle” at the Etihad after winning the home game.
  • Tyler Everett (3 out of 4) — Waffled on the Tottenham upset. Finally stood his ground and picked Ajax. Right call.
  • Katya Gokhman (2 out of 4) — Picked Manchester United in an upset (KATYA!!!) and went with CR7 carrying Juve through.
  • Carl Cort (2 out of 4) — Wanted to get there, but just couldn’t get there with Ajax either. And couldn’t fortune-tell VAR carrying Tottenham through to the semis.

On with the predictions!

Match-UpChopsEverettGokhmanCort
Barcelona vs LiverpoolNot to state the obvious, but this match-up almost entirely comes down to two things: 1) Can Liverpool leave Camp Nou in Leg 1 even or only down by a goal, and 2) Can Klopp come up with a plan to stop Messi?

Liverpool are easily the most battle-tested team remaining. Just to get here they survived a “Group of Death” that included PSG and Napoli. They handled Bayern Munich. They’re in a Premier League title race for the ages. They’re peaking at the right time. I’m going with Liverpool.
I’m going with Barcelona in this one. They are not quite as proven and battle-tested as Liverpool this year, but I think they’ll find a way. The fact the Catalans’ best players can focus all their energy on the UCL, as La Liga is decided, is huge. Liverpool, on the other hand, is under a ton of pressure both domestically and in Europe, and the burden on the Reds and/or Messi is going to be too much for them. Although we have talked about Barcelona and Messi having a fantastic season, we tend to overlook the fact that, maybe, La Liga isn’t what it used to be.  And, maybe, Manchester United made Barcelona look better than they really are.



Liverpool seem to have found their “groove” and Klopp seems to be on a roll.  Just like Chops mentioned, they’ve been tested over and over again and have gone through the rings of fire; I can’t say the same about Barcelona.  I’m going with Liverpool – let’s give the lads another chance at glory.
When you look at this match up it’s really hard to look past Messi, Suarez, Camp Nou and that dynamic firepower. But I think Liverpool are more equipped all round and can give Barcelona just as many problems as Barca will give them at the back. It’s going to be a fantastic game of football ending with Liverpool getting a another chance to redeem themselves in the CL final.
Tottenham vs Ajax First and foremost, Ajax absolutely deserve to be here. They’ve been criminally undervalued by oddsmakers and experts (me included) during this journey. They’re no Cinderella team. They’re legit.

Second and actually more foremost–SPURS BEAT CITY! TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR BEAT MANCHESTER FREAKING CITY. 😂😂😂😂

Where was I? Oh yeah, Spurs. Tottenham don’t get the respect they deserve either, playing second fiddle this year to the Man City and Liverpool rocket ship.

Having said that, I think Ajax steamrolls them to the finals. Spurs lack of depth and inability to rotate won’t stand up to the younger legs of Ajax.

Tottenham’s win over Man City was incredible, in so many ways. Unfortunately for Spurs, though, it took a toll. They’re going to miss Son in the first leg and Kane in both, and Ajax’s run will continue. The Dutch club seemingly gets more and more comfortable as the stakes are raised. The best story of the tournament will not be over until June 1 at Wanda Metropolitano. One word – wow.  What a turn of events.  I’m 0 for 2 with these teams and I’m ashamed to say it.  They have both proven themselves – especially Ajax who showed us that beating Real Madrid in the last stage and tying Juventus at home were no fluke.


With Spurs, I have to give it to the coach and players (especially Son) for tactically outplaying the mastermind Pep.

With all this being said, I’m going to go with my heart instead of my brain (this has proven to fail me in the past but oh well) and go with Ajax for the win. The boys are on a roll and I have a gut feeling that there’s more coming.
I’m very surprised that I’m even mentioning Tottenham at this stage of the CL.

Now they are up against an Ajax team who have shocked the football world with their  dynamic and attractive way of play. I believe the momentum Ajax have created is just too strong and they’ll see their way past Spurs to meet Liverpool in the final.


Our predictions team consist of former Russian national team member Katya Gokhman. Joining her are site-runner Chops, contributing writer and La Liga expert Tyler Everett, and former Premier League striker Carl Cort. After a stint in the US with the NASL, Carl now conducts Las Vegas private soccer training and clinics.

There’s Around 36 Million Reasons Why Manchester United Will Try to Beat Manchester City Today (UPDATE)

Chops April 24, 2019

One of the genuinely stupidest hot takes over the past week is that Manchester UnitedLiverpool‘s hated rival–will not try to beat Manchester City today in their critical derby.

The thinking goes: newly appointed full-time United manager,
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, is from the old school. United hate Liverpool more than anyone, including cross-town rival Manchester City. OGS and the fans would rather see City win this year’s Premier League title instead of Liverpool. Hatred bleeds red.

Dumb.

There are millions upon millions of reason to win

Manchester United is a publicly traded company (NYSE: MANU). They are among the most–if not the most–bottomline orientated club in the world.

A UEFA Champions League appearance nets them guaranteed income. This year, it was just north of $36M USD. Each round they advance, that number goes up.

Last year, Liverpool earned £72m from reaching the Champions League final, helping them achieve record profits for a soccer club.

If Man U don’t win today against City, they almost assuredly won’t be in next year’s UCL, losing out on that revenue.

Let’s set aside the fact that the actual players on the team would much prefer playing in the Champions League trophies than Europa League crowns (which they would). And let’s set aside that it’s more appealing to transfer targets when you’re pitching UCL play over Europa (it is).

As a public company, Manchester United have a fiduciary responsibility to maximize their earning potential. They simply cannot lose a game intentionally that could cost them tens of millions of dollars because of bloody Liverpool.

If Manchester United get pounded today, it’ll have a lot more to do with their recent form and the overall quality of City than because of a heated rivalry.

UPDATE 04/25/19: Whatever. They got pounded. The heralded Class of ’92 probably wouldn’t beat this City squad.

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