So. Yeah. That saying about the grass being greener…
Philippe Coutinho has been loaned from Barcelona to Bayern Munich. His much maligned Camp Nou watch has come to an end.
Let’s look back at what may go down as one of the all-time most regrettable transfers that a player has wanted ever.
Philippe Coutinho at Liverpool
January 30th, 2013.
Philippe Coutinho joins Liverpool from Inter Milan for an absurdly low (in hindsight) £8.5 million transfer fee. He gradually begins to feature at Anfield. He quickly becomes a regular starter. By 2016-17, he’s among the EPL’s best midfielders, tallying 13 goals and 7 assists for the season.
Naturally, Barcelona comes calling. The siren’s song. The Catalans. Who could resist?
Liverpool convince Coutinho to stick around. Jurgen Klopp tells him if he stays at Anfield they’ll build a statue in his honor. Coutinho though wasn’t having it.
Still, he remains a pro’s pro. In 2017-18, Liverpool have one of the most exciting attacks in the Premier League and Coutinho is the engine.
Salah. Mane. Firmino. Coutinho. Unstoppable.
He tops his all-time WhoScored rating, pushing past 8.00 domestically and even better in the UCL.
Barcelona want him even more. The feeling is mutual. He’s sold.
£142million. Dream fulfilled.
So what happened was…
Except then Liverpool spend that Coutinho money on Virgil van Dijk. And they start tearing up the Champions League. Barcelona (without Coutinho) bow out in humiliating fashion to Roma.
Liverpool, having spent that Coutinho money on VVD, destroy Roma in the UCL semis and make the Champions League finals.
Still, it felt like both parties, Coutinho and Liverpool, were better off.
And then Liverpool spent that Coutinho money on fellow Brazilian Alisson. Not to mention fellow Brazilian Fabinho. And something magical happened. Faithful Kopites embraced this squad as no fan-base has celebrated their team before. Every week Anfield transformed into Whoville, with Scousers singing their “Fah who foraze!” (#YNWA) and turning soccer grinches into true believers.
Liverpool finished the 2018-19 Premier League season with the third highest domestic point total ever.
In Spain, Coutinho’s Barcelona won La Liga. However, Philippe was frequently booed by Camp Nou faithful. He was scorned. He wasn’t starting. Confidence lost. Form fallen. The wheels were falling off for Philippe.
And then the Champions League semis happened.
Barcelona enjoyed a xG anomaly by beating Liverpool 3-0 at Camp Nou in Leg 1.
With Manchester City bottling again in the UCL quarters, whoever won the Liverpool-Barca battle was going to be the presumptive champion of Europe.
Barcelona traveled to Liverpool for their presumed victory lap.
Coutinho watched his current club lose in the most memorable and celebratory (for Liverpool) and painful (for Barcelona) fashion imaginable. He watched from his old home turf. He watched as the fans who once showered him with love had moved on. They were better off without him. Coutinho returned to his new home to a showering of even louder boos.
That’s going to leave a mark…
We wrote at the time:
Just as an aside–has anyone had a worse transfer ever in the history of soccer than Coutinho? Like, that has to damage his psyche forever, right? You whine your way out of a great situation at Anfield, go to Barcelona and get booed off the pitch every game. You watch your former club get much better after you leave, then go on to lose a Champions League game in the most epic of spectacular meltdowns in front of the home crowd you spurned. And your former team goes on to win the biggest soccer competition in the world after embarrassing you on your old home field. It’s like he dumped a girl, but that girl became a super model overnight and dated the world’s biggest celebrity who is also hung like an elephant and then you were forced to watch them have sex right in front of you while her family stood behind you and laughed at you the whole time.
Except, it did kinda get worse.
Coutinho was exiled to Bayern Munich. Another team his old squad, Liverpool, exiled from the 2018-19 UCL.
Coutinho reportedly was open to returning to Anfield. It didn’t happen. Even though the Reds could use an attacking midfielder. Even though most Kopites would’ve begrudgingly welcomed the return.
The hits just keep on coming.
Maybe Coutinho finds his old spark and glory at Bayern. That would actually be a salvageable ending to this story. Sometime things don’t work out, and he didn’t do anything to deserve this downfall.
But sometimes, actually always, you should listen to Klopp. The grass in Spain is beautiful, but it’s not always as green.
Who: Antoine Griezmann
From Where: Atlético Madrid
To Where: Barcelona
For How Much: €120 million (with a €800 million release clause)
Grade for Barcelona: A
Grade for Atlético Madrid: A
Antoine Griezmann to Barcelona Overview
Finally, the wait is over.
But not without plenty of drama and intrigue.
As soon as Antoine Griezmann announced in mid-May that he was out the door at Atleti, Barcelona became the immediate favorite to land the Frenchman. Griezmann is one of the best forwards in the world, and at 28, he’s squarely in his prime.
He’s also a great fit on a team that probably would have won the Champions League if not for a meltdown in the second leg of the semifinals.
If there was one thing Barcelona was missing the last two seasons without Neymar, it was a consistently reliable third option up top alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez. Ousmane Dembélé has not been able to stay on the field. Philippe Coutinho (as we’ve mentioned here on High Press Soccer once or twice) did not fill that role. None of Barcelona’s young forward prospects appear ready for such a role, either. As good as Suárez remains, he is 32 and beginning to show signs of his age.
Who is he?
Griezmann needs no introduction at this point. He’s been the best-known player in La Liga outside Barcelona and Real Madrid for some time now.
With at least 15 goals and eight assists in each of the last three seasons, he’s carried a bigger share of a top European team’s offensive load than anyone other than Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. His success the last few years is particularly head-turning considering the lack of help he’s had up top at defensive-minded Atleti. It’s a scary thought to consider what Griezmann is capable of alongside Messi and Suarez – does Barcelona once again boast the world’s best attacking trio?
He’s also a proven commodity for the reigning World Cup champs. In terms of hype, Griezmann (and everyone else in the tournament) took a backseat to Kylian Mbappé and Paul Pogba in Russia. Griezmann, however, still scored four goals (tied for the second-most behind Harry Kane’s six) and tallied two assists for the champs.
At Euro 2016, Griezmann piled up six goals to win the Golden Boot and added two assists. He and Eden Hazard will — barring something completely unforeseen — be the best players to change teams this summer.
Is the price fair?
OK fine, I’ll put it in different words, but the same logic holds true whether you’re talking about Hazard, Griezmann or any other star in their prime.
Yes, the €120 million fee is exorbitant at first glance (and shield your eyes from the €800 million release clause!). But no, it’s not unreasonable.
Consider that similar, if not more, will be spent on players like Matthijs de Ligt (Juventus?) and has been spent on Atléti’s new #7 João Félix. Any team would be thrilled if those players become even 70-80% as productive as Griezmann.
The only two possible red flags with a 28-year-old making a move after so much time in one place are injuries and fit. The former is hardly a concern with a player as durable as Griezmann over the years. And in terms of fit, he’s upgrading his surroundings, dramatically, by moving to one of the best offensive teams in Europe. It doesn’t hurt that he’s linking up with the greatest player we’ve ever seen.
Is anyone in soccer in a better spot than Griezmann, who will be playing alongside Messi for his club and Mbappe for his country for the next phase of his career?
What impact should we expect?
With Hazard as the exception, for most of the players we’ve graded, this section has been where we wonder how much playing time they’ll get.
With Griezmann, the question is whether he’s the difference for his new team between an embarrassing UCL flameout and a European trophy. Griezmann alone does not make Barcelona the favorite to win its first Champions League title since ‘15. However, he’s a massive addition at his team’s biggest position of need. He also adds the athleticism that an aging roster needs more of this upcoming season.
No need to over-complicate this. Barcelona gets an A for getting a potentially transformational player in his prime. He’s the perfect player to lead the transition from Suárez and pair with Messi as he begins to age (if he ever does actually age).
From Atlético’s perspective, they got the full post-July 1st €120m and have already wisely re-invested it on Griezmann’s replacement. They earn a long, drawn-out, painful A as well.
Atlético Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann’s summer move to Barcelona has reportedly been in the works for months. But while many expected him to be introduced as a new member of the Catalan club on July 1, he remains a member of Atleti more than one tumultuous week later.
Griezmann’s departure has quickly become an ugly divorce in the Spanish capital. We know that he’s on his way out – his old club wouldn’t have committed a record transfer sum to Portuguese star João Félix if there was any chance Griezmann was staying – but it’s unclear exactly when he’ll join his new team.
Below is our best effort to sort through Barcelona’s latest complicated acquisition of a star forward.
Griezmann to Barcelona History
Early last summer, Griezmann’s days with Atleti appeared numbered.
The longstanding rumors about his desire to join Barcelona were steadily intensifying until June 14, 2018, when he signed a new contract that was set to run through ’23. He not only renewed his deal with the team he’d played for since ’14-15, he did it in dramatic, LeBron James-style fashion.
Griezmann to Barça Summer Transfer
Less than a year later, he and Atleti confirmed he would be part of a massive offseason exodus of longtime key contributors. It was an open secret that the allure of Barcelona had finally become too much for him to resist. Many believed – and reported – that the deal would be signed on July 1, when his release clause would drop from €200M to €120M. Easy enough, right?
Instead, we’ve been reminded that nobody does summer drama quite like Barcelona (Google the club’s signing of Neymar from Santos, or the Brazilian’s move from Barca to PSG, to learn about the two most recent examples). Could this ordeal be responsible for the exit of VP Jordi Mestre last week? Considering the timing, it’s hard to believe the two are completely unrelated.
Back to Griezmann, though. The hangup here is related to Atlético’s anger that Barcelona negotiated with the Frenchman back in February and had an agreement with him by March. Anyone too caught up in the 4th of July weekend missed Atleti releasing a statement expressing their “strongest disapproval” of the behavior of both Griezmann and Barcelona.
The latest development was Griezmann’s absence from Atleti training Sunday and Monday. Atletico said it has opened disciplinary proceedings – with a fine a possibility – as it had ordered Griezmann to attend practice since he’s still under contract.
Now, Barcelona wants to pay the €120M release clause in staggered installments, but Atleti reportedly wants it all at once. To spice things up further, at Atleti’s presentation of Felix, club President Enrique Cerezo called the No. 7 jersey – which will be worn by Felix instead of Griezmann next season — “the shirt of commitment.” If that’s not a shot at the longtime Atleti striker, I don’t what what would be.
What happens next?
I expect that whether Griezmann puts pen to paper this week or next, it won’t be long before his move goes through. He reportedly said on Monday that he’s willing to pay the €120M himself if he has to (in which case Barcelona would reimburse him over time). That seems like the most likely end to the standoff.
The big question is what happens if Atleti can prove Barcelona reached an agreement with Griezmann in March. If it’s proven that a deal was agreed to then, Los Rojiblancos would have a case that Barcelona would have to pay the €200M release clause that was in effect at that time. There has also been speculation that Atleti could demand one of Barcelona’s young players to make the deal go through. That seems unlikely, but stranger things have happened in transfer dealings involving the Catalans.
The safest bet, though, is that Griezmann participates in Barcelona’s summer training, while the legal imbroglio over who gets paid what, and when, drags on for the next year (or five, if the Neymar saga is anything to go by).
Before transfer season officially takes over La Liga, let’s look at what the biggest storylines in Spain will be this summer and going into ’19-20.
The initial plan was to cover Barcelona and their top competitors in one piece, but it quickly became apparent that Barça warranted a story of their own.
It’s unclear at this point what Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid will look like next season, but we can rule out either team running it back. We’ll also look at Valencia, and whether they can play the way they did the second half of this year – and in the Copa del Rey — for all of ’19-20.
New-Look Los Blancos
The second RM was eliminated from the Champions League by Ajax in the round of 16 in March, the wheels were already turning on an offseason overhaul. Throughout this entire season, Cristiano Ronaldo’s absence was beyond glaring. Other than one brief stretch in February, it was hard to believe this team had won the Champions League the last three (!) seasons.
Zinedine Zidane will likely revamp this roster from top to bottom, and there’s a good chance next year’s primary starting XI will barely resemble this year’s. Before getting into the “rampant transfer speculation” portion of this piece, it’s worth pointing out that Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Sergio Ramos will all be back.
Let’s start with the players on the way out. We have seen the last of Gareth Bale in Madrid, right? Zidane made it clear he’s unimpressed, giving Bale few opportunities even after the team was locked into third place in La Liga. The problem is that offloading a player with a contract like Bale’s is going to be extremely difficult.
The list of players whose RM tenures are likely over (including a few on loan this season) also features James Rodriguez (on loan at Bayern Munich), Mateo Kovacic (on loan at Chelsea), Marcos Llorente and Dani Ceballos.
RM are going to need all the money they can get from the sales of those players. Eden Hazard’s move to Madrid is all but a formality, and he could be just one of several splashy additions. Speculation linking Paul Pogba to this team has yet to be put to rest. Rather than list every star who has been “linked” to Los Blancos the last month or two, though, let’s mention the all-but-done deals for Eintracht Frankfurt’s Luka Jovic and Porto’s Eder Militao (that contract has already been signed) and move on.
On a scale of 1-10 (10 being second half at Anfield in the UCL semis-worried), how threatened should Barcelona feel?
Maybe a 6???
Hazard is among the best players in the world, and his impact will be massive. However, this team was too flawed in the midfield and defensively for one attack-minded player – not that Hazard will be the only key addition — to make this group 20-some points better in La Liga.
I can see Zidane getting the players he wants this offseason and righting the ship. Regardless, Los Blancos should not be a major threat to Barcelona until ’20-21.
Atlético enters a new era
Already gone are Antoine Griezmann and Diego Godín (who is expected to sign with Inter Milan). Few players on this roster have played bigger roles for one of the toughest teams in Europe over the last several years. In fact, of Atleti’s four captains this year – Griezmann, Godin, Koke and Juanfran – only Koke is expected to be back. Defender Lucas Hernandez is already out the door as well.
Atlético will surely spend more than usual this summer. That being said, Diego Simeone will almost certainly be working with a less talented group than the one he’s had the last few years. As long as Simeone is the coach, I’d suspect this team will be hard to score on. That will mean they are likely to win more than they lose and remain an opponent nobody wants to face.
However, unless they add some serious star power this summer, it’s hard to imagine Los Rojiblancos challenging Barcelona or making another deep run in the Champions League.
On a scale of 1-10, how threatened should Barcelona feel?
I’ll say 4.
It’s hard to even guess what this roster will look like since Atleti is not nearly as widely discussed as its rivals, but it’s tough to imagine this team bringing in more than it lost. For a group that never really was on Barcelona’s heels this year after February, I’d imagine third or fourth place is more likely than first or second in ’19-20.
Is Valencia quietly the team Barcelona should be most afraid of?
If we go by head-to-head results this year, then yes.
In three games against the Catalans this year, Valencia recorded two draws in La Liga and won the Copa del Rey final — as predicted here. They remain under the radar for most fans, but their goals allowed – just 35 in 38 La Liga matches – makes them a bit of an Atleti-lite, at least at first glance.
On a scale of 1-10, how threatened should Barcelona feel?
I’ll go with a 5. Because of the strong defense they played all season and their solid finish – they played as well as anyone other than Barcelona the last half of the year – Valencia could enter ’19-20 as a dark horse candidate to break up the Barcelona-RM-Atleti trio atop the La Liga table.
I’ll believe that when I see it, though. For one thing, even if they play the way they did over their final 19 games this season, they’re going to have to become much better in the final third. It’s impressive that they won as many games as they did without a go-to scorer, but you’re not going to compete with Barcelona (and probably won’t keep up with RM or ATM, either) if you score just 51 goals in 38 games and your leading scorer (Dani Parejo) only finds the net nine times.
I certainly think, however, that Valencia have a shot to stay near the top of the table. A hard-fought, three-way battle featuring Valencia and the Madrid powerhouses for second, third and fourth place seems likely.
Before transfer season officially takes over La Liga, let’s look back at the ’18-19 season and see what the biggest storylines in Spain will be this summer and going into ’19-20. The initial plan was to cover Barcelona and their top competitors in one piece, but it quickly became apparent that Barça warranted a story of their own.
The club has won the league four of the past five years, and it has done so comfortably the last two years. Last Saturday, Valencia prevented the Catalans from winning back-to-back doubles. Barcelona has nevertheless owned both the Copa del Rey – which it has won four of the last five years and La Liga for a while now.
Despite some speculation about his future, especially after the Valencia loss, the club has confirmed that Manager Ernesto Valverde will be back. Will he be able to lead his team to another league title? While the answer is largely dependent on how much better Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid get this summer, there’s plenty to talk about regarding the Catalans themselves.
A May to forget
What a difference a few weeks make. Barcelona appeared poised to cruise to at least a double in early May. The La Liga trophy was already in the bag, they had a commanding lead in the semifinals of the Champions League after one leg and a fifth straight Copa del Rey trophy seemed like a virtual certainty. The week leading up to the 2019 UEFA Champions League Final at Wanda Metropolitano was supposed to be spent focused on completing a historic treble.
What Went Wrong?
Instead, after two devasting losses, many have spent this week questioning Valverde. In addition to questioning whether he should remain at the helm – we’ll get to that later – many Blaugrana fans are wondering which members of this team’s veteran core should start to see significantly fewer minutes next season. Barcelona suffered at Anfield in the UCL and against Valencia in the Copa final due to two things: they appeared more Messidependent than ever, and they were outmatched physically (especially in Leg 2 of the UCL semis vs. Liverpool).
Luis Suárez was unable to pick up the slack against Liverpool in Leg 2 of the UCL semis, and he missed the Copa final due to knee surgery. Last Saturday was the latest proof that this team must find another complement to Messi up top. The Uruguayan, who we should mention is 32, was excellent in La Liga this year. But he can’t be his team’s only quality non-Messi option in the final third. Ousmané Dembélé is dangerous when healthy, but Barcelona can’t count on him if he remains as injury-prone as he’s been his first two seasons with them. Philippe Coutinho appears more likely to be on another team than make an impact at Camp Nou next season.
The Catalans are the favorite to sign Antoine Griezmann, who strikes me as a natural fit alongside Messi. With him in the fold, we’re suddenly talking about arguably the best attacking trio in soccer. However, while buying too much into what you read in Marca and As can give you whiplash, it’s worth mentioning that recent (last 48 hours) articles in both papers have cast doubt over whether Griezmann-to-Barcelona is truly a done deal.
Against Liverpool, veteran leaders like Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets, and to a lesser extent Jordi Alba and Gerard Piqué, showed their age.
The same was true against Valencia. Barcelona could use an infusion of youth and speed.
Without one, it’s hard to imagine them getting further than the quarters or semifinals of the Champions League. Frenkie de Jong will fit right in as a young midfielder who offers the technical skill we associate with Barcelona midfielders as well as immense physical tools. Adding him and Griezmann – not to mention fellow Ajax export Matthijs de Ligt, who we’ll discuss in detail if and when he joins Barca – would not make up for every weakness we saw late this season, but it would come pretty close.
Staying the course
Barcelona’s decision on Valverde was a fascinating one. Elite European teams seem more likely to make coaching moves a year early than a year too late (see Juventus, Massimiliano Allegri). In keeping Valverde, Barcelona showed patience, and let us know that they value what they’ve accomplished in La Liga the last two years.
The choice was somewhat surprising, though, considering this team has experienced catastrophic UCL meltdowns the last two years (AS Roma in ’18, Liverpool this year). There are plenty of top jobs in Europe where just one such disaster would probably see the coach kicked to the curb. It’s impossible to know exactly what went into the decision to keep him, but I’d imagine Valverde’s standing with Barcelona’s top players – Messi publicly expressed support for him ahead of the Copa final — was a major factor. He’ll need that respect more than ever next season when he inevitably begins to diminish the roles of the likes of Rakitic, Busquets, etc. to give younger players bigger opportunities.
One last thing on Valverde: it’s hard to imagine him surviving any extended slump next season. A large segment of the fanbase will never get over what happened in the Champions League the last two years. The noise from his detractors will quickly become a huge distraction at the first sign of major trouble next year. It seems ridiculous to say it about a coach with so much domestic success the last two years, but Valverde enters next season on the hot seat.
Casual fans can be forgiven for expecting Barcelona to walk all over Valencia on Saturday afternoon in the Copa del Rey final.
The Catalans recently won the Spanish league for the fourth time in five seasons. Last year, they finished 14 points clear of second-place Atlético Madrid. This year, they “only” finished with 11 points more than Atleti.
Manager Ernesto Valverde’s team has also won the Copa del Rey each of the past four seasons. Barça cruised through the tournament again this year, beating Sevilla 6-3 on aggregate in the quarters before knocking off Real Madrid 4-1 on aggregate in the semis.
However, in case the first line of this piece didn’t give it away, I expect Saturday’s match at 3 p.m. Eastern at Real Betis’ Estadio Benito Villamarín to be a slugfest.
The quick case for Valencia at +340
Fanduel, however, lists Barcelona at -390 and Valencia at +340. If Barcelona were at full strength, that would make perfect sense. They’re far from it, though. Their injuries, as well as the fact that Valencia quietly finished the season playing much better soccer than people realized, make the underdogs great value at +340.
Over at DraftKings Sportsbook NJ, Valencia has even longer odds at +430 which given recent form, is hard to believe.
Will Barcelona’s MASH unit be good enough?
Let’s start with Barcelona’s expected XI.
Luis Suárez was by far this team’s best player other than Lionel Messi at both creating opportunities and finishing them. He’ll miss Saturday’s game due to a recent knee surgery he hopes to recover from in time for the Copa America. It goes without saying that the absence of a player who scored 21 goals and had six assists in La Liga this year will be huge. Anyone who’s watched Barça down the stretch will agree that Suárez is critical to his team.
Démbéle has not been on the field enough lately for his most recent likely absence (there’s a chance he plays, but it’s hard to imagine more than a brief appearance) to be a major problem in itself. But there’s a hard-to-answer question if – and it’s a massive if – Valencia can make someone other than Messi beat them: Where does the offense come from for this team if Suárez and Dembélé are both unavailable?
That brings us to Philippe Coutinho, who has not made an impact despite several chances to do so in the Champions League quarters and semis.
In keeping with the theme here, the Brazilian also seems to be less than 100% healthy. He did practice Wednesday, however, after missing last Sunday’s La Liga season finale. Coutinho will likely be in the squad Saturday. But how many Barça fans currently feel great about needing a significant contribution from Coutinho, regardless of his fitness level? If it’s up to Malcom and Coutinho to provide the offense, should Barcelona really be such a prohibitive favorite?
Unfortunately for Valverde, the injury problems are not confined to the attacking third. Barça will also be without keeper Marc-André ter Stegen, who has been excellent this year. This team’s defenders have occasionally picked really bad times for lapses. The pressure on them to play error-free increases without ter Stegen between the sticks.
Other injury concerns are Arthur, Nelson Semedo and Kevin Prince-Boateng, who are all hobbled as well.
Can Valencia stay hot?
Valencia’s chances at an upset are better than many realize for several reasons:
- Both of their La Liga games against Barcelona this year ended in draws.
- They’re in great form and in great spirits after qualifying for the Champions League despite an awful start to the season.
- The pressure, or lack thereof, is real for both sides. Barcelona is looking at a brutal offseason if they follow the UCL disaster at Anfield by losing the Copa final. For Valencia, on the other hand, this game is the definition of playing with house money: their fans will be thrilled with a victory, while a loss would hardly dampen spirits considering their finish to the season.
I hate to go to such great lengths to explain why an upset feels likely and then contradict all that by making a safe pick … but Lionel Me… actually, forget it, I’ll go with Valencia. Don’t ask me exactly how Valencia will pull it off, but despite how hard it is to pick against Messi, I think Barcelona will be too shorthanded to complete the domestic double: Valencia 2, Barcelona 1.
No lengthy preamble needed.
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
Jurgen Klopp (10) – MUCH better line-up selection. Every decision was the right one. The subs, the tactics, well done, Klopp.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here are two quick questions that will go a long way toward deciding which of these teams will book a ticket to the Champions League Final at Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano on June 1.
Can Liverpool make it interesting?
It’s been a brutal week for the Reds. First, they came out of Leg 1 in a massive hole after fielding an unorthodox – that’s one word for it, at least – lineup.
Out of respect for Liverpool fans, I won’t rehash everything that’s gone wrong since, but they’re without two of their top three strikers in Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino, and PFA Player of the Year Virgil Van Dijk missed the team portion of training on Monday.
VVD could still play Tuesday, and I have a feeling he will, but the news he was not at full-strength the day before the match came as a gut punch within hours of a haymaker from Vincent Kompany and Manchester City.
Manager Jürgen Klopp will likely have to go with an even more unorthodox line-up to even have a chance today. Expect seeing more offensively-geared players like Rhian Brewster (making a debut, no less), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Xherdan Shaqiri in the starting XI.
Regardless, considering the mountain they have to climb, Liverpool needed their best players at 100% to have a realistic chance. Even if they did, they’d still going to need a fortunate bounce or two. With so much of the team’s scoring punch absent, I can’t see them pulling this off, or coming particularly close to doing so. Oddsmakers agree, as FanDuel Sportsbook NJ barely have Liverpool favored to win this–at home–at +145. Barcelona is priced at +165.
The short answer: (OK, so this one isn’t that short): As much as the atmosphere at Anfield will help, and as much pressure as Jürgen Klopp’s team is sure to apply from the opening whistle, it’s not going to be enough to dig out of the 3-0 hole, not against a veteran squad like Barcelona.
Will Barcelona learn from its meltdown in the UCL quarterfinals a year ago?
I’ll start by admitting that I thought AS Roma was cooked when they went down 4-1 in Leg 1 of last year’s UCL quarters. But there are a couple of key differences here. For one thing, the away goal the Italians got in Leg 1 of that match-up was crucial. Second, the Catalans’ opponent in Rome was not missing key pieces like Salah and Firmino.
It also works against Liverpool that Barcelona is just a year removed from a painful lesson about what happens when you take a three-goal lead for granted. It’s still hard to believe a team with this much experience could collapse like it did last year, but it’s unfathomable that it could happen in back-to-back seasons.
The short answer: Yes, Barcelona will have enough poise to make its massive cushion hold up.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ahead of the Barcelona–Liverpool 2019 UEFA Champions League Semifinal first leg Wednesday at 3 p.m. Eastern at Camp Nou, here’s a look at what both teams need to do to win, as well as the key players to watch.
Barcelona will win if …
Barcelona is in great position to win a treble in spite of their tendency to play to the level of their opponent. Draws against teams like Huesca (0-0 on April 13) and Villarreal (4-4 on April 2) are baffling, even for a team that all but wrapped up La Liga a long time ago.
But when the Catalans have had to, they’ve shown the ability to reach a gear where few teams can keep up with them.
I bring up Barcelona’s on-off switch for two reasons: 1) if they come out lackadaisical against Jurgen Klopp’s squad, they’re going to get buried, and 2) this will be the toughest foe Barcelona has faced.
In La Liga, Real Madrid has not been among Europe’s elite this season, while Atlético has nothing resembling Liverpool’s firepower up top, no matter how good Los Rojiblancos are defensively. In the UCL, Barcelona has faced quality opposition, including Tottenham in the group stage, Lyon in the round of 16 and Manchester United in the quarters, but again, nobody quite like ’18-19 Liverpool.
With the best player on the planet playing at an insane level and a supporting cast featuring six players in our Starting XI for this match-up, Barcelona will by no means be in over its head, but is finally meeting its match talent-wise.
Liverpool will win if …
They can exploit Barcelona’s inconsistent midfield and defense – see the start of Leg 2 vs. Manchester United – while finding a way to contain Messi.
Liverpool have been prolific offensively this year, and they will test Barcelona’s back line and keeper Marc-André ter Stegen. As mentioned above, Barça have seen few scorers like Mohamed Salah or front lines like Liverpool’s Salah-Roberto Firmino–Sadio Mané trio.
Ter Stegen has quietly been very good when he’s had to be this year. Can he, Gerard Piqué, Jordi Alba and Co. stifle one of the continent’s most dangerous offenses?
On the other end of the pitch, the biggest difference between last year’s Liverpool team and this year’s is how stout the defense has been thanks to Virgil van Dijk and steady between the sticks with Alisson. While Barcelona is squaring off with its deepest opponent of the season, Liverpool has not had to contend with anyone like Messi.
The Argentine and former Liverpool striker Luis Suárez have combined for several memorable performances this year. Jurgen Klopp’s team faces the unenviable task of trying to wrangle a player in Messi who requires extra attention, but also has a knack for punishing foes who ignore his teammates.
Barcelona’s most important player and secret weapon are Messi and ter Stegen, respectively.
At this point, it’s both obvious and repetitive to call Messi his side’s most significant piece. It’s also, however, the easy, indisputable choice, for all the reasons we’ve discussed.
I can’t imagine this will be a quiet 180 minutes for ter Stegen. He is sure to be tested against an opponent playing its best soccer right now – the Reds have scored at least two goals in every game since a 0-0 draw against Everton on March 3.
Liverpool’s most important player and secret weapon are VVD and Mané, respectively.
VVD has a great opportunity to show the world exactly why he was recently crowned PFA Player of the Year. There’s no bigger stage in club soccer than at Camp Nou, against Messi, Suárez and the rest of Barcelona’s proven veterans. The Dutch defender will not be tasked with marking Messi by himself, but he’s the key to the match for Liverpool.
I expect Piqué and Co. to make a concerted effort to force someone besides Salah to beat them. There are plenty of options for who could step up as Liverpool’s “secret weapon,” but why not highlight Mané, who has tallied four goals on 13 shots in his last four games?
Like the other half of the draw, this match statistically is a coin-flip. FiveThirtyEight actually has Liverpool as a slight probability favorite at 52-48% to advance. Liverpool are also favored to win the UCL at 37% to Barcelona’s 33% (Ajax has now unbelievably climbed to 22%).
Leg 1 odds haven’t really changed since they opened. Barcelona has dropped from +135 to -110, but Liverpool has dropped too, from +340 to +300.
All listed odds from FanDuel Sportsbook NJ. Leg 1 is listed first.
|Barcelona -110||Draw +250||Liverpool +300|
|Liverpool +135||Draw +250||Barcelona +190|
FanDuel Sportsbook NJ has Barcelona now at -144 to advance to Liverpool’s +114.
All right, it’s time for the 2019 UEFA Champions League Semifinals.
Tottenham hosts Ajax at 3pm on Tuesday. Barcelona hosts Liverpool at 3pm on Wednesday.
Here’s a quick snapshot of the match-ups and content to date.
Updated Champions League Semifinals Odds
All listed odds from FanDuel Sportsbook NJ.
|Tottenham +130||Draw +230||Ajax +210|
|Barcelona -120||Draw +200||Liverpool +300|
Tottenham opened at +120 / Ajax +220, so the public money is coming slightly on the boys from Amsterdam, who at one point were 200-to-1.
Interestingly, Barcelona has gone from -135 to -120–so the public is leaning them, right? Welp, Liverpool has gone from +340 to +300 for Leg 1. That adjustment is closer to what we think is a truer line of around +250 for Liverpool on Wednesday.
Champions League Semifinal Content Round-Up
Some game day analysis coming on Tuesday and Wednesday. For now, catch up on our key information and analysis:
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.
- 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!
|Barcelona vs Liverpool||Not 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.
|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.
We’re taking a different approach for the 2019 UEFA Champions League Semifinals combined starting XI this go around.
Today, we examine the Barcelona vs Liverpool combined XI. Tottenham & Ajax will be published this weekend.
Surprisingly, the choices for Liverpool and Barcelona mostly lined up. We’ll get to it shortly, but only the backline and last frontline spot had any meaningful back-and-forth.
Barcelona – Liverpool Champions League Odds and Probabilities
Oddsmakers and analytics don’t line up on this match-up.
Barcelona is seen as the semifinal and overall UCL favorite on sportsbooks such as FanDuel Sportsbook NJ. Leg 1 is listed first. Home team is listed first.
|Barcelona -130||Draw +290||Liverpool +340|
|Liverpool +145||Draw +250||Barcelona +180|
While Barcelona and Liverpool are the two favorites to win the UCL,
FanDuel Sportsbook NJ has the Catalans at +135 and the Reds at +230.
Over on FiveThirtyEight, the match-up is essentially a coin-flip.
Barcelona – Liverpool Combined Starting XI
As for the combined starting XI, the squad reflects the probabilities. These are two well-balanced and evenly matched opponents.
Chops: Ok, let’s start with the #1’s. Right now, Alisson and Marc-André ter Stegen are inarguably two of the top five GKs in the world. There’s a razor-thin margin in their stats and ratings. Going into this, I thought Alisson would be a runaway but that wasn’t the case.
Everett: This was one of several spots where you really can’t go wrong. Whether you go by the numbers or the eye test, you reach the same conclusion: Alisson and ter Stegen have been excellent this season. WhoScored gives Alisson a 6.77 rating in the EPL, compared to ter Stegen’s 6.67 in La Liga. It’s also close in UCL play, but Alisson (6.71) is slightly lower-rated than ter Stegen (6.77). Ultimately, though it’s impossible to go against Alisson considering his phenomenal play domestically, where he’s given up just 20 goals in 35 games, with a ridiculous 19 shutouts. While we’re talking numbers, though, let’s not forget to mention ter Stegen’s 14 clean sheets in 33 La Liga matches.
Chops: While Alisson has slightly better stats, for me the deciding factor is — this year — he’s come up HUGE in the moments he’s been tested. His save in the 92nd minute against Napoli in the group stage is the singular reason why Liverpool is even here. He’s been in a pressure cooker all year with the Premier League title chase and Champions League run. If Liverpool need a big save to close out a game, he’s ready.
Everett: Ter Stegen has been really good in his own right, but his team has won its biggest games this year pretty comfortably. The second legs of both the UCL round of 16 and quarters were easy victories for Barcelona. It will be interesting to see how the German fares if either of both of these games come down to the wire.
Chops: On to the backline, where we had our hardest decisions.
Everett: Virgil van Dijk is a no-brainer, but after that, there were multiple players worth starting at each of the other three spots.
Jordi Alba has quietly been one of Barcelona’s most dangerous players going forward, while also helping hold things down for a team that’s been more stout defensively than people realize. The debate between Alba and Andy Robertson was as lengthy as any we had, but we gave Alba a slight edge, due in part to concerns Robbo’s massive workload might catch up with him.
Gerard Piqué, at 32, is showing no signs of his age, and has been in great form in the UCL.
We entertained getting creative and having Robbo out of position at right back, but Trent Alexander-Arnold is a solid choice who is in form — and he also keeps our lineup positionally accurate.
Chops: Yeah, leaving Robbo off was a tough decision. What TAA and Robertson mean to the Liverpool attack and overall tactical strategy can’t be overlooked. But if we’re giving weight to recent form, TAA has been on fire, and Robertson, while still excellent, looks a little gassed –so he’s left off.
Everett: This is a stout foursome who can also threaten an opponent with Alba and TAA’s speed on the flanks.
Chops: Midfield I thought would be more of a debate, but we actually saw eye-to-eye on this one. Tactically, the way Liverpool uses their midfield (with TAA and Robbo booming up the wings as offensive fulcrums) somewhat discredits the work the Reds do in that portion of the field. Fabinho has been excellent after a slow start. Naby Keita has started to find his form. James Milner is steady and Klopp’s choice on the road. But the true standout recently is Jordan Henderson. After meeting with Klopp and asking to have the freedom to play higher up the pitch, he’s been a revelation. All season, the one nitpick complaint about the Reds has been a lack of creativity in the midfield. Henderson has helped unlock the offense and has gotten the front three back in sync.
Everett: I won’t get too groundbreaking or analytical here regarding Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets: both have been really good for a long time and their experience is a huge asset for the Catalans. Neither has the notoriety of a Messi or Pique, but their intelligence and poise have helped buoy this team. Henderson is deserving of the third midfield spot, especially considering Arthur’s ups and downs for Barça.
Chops: With Liverpool, it’s hard not to think of their forwards almost as a singular entity, greater than the sum of their parts (each part, by the way, is pretty great). However, you just can’t ignore the individual brilliance of Barcelona’s firepower. I mean, we’re out of adjectives for how absurd this is getting with one particular player.
Everett: Messi, at this point, is a lock. Is there anything more to say about (probably? definitely?) the best player we’ve ever seen?
The discussion regarding the two players who should join him up top is much more interesting. Mo Salah is not scoring at the clip he did a year ago, but that says much more about his absurd ‘17-18 campaign than anything negative about his output this year. Salah and Messi are easy choices.
The selection between Luis Suárez and Sadio Mané is likely divisive. But the Uruguayan just plays too well with Messi for me to leave him out right now. Messi’s vision and talent as a facilitator must make it a dream to play with him, but that doesn’t mean Suárez’s recent work alongside him should be totally discounted. With 21 goals in La Liga and six assists this season, Suárez remains one of the most dangerous attacking players in the world at the age of 32. WhoScored also rates him higher (the site rates Suárez at 7.44, compared to Mané’s 7.22) in the UCL this season, and that’s despite Suárez having no UCL goals, while Mané has four. Suárez should have at least one UCL goal already, (I disagreed with the scorekeeper in the first leg against Manchester United, who ruled his header into the net an own-goal by Luke Shaw), and I expect him to find the net again soon.
Chops: Yeah, Mané has been in EXCELLENT form of late and has been a key contributor in the Champions League. Suárez, though, is just a tick better and more seasoned overall, particularly in the center forward role.
Finally, the manager spot goes to Jurgen Klopp. He’s got Liverpool peaking at the right time. They haven’t lost since early January. They’re showing no signs of strain from the dual trophy runs. He’s mostly pulled the right strings for line-ups and tactics, and when he hasn’t, he’s course-corrected quickly.
Everett: I’ll add that Ernesto Valverde has been better than people have realized this year, but I would go with Klopp as well.
Probability models and oddsmakers view the 2019 UEFA Champions League Semifinal match-ups essentially as toss-ups.
You’ll hear plenty of talk in the coming weeks around how Barcelona vs Liverpool is the real Champions League final (kind of like how the SEC championship is the real national title game in college football). Whether that’s fair or not, the winner of Barcelona – Liverpool will be viewed as the prohibitive favorite against the Tottenham vs Ajax victor.
But are these match-ups really toss ups? Have Liverpool and Ajax earned more respect–particularly from oddsmakers–then they’ve received?
Here’s how it breaks down.
If you’re looking for competitive semifinal match-ups, you’ve got them (in theory).
Liverpool and Barcelona combined are 69% to win the UCL against whoever advances from Ajax and Spurs.
Oddsmakers favor Barcelona
Oddsmakers have fairly consistently been undervaluing Liverpool (in futures markets) and Ajax (in general) this Champions League while overvaluing blue-chip teams like Real Madrid, Juventus, and (arguably rightfully) Manchester City.
Nothing has changed for semifinal odds and futures.
Leg 1 games have Liverpool and Ajax as road underdogs despite the fact they’ve won their four combined UCL knock-out round road fixtures.
|Tottenham +120||Draw +240||Ajax +220|
|Barcelona -135||Draw +290||Liverpool +340|
Liverpool are actually a heavy underdog at Camp Nou. Ajax are a more reasonable +220 at Tottenham’s new stadium.
However, Liverpool were viewed as underdogs to Bayern Munich (especially after the 0-0 draw at Anfield) and advanced. Ajax were heavy underdogs to Real Madrid and Juventus and just kept winning. Yes, the public popularity of teams like Bayern, RM, and Juve is part of the reason for their favored status. But at some point, the oddsmakers usually catch up. That hasn’t happened.
Futures markets also don’t reflect the coin-flip nature and / or reality of these match-ups.
FanDuel Sportsbook NJ has the following listed futures odds.
|Barcelona +135||Liverpool +230||Tottenham +380||Ajax +410|
Barcelona are +135 to Liverpool’s +230 to win the Champions League. Clear difference there. And what does Ajax need to do to finally get some respect? On one hand, they’ve gone from +10000 at the start of group play, to +20000 in mid-February after losing to Real Madrid at home, to +410 now. On the other hand, TWO MONTHS AGO THEY WERE +20000.
Shouldn’t Liverpool and Ajax be the real favorites to advance?
Liverpool are the most tested team in the 2018-19 campaign. They (barely) came out of the “Group of Death” that included Paris Saint-Germain and Napoli. PSG has consistently been ranked in the top 5 of the Global Club Rankings this year. Napoli is in the top 20 and in the hunt for the Europa League crown.
Liverpool then faced German giant Bayern Munich in the Round of 16. Liverpool and Bayern were ranked 1-2 in the world at the time of the draw. Liverpool advanced, defeating the likely Bundesliga champs in Germany.
Liverpool are in a historic Premier League title race in which they’ve literally lost just ONE TIME all season in the world’s toughest domestic division. They may end up with 97 points which would be the second highest total ever.
Why aren’t they favored to win the Champions League? And if they do defeat Barcelona in the semis (this year’s La Liga champs), Bayern in the Round of 16 (likely Bundesliga champs) and win the Champions League as well as the Premier League over a record-breaking Manchester City squad…is there an argument to be made that Liverpool are one of the best teams of all time? They have to be considered in that conversation.
As for Ajax, they haven’t been favored in one single knock-out round, yet have clearly been the better team once the games have been played. Expect most talking head experts (and our High Press Soccer prognosticators) to pick them over Spurs.
Whether it happens or not, Liverpool and Ajax would make the most compelling–and deserving–2019 UEFA Champions League Final match-up.
One game was over almost as soon as it began. The other was one of the best games of the 2019 UEFA Champions League to date.
Lionel Messi proved once again he is not human, scoring a stunner in the 16th minute (and a brace after an uncharacteristic David de Gea howler in the 20th) to lead Barcelona to a 3-0 win over Manchester United. They advance 4-0 on aggregate.
Ajax does it again
On the other side of the bracket, Ajax and Juventus played an open, attacking, thrilling game. Cristiano Ronaldo put Juve up first with a smashing header.
After that, Ajax stepped it up. The youngsters were constantly on the attack. Donny van de Beek leveled the game six minutes after Ronaldo’s header in the 34th. In the second half, Matthijs de Ligt headed home the winner in the 67th minute.
Some controversy at the end over a disputed Ajax handball likely wouldn’t have made a difference due to away goals, anyway. It did give the Italians something to act overly dramatic about though.
Regardless, this was an even affair. Possession, shots, and shots on target were basically even. What a game.
Ajax advance 3-2 on aggregate. They await the winner of Tottenham vs Manchester City.
Barcelona hosts Manchester United at 3 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday with a chance to advance to the 2019 UEFA Champions League Semifinals for the first time since 2015. Below are three things to watch as the Catalans look to protect a 1-0 lead.
- Can United generate scoring opportunities? The EPL side outshot Barcelona 10-6 in the first leg, but did not record a single shot on target. Barcelona’s defense has been tough to crack when it counts this year, and Marc-André ter Stegen has been up to the task the few times he’s been challenged. Man United have plenty of talent up top, but they were largely stifled last week. Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team could give itself a massive boost with an early goal like the one Romelu Lukaku scored in Paris to spark his team’s improbable comeback.
- What version of Ousmane Dembélé will we see? Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez are playing so well that the Frenchman’s recent five-game absence was not exactly pronounced. But nobody watching this team closely can deny that Philippe Coutinho was a clear downgrade during that stretch. When Dembélé is at his best – his injuries have been about the only thing that have slowed him down – Barcelona’s attack goes from potent to unstoppable. The fact he started and played 67 minutes in Saturday’s scoreless draw at Huesca while Barça’s top players rested is a sign he’s fit for Tuesday.
- Will Tuesday be all about Messi? We at High Press Soccer are among a few soccer outlets that have not been able to say enough about the Argentine’s current season. In the UCL round of 16, Lyon managed to keep him – and his teammates – quiet in the first leg. The 0-0 draw at home gave the French club hope as it traveled to Camp Nou for the second leg. By halftime, Lyon was down 2-0 en route to a 5-1 blowout loss, as Messi scored twice and added two assists. Against ManU’s shaky back line, the Argentine is poised for another huge night. I’m not predicting he’ll be quite as dominant as he was against Lyon, but expect to be reminded, once again, that we’re watching the G.O.A.T.
Oddsmakers like FanDuel Sportsbook NJ view Manchester United as a longshot at +750. Barcelona is priced at -280 (the draw is +420). FiveThirtyEight only give United a 9% chance to advance. Having said all of that, United have faced these long odds before–as in, just the previous round. Stranger things have happened.
Ahead of the Barcelona–Man United Champions League quarterfinal first leg Wednesday at Old Trafford, here’s a look at what both teams need to do to win, as well as the key players to watch.
Barcelona will win if …
It avoids crucial injuries. Man U is talented, but was lucky to beat a PSG team that was missing Neymar in the Round of 16. Barcelona is much deeper and more balanced than the Parisian club, and it’s going to show. As long as Barça’s top players are fit, I expect a fairly one-sided affair.
Lionel Messi (who somehow keeps getting better with age) and Luis Suárez have dominated the headlines in recent weeks, but their team also lacks any clear weakness. In addition to the Argentine and the Uruguayan up top – who have combined for an absurd 14 goals in Barcelona’s last six matches – Barça is stout defensively. Gerard Piqué and Marc-André ter Stegen, among others, have been excellent all season in big games. Yes, there have been hiccups like last week’s 4-4 draw against Villarreal — when Barcelona was by no means playing its best XI. But the Catalans have been tough to crack when it matters. They allowed a total of one goal in the two round of 16 matches against Lyon and in three recent games against Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid, they were not scored on.
Man U will win if …
They score quickly on Wednesday and David de Gea has a performance for the ages. It’s going to take several players turning in incredible efforts for the Red Devils to pull this off, but the most likely scenario for an upset involves an early goal followed by the Spaniard doing something unforgettable (something he is certainly capable of doing). Man U does not lack for dynamic weapons who can create chances. Those players’ fresh legs – their last game was April 2, while Barcelona is coming off a physical battle with Atleti on Saturday – could allow the Red Devils to strike first at Old Trafford.
The EPL club has not, however, been sound enough defensively – and honestly, who has been, considering Barcelona’s form? – for me to expect them to stifle Messi and Co. That means they’ll need de Gea’s A-plus game. We saw in Man U’s upset of PSG that if they keep things close, anything could happen in the closing minutes. Could they get another fortunate bounce at the right time to make an improbable appearance in the UCL semifinals?
Barcelona’s most important player and secret weapon are Lionel Messi and Philippe Coutinho, respectively.
The case for Messi as the most important player on the pitch goes without saying at this point.
There are plenty of candidates when thinking about the X-factor for Barcelona, but why not the former Liverpool star? With Ousmane Dembélé sidelined due to injury, Coutinho has started his team’s last three games in place of the Frenchman. To this point, Coutinho hasn’t presented Ernesto Valverde with a conundrum – when Dembélé is available, he’ll be right back in the starting lineup – but he should have a massive opportunity on Wednesday (as long as Dembélé remains out). At this point, Barcelona’s opponents should sell out to limit Messi and Suárez, which should mean space for the Brazilian. Can he capitalize?
Man U’s most important player and secret weapon are Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku, respectively.
Pogba has to play smarter than he did in the first leg against PSG, when he got himself suspended for the return leg in Paris. We saw last summer during the World Cup that at his best, he’s one of the most dangerous players in the world. This season, he’s been credited as a big reason for his team’s turnaround under OGS. Barcelona’s midfielders and defenders are skilled but are not blessed with the same physical tools as Pogba. If he’s able to take over the game and facilitate for Lukaku and Co. — while occasionally threatening Barcelona’s back line himself — Man U may have a shot after all.
Most fans came away from this team’s comeback win in Paris fixated on the French club’s mistakes, the call that resulted in a spot-kick for Marcus Rashford and the Englishman’s subsequent game-winner. But it was Lukaku who got his team a 2-1 lead with some opportunistic finishes in the early going. Like Pogba, Lukaku has the raw physical ability to give even a well-organized defensive team like Barcelona problems.
Latest Manchester United vs Barcelona Odds
|Manchester United +280||Draw +250||Barcelona -105|
Odds are from FanDuel Sportsbook NJ
Also Read: Champions League Quarterfinal Predictions
Editor’s’Note: Bumping this post back up as we near Tuesday’s matches. Look for our first podcast which will cover the UCL next week as well.
With the Champions League Quarterfinal draw set, it’s time for another round of predictions.
First, we’re welcoming a new prognosticator to this round’s panel: former Russian national team member Katya Gokhman. Joining her are site-runner Chops, 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.
Second, a quick review of how we did on the Round of 16. While here at High Press Soccer we were all very high on Ajax’s chances, somehow, nobody actually selected them. And can you be right and wrong at the same time? Because in hindsight, that’s how the Manchester United prediction feels. Down the line now:
- Chops: 6 of 8 (missed Ajax and Tottenham)
- Everett: 6 of 8 (missed Ajax and Tottenham)
- Cort: 6 of 8 (missed Porto and Ajax)
Lastly, almost by divine intervention, the draw shook out where the four universal favorites match up against the four underdogs. Will all chalk prevail? Does that ever really happen? There has to be an upset among the group, right? Do we all keep agreeing that Ajax is a great team and then not pick them? Let’s find out!
|Tyler Everett||Katya Gokhman||Carl Cort|
|Liverpool vs. Porto||Does Porto have one player who would make a combined starting XI in this match? Brahimi? Anyone? Liverpool advance to eventually shock Barca and have our hearts ripped out by City in the finals (Or will they? More on this shortly).||I’m with Chops, Katya, and Cort here, and couldn’t put it better myself. Porto seems like by the far the weakest team left, and was lucky to get by Roma. Liverpool should win comfortably and move on.||Porto, statistically, is the weakest of the bunch. Liverpool, on the other hand, arguably has one of the strongest attacks in Europe with Mane and Salah at the helm. I definitely think there will be an upset in the quarters but it won’t be in this match.
Prediction: Liverpool will be on to the semis.
|With Liverpool’s attacking power and coming off a convincing win over Bayern, I really don’t see any surprises here.
Liverpool win convincingly
|Barcelona vs. Manchester United||Some of the glow is coming off OGS’ shine as United have been lucky and good since he took over (and now are regressing to just being good, which is still significantly better than they were with Mourinho). I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but Lionel Messi is having the all-time best season of his all-time great career. Camp Nou? More like Camp Yes. (awful, I know). Barca advance.||Barcelona has looked beatable at times since January, but is currently red-hot and — as we saw most recently against Lyon in the second leg — they have another gear that few teams can match. They’ll probably be without Ousmane Dembéle for both legs, and Luis Suárez’s status for the first leg at Old Trafford is up in the air. But Messi, even if he has to carry the load offensively — plus a solid defense and keeper — will be enough for Barça. The grit ManU has shown under OGS has been impressive, but Barcelona is too good. It also doesn’t hurt the Catalans — who are 10 points clear with 10 games left — they can basically sleepwalk through the rest of their domestic season.||This is where my brain and heart start to part ways…
Brain: Messi is having a fantastic season and Barcelona is on top of La Liga once more. After a 5-1 win against OL, they may not, necessarily, cruise through Manchester United, but they “should” end up on top.
Heart: Man. United has had their share of ups and downs this season. Solskjaer has had a good start as the new coach at United but his roll seems to be slowing down. HOWEVER, let’s not forget that this is still a team full of quality players such as Pogba, Rashford, Lingard, and Lukaku (hopefully, he will play despite his injury problems) to name a few.
Prediction: I’m going against the grain and making this my upset – Manchester United go through to the semis.
|I shouldn’t even be mentioning United at this stage of the CL after that horrific late VAR decision against PSG– but unfortunately I am.
I am now glad to say that I will not see United in the next round as I believe with Barca’s attacking ability they dismantle United at the back convincingly.
|Ajax vs. Juventus||Despite what the oddsmakers say, this really is the closest match-up. Ajax is playing with house money now, and Juve has all the pressure. But still, Ronaldo. Heart says Ajax, mind says Juventus.||Like Chops said, we liked Ajax versus Real Madrid, but not enough to pull the trigger and call the upset. Going to be bolder this time and go for it. It’s hard to unsee how confident and bold the Dutch club was against RM. They strike me as too young to tense up or know better than to play loose. Don’t ask me how they keep CR7 in check, but I think Matthijs de Ligt and Co. will enjoy (another) coming-out party — for anyone who’s not aware of them already — and pull off another stunner.||Ajax is a great looking young team and, after their recent performances, they’re extremely confident and motivated. Juventus is feeling pretty good as well – especially Ronaldo (when is he not feeling pretty good though?). I think this will be an amazing game to watch and it could honestly go both ways. However, I think Juventus’ wisdom and experience will prevail and carry them through.||I’m all for teams who “play the game the right way” as they say. And it’s good to see that Ajax are getting good results behind that. This is going to be a very enjoyable close game to watch but it’s really hard for me to go against CR7. Along with CR7 and the experience of the Juve team– I see Juventus advancing.|
|Manchester City vs. Tottenham||It would be difficult to describe how much I despise Manchester City. But let me try! Take what Bryan Mills, John Wick, and Andy Dufresne feel about their respective antagonists, square it, multiple it by 10, and you’re in the ballpark. Keep in mind, Newcastle have more of a proud and legitimate history than City (shout out to Cort!). City are basically the kids whose rich celebrity parents just got bought them into college as “crew team” recruits. Anyway, Tottenham and City play each other three times in 11 days. I believe Tottenham will win one of those three, and since one of those is a home match in their new stadium during the quarterfinals, I’m going against every fiber of common sense I have and saying that Spurs score enough at home to white-knuckle a semifinal trip and ruin City’s shot at a Quadruple. By the way, the last 7 sentences are precisely why I rarely ever bet.||Not feeling nearly as bold about this one. Like Barcelona, City’s ceiling is so ridiculously high that even if they’re only at their best for a brief stretch, it will be enough.||I’ve thought about the possibility of an upset by Tottenham, but then I think…nah. No way will Pep let that happen. Pep has been building up this team since he got to Man. City in 2016. It looks as if, Man. City is finally at the level that Pep has been striving for with them. After destroying Schalke 7-0, I think they are not likely to slow down.||I think Tottenham are technically good enough to cause City problems. One of the reason why I think Tottenham will fall short is mentally I don’t believe they’re strong enough which they’ve proven many times in the past, crunch time they always crumble.
The other reason is more obvious: City have great depth and are very well equipped to go the whole way
Maybe, just maybe, we’ll have some drama at the top of the La Liga table after all.
We also have a race for fourth place (and Champions League qualification) that grows more interesting every day. Five teams are now in the mix, with Valencia (46 points) breathing down the neck of fourth-place Getafe (47). Behind Valencia but very much alive are Sevilla (46), Alavés (44) and Athletic Bilbao (43).
But let’s start with Atlético Madrid’s bid to track down Barcelona.
Can Atlético Close the Gap?
Barça finally faltered on Tuesday, settling for one point in a seesaw 4-4 draw at Villarreal. That result, combined with Atlético Madrid’s 2-0 win over Girona, means that “only” eight points separate first-place Barcelona and Atleti.
Los Rojiblancos could cut the lead to five with a victory when the teams meet on Saturday at 2:45 p.m. Eastern at Camp Nou. If it wins that game, Atlético would still need Barcelona to drop another five points over its seven remaining games in La Liga. While unlikely, that’s at least feasible, especially if Barcelona continues to rest key players in domestic matches to keep them fresh for the UCL. For now, though, FiveThirtyEight believes the Catalans have a 98 percent chance to win the league, while Atleti has just a 2 percent chance. Would that number jump to more than 10 percent with a win this weekend? Speaking of the analytics site, it says that Lionel Messi (who is having a season solidifying his GOAT status) and Co. have a 62 percent chance to win Saturday, which seems a little high.
How Barcelona managed not to lose to Villarreal despite giving up four unanswered goals at one point is anyone’s guess. It was the latest example in recent months of their tendency to follow a stretch of apparent vulnerability with a flash of brilliance. Whether you’re convinced this team should be the Champions League favorite or afraid their inconsistency will be their undoing, you saw something on Tuesday that reinforced how you feel.
Personally, I’m not terribly concerned about what this means for them. I can’t imagine the Catalans would have had any issues with Villarreal if they hadn’t been resting Messi, Gerard Piqué and Ivan Rakitc to start the game. While I’ll admit Barcelona play with fire more often than they should, the bad news for the rest of La Liga – and Europe – is that having Messi and Luis Suárez means they can get away with it. This is as good a place as any to point out that Barcelona’s last La Liga loss was in November.
As for Saturday’s game, expect to see Atlético play with even more physicality and intensity than usual, as this is their last chance to salvage their season. Diego Simeone’s team has emphatically answered questions of whether it might go into the tank after the UCL heartbreaker to Juventus on March 12 and the subsequent 2-0 loss to Athletic Bilbao.
Based on the 4-0 win over Alavés and the Girona win since the loss to Athletic, this team still believes it is alive in La Liga, which makes it dangerous for at least another 90 minutes. Atleti could be without forward Álvaro Morata, who suffered an ankle injury on Tuesday and would be sorely missed. It’s also unclear whether Diego Costa will be available. Both players, however, practiced Friday, meaning Antoine Griezmann may have more help generating offense than he expected to earlier this week, when the status of Morata and Costa appeared doubtful.
Should Valencia be the Favorite for La Liga’s Fourth Champions League Spot?
Valencia’s last two games, a 1-0 win at Sevilla and a 2-1 victory over Real Madrid at home, make them the most impressive of the bunch at the moment. Those results are both impressive in and of themselves.
And they look even better compared to what Getafe (2-0 loss to Leganes, draw vs. Espanyol), Sevilla (the loss to Valencia, 2-0 win over Alavés) and Alavés (back-to-back losses to Atlético and Sevilla by a combined score of 6-0) have accomplished over the past week. FiveThirtyEight has noticed, ranking Valencia (35%), Sevilla (34%), Getafe (22%) and Athletic Bilbao (4%) as the teams most likely to finish fourth. Valencia’s upcoming schedule is also favorable, as its next five are against Rayo Vallecano, Levante, Real Betis, Atlético and Eibar. The only two teams in that group in the top half of the table are Atleti and 10th-place Real Betis.
Despite first-place Barcelona’s commanding lead, there’s plenty of intrigue in La Liga with 10 games to play.
The most compelling match of the weekend is Atlético Madrid’s match at Alavés on Saturday at 3:45 p.m. Eastern. It’s a crucial contest for the home underdogs, who are just two points behind fourth-place Getafe, which would qualify for next year’s Champions League if the season ended today.
Alavés getting little respect
|Alavés +420||Draw +230||Atlético Madrid -135|
Despite being in good shape in the standings – they could move into fourth place if they beat Atleti and Getafe loses to Leganes on Saturday – Alavés has just a 9% chance at UCL qualification, per FiveThirtyEight. A big reason the analytics site is so down on them is their uninspiring goal differential of 0. In addition to what it would mean for their spot in the table, a win over Diego Simeone’s club would turn a lot of heads.
It promises to be a low-scoring affair, as Alavés is fifth in Spain in goals allowed (31) and is facing a notoriously tough Atlético Madrid defense that has allowed by far the fewest goals in La Liga this year (19) – through 28 games!
Still, Alavés finds themselves as a huge underdog at home (+420!) to odds-on favorite Atleti.
Atleti not exactly top of the world right now
Los Rojiblancos enter this match-up at a crossroads. It would be a stretch to say Simeone’s side is reeling – they are, after all, still well-positioned to finish in second place in the league and have won four of five in domestic play. But Atleti’s coming off a brutal UCL loss to Juventus on March 12th and an inexplicable 2-0 loss to Athletic Bilbao four days later. The news that Lucas Hernández will leave the club this summer for an 80-million euro contract with Bayern Munich is the latest disappointment for a team that is surely ready for this month to be over.
The biggest question is whether this team has put the nightmare in Turin behind it. It would be somewhat understandable, but nevertheless a shame, if Atleti allowed its shocking elimination from the Champions League to completely derail the rest of the season.
FiveThirtyEight gives Atlético a 37% chance to win, while pegging Alavés’ chance at an upset at 34% (meaning that +420 is a great price if you like Alavés), and the site would not be surprised by a draw (29%) either. I think Atleti will get back on the right track in a narrow victory, but a 0-0 snoozer would be no surprise.
In other news…
Elsewhere in La Liga, Sevilla needs a victory at home against Valencia on Sunday at 10:15 a.m. Eastern to stay in the Champions League picture, as it is three points from UCL qualification. These teams will be tied for sixth place with 43 points if Valencia wins.
And although Barcelona-Espanyol at Camp Nou is not exactly a toss-up, it will be worth watching how Lionel Messi and Co. fare offensively with Ousmane Dembélé out and Luis Suárez possibly unavailable as well. Messi himself is not at 100% following a groin injury in Argentina’s loss to Venezuela in a friendly last Friday.