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Who Replaces Niko Kovac at Bayern Munich? Could American Jesse Marsch Get a Look?

Tyler Everett November 5, 2019
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As we podded yesterday, the game of managerial musical chairs is just beginning. By the end of the ’19-20 season, we might be looking at coaching vacancies at several of the biggest clubs in Europe. At the moment, no one’s seat is hotter than Unai Emery’s at Arsenal. However, he’s one of a number of managers – Mauricio Pochettino, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Zinedine Zidane and Ernesto Valverde – who could be out of work soon.

But it was Bayern Munich’s Niko Kovac who became the unlikely first sacking of the season at a top-tier club. The German side ended his tenure this weekend following a 5-1 loss to Eintracht Frankfurt on Sunday.

Depending on where you’re willing to look, you can find just about any name you can think of being mentioned as Kovac’s long-term replacement. For now, the club will be led by assistant Hans Flick, who was on Joachim Löw’s staff from 2006 until 2014, when Germany won the World Cup in Brazil.

Ralf Rangnick (RB Leipzig) and Erik ten Hag (Ajax) have been mentioned by the likes of ESPN and the London Guardian as the favorites to take over at Bayern. Other top candidates (some mentioned in No Grass in the Clouds) include, but are not limited to, Arsene Wenger and Max Allegri. And yes, Jose “The Special One” Mourinho has been linked to this position as well.

Bayern have communicated they want a manager who speaks German. That could rule out some obvious high-profile names. However, it does not rule out the one name they should be considering the most: Jesse Marshe.

What about Jesse Marsch to Bayern Munich?

But let us at High Press Soccer be one of, if not the first, to throw out Jesse Marsch’s name. Bayern is probably going to go with someone who is more established and has more experience in a top European league. Regardless, Marsch should be an intriguing possibility for any club seeking a new coach. His work at RB Salzburg has been tremendous, and we’re not just talking about that speech at Anfield.

His team plays hard, thrives in a fun-to-watch system and is fearless. Bayern could use all those things, as one of the most talented teams in Europe has no business losing to Hoffenheim or drawing Hertha Berlin, RB Leipzig and Augsburg.

Marsch has proven his coaching ability in MLS at New York Red Bulls and learned under Rangnick as an assistant at RB Leipzig last season. The soon-to-be 46-year-old will likely be a hot commodity at the end of this year, regardless of what else RB Salzburg accomplishes in Europe. To me, the question is not whether he’ll get a chance with a top club, but which one will come calling.

Youth Movement

Bayern needs to phase in a new generation of players as Benjamin Pavard, Joshua Kimmich, Alphonso Davies, Lucas Hernández, Serge Gnabry, etc. become the leaders of a club who recently said goodbye to Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben. We’re not putting them out to pasture yet, but Jerome Boateng, Robert Lewandowski and Manuel Neuer are undeniably closer to the end of their careers than the beginning (though Lewandowski in particular remains an absolute force). It would make sense to entrust the evolution of the roster to a coach on the rise like Marsch.

Rangnick or ten Hag?

At this point, it’s unclear whether Bayern’s first choice would be Rangnick or ten Hag. However, the Bavarians’ preference between 61-year-old Rangnick and 49-year-old ten Hag will tell us a lot about what they’re looking for right now. Ten Hag’s phone (and by his I mean his agent’s) will surely be busy every time a top job opens over the coming months. Does he want to stay in a great spot at Ajax or join one of Europe’s richest teams? You have to imagine the answer is the latter, but he’s in a position to be picky.

Ultimately, Rangnick strikes me as a bit more likely to be the next Bayern manager, as it seems like his familiarity with the Bundesliga gives him a slight edge over ten Hag.

Bayern does not seem like the type of club to suffer a manager like Mourinho, and I don’t see them going for 70-year-old Wenger, either. Allegri, however, would not surprise me, as long as he’s willing to end his post-Juventus sabbatical after one season at the age of 52.

Here Are the Five Teams Who Can Win the 2019-20 UEFA Champions League

Chops September 13, 2019
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The 2019-20 UEFA Champions League is less than a week from today. While a lot can happen between now and the final on May 30th, enough has happened in domestic league play to start drawing some conclusions as to how the tournament could play out.

Just a few weeks into the campaign, FiveThirtyEight’s club soccer probabilities favor the usual suspects.

We agree with that top five for the most part. FiveThirtyEight probabilities have their flaws. They seem to habitually overvalue Bayern Munich and undervalue Liverpool. And on a game-by-game basis, match probabilities don’t weigh luck heavily enough into the potential outcome. However, they do recognize under-the-radar clubs well that oddsmakers over-look (Ajax last year, and RB Leipzig this year).

With that out of the way, barring some fringe contender making a Virgil van Dijk-esque January impact transfer, these are the only five teams (in order of likelihood) that can win this season’s Champions League.

Manchester City (+300)

More than anything else in the world, Manchester City’s ownership wants to violate Financial Fair Play regulations suppress human and women’s right win the Champions League.

It’s a priority. It’s not all that matters (winning Carabao Cups are adorably still a big deal to them), but it matters the most.

While all of the above is true, so is this: City have the most complete total squad in the world. Yeah, they’re the first $1B team. But they’ve spent that billion dollars wisely. The squad is so deep that the loss of star center-back Aymeric Laporte will only impact them against teams with heavy offensive weaponry like Liverpool, Barcelona, and Bayern Munich. It would take another Kevin de Bruyne injury AND either Sergio Aguero or Raheem Sterling to miss time to start dampening City’s chances.

Will City probably bottle in the quarters again? Yes. Regardless, even though they’re only Oasis’ and American band-wagoners’ favorite team, they should be UCL favorites.

Liverpool (+700)

They won it all last year. They made the finals the year before. Domestically, they only lost one game last season. This season, they’ve lost none.

Despite all of this, Liverpool are only third favorites at +700. Oddsmakers do realize Anfield is a fucking fortress, right?

Making three UCL finals in a row is difficult. Winning two in a row is even more so. But Real Madrid just did it. And they’re an abject disaster now. So why not Liverpool?

City may have the most talent top to bottom than any other club in the world, but Liverpool has the most cohesive and best starting XI. That XI is currently the fifth best team of all-time.

Ask any athlete or successful team: learning how to win is a thing. Once you do, winning becomes easier. It becomes a habit. And for the truly great teams, it begets a hunger for more winning.

That’s where Liverpool are at today. Doubt them at your own peril.

Bayern Munich (+1100)

Mostly a gut call here, but even in spite of adding Philippe Coutinho, Bayern feel like a giant ready to roar back this UCL campaign.

Their opening matchday draw is already a distant memory. They’re second in the Bundesliga with the best goal differential. They’re talented, ruthless, and clinical.

Bayern ran into the Liverpool buzzsaw last year in the Round of 16. A little better luck this go-around and they’re set for a major run.

Barcelona (+500)

Without Messi, things are a mess right now. Barca sit 8th in La Liga. They have a difficult group to navigate. They’ve blown huge aggregate leads going into Leg 2 showdowns in consecutive years. Their manager is suspect. However, if Messi is back and fully fit by October, Barcelona have the talent to breakthrough and win their first UCL since 2015.

Offensively, they’re going to be deadly. Watching Frenkie de Jong, Antoine Griezmann, Luis Suarez, and Messi carve up teams will be exhilarating. Their defense is vulnerable, but Marc-André ter Stegen covers up a lot of holes.

Barcelona’s kryptonite though will be from Premier League sides. If they have to face Manchester City or Liverpool at any stage, they’ll struggle (obv, everyone will). Even Messi recently admitted how difficult traveling to England can be in the Champions League.

It’s even more difficult when you have to travel there and face the two best teams in the world.

Still, Barca has been sooo close the past few years. A little luck can see them go all the way.

RB Leipzig (+5000)

Yep, we’re all in on RB Leipzig this year. They have the easiest group. They’re surging in the Bundesliga, currently at 100% and atop the table.

Their team is young but not too young. They’re hitting their primes at the right time. Led by Timo Werner, Marcel Sabitzer, and Yussuf Poulsen, RB Leipzig are dynamic, aggressive, and potent. This will be a fun team to watch.

A key for the energy drinks will be making it out of the group round in 1st. Despite being a Pot 4 team, they’re favored to do so. A favorable Round of 16 opponent could build momentum for a deep UCL run. Liverpool made the finals from Pot 4 and won it all from Pot 3. RB Leipzig are not Liverpool, but they are dangerous.

What about…

We’d be remiss not to at least mention a few other favorites and why they won’t win.

  • Atlético Madrid: We love the squad and think they’ll contend for a La Liga crown, but they’re a year away from serious Champions League contention.
  • PSG: Just too much drama and too leaky of a backline.
  • Juventus: We’re not sure they even make it out of the group round. Enough talent to make the quarters, not enough to win.
  • Real Madrid: Los Blancos have the talent but are utterly dysfunctional right now. Of all the teams on the outside, this is the one that could leap into the contenders group if they stabilize.
  • Tottenham: 🤣
  • Chelsea: 🤣🤣🤣

Where to Bet the Champions League in the US

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

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

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Transfer Grade: Philippe Coutinho Loaned to Bayern Munich for €8.5M ($9.2M USD)

Chops August 22, 2019

Who: Philippe Coutinho
From Where: Barcelona
To Where: Bayern Munich
For How Much: €8.5m loan fee with €120m option to buy next summer 
Grade for Bayern: B+
Grade for Barcelona: D-

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Philippe Coutinho to Bayern Munich Overview

Last weekend, we wrote why Philippe Coutinho’s move to Barcelona was among the worst player-driven transfers ever.

Regardless, to be fair in actually grading the transfer, we needed a few days of perspective. Is Coutinho salvageable? Did Barcelona have any better options? Does this ultimately help or hurt their chances of landing Neymar?

Any way you slice it, that €142m Camp Nou shelled out for the little Brazilian is going to leave a mark.

Who is he?

Won’t spend too much time on this: when he was at Liverpool, Philippe Coutinho was one of the best attacking midfielders in the world. The 27 year-old Brazilian was sold to Barcelona in January 2018.

While there, he lost his form and place as a regular starter, and Liverpool went on to become one of the statistically best teams of all time.

Is the price fair?

For Bayern, if Coutinho can re-find his form, the €8.5m loan fee will be as big of a bargain as the €142m Barcelona paid was basically lighting money on fire.

What impact should we expect?

And in here lies the rub. Who knows.

The eye test showed that Coutinho for Barcelona, at least last year, wasn’t the same person he was in 2017-18. However, his counting stats and rating wasn’t that far off his career averages. Better put, he was an ok player. Unfortunately, an “ok player” isn’t the €142m world-beater Barcelona thought they bought. The fans turned on him and his confidence waned.

At the international level for his country though, Coutinho still performs at vintage levels. In six summer matches for Brazil, Coutinho tallied two goals and an assist and two Man of the Match honors.

So that creative, dynamic player is still in there.

The need for that player also exists at Bayern.

Bayern gave Coutinho the #10. That’s a good indication of where they expect him to play. James Rodriguez mostly filled that spot last season. If Coutinho is playing the #10 just off Robert Lewandowski, that’s at least a comparable to the one he played at Liverpool in 2017-18 when he enjoyed his best (half) year.

Coutinho was mostly used as a 10 with Roberto Firmino or Daniel Sturridge up top and Sadio Mane and Mo Salah flanking him. He averaged 1 g+a (7 goals, 6 assists) in his 13 domestic appearance before being transferred. He was even better in the Champions League, tallying 5 goals and 2 assists in four appearances.

While Niko Kovac could use Coutinho on the wing as well, Ivan Perisic,
Serge Gnabry, and Kingsley Coman are more likely regular options. Still, placing Coutinho on the left side and let him curl balls into Lewandowski to finish isn’t the worst idea either. Expect Kovac to tinker until he finds the best way to unlock the best version of Coutinho.

The Grades

Bayern Munich (B+): Was this a panic move after a lackluster draw to Hertha to start the season? Yeah, probably. But that doesn’t make it a bad move either.

Again, this is a low-risk, high-reward gamble. You take those kinds of gambles any time you can. Coutinho, at least internationally, still has shown flashes of his elite Liverpool days.

Not a fan of the option to buy price, especially as he’ll be 28 and only with 1-2 years of pure prime football left. But that’s a bridge Bayern will happily cross if this works out well.

Barcelona (D-): What a disaster.

Remove from the equation how little value they got out of their €142m or the lack of patience in at least trying to see if a Coutinho-Griezmann-Messi line could gel. If Barcelona are as desperate to bring Neymar back as it seems, and PSG were amenable to having Coutinho as part of the package, then w-t-f Barcelona?

Coutinho left Liverpool and watched his new team meltdown in epic fashion at his old home turf in the Champions League. How fitting for him if Bayern and Barcelona face off in this year’s UCL, only for him to have a starring role in a German victory? These narratives often have a funny way of playing out. Don’t be surprised if that happens.

Has a Transfer Ever Worked Out Worse for Anyone in the History of Transfers than Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona?

Chops August 17, 2019

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.

For now.

Forever?

🤷‍♀️

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.

You know what happened next.

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.

Bundesliga, We Have Problem: Bayern Munich Annihilate Borussia Dortmund, Close in on Another Title (Alternative Headline: Is the Bundesliga the New Ligue 1?)

Chops April 7, 2019

For those of you hoping that somebody other than Bayern Munich would win the Bundesliga this campaign, you’re probably going to have to wait another year. And potentially, much, much longer.

In what would best be described as an “absolute evisceration,” Bayern Munich dismantled and destroyed Borussia Dortmund on Saturday 5-0.

The win put Bayern atop the table for the first time since October, as they now lead BVB by a point (64 to 63).

Same old, same old

This looked like the year somebody would unseat Bayern. BVB, the last team other than Bayern to win the Bundesliga, had a talented, strong, hungry squad. Led by Jadon Sancho and bolstered by Christian Pulisic, BVB had enough fire-power to make a real challenge at the title.

Until they didn’t.

A road win on Saturday would’ve propelled Dortmund to a five point lead, bolstered their confidence, and set the stage for a dogfight to the finish. A draw on the road would still have felt somewhat like a win and kept the pressure on Bayern. A 5-0 depantsing though? It’s ovah.

FiveThirtyEight now gives Bayern an 87% probability of winning the Bundesliga. Betting markets have taken futures off the boards, but expect Bayern in the -350 range when posted.

Bad for the Bundesliga

The last time Bayern Munich didn’t win the Bundesliga, Obama was still in his first Presidential term, The Artist won Best Picture, wildfire set Stannis
Baratheon’s naval fleet ablaze in Blackwater, London was hosting the Olympics, and the world was supposed to end (Dec. 21, 2012).

Borussia Dortmund, led by Jurgen Klopp (at the beginning of his amazing animated gif career), captured the 2011-12 Bundesliga title. Bayern Munich has won every title since.

Assuming they close out this campaign as champs, that’ll make SEVEN in a row.

In recent years, only Serie A is a more one-sided domestic league, with Juventus cruising to their 8th consecutive title in 2018-19. However, Serie A has produced more quality depth this decade as well, with
Internazionale, Napoli, AC Milan, and Roma all challenging at times and faring well in international competition.

LeagueTeamConsecutive Titles
Serie AJuventus7 (about to be 8)
BundesligaBayern Munich6 (about to be 7)
Ligue 1Paris Saint-Germain1 (about to be 2)
La LigaBarcelona1 (about to be 2)
Premier LeagueManchester City1

For as many jokes that Ligue 1 gets about being “PSG and no one else,” at least Monaco claimed the 2016-17 crown.

At that’s what the Bundesliga is starting to resemble: Ligue 1, where the entire league exists to feed the top club its best players.

This is leading to two main problems that may get worse before getting better (if they ever actually do):

  1. Poor international showings: PSG flamed out in this year’s Champions League Round of 16, as did Bayern and BVB. Off-year? Perhaps. Or is the lack of challenging domestic competition becoming more pronounced when it comes to Ligue 1 and Bundesliga international results?
  2. Poor public interest: Domestic and international TV rights raises the boat for all clubs in a league. The Premier League laps everyone else in TV revenue in part because of their (relative) competitive balance and international interest. The more one-sided a league becomes, like Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga, the less revenue comes in from broadcast rights. The less money that can be spread around means fewer teams can build quality squads that can compete for Champions League titles, which is another major source of revenue for clubs. The whole system is increasingly set up now for a one-team dominant league.

The “one team dominant” league model is a fairly recent invention too. In Serie A, while Juventus has dominated recently and Internazionale won five consecutive titles the previous decade, you have to go back to the 1940’s with Torino to find a team that won a significant stretch over a period of years (Torino won four in a row).

While PSG has dominated this decade and Lyon ruled the 2000’s, no Ligue 1 team won more than four straight titles in its history (and the only team to do so was during that Lyon era).

The Bundesliga hasn’t always been this way. No club has won more than four straight titles other than Bayern this decade.

The reality is, the trend in all domestic leagues other than England and Spain points to more singular team dominance. Because of TV revenue and the rewards of international success, this may not change any time soon.

The Bundesliga is what it is

The Bundesliga will still stay more relevant than Ligue 1 for one primary reason: it has become one of the premier training grounds for rising young talent (particularly, young American talent). However, the perception and reality has very much crystallized this season that the Bundesliga is a one team league. With Bayern expected to spend heavily on summer transfers, if BVB unseat Bayern this year, it may be a very long time before somebody else finally does.

The Bundesliga will still stay more relevant than Ligue 1 for one primary reason: it has become one of the premier training grounds for rising young talent (particularly, young American talent). However, the perception and reality has very much crystallized this season that the Bundesliga is a one team league. With Bayern expected to spend heavily on summer transfers, if BVB unseat Bayern this year, it may be a very long time before somebody else finally does.

2019 ICC Soccer Event: Teams, Schedules, and Game Odds

High Press 10 March 29, 2019

The International Champions Cup (ICC) announced their 2019 summer schedule this week.

The ICC has been growing in popularity and relevance every year. Put on by Relevant Sports, the exhibition competition consists of pre-season friendlies from (mostly) top European and North American (Mexico) teams.

This year, games will take place in the US (LA, Chicago, New York, Washington DC, New Jersey, Foxborough, San Francisco, Charlotte, Kansas City, Houston, Arlington), Singapore, Wales, London, Sweden, and China.

2019 ICC Teams

This year’s participating ICC clubs are:

  • Real Madrid
  • Roma
  • Chivas Guadalajara
  • Arsenal
  • Bayern Munich
  • Manchester United
  • Inter Milan
  • Benfica
  • Juventus
  • Tottenham Hotspur
  • Atlético Madrid
  • AC Milan

2019 ICC Soccer Schedule

Games, dates, and times are as follows:

Tuesday, July 16:

  • Roma vs. Chivas Guadalajara — Chicago, SeatGeek Stadium

Wednesday, July 17: 

  • Arsenal vs. Bayern Munich — Los Angeles, Dignity Health Sports Park

Saturday, July 20

  • Manchester United vs. Inter — Singapore, National Stadium
  • Arsenal vs. Roma — Charlotte, Bank of America Stadium
  • Bayern Munich vs. Real Madrid — Houston, NRG Stadium
  • Benfica vs. Chivas Guadalajara — Bay Area, Levi’s Stadium

Sunday, July 21

  • Juventus vs. Tottenham Hotspur — Singapore, National Stadium

Tuesday, July 23

  • Real Madrid vs. Arsenal — Washington, D.C., FedEx Field
  • Bayern Munich vs. AC Milan — Kansas City, Arrowhead Stadium
  • Chivas Guadalajara vs. Atletico Madrid — Arlington, Texas, Globe Life Park in Arlington

Wednesday, July 24

  • Juventus vs. Inter — China, Location TBD
  • Roma vs. Benfica — Harrison, New Jersey, Red Bull Arena

Thursday, July 25

  • Tottenham vs. Manchester United — Shanghai, Hongkou Football Stadium

Friday, July 26

  • Real Madrid vs. Atletico Madrid — East Rutherford, New Jersey, MetLife Stadium

Sunday, July 28

  • AC Milan vs. Benfica — Foxborough, Gillette Stadium

Saturday, Aug. 3

  • Manchester United vs. AC Milan — Cardiff, Principality Stadium

Sunday, Aug. 4

  • Tottenham vs. Inter — London, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium

Saturday, Aug. 10

  • Atletico Madrid vs. Juventus — Stockholm, Friends Arena

Game Odds

As game odds are released, we’ll post them here.

What to Watch for at this year’s ICC

For the most part, the ICC are just fan friendly affairs with little intrigue other than, “Will [fill in the star] play this game?” or “Will [this new transfer] make the trip?”

This year has a few extra storylines to follow:

  • Juventus: Um, so, given the sordid charges he’s facing in Las Vegas, is Ronaldo going to make the trip to the US? Bet on: no freaking way.
  • Chivas: Will they go all out against Atlético Madrid and Benfica to show where they truly stand on the global stage? Bet on: hell yes.
  • Real Madrid: After a likely heavy summer spending spree, will they showcase their new stars? Bet on: yes.
  • Tottenham: Will the Spurs successfully defend their 2018 ICC trophy, since it’s probably the only trophy they’ll see in the next decade? Bet on: yes.

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

Chops March 11, 2019

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

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

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

Manchester City vs. Schalke 04

Manchester City -750 Draw +750 Schalke 04 +1600

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

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

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

No.

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

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

Juventus vs. Atletico Madrid

Juventus -150 Draw +260 Atletico Madrid +450

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

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

Barcelona vs. Lyon

Barcelona -450 Draw +550 Lyon +950

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

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

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

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

Bayern Munich vs. Liverpool

Bayern Munich -110 Draw +250 Liverpool +240

Your guess is as good as mine.

Seriously, who knows.

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Liverpool Player Ratings vs. Bayern Munich Champions League (Leg 1 – February 19, 2019)

High Press 10 February 19, 2019

Check back at the end of the Liverpool vs. Bayern Munich Champions League Round of 16 match-up for Liverpool player ratings.

UPDATE: Lively and open from the get-go. A blistering first half with plenty of scoring opportunities for both sides. At the half, the score could’ve just as easily been 3-1 as 0-0. While first half possession was 50/50, Liverpool created 10 shots to Bayern’s 3. By the end of the game, Bayern edged out Liverpool on possession 51-49%, but Liverpool outshot them 15 to 9.

Some of the energy left Liverpool’s attack by the second half, and the teams grinded to a 0-0 draw. The only positive for Liverpool is they do get Virgil van Dijk back for the second leg to further steady a backline that frankly looked great without him.

Despite not pulling away with the victory, Liverpool’s chances of advancement went from 48% to 50% on FiveThirtyEight as they did not concede an away goal.

Manager

Jurgen Klopp (6) – Klopp started with the line-up we predicted. His faith in (inexplicably) starting Keita was rewarded (finally). He did well to sub out Keita and Firmini when he did, as both were losing their effectiveness. However, he failed to create a second half spark like he’s done so often this year, and it may keep Liverpool from advancing in the Champions League.

Goalkeeper

Alisson (7) – A typical Alisson baby-walking-a-tight-rope performance.Confidently played the ball out with his feet early, and punched one out over Fabinho on an effective early cross. Made a cat-like reflex body save in the 13th minute to save Liverpool from going down early. Then in the 17th minute got too cute with the ball and almost turned it over for a Bayern strike. Then in the 37th minute delivered a brilliant technical save to force a corner as opposed to deflecting the ball out for a potential follow-up.

Defenders

Trent Alexander-Arnold (7) – Very strong on the attack, delivering quality cross after cross. Consistently joined in during the second half, creating opportunities. A capable defensive performance.

Fabinho (7.5) – Steady and strong filling in at CB. Made a perfect goal saving challenge against Robert Lewandowski early in the second half.

Joel Matip (5) – Workman like and steady on defense, think poor man’s VVD. Missed a golden opportunity to put Liverpool on top in the 40th minute. Missed another one in the 84th minute where he should’ve taken a touch, steadied the ball, then let it rip. Then missed another one with a header in the 86th minute. Matip could’ve had a hat-trick in an alternate universe.

Andrew Robertson (6) Stronger on the attack than defending. Uncharacteristically shaky and nervy on defense. Klopp needs to get Robbo comfortable taking shots, particularly ripping them on one touch. One of the few Liverpool players who actually got stronger as the game went on at least.

Midfielders

Jordan Henderson (7.5) – We see you, Jordan Henderson. Doing all the hard work that nobody notices.Delivered an incredible pass to Mo Salah in the 12th minute almost leading to an opening goal. Was very strong playing the holding midfielder role.

Georginio Wijnaldum (7.5) – We see you, Gini Wijnaldum. Doing all the hard work that nobody notices. Did well dispossessing in the center of the pitch to create counter-attacks and is playing with assuredness of somebody knowing their in top form. Will wish he got out of Salah’s way in the 75th minute so Mo could’ve gotten a clean strike off.

Naby Keita (6.5) – Maybe it was his familiarity with German soccer, or just finally feeling comfortable in Klopp’s system, but for the first time all season, Keita came out confident. Contributed strong passing and attempted a creative pass-to-himself-bicycle-kick shot on goal in the 20th minute. Seemed to lose steam in the second half, and was appropriately subbed out in the 76th.

Forwards

Roberto Firmino (7.5) – No effects from his illness were present. He was creative and strong on ball. Wisely subbed out for Origi though for a shot of energy at the end.

Sadio Mane (7) – A constant threat in the first half. Lost steam in the second.

Mohamed Salah (7) – Played with purpose. Fantastic work rate and creativity in the first half. Diminishing returns in the second half. Simply needs to start producing more goals against top-level competition.

Substitutions

James Milner (N/R) – Came on in the 76th minute for Keita. His presence allowed Robertson to play more as a wing-back, opening up the attack.

Divock Origi (N/R) – Also came on in the 76th minute, did nothing.

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

Chops February 18, 2019

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

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

Injuries and Odds

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

Liverpool +105 Draw + 250 Bayern Munich +250

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

The Reds aren’t the only ones suffering though.

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

Combined Liverpool vs. Bayern Munich Starting XI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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