For four clubs, this entire season – and their fans’ happiness for the next few months (Champions League combatants) to the next however many years (EPL promotion contenders) – has boiled down to one game on Saturday.
More eyeballs will be on Liverpool versus Real Madrid as the two storied clubs face off for the right to lift the second most coveted trophy in all of soccer.
More money, though, will (at least in a theoretical sense) be riding on the battle between Fulham and Aston Villa at Wembley, with the winner receiving a one-way golden ticket to the EPL and the loser looking forward to another year fighting for scraps in the Championship.
So let’s walk through them one by one…
Real Madrid [+110]
Luck is either the residue of hard work and design, or the intersection of preparedness and opportunity. Haters are gonna get mad at me for saying this but the fact is that both of these clubs are lucky (in addition – to be clear – to also being very, very good).
Liverpool got a historically easy draw through Champions League. They were drawn in the weakest group then faced Porto, City and Roma in the knockouts. This is not to take anything away from their performances, most of which have been pretty fantastic (especially against City), but other clubs would give a testicle to get that kind of draw through the competition.
In fact, if you asked Real Madrid before the season, they probably would have lopped off a nut for Liverpool’s draw. The Madridistas luck has nothing to do with their draw, which has been absolutely brutal starting with the Group of Death followed by PSG, Juventus and Bayern Munich. Hooooooooly moly, talk about murderer’s row. Credit where credit is due, Real Madrid did NOT get here the easy way. That said, they are not that good, but were the beneficiaries of a healthy dose of good fortune to make it this far – namely Neymar’s injury, the controversial finish against Juve, and a combination of injuries and Bayern’s terrible finishing.
These are not the two best teams in Europe. We’ve discussed this before and sorry if that offends, but it is just a fact. If the two “best” teams were here it would be Barcelona versus City. But what Real Madrid and Liverpool may lack in relative overall quality, they more than make up for in being able to come up big when it counts. These are without a doubt the two most clutch clubs in Europe (if not the world) this season. Liverpool proved it in beating City twice in a row in what were the two biggest games of the season for both clubs. Real Madrid have proven it and re-proven it pretty much every time they have stepped out on the field since the turn of the year. Los Blancos have often been out-played, but thanks to a combination of guile and clinical finishing they have yet to be bested.
But that’s enough negativity for now. Madrid and Liverpool are both damn good teams. I’ve never been on Team Ronny but gotttttt-damn it is impressive how he has reinvented himself as one of the world’s most dangerous goal poachers (and low key even more impressive is how the dude never – never EVER – gets hurt despite being dangerously close to his mid-30s). As for the Reds, I’ve been saying for months that they are the most entertaining team on the planet to watch.
Before we get to the prediction portion of the proceedings, let’s first set the stage of what this means for the clubs. Both have had “okay” seasons overall. Not great but not awful, with each finishing in the top four and thus being assured of a spot in next season’s Champions League. However, Real Madrid and Liverpool were each eliminated from their respective domestic title race many moons ago and neither came all that close to winning a domestic cup competition. Yet with a win tomorrow means season will be transformed from “meh” to historically successful. Basically, what I’m saying is that one of them is going to go to bed on Saturday as the Champions of Europe and the other is going to cry themselves to sleep knowing that they are basically Tottenham with a lot less banners.
So, yeah, this game matters. Big time.
At this point we all pretty much know what to expect from both clubs so I will refrain from going into too much detail. Liverpool is dangerous as hell going forward thanks to Salah/ManeMane/Bobby with a much improved (but still shaky here and there) defense. Real Madrid has tightened up what was a porous back line, boast a stacked midfield and have Ronny who can’t stop won’t stop scoring goals.
What we don’t know, though, is how the teams will matchup and whose style will prevail, and this is where I think people may be way off in thinking that Real Madrid is going to boss this game.
They have had trouble against teams that press, and few teams press as effectively – note: this is not synonymous as “aggressively” – as Liverpool, who seem to have found a good balance of pressing while also knowing when to drop back, which could cause the Spanish side serious problems.
A lot of people are talking about specific matchups that favor Madrid. Yes, the combination of Marcelo and Dani Carvajal versus Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson on the wings sounds a little like Goliath versus David… a lot more so six months ago anyway. Also, Ronny running at Dejan Lovren is nightmare fuel for Liverpool fans.
In a vacuum those matchups don’t look all that great for Liverpool, but the Reds’ best defense is (a lot like City for much of the season, tbqh) their offensive firepower, which will force Madrid’s wing backs to either play a little more defensively or – as I suspect is more likely – Marcelo’s absence from pushing too far up the field will end up getting exploited by Liverpool’s three-headed goal monster.
PREDICTION: this game is going to be awwwwwwwwwwwwwwesome! Seriously, Liverpool only knows one way to play, which is to go balls to the wall and means that the game should be end to end from start to finish. As a neutral observer, my number 1(a) hope is that we don’t have some dickhead referee needing to show everybody how big his balls are (not) by throwing around cards – and god forbid a red card – and ruining what otherwise promises to be a bonerific 90 minutes of soccer.
As for my actual prediction, I’ve been pretty pot committed on this one for a couple months now.
We all gotta die someday. If tomorrow is my day, welp, so be it. At least I won’t have to watch survive watching a USMNT-less World Cup. #SpinZone
Liverpool to win 3-2.
[Note: a lot of people have been asking me who I am rooting for since I wouldn’t be caught dead rooting for Liverpool (and will admit to being deathly afraid of having to listen to Reds supporters approvingly smell their own farts for the foreseeable future) and have staked my brain on Real Madrid losing… to which my reply is that I am NOT rooting for Liverpool to win but I am rooting for Real Madrid to lose. I will not be taking questions and please respect my privacy in this difficult time for me and my family.]
One game for all the marbles – and by marbles I mean the estimated $230 million that comes with playing in the Premiership. Behind the officially promoted Wolves and Cardiff, Fulham and Villa were clearly the third and fourth best teams all season, respectively, so in a certain sense they belong. Both teams can score and both have competent defenses, so no strange asymmetries to speak of. Fulham has some bigger names – Ryan Sessegnon in particularly is linked to just about every (London) club under the sun – and I think, when all is said and done, has the better team overall. Fulham to win 2-1.
I’ve never been a big fan of Captain Leader Legend but you gotta respect the hell out of this move? Two extra weeks of vacation while simultaneously earning yourself some additional goodwill with Chelsea fans… snake it til you make it, big man (or after you’ve made it and are now over the hill but still hanging on by your fingernails – whichever).
And there we have it. The 2017-18 season will officially be behind us in 24 hours. But don’t be sad it’s over, be glad it happened… unless you love Dead Brom, Stoke or Swansea… in which case you are allowed to be kinda sad.
BUT there’s no need to be too sad because, unlike some years, there is plenty more soccer coming up. First up we’ve got a USMNT game against Bolivia on Monday, which I’ll do a preview for (even though its meaningless) if only because I am sufficiently ecstatic and excited (for once) about the roster moves. More importantly, of course, we got a muh-fuggin World Cup coming up in a few weeks so I’ll be damned if it isn’t about time to start getting our minds right with previews and such. So have a good weekend and stay tuned for more soon.