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Barstool’s Champions League Preview – The “Semi 2: Bayern vs Real – The Prelude” Edition

Sam’s Soccer Safe Space For Stoolies

Hi haters,

Facts only. And along those lines, it is way waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too early to start talking about the Ballon d’Or – which is obviously my way of segueing into talking about the Ballon d’Or.

Those of you who derive pleasure from writing down my big bold predictions and throwing them in my face weeks, months or even years later (oh yes, there are a few of you) might even have this little ditty from last December framed on your mantelpiece:

To be fair, my short list at the time likely would have included Neymar and Kevin De Bruyne, but the reason I didn’t go “full-on hardo hot tkae” is because it was enough of a long-shot prediction that I felt it acceptable to hedge and take “the field” rather than any one (non-Messi or Ronny) individual player. Others on my list of possibilities would have included Mo Salah, Antoine Griezmann, Harry Kane and Eden Hazard (roughly in that order).

Fast forward to today, right here right now, Mo Salah has continued to take youuuuuge strides forward while the others have not. So IF someone outside of the two mainstays were to win the award the odds-on favorite right now is quite clearly Daddy Puff (albeit with Neymar not all that far behind).

Anyway, I did not bring this up simply to give Salah a metaphorical reach-around for his admittedly sublime performance in (almost) singlehandedly shitting in Roma’s Cheerios yesterday, so I’ll finally getting around to the point… the reason I broached the subject today is because of how much feedback I got yesterday on twitter and instagram from people saying that Salah “can’t win it because it is a World Cup year” – which, I assume anyway, implies that because Ronny’s Portugal or (especially) Messi’s Argentina have a much better chance of going far or even winning the tournament, this will somehow negate Salah’s shot at winning the Ballon d’Or.

This is 100% false. Friends shouldn’t let friends say things like this in public so if you see something, say something. Liverpool has come on incredibly strong this season, and the club has a lot of people to thank for that. VVD has been immense, the young wing backs have been revelations, Loris Karius (minus one MASSIVE fuck-up yesterday that miraculously didn’t end up in a goal conceded) has been shockingly good, etc. But Salah has been unstoppable. The dude has 43 goals – FORTY THREE! – so far this season, including 31 in the EPL and 11 in UCL. Nobody has scored more domestically and only Ronny (15) has scored more in UCL. His numbers are off the charts, and his qualitative performances are just as good. The same cannot be said about Ronny, who not only has a tendency to disappear for long stretches in big games (reference: the first 90+ minutes of the second leg at home vs Juventus) and – let’s be serious – has the advantage of an artificially bloated goal tally. They don’t call him Penaldo for nothing, folks. (And Messi, much as I love him, took a step back [for the time being] by not showing up against Roma when it counted earlier this month.)

All this is to say that if Salah takes Liverpool to the UCL final and carries Egypt out of the group stage at the World Cup, and assuming he continues to play anywhere near as good as he has been lately, he not only has a chance to win the Ballon d’Or – he might even be my front-runner.

There is still a TON of soccer to be played so this entire conversation was theoretical to begin with, and yes, Messi putting Argentina on his shoulders and winning the World Cup (sorry Portugal fans, no chance – yep, you heard it here first) to seal his resume as the greatest player of all time would drastically change the calculus… but anyone saying Salah doesn’t have a shot at unseating Messi and Ronny just because Egypt is going to win the World Cup is a dumdum.

And that’s all I have to say about that. (For now.)

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Now, without further ado, on to more glooooooooooooooooooooooriousness………

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CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

How we got here and how things stand:

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Incredible 80 minutes of soccer from Liverpool yesterday. High press worked to perfection. Salah, Mane and Firmino ran riot. Defense held the fort. Karius was, well, he at least didn’t give up any goals.

For a minute there it looked like the Reds might hang double digits on Roma, whose players were bad but coach Roma manager Eusebio Di Francesco – unanimous choice for this year’s all-Italian name team, btw – was worse. Old boy is lucky this isn’t the dark ages because he would have been drawn and quartered FOR SURE for such horrendous tactics. My guy Eusebio insisted that his three CBs play a high line against an attacking unit that was to a man significantly faster and quicker. Whoops, wouldn’t you know it they got absolutely torched. That doesn’t excuse the lazy individual defending by guys like Fazio and Jesus, but suffice to say the game plan was a disaster.

Two late goals by the Italians changes the dynamic a little bit, at least in the sense that the second leg is suddenly worth watching next week. After all, never say never with Roma going home needing three goals.

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But still, shocking performance from Roma… and more snaps

for Liverpool.

But enough about yesterday’s ridiculousness. Let’s take a quick gander at today ridiculousness.

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WEDNESDAY’S PICK

Bayern [+105]
Real Madrid [+230]
Draw [+270]

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The big question everybody seems to be asking is how these two clubs – two of the biggest in the entire world – have never met in the Champions League… how is that even possible???

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Actually nobody – not one single person – is asking that question, you silly goose, because these two teams face off in the Champions League semifinals every…. single… year. Okay not every year, but almost every year. Seriously, they have played in this round seven different times now, including last year, which the Madridistas ended up winning after Bayern was crippled by a HORRIFIC second yellow card given to Arturo Vidal on a perfectly clean tackle in the second leg.

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(Ronny ended up scoring two goals in extra time – both of which should have been ruled offside – to seal it, because Ronny gonna Ronny and Uefadrid gonna Uefadrid, according to the haters anyway.)

In fact, Madrid has owned the rivalry by winning five out of the seven meetings between the clubs in UCL semifinals, and wouldn’t you just know it they enter this season’s matchup as slight favorites to do so once again.

So who’s it gonna be?

Well I’ll be honest with you, dear reader. I cannot even pretend to be impartial on this one. I have, after all, very publicly staked every last shred of dignity as a turrible soccer blogger and prognosticator-for-pretend on one of the teams NOT winning the Champions League this season.

I get it. Real Madrid often lolligags domestically but turns it on in Champions League. It’s as fundamental to the club as sucking is to Tottenham. I get it, I do. I am often the one reminding people of this fact. But call me crazy. Or call me stupid. But I am convinced this version of Los Blancos has lost a step and will not three-peat. So please that my inherent biases and rooting interests into account as we sally forth.

As for the matchup, both teams come in well rested but only one of them comes in healthy, with Madrid having almost nobody on the injured list whereas Bayern will be without Kingsley Coman, Arturo Vidal and Manuel Neuer (and possibly David Alaba) – YIKES! Some more religious people might say that is a sign that the soccer gods are conspiring against me. I’m not sure I would argue with them.

Here’s what we know: Ronny will find a way to have some great looks, and probably score at least two or three goals over the two legs. Karim Benzema will be a disgrace to himself, his family and his country on at least two of three occasions. Madrid’s midfield is more than solid with (very likely) Kroos/Modric/Casemiro/Isco.

Here’s the big question mark: which defense shows up against Bayern? Will it be the one that handed out goals like candy for the first half of the season, and just reared its ugly head once again versus Juventus? Or will it be the defense that has clamped down on opponents (for the most part) over the last few months?

My thought all along is that that would end up being their Achilles heel. Playing in the Allianz Arena against Ribery, Robben, Muller and Lewandowski is put up or shut up time. Everybody and their mother seem to be going with a draw today. That, given the circumstance, would be a case of Madrid putting up. In the end, I think they shut up. Bayern to win 3-1.

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[Note: to be clear and head off accusations from the peanut gallery, I do NOT hate Madrid as a club. I’ve just been outspoken about this year’s version of it not being impressive enough to win UCL. Simple as that.]

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CONCACAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

Also, while I have you, here’s a real quick reminder that Toronto FC is playing in the second leg of the CCF final TONIGHT against Chivas Guadalajara.

CCF

The MLSers are down 2-1 after a surprisingly ghastly performance at home in the first leg and must now go on the road to Meh-Hee-Coe in order to bring the trophy back home. The tournament does not typically get a whole lot of pub here in the US, in part because LigaMX is usually so thoroughly dominant, so it was a breakthrough for TFC to make the final but it would be a pretty big thing if they could also win it. Second place is for hosers, after all.

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Another big, big, biggggggggggggggggg day tomorrow. Hahahaha, kidding. It’s just Europa.

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BUT as far as Spursday soccer goes, it doesn’t get much bigger than Arsenal fighting for its life(line to next season’s UCL) against big bad (but Diego Costa-less) Atletico Madrid.

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It is against my religion to post blogs on Europa but feel free to catch me on the twitter dot com if you have any questions or are desirous of wanting to know my prediction so you can fade tf out of it.

Other than that check ya on Friday, ya filthy animals.


Holler,
Samuel Army