Best of the Rest

Liverpool/Stoke and the rest of Europe weekend preview

I’ll be honest I’m getting a little sad as we’re running out of football weekends. I know we have the World Cup coming around and it will be awesome but nothing is as good as the European football weekend. When you live in the States like I do it’s getting up at 630 to get ready for the 730 EPL kickoff and watch football all the way through until 5PM. You repeat the cycle on Sunday, it doesn’t get better than this. We get this for 9 months out of the year so when we’re coming down to the last few weeks I get a little sad that we’ll have to wait until August until we get more.

Never fear though we still have a lot of business to decide over the next few weeks. Obviously we have the Champions League and Europa League to decide. Then we have a fantastic finish in Italy to decide the Scudetto, top 4 finishes in Germany, Italy and England, relegation battles, and to see if Barcelona can finish the La Liga season without a loss.

Speaking of the Europa League. Was Thursday’s 1-1 Arsenal draw at home against Atletico Madrid the most Arsenal game ever or was it the most Arsenal game ever?

Arsenal was incredible the entire game outshooting Atleti 28-6, sure they were aided by Sime Vrsalijko picking up two yellows in 10 minutes giving Arsenal a man advantage for over 80 minutes.

At 1-0 I thought it would be a disappointing result because of all the domination. They had 76% possession in this game. 82% in the second half. This could have been a bloodbath and put Arsenal in a great position to advance but thanks to Jan Oblak’s 7 saves, some poor finishing, and some bad lucky they were only able to get one past Oblak on a Alexandre Lacazette header. Hell he had 9 shots himself. Atleti had no answer for him, they had no answer for Ozil, Xhaka, and Wilshire either. They completely bossed this game but football is a cruel game sometimes. As we talked about with Real Madrid the other day it doesn’t matter how well you play sometimes the result doesn’t always reflect that.

Like I said 1-0 would have been a letdown but when Antoine Greizmann took advantage of Laurent Koscielney making a mess of things to equalize  and give Atelti the road goal they wanted and a huge advantage going home for the second leg.

Atelti did nothing in this game. This wasn’t about mentality or courageous defending this was a lot of luck and a little Oblak or this tie would have been over after the first leg.

To me this is over and it’s going to take a Herculean effort for them to go to Atleti and score a goal let alone get the result they need.

Ateti seemed like they were quite content with just trying to limit the damage with being a man down, they did, but needed a lot luck to get there. Diego Simeone who was sent to the stands after the Vrsalijko red card had to be thrilled, this had all the making of this being over after the first leg which no one would have expected. We all know Arsenal is good at home but we all also know that Atleti is a better team, so if what should have happened did happen it would have been shocking but only Arsenal could have things perfect to get a 3 or 4-0 win and to play well enough to achieve that but to end up in a 1-1 draw.

This was a score that beforehand I would have thought sounded right but not the way we got there. Poor Wenger, man.

Enough looking back it’s time to look ahead at the weekend. Let’s start with the Reds:

1. Liverpool/Stoke

Liverpool is coming in buzzing with a 5-2 win over Roma in the first leg of the Champions League semifinals on Tuesday at Anfield.

It was an incredible 60 minutes of football the Reds played, it was about as good of a 60 minutes that I have seen anyone play this season, until the last 10 minutes where the Reds level dropped and Roma got a couple goals back to give them thoughts of another miracle comeback at home in the Champions League.

No doubt it would have been nice to win 5-0 and basically be ensured of advancing to the final in the second leg, but giving those two goals up late means that Liverpool will have to go to Roma and be at their best if they want to advance.

This is important because on the domestic front the Reds want to make sure that they finish off their bid for a top 4 finish. Yes, winning the Champions League would also guarantee that but you definitely don’t want to count on that. You want to make sure the Champions League is locked up so you don’t have that extra added pressure in the final if they do make it there.

Jurgen Klopp is taking this team places but they want to make sure that they’re back in the Champions League so nights like this week against Roma or a couple weeks ago against Manchester City are yearly events.

The rise of this club will continue if they stay in the Champions League but they have to stay in if they want to continue this rise. This team has taken the world by storm and people are noticing it. It would be a very attractive destination for players right now. Klopp is the type of coach players want to play for, Anfield is the type of place top players would love to play when Liverpool is on top, and the style of football they play is very attractive for potential transfer targets, but you have to stay in the Champions League for this to happen.

Liverpool comes into this game with Stoke with needing 4 points in their final 3 games to guarantee their place in the Champions League next season.

The draw last week hurt a bit but either way their still in a good position if they win this weekend against Stoke. Stoke has had a bad season and currently sits 19th in the standings but they won’t be coming to Anfield to lay down for the Reds so they can get the win they so desperately need.

Stoke is currently 4 points from Swansea and safety. Swansea does have a game in hand, they do meet next weekend but Stoke realistically needs to come to Anfield and get the upset if they really want to save themselves from a trip down the Championship.

  • Injuries/Lineups

The biggest questions coming into this for Liverpool will be no doubt how they will lineup. It’s obviously an important game but their top priority right now is to win the Champions League, plus with all the injuries the Reds are dealing with this is a delicate situation to approach.

Things got worse on Tuesday when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain suffered a knee injury that will keep him out the rest of the season. This leaves Liverpool with only 3 healthy senior midfielders at their disposal.

So, what does Jurgen Klopp do on Saturday?

There are a lot of rumors that Ragnar Klavan, Alberto Moreno, and Joe Gomez will be part of the 11. So, let’s start there.

This tells me that Klopp will be going with 3 in the back so I think we’ll see Dejan Lovren, Virgil van Dijk, and Ragnar Klavan as the back 3.

Using Moreno and Gomez tells me they will be wing backs, which allows Klopp to rest at least one of his midfielders. If this game didn’t mean anything I would expect Klopp to rest all 3 of them and play some kids but with so much riding on this game I would expect him to give James Milner the day off and play Jordan Hendersom and Gini Wijnaldum in the midfield together.

Now what to do with the front 3. I think he starts 2 of the 3 of the big 3. Again if this didn’t mean anything they would all be resting but needing the 3 points he’s going to go as all out as he can without jeopardizing things for Wednesday.

Klopp said at his Friday presser that Sadio Mane is dealing with a little something but nothing to worry about, but because of that I think he gets a rest and he will play Mo Salah and Robert Firmino. I guess for the last spot they will go with Danny Ings.

So to recap this is what I think the 11 will be: Karius, Lovren, van Dijk, Klavan, Gomez, Henderson, Wijnaldum, Moreno, Ings, Firmino, and Salah.

Stoke on the other hand will be without former Red Glen Johnson and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting. So, they are realitively healthy for this one.

  • Current form

Liverpool is 6-1-3 in their last 10 in all competitions. They’re also 6-1-3 in their last 10 Premier League matches.

Stoke is 0-5-5 in their last 10. (All prem lg matches) they haven’t won since January 20 when they beat Huddersfield 2-0 at home. They have only one win away from home this season with 10 losses and 6 draws. They have the lowest road point total with 9. Their road win came all the way back in October where they won at Watford.

Defense has been Stoke’s problem this season giving up a league high 65 goals. They have been better of late since sacking Mark Hughes but their back is still where you can exploit.

  • Previous meetings

Liverpool won the first meeting this season back in November 3-0 at Stoke. Sadio Mane scored once and Mo Allah bagged a brace. Salah came off the bench as a sub. He came on in the 67th minute and scored in the 77th and 83d minutes.

Overall in league Liverpool has won 8 out of the last 10 meetings. Stokes last win was the embarrassing 6-1 loss on the last day of the 2015 season.

They also met in the 2016 EFL Cup semis with each team winning 1-0 at the other teams stadium and Liverpool winning in penalties at Anfield 6-5 to advance to the EFL Cup final.

  • My pick

I said after the Roma game when people were losing their minds after giving up the two late goals that I thought we were fine and will be in Kiev for the final, but the Stoke game made me more nervous.

Stoke maybe isn’t the mess they we’re 2 months ago defensively but I still think the Reds will be able to exploit them.

I wish we could play 11 kids but that’s not how it works. I expect us to win, it probably won’t be as easy as it could be I still think it’s a comfortable win.

Liverpool 3-0

2. Rest of the Premier League

We’re at that point of the season where we have a few games that have absolutely no meaning.

  • Relegation Battle

We touched on the relegation fight when talking about Liverpool/Stoke, but let’s look a bit closer at it.

West Brom isn’t mathematically done but unless they win this weekend they will be done. They’re in last obviously with 25 points. 8 points from safety it isn’t over yet but it is over.

Huddersfield is in 16th with 35 points they have a 6 point gap on Swansea and Southampton. They haven’t clinched their safety yet but I feel like they’re fine. So for my purposes here that leaves us 3 teams with only one spot of safety available. Swansea, Southampton, Stoke.

Swansea 33 points with 4 games left.

Remaining games: Chelsea, Bournemouth (A), Southampton, Stoke

Southampton 29 points with 4 games left.

Remaining games: Bournemouth, Everton (A), Swansea (A), Manchester City

Stoke 29 points with 3 games left.

Remaining games: Liverpool (A), Crystal Palace, Swansea (A)

Stoke is at a huge disadvantage with only 3 games left with Swansea and Southampton having 4. Plus they have 2 of their 3 games away from home.

If they’re able to get 6 point with one of their wins over Swansea they will have 35 points, which means Swansea can only get one from their other 3 games.

Let’s say Swansea loses to Chelsea at home with Chelsea still fighting for top four which is most people expect, then say they lose at Bouremouth if Bournemouth cares at all, then they draw with Southampton that would be the path Stoke needs.

They would also need to lose at home or draw with Bouremouth which is a game I think they’ll win. Lose at Everton. Under normal circumstances I would agree but with all to play for and nothing for Everton. I see them getting at least a point. Then they have Swansea on the road which I see a draw happening. I see them finishes up against Man City to end the season with a loss. City has records to break so I think they’ll still be after those which will be bad news for Southampton.

That would give Southampton 5 points from their final 4 and 34 points.

They way I would have it coming into the last week is Southampton with 34, Swansea with 34, and Stoke with 32.

It would all come down to Swansea vs Stoke at that point, which is what we all want.

  • Top 4 battle

We know Liverpool only needs 4 points from the remaining 3 games to finish in the top 4.

The way it actually stands right now is Liverpool has 71, Tottenham has 68, and Chelsea has 63.

Liverpool has 3 games left, Tottenham and Chelsea both have 4.

Liverpool finishes with Stoke, Chelsea (A), and Brighton

Tottenham finishes with Watford, West Brom (A), Newcastle, and Leicester

Chelsea finishes with Swansea (A), Liverpool, Huddersfield, and Newcastle (A)

Chelsea breathed some life back into this with their wins at Southampton and are Burnely but I still think it’s too late for them and yes they look better but I still don’t think their problems are behind them completely at this point.

  • Picks

Huddersfield/Everton. Huddersfield is going to stay up but strange things could still happen if they don’t care of the business in front of them so that’s what they’ll do here against an Everton team who is awful away from Goodison Park

Huddersfield 2 Everton 0

Newcastle/West Brom. West Brom has been better since letting Pardew go. They’re unbeaten in their last 3. Newcastle can celebrate staying up at this point so this game has a whole lotta nothing. Expect a final push from West Brom to try to stay up but I think this is where they officially go down.

Newcastle 1 West Brom 0

Southampton/Bournemouth this is one of the big games on the schedule for the relegation fight. Southampton to me is the best team in the race but they’ve put themselves in this position so whatever happens from here they deserve. Bournemouth will probably be motivated to knock out their local rival but Southampton gets a huge win to really get this relegation race cooking.

Southampton 2 Bournemouth 1

Crystal Palace/Leicester

A game that would be really awesome if either had anything to play for. Palace only has a 6 point gap but are fine.

With neither team with much to play for I could see this being really open. Palace is one of the 3 teams with 6 point gaps, so they don’t want to mess around and put themselves back into it. Palace wins a wild one.

Crystal Palace 3 Leicester 2

Burnely/Brighton. To be honest the thought of this game is making me tired just thinking about it. This game is going to be boring as hell.

Burnely 1 Brighton 0

Swansea/Chelsea. This is another of the relegation fight games. Part of me wants to pick a draw here. Obviously I would love for the help for Liverpool but I still think despite being at home this team on paper is the worst team in this league. Plus Chelsea is better not what they should be but better. It will be a fight but a fight Chelsea will win.

Swansea 1 Chelsea 2

West Ham/Manchester City. West Ham is another of the teams that is 6 points up. So, a loss can tighten things up. City is going after 1,000 records and with nothing else going on they will go all out, which means trouble for West Ham and could tighten things up for them for the finish.

West Ham 1 Manchester City 4

Manchester United/Arsenal. I would have given this game it’s on section but we’re at the point of the season where it won’t mean much. It could still be entertaining and worth watching. Arsenal is going to be worried about the second leg at Atleti on Thursday. United has nothing to play for they’re finishing second and will probably treat their remaining games as training sessions to get ready for the FA Cup Final.

Manchester United 2 Arsenal 1

Tottenham/Watford. Spurs were maybe the most talked about team this week after losing in the FA Cup semi’s to United.

They need to get their focus back so they don’t blow their top 4 chances. Kane doesn’t look healthy so I wouldn’t be surprised he gets some rest for the rest of the season.

Tottenham 3 Watford 1

3. Scudetto and top 4 in Italy

Things for the Scudetto got real last week when Kalidou Koulibaly’s 90th minute cut Juventus lead over Napoli to one point.

This should be real fun this weekend as Juve travlers to Inter Milan on Saturday and Napoli travels to Firoentina on Sunday.

Inter is currently in 5th with 66 points. Roma and Lazio are in 3rd and 4th with 67 points.

Roma has ChievoVerona and Lazio has to travel to Torino.

It’s going to be tough for Juventus as Inter needs that win, so I am looking at that to be a draw which would open the door for Napoli but it won’t be easy to win at Firoentina. Firoentina has been very average at home this season so I think Napoli will grind it out.

If I am right Napoli will have a 2 point lead with 3 games. It should be fun.

4. Bundesliga top 4

After last week with Dortmund beating Leverkusen and Hoffenheim beating Leipzig it basically brought the race to the top 4 spots down to two teams to one spot.

  • Hoffenheim won on Friday before I wrote this so the pressure is on Leverkusen as they now trail Hoffenheim by a point. Leverkusen has to beat Stuttgart to keep themselves on top in this race.

5. Barcelona

Lastly this week Barcelona wins La Liga as long as they don’t lose Sunday when they travel to Deportivo La Coruna on Sunday. This would be Messi and Iniesta’s 9th La Liga title with the team, breaking the record held by Xavi.

This would also be their 9th title in 14 seasons and 3rd in the last 4 seasons.

It will be another send off for Iniesta he had his send off last weekend when they won Copa Del Rey. He announced this week that he is leaving Barcelona after this season. It looks like he will be going to China and get paid a lot of money instead of retiring.

Well, that’s all I got. Enjoy the action this weekend.

 

 

 

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