Best of the Rest

Liverpool/Chelsea back to reality preview and what else to watch this weekend

What a week it has been. We had an absolutely incredible week of football in Europe. As we know Livepool gave us all heart attacks but got through Roma in a wild affair, Real Madrid somehow/someway got through Bayern Munich to set up a final between Europeon royalty. Real Madrid has the most Champions League titles with 12 and Liverpool is tied for 3rd with 5.

The Europa League delivered as well. We saw Arsenal put up a fight against Atletico Madrid but Atletico was able to put up a vintage Atletico defense performance to get by 1-0 on the day and 2-1 on aggregate. That first leg is going to haunt Arsenal fans for a long time. That tie was for the taking but didn’t take advantage of all the domination in the first leg.

Atleti will be meeting Marseille in the final. Marseille came into the second leg with a 2-0 lead on aggergate but let things slip away losing the second leg 2-2 so we got a little free football. Marseille was able to find a winner in the 116th minute, but with all the controversy lately with decisions by refs this one was right up there. Marseille’s winner came on a corner kick that shouldn’t have been given. The ball was clearly off of Marseille so the corner never should have been given but it was and the rest was history.

I am pro VAR despite some of the quirks I am always down for something that makes the game better and doesn’t see teams get screwed by a bad call. Seems reasonable right? But like anything else in sports when there is major change of any kind people are going to hate it. To be honest 99% of all the VAR whining doesn’t make sense to me, it’s like everything else in this social media/faux outrage world we live in where people are mad just for the sake of being mad. It’s like people are only happy if they have something to be mad about.

VAR isn’t perfect at this point like anything else you need to work through some things before you will get it perfect. It happened with replay in the NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLB I still think there are things in a those leagues that could work better but in the end the leagues are all better for having it.

So, I don’t get the hesitation with it in football. The time delays are not nearly as bad as people think. It’s no worse than the 5 minutes every game that we have to watch some clown rolling around the pitch acting like he is hurt and as far as the success of it not being perfect I think that’s more human error and things that will get fixed over time.

The only problem with what happened with Salzburg and Marseille wouldn’t be fixed by VAR. We don’t need every tight out of bounds call being reviewed that would be awful, but we can’t ignore the impact a call like that may have on the outcome of a game.

My solution to this is a challenge system like they have in the NFL. Maybe you get two for the match, it can be on anything and you get a third if you get both right. This way we aren’t getting 14,000 reviews over the course of a match and the managers would have to be selective with what they decide to challenge.

Enough looking back let’s look ahead. No doubt that we’re at the point of the season where there aren’t a ton of games worth watching. But this weekend will still be tremendous. We have Livepool making the trip to Stamford Bridge in a huge tilt in the battle for top 4 spots in England, of course we have El Classico which nothing is bigger or better even if there is really nothing to play for this time around. It’s still freaking El Classico and you’re going to watch…I know I will be. We also have fascinating relegation battles in England, Italy, and Germany. We have fascinating top 4 battles in England, Italy, and Germany. There is also what’s left of the title race in Italy after the football God’s decided last weekend they didn’t want to have us enjoy a title race down to the last day of the season. Plus we have Sporting/Benfica in Portugal in a game where the loser is out and the winner gets to barely cling on to life and will be eliminated unless Porto loses.

So yes, we don’t have a ton to play for this weekend but there is plenty to occupy you for 10 hours a day on Saturday and Sunday.

So without further ado let’s get to it.

1. Liverpool/Chelsea (Sunday 1130am EST NBCSN)

Maybe a bit forgotten about in all the excitement of Liverpool’s magical run to the Champions League final is that they still need to wrap up a top 4 spot in the Premier League this season so they don’t have to beat Real Madrid to qualify for next season’s Champions League, so there focus on that game can be all about winning #6 and being crowned the Kings of Europe and not having the extra pressure of having to win the game just to make it back for next season.

This should be wrapped up for Liverpool at this point but the Champions League run has diverted all of their attention towards Europe which has neglected things a bit in the league due to lack of depth due to a mountain of injuries. No doubt this was the only choice you have to go all in when it comes to the Champions League but unfortunately because of this they had draws against Everton, West Brom, and Stoke. Games they probably had won if they had been at full strength, but they weren’t and they have to deal with the minor inconvenience it has caused, which by the way has been all worth it.

Plus Chelsea has found a nice little run of form of their own. Which has tightened things up a bit and has given Chelsea a chance.

As we stand right now Liverpool is in 3rd with 72 points, Tottenham is in 4th with 71 points, and Chelsea is in 5th with 66 points.

Liverpool only has 2 games left where as Tottenham and Chelsea have 3.

The math is simple Livepool needs 3 points gained or lost by Chelsea to secure a spot because of a superior goal differential they have over Chelsea. So a draw here would be good enough to wrap it up, but even if the worst case scenario happen and they lose this game they still only have to beat Brighton at home to wrap things up.

  • Current form/previous meeting

I talked a little bit about Liverpool’s draws against Everton, Stoke, and West Brom how it’s contributed to leaving the door open a crack for Chelsea. I also mentioned how Chelsea’s taken advantage and has been getting better results of late.

Livepool for instance only had 1 win in their last 4, to go with those 3 draws I’ve mentioned. In their last 10 league matches Liverpool is 6-1-3.

Chelsea is 5-4-1 in their last 10 league matches.

In the first meeting this season they drew 1-1 in one of those many frustrating draws this season where the Reds gave up a late goal to drop 2 points. Even half those points right now would be nice cause this would be wrapped up and we could sit back and relax on Sunday and enjoy watching the Academy kids take on Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, but we don’t have them so therefore we have a big game on Sunday.

In their last 10 head to head league meetings Liverpool has 2 wins, Chelsea has 3 wins, and they’ve drawn 5 times. Liverpool is unbeaten in the last 6 against the blues and both of those wins came at Stamford Bridge.

  • Injuries/Lineups

Thankfully Liverpool came out of Rome on Tuesday with no more injuries. So, Emre Can, Joel Matip, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are out.  Plus Jurgen Klopp said at his Friday presser that Lallana is close to returning and may be available for the finale at home against Brighton but likely not available for Sunday, even Emre Can has a chance to be available for the Champions League final.

Klopp also talked about how they will be treating this game seriously which I like to hear. I would love to finish this off on Sunday and then have 3 weeks to prepare for the biggest Livepool game in 11 years.

It’s good that it sounds like everyone has come out of this game in good enough shape that he can go with a full side on Sunday.

Klopp said that they stayed over in Rome on Wednesday night after the game and trained at Lazio on Thursday before coming home. He said that helped them immensly that they were able to get the proper recovery they needed which is a big part of being able to go into this game at full strength.

Will the lineup be the same 11 they played on Wednesday? I’m thinking the only change I could see happening is Nathaniel Clyne for Trent Alexander-Arnold. Trent had a rough day on Wednesday and was repeatedly attacked by El Shaarawy. Trent had rough games against Manchester United and Crystal Palace before bouncing back with a Man of the Match performance in the first leg against Man City, so no doubt he will bounce back from Wednesday and I expect him to start in the Final but thinking Klopp may give him a game off to clear his head, plus I think it’s smart to get Cylne some game action in case he would be needed for the Final.

Chelsea comes into this healthy. Danny Drinkwater and David Luiz are out, but Marcos Alonso will be back from his suspension for violent conduct.

We know Chelsea will be playing 3 in the back but it will be interesting if manager Antonio Conte goes with a 3-5-2 or a 3-4-2-1. The huge thing here is if they play a 3-5-2 it will help them not get outnumbered in the midfield, but then you wouldn’t get both Eden Hazard and Willian both on the pitch which would be an advantage for Liverpool because they are Chelsea’s best players.

  • My pick

I know Chelsea has found a bit of better form lately but if you look at those games individually, they’re just getting by. They also haven’t played any top sides during their better run of form.

Livepool has every excuse in the book to perform flat in this game. They just qualified for the biggest game in club football and should be exhausted after that game on Wednesday. I mean both teams were physically exhausted after it, that game was played at an insane pace.

Maybe I’m drinking too much Kool Aid these days but there is just something special about this Liverpool side. It seems like the bigger the game the better the performance. The fact that Klopp seems confident enough with this team right now that he can go all out has me also.

I keep going back and forth between a draw and a Liverpool win. I have been thinking draw all week when I have thought about this game, but the closer we get to the game I just think Liverpool wins this to cap off a magical week.

Liverpool 3-1

2. El Classico

Yes, this game doesn’t have the luster or hype that you normally get when these giants play but it doesn’t matter it’s El Classico so there is no reason it won’t be great.

Barcelona has won the domestic double already but they still have one important here which is finishing the La Liga season unbeaten.

I’ve talked about this before and I’m going to talk about this again. No doubt the way they went out in the Champions League is disappointing, but from where this team was last summer and after the Spanish Super Cup to accomplish what they have accomplished this season is really damn impressive and should be praised and not looked down at because of one bad game against Roma.

Then you throw in the potential of going unbeaten in the La Liga season they should be applauded as for having one the best club seasons in recent memory. Newsflash the way this sport is structured with 7,000 different ways to win things there is a chance mulitple teams can come away with having what you can call a special season and that’s where I put this Barcelona season.

Real Madrid has one thing in mind which is to focus on Europeon Cup number 13 and their 3rd straight. But in the meantime if you don’t think this isn’t big for them or you don’t think it isn’t important for them to beat Barcelona and end their chance of finishing the season unbeaten you probably believe in Santa Claus.

This game is big anytime/anywhere they meet. Hell this summer when they played a friendly in Miami it had more passion that 99% of league games you watch, but having this unbeaten season subplot surrounding it makes this thing even bigger.

For my pick this game is at Barcelona and Barcelona is a much better team this season. Plus Barcelona has had their number. In the last 10 La Liga meeting Barcelona has won 6 times, Real Madrid 3 times, and they have drew once. With everything riding on this for Barca to do something they have never done and with Real Madrid coming off the emotional high of Tuesday I don’t see how they don’t get this done.

Side note if anyone saw Fox Sports this week when they picked their top 5 players in the world and they all picked Ronaldo over Messi.  C’mon has anyone actually watched Ronaldo or Messi this season. I get if you want to argue Mo Salah at this moment fine, but Ronaldo better than Messi right now. Excuse my language by come the fuck on. If you say Ronaldo is better than Messi right now you’re a clown. I get Lalas doing it because he treats his job as an entertainer and part of that is saying things people won’t agree with and he loves how Ronaldo is a showman, but for Ian Paul Joy who I like and Warren Barton who I have always felt is clueless but to say this should probably get you waterboarded.

Sure Ronaldo has over 40 goals and currently has the most goals in Europe over Salah, Messi, and Ciro Immobile and yes his run of form since the new year has been much better after poor first half of the season, but Ronaldo is nowhere near the player he used to be, he’s still really good. His transformation to being one of the best goal scorers on the planet has been impressive as he is in the twilight of his career, it’s helped him remain one of the better players on the planet, but at the same time he isn’t the player he was 5 years ago.

The man is great, he’s a legend. The sport is a better sport for having him. All this things are true, but he just doesn’t influence the game like he used to. At one time he was the most dominant player on the planet. However at this stage he’s a goal scorer and that’s it. He goes for halves and even games at this point where you don’t even realize he’s in the game. This never happens with Messi or Neymar.

Right now this is how I would rank them: 1. Messi 2. Salah 3. Neymar. It’s a big drop to number 4 I very well may have Ronaldo there but I may also have Kevin De Bryune there. I would have to think about, but I really need to have a beer with someone who is objective to tell me how they think Ronaldo is better than Messi at this point. It’s not even close and doesn’t make any sense to me. The easiest way to put it is if you take Messi off of Barcelona they may not finish top 4 in La Liga, if you take Ronaldo off of Real Madrid they are just as strong. Sure that says more about the teams than the players but it still also says where the players are at this stage of their careers.

Barcelona 4-1

3. Premier League picks

  • Stoke/Crystal Palace 

This could be the end of the road for Stoke.

1-1

  • Watford/Newcastle

Two teams that have nothing to play for.

Watford 2-1

  • Leicester/West Ham

West Ham not totally out of the woods yet but should be okay. Leicester on the other hand have already packed it in for the summer.

West Ham 2-1

  • Bournemouth/Swansea

Huge one for Swansea with Southampton and Stoke trying to put pressure on them. But Eddie Howe gets his guys to care in this one.

Bournemouth 3-1

  • West Brom/Spurs

West Brom has been better but sadly for them it’s too little too late. Spurs are still playing for top 4, but don’t be surprised if this is a tricky one for Spurs.

2-2 draw

  • Everton/Southampton

Southampton has everything to play for Everton has nothing to play for, but Everton is finishing strong and they’re at home.

Everton 2-1

  • Manchester City/Huddersfield

Man City continues their assault on the Premier League record books and Huddersfield makes their fans nervous as we head into the last week of the season.

City 5-1

  • Arsenal/Burnley

The historical battle for 6th place kicks into high gear.

Arsenal 2-0

* I didn’t pick Brighton/United cause it was going on while writing this. 

The way I see things shaping up this weekend I could see them all losing which could open the door for Stoke and even West Brom if they’re the only one that wins. I hope it does. The more in this fight going into the last day the merrier.

4. Serie A

Juventus seemingly wrapped up their 7th straight Scudetto when they won against Inter in miraculous fashion last weekend and Fioretina blanked Napoli 3-0.

Juventus hosts Bolonga and Napoli hosts Torino. Barring a miracle at this point this is about over, which is depressing.

Their top 4 battle is also about wrapped up because of that same Inter/Juve game last weekend. Inter’s loss put them 4 points behind Roma and Lazio so it’s hard to see Inter getting to the top 4 at this point.

5. Bundesliga

All we got going on here is Hoffenheim/Bayern Leverkusen for the last Champions League spot.

It almost seems like Leverkusen has run out of gas which has opened the door for Hoffenheim.

Hoffenheim travels to Stuttgart in a game that won’t be easy. Stuttgart has 7 wins, 1 loss, and 3 draws in their last 11.

Leverkusen travels to Werder Bremen. Bremen has also been decent of late. They have 4 wins, 2 losses, and 3 draws in their last 9.

Hoffenheim has a 1 point lead in this battle with 2 games left. Let’s hope this goes down to the last 10. The more things we have that matter in the last day of each league the better for our entertainment.

6. Sporting/Benfica

Like El Classico anytime you get treated to rivalries like this it’s always in your best interest to check it out.

Unfortunately this one likely is not going to impact the title race. As long as Porto wins one of it’s last two games this won’t have an impact on the league title, but that doesn’t mean this game doesn’t mean anything.

This league only gets two teams to the Champions League so the winner of this will get this berth so in reality it really doesn’t get much bigger than this.

When these teams play each other there is passion unlike anywhere else.

Trust me when I tell you to watch this one.

That’s all for me. I gave you a list of what to watch so listen to me and do what I say and your weekend will be better for it.

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