Three Reasons Why Real Madrid will Win the Champions League Final

The world’s most watched sporting event, the Champions League final in Cardiff, Wales, is quickly approaching. Two of the best teams in Europe, Real Madrid and Juventus have survived to this point of competition. The flashy dynamic Madrid attack against the wall that is the Juve defense. The defending champs come in oozing with confidence and have to be considered favorites on Saturday.

1. They Know How To Get it Done

Last season, the men from Madrid were victorious in penalties over cross town rival Atletico Madrid. Juventus fell to Barcelona in the finals the season before that and have not been crowned champions of Europe since 1996. Despite massive successes domestically, Gianluigi Buffon and Co. have never hoisted a European title. Only Sami Khedira, Dani Alves and Mario Mandzukic have tasted European glory among Juve’s current roster.

Real Madrid on the other hand, are full of winners. With the majority of the team leftover from last years triumph and 2014’s title, experience in big games could be the difference. Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United) and Toni Kroos (Bayern Munich) have each won an additional CL title to the two they have in Madrid.

2. They Have the Reigning Ballon D’Or Winner

Cristiano Ronaldo…while there may be debate to whether he is THE best player on the planet, there is no debate that he will be the nest player out on the pitch in Cardiff on Saturday. Despite not having a great season statistically, nobody has been more clutch in the biggest competition in club football than CR7 himself.

Cristiano Ronaldo has carried Real Madrid through the Champions League this season. (Photo by Sports Illustrated)

After his five goals in two matches helped Real by Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals, Ronaldo scored an astonishing hat trick at the Bernebeau to all but extinguish Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their semifinal. Ronaldo is well rested and his combination of speed, jumping ability, and positioning still makes him the most difficult man to mark on the pitch and will drive Juve defenders crazy.

 

3. They Have Greater Squad Depth

Juventus may in fact have the second best squad depth in all of Europe. With players such as Mandzukic, Juan Cuadrado, Andrea Barzagli and Claudio Marchisio being frequently rested throughout Champions League , Max Allegri will have plenty of options on Saturday.

However, the one team Juve can’t match up to are Los Blancos themselves. With Gareth Bale likely to start the match on the best due to fitness, Zinedine Zidane will have a star studded bench in Cardiff. Joining Bale will likely be Alvaro Morata, Marco Asensio, James Rodriguez, Raphael Varane/Pepe and Lucas Vasquez. All of the aforementioned Real substitutes could start on almost any team in Europe. If Saturday’s match rolls into extra time like last year, Real could have the upper hand.

 

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Premier League Summer

Four potential summer signings that could change the Premier League landscape

As clubs start turning their attention towards next season, the task at hand for managers is to “cut out the fat” of their teams and use the money to sign better replacements. With the latest Premier League TV deal, teams are going to have the money to make a splash in the summer transfer window.

1. Antoine Griezmann to Manchester United

This rumor has gained significant traction in the past few days following the French striker rating his chances of joining United as “a six out of 10.” He also said he was “ready to leave [Atletico Madrid].” Griezmann netted 26 goals in all competitions for Atletico, and his pace, creativity and finishing prowess make him perfect for Jose Mourinho’s side, who struggled to find the net at times this season.

With Wayne Rooney likely leaving the club and Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s future uncertain, Griezmann could fill a major void. Not since Cristiano Ronaldo left the club in 2009 will Manchester United have had as dangerous a player wearing the No. 7 shirt as Griezmann.

2. Kyle Walker to Manchester City

With one of the highest-regarded managers in Pep Guardiola and a seemingly endless supply of cash, big things will be expected this summer and next season at the Etihad. One of the issues that plagued City in Pep’s first season at the helm was defense. Particularly at full-back, City switched between underwhelming Gael Clichy and Aleksandar Kolarov at left back and the aging Bacary Sagna at right back.

With Sagna and Clichy leaving this summer, Walker would be a massive upgrade at right back, and City would deal a major blow to fellow title contenders Tottenham. The England International has improved massively under Mauricio Pochettino. His pace allows him to get forward more than other right backs because he can recover quickly.

3. Virgil Van Dijk to Liverpool

Signing Virgil Van Dijk would help cure Liverpool’s defensive woes. (Photo by Sky Sports)

While center backs aren’t usually considered “massive signings,” a player as talented as Van Dijk signing for a club that has struggled at the back like Liverpool could be just that. Van Dijk made WhoScored.com’s Team of the Season for both the Premier League and UEFA Europa League. Before injury in the spring, Van Dijk was playing as well as any defender in England.

If Jurgen Klopp were to acquire the Dutchman’s services, Van Dijk would immediately start alongside Joel Matip at the back for the Reds. A major upgrade over Matip’s old partner Martin Skrtel, Van Dijk is still just 25 and can certainly improve under Klopp. Having conceded 42 times this season, Klopp will certainly take a long look at Van Dijk and how he can sure up the defense.

4. Gylfi Sigurdsson to Everton

Just as the Toffees seem to be on the verge of breaking into the top level of the Premier League, their two biggest stars are rumored to be on their way out. Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley, who combined for 30 goals and 14 assists this season appear to be headed to greener pastures. However, Ronald Koeman still remains manager and he is excellent at fostering young talent as well as bringing the best out of his players.

Sigurdsson is on the verge of joining from Swansea, where he scored 10 goals and had 13 assists in all competitions. One of the most creative players in England’s top flight, Sigurdsson could possibly be considered a slight upgrade over Barkley by some. The Icelandic international can create goals regardless of the talent around him. If Everton secure Sigurdsson and spend wisely with their Lukaku/Barkley money, they should avoid a decline.

 

Featured Image by 101 Great Goals

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U.S. World Cup

Predicting The United States’ 2018 World Cup Squad

With the deadline to submit the 23-man roster for next summer’s World Cup a year from this week, the picture is getting clearer of who will be representing the red, white and blue in Russia.

Goalkeepers

United States 2018 World Cup

With lack of better options, Bruce Arena could call on Tim Howard to start in Russia. (Photo by Robinson Athletic News)

The unfortunate reality for manager Bruce Arena in 2018 is that long-time goalkeeper Tim Howard will be 39 years old. Howard single-handedly pushed the U.S. into extra time against Belgium in 2014 with a 16-save performance. However, a move back to the MLS and a recent injury may take its toll on Howard.

The even more unfortunate reality for Arena is that he may not have a better option than the aging Howard. Longtime backup Brad Guzan will be 33, but he has looked awful when appearing for relegated Middlesbrough this season.

Bill Hamid of D.C United will be 27 and in his prime, but he lacks the overall ability of Howard. 21-year-old Ethan Horvath could also push himself into consideration with a strong 2017-18 season for Club Brugge in Belgium.

Prediction: 

Despite his age, Howard will likely still be Arena’s best option, and his past experience will be invaluable. Guzan, while uninspiring to say the least, also has major tournament experience. Finally, expect Arena to look towards 2022 a bit by rounding out his selection of goalkeepers with the young Horvath, who looks like the early favorite to be between the sticks in Qatar.

 

Defenders

The likely center back pairing for the Yanks in Russia will be John Brooks of Hertha Berlin and Geoff Cameron of Stoke City. Brooks is arguably America’s best player and has proven himself to be a stalwart at the back for a side that qualified for Europa League this season. Cameron is very experienced and plays in the most competitive league in the world on a weekly basis.

United States 2018 World Cup

John Brooks burst onto the scene in Brazil 2014 with his decisive goal vs Ghana. (GIF/Photo by Complex)

Two established USMNT center halves could be backing them up in Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler. Both were featured in Brazil 2014. However, the fact that they don’t play in Europe could hurt their chances to start.

A pair of young guns could also make a push for a backup role as Walker Zimmerman of FC Dallas and Cameron Carter-Vickers of Tottenham Hotspur are showing promise.

At the right back position, DeAndre Yedlin’s quaity play at Newcastle Utd has him as a shoo-in for that role barring an injury. At left back, there is quite a large question mark.

DaMarcus Beasley will be 36 and hard pressed to make his fifth World Cup squad. Jorge Villafana of Santos Laguna in Mexico seems to be Arena’s preferred replacement. However, the new manager could bring Fabian Johnson back from midfield to play full back as Jurgen Klinsmann did in 2014.

Prediction 

Brooks, Cameron and Yedlin all appear to be locks to make the squad. Expect Arena to take one experienced center back and one younger one. Gonzalez and Carter-Vickers appear to have the higher upside, so we’ll go with them. Villafana should make the squad barring a drop in form and Timmy Chandler of Eintracht Frankfurt is too good of a player to leave out of the squad at right back.

 

Midfielders

The American midfield is full of both proven and unproven commodities. Among the proven is captain Michael Bradley, who is set to appear in his third World Cup next summer. The Toronto FC man may be the most experienced player on the squad if Howard, Beasley and Clint Dempsey miss out.

United States 2018 World Cup

18-year-old Christian Pulisic is arguably the most talented player the USMNT has ever seen. (Photo by Deadspin)

The aforementioned Fabian Johnson of Borussia Monchengladbach will also be in the squad either as a midfielder or a defender. Alejandro Bedoya played with Johnson in Brazil and has the ability and experience to push for a starting spot in Russia.

On the other end of the spectrum is the unproven, but massively talented 18-year-old Borussia Dortmund phenom Christian Pulisic. Pulisic has already shined for the USMNT, but is yet to appear on the massive stage that is the World Cup.

Other young midfielders who could potentially make the squad are Kellyn Acosta of FC Dallas and Lynden Gooch of Sunderland. Both 21, Acosta has the potential to be one of the best defensive midfielders to ever play for the USMNT. Gooch is a very promising attacking, creative midfielder, who could take a big step next season playing in the Championship with Sunderland.

Prediction 

While there are a few locks (Bradley, Pulisic, Johnson), the midfield is still looking very unclear for next summer. Assuming Acosta and Gooch continue to progress, they should be there. Bedoya provides experience that younger players will look to and that will help his case.

Finally, Arena should look to two wild cards in Darlington Nagbe and Julian Green. Both players have shown flashes of brilliance, but have also struggled with inconsistency. However, in a short one-month tournament, it’s worth the gamble to hope one of them hits top form in Russia.

 

Forwards

United States 2018 World Cup

Clint Dempsey will be hoping to lead the USA at the World Cup for a fourth time in 2018. (Photo by Daily Mail)

Forward is perhaps the easiest position group for Arena to pick out of. The major question will be whether Clint Dempsey will be in fit enough to make his fourth World Cup appearance at age 35. Dempsey, who is one goal away from matching Landon Donovan’s USMNT record 57 career goals, can still be a major contributor if playing well and used right.

Injuries have plagued Jozy Altidore at major tournaments in the past, but the 27-year-old will be in his prime in Russia. Big things will be expected from the Toronto FC striker, who most agree is the American’s best scorer at this point in time.

Two other talented strikers look set to make their World Cup debuts as Jordan Morris of Seattle Sounders and Bobby Wood of Hamburg have enjoyed breakout seasons. Both are potential talismen for the U.S. at future World Cups, and Arena will want to expose them to the big stage.

Prediction 

Dempsey always seems to find a way to defy the odds, especially when he is representing his country. The Sounders striker will make his record-tying fourth World Cup appearance. Altidore, Wood and Morris all seem like pretty sure things.

Each World Cup, one pick always seems to surprise and that pick will be Josh Perez in 2018. The Fiorentina winger made his debut for the Italian club at the age of 18. He will be 20 next season and a strong 2017-18 would certainly put him on Arena’s radar.

 

Full Squad: Howard, Guzan, Horvath, Brooks, Cameron, Gonzalez, Carter-Vickers, Yedlin, Chandler, Villafana, Bradley, Pulisic, Johnson, Bedoya, Gooch, Acosta, Nagbe, Green, Dempsey, Altidore, Wood, Morris, Perez

 

Featured Image by Unrealitymag

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Alec’s Premier League XI of the 2016-17 Season

With Chelsea clinching the title and Hull claiming the final relegation spot, the dust has mostly settled in the Premier League this season. The time has come to reflect on the most outstanding performances of the season and determine who were the eleven best. In honor of Antonio Conte’s successful three back formation, the team of the season will be the 3-5-2 with which the Blues won thirteen straight matches during the season.

Goalkeeper: David de Gea, Manchester United

In a mostly underwhelming season for the Red Devils, De Gea has been a bright spot. He has made crucial plays to save United several points throughout the season. Most recently, De Gea guided an undermanned and outmatched United to a draw at rivals Man City by keeping a clean sheet despite an assault on his goal throughout the match.

Consistently rated among the top three keepers in the world, the Spaniard is said to have an eye for Real Madrid and his potential departure would leave a massive hole to fill in goal for Jose Mourinho.

 

Centre Back: Cesar Azpilicueta, Chelsea

Before this season, the Spaniard typically played left back for the Blues. But under new boss Conte, he has thrived as a central defender in the Italian’s three back system. Azpilicueta has earned an excellent 7.29 match rating on WhoScored.com in the 28 matches he has played centrally.

The Spaniard’s rise was a major reason why Conte’s formation was able to be a success and why Chelsea are champions of England. Azpilicueta figures to continue to be a major part of the club’s plans next season.

Cesar Azpilicueta thrived in Antonio Conte’s three back formation at Chelsea this season.

 

Centre Back: Eric Bailly, Manchester United

Moving to Old Trafford last summer from Valencia, Bailly was a bit of an underrated signing as the media focused on the arrivals of Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. However, the Ivorian has arguably been the Red Devils’ most productive signing this season. With the United back line being plagued by injury and inconsistency, Bailly has been a constant and has shown his quality, as well as his potential, as he is only 23 years old.

Bailly certainly looks to be following in the footsteps of Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, and other legendary United defenders as his future looks bright and United plan on him being a defensive cornerstone for years to come.

 

Centre Back: Toby Alderweireld, Tottenham Hotspur

The best defender on the best defensive team this season, Alderweireld has been everything Spurs could have hoped for and more since moving to the club from Southampton his summer. Alderweireld was at the center of a back four that conceded just 24 times in the league this season, eight less than anyone else. Alderweireld is a very smart player who doesn’t make mistakes at the back and can provide an occasional goal from a set piece header.

Although there are a few reports suggesting the Belgian international is hesitant to sign a new contract at Tottenham, there is no concrete evidence to believe he won’t be spearheading Spurs’ back line at the start of next season as well.

 

Centre Midfielder: N’Golo Kante, Chelsea

Voted PFA player of the year, no player has had a greater impact on the Premier League in the past two seasons than Kante. A central piece of Leicester’s title winning side a year ago, Kante’s high energy has put less pressure on his Chelsea teammates this season. As of May 8th, Kante had covered the fifth most distance in the Premier League this season. Kante became the first outfield player to win back to back league titles with two different squads since Eric Cantona with Manchester United in 1993.

Kante figures to be a key player in Antonio Conte’s midfield next season. The Frenchman will seek to follow in his countryman Cantona’s footsteps with a third consecutive triumph.

 

Centre Midfielder: Dele Alli, Tottenham Hotspur

In his second season at White Hart Lane, the young England international has continued his ascent towards stardom with 17 league goals, which leads all midfielders. The 21 year old came up big during important games. Including scoring both goals in a must-win 2-0 victory over Chelsea. Dele provides an extra dimension to his arsenal with his ability to be a threat in the air.

While he has been linked with Real Madrid. It is hard to envision Spurs letting their budding superstar leave at the tender age of 21. Expect Alli to continue to flourish next season as he looks to lead Tottenham to their first Premier League title.

 

Right Midfielder: Sadio Mane, Liverpool

Looking back on last summer, Mane was arguably the best signing made by any Prem side in 2016. The former Southampton standout scored 13 goals for the Reds in 26 matches before going down injured in April. When he was in the side, Mane’s pace was electric and freed up space for fellow attackers Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino. Mane’s impact on Liverpool has shown when he is not on the pitch. Liverpool earned 59 points in the 26 matches Mane featured (2.3 ppg). In the 11 that he missed, the Reds managed only 14 (1.3 ppg).

Just 25 years old, the Senegalese international is only just hitting his prime. With Jurgen Klopp set to spend in the summer, Mane will enjoy plenty of help in the attack if he manages to stay healthy.

Liverpool has struggled mightily without the presence of Sadio Mane on the wing.

Left Midfielder: Eden Hazard, Chelsea

Although his teammate N’Golo Kante claimed the honor of PFA player of the year, Hazard made a strong case for the award as well. Following a disappointing 2015-16 campaign, the Belgian has bounced back to the tune of 15 goals and five assists in the league. The threat he provides when he is on the ball forces extra attention from opposing defenses. Hazard made a habit of scoring in key matches throughout the season and none was more spectacular than his solo goal to clinch a vital three points against Arsenal in April.

Antonio Conte will surely fight hard to keep his playmaker, but Real Madrid lurks. If Hazard stays, it will be interesting to see if he can stay motivated or if he will drop off as he did last season.

 

Attacking Midfielder: Kevin de Bruyne, Manchester City

Despite an overall disappointing season for Man City, de Bruyne’s second season in Manchester has been anything but. The Belgian has been among the Premier League’s most unlucky players when it comes to finishing, but has still managed six goals. Where he has really contributed is with his 16 assists, tops in the league.

Next season, the pressure will be building for Pep Guardiola at the Etihad and he will look to de Bruyne to be one of the key contributors.

 

Right Striker: Romelu Lukaku, Everton

Despite having less talent around him than his peers on this list, Lukaku has still amassed 24 goals in the league. With one game to go, he is in the driver’s seat to win the Golden Boot for most goals. Perhaps the most physical player in England, Lukaku’s blend of size, strength and speed make it nearly impossible for opposing defenders to stop him when he gets moving with the ball.

While he is clearly a level above Everton, questions remain regarding whether Ronald Koeman and the Toffees will let the 24 year old Belgian leave in the summer. Lukaku played at Chelsea in the past and could potentially replace Diego Costa at Stamford Bridge if the former decides to leave.

Romelu Lukaku’s physicality makes him a nightmare for opposing defenders.

Left Striker: Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal

In the past, Sanchez has featured at wing for the Gunners. However, Arsene Wenger utilized the Chilean this season at striker and Sanchez responded. He is the only player to have double digit goals (23) and assists (10) this season. His brace in Tuesday’s 2-0 victory over Sunderland kept Arsenal’s top four aspirations alive and showed how important he is to the side. Sanchez will have a shot at the Golden Boot on Sunday when he faces off with Lukaku’s Everton.

Sanchez is said to be quite unhappy at Arsenal and a summer exit looks imminent. Chelsea, Juventus and Paris-St. Germain are said to be monitoring the situation. Wherever he ends up next season, Alexis will make a major impact.

 

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What Next Season’s Contenders Need to do to Improve in the Summer (Part 2)

Manchester City

Pep Guardiola’s second season in Manchester will be highly anticipated and expectations will be massive. With a year of experience in England under his belt, a title and run in the Champions League (assuming City make top four) will be expected.

City have perhaps the least amount of work to do as far as improving personnel. One storyline will be whether Sergio Aguero departs the club following the emergence of Gabriel Jesus. In Jesus and Kelechi Iheanacho, Guardiola has two young strikers with massive potential to develop. Aguero is nearing the end of his prime and may fancy a move back to Spain or Argentina in order to get more play time.

When City do go shopping in the summer, it will be mostly geared towards their defense. City’s deficiency at full back could be solved by signing Tottenham right back Kyle Walker. At left back, Jose Luis Gaya of Valencia would be a massive improvement over the departing Gael Clichy. Finally at goalkeeper, Guardiola needs to find an alternative to the horror show that has been Claudio Bravo and Willy Caballero this season.

 

Arsenal

The most uncertain future among England’s top clubs is that of Arsenal. The Gunners could very well lose their manager and two best players at the end of the season.

The club has been pretty mum on whether Arsene Wenger will still be at the Emirates next season. A split fanbase has made this story one of the most talked about in recent months. If Wenger ends his 21 year run at the club, two rumored candidates are Borussia Dortmund’s Thomas Tuchel and Monaco’s Leonardo Jardim.

Alexis Sanchez looks to be on his way out of the Emirates this summer. The Chilean leads the club with 25 goals in all competitions this season.

On the field, the team’s leading scorer this season, Alexis Sanchez, is all but guaranteed to be leaving in the summer. His list of possible suitors contain Chelsea, Paris St. Germain, Juventus and Bayern Munich. Midfielder Mesut Ozil also faces an uncertain future.

If either Sanchez or Ozil leave the club, it will leave a massive gap. However, the massive transfer fee Arsenal will collect will give them options in the replacement process. Monaco’s Thomas Lemar and Everton’s Ross Barkley are the latest rumored targets to replace Sanchez and Ozil respectively.

 

Manchester United

Much of what United is able to accomplish in the summer will be dependent on their result in the Europa League final May 24 vs Ajax. A victory would boost the Red Devils into next season’s Champions League, and equally importantly, it would make Old Trafford a very attractive destination in the summer.

Uncertainty over the striker position is first and foremost on Jose Mourinho’s mind. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is 35 and just sustained a serious knee injury. Marcus Rashford, while equipped with serious talent and potential, is still raw. Mourinho could look to the transfer market at that position. Antoine Griezmann has long been linked with a move to Man U and his addition would certainly make United quicker and more creative in the final third, an area they lacked in Mourinho’s first year with the club.

Two familiar faces could potentially depart the club this summer. Wayne Rooney has struggled to break into the first team under Mourinho and has been linked with a move back to his boyhood club Everton after an illustrious 13 year career for United. Goalkeeper David de Gea was close to moving to Real Madrid two summers ago and Los Blancos could come knocking again this season.

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EPL: What Next Season’s Contenders Need to Do to Improve in the Summer (Part 1)

With Chelsea having one hand on the Premier League trophy, those who fell short are already looking to new hope next season. A highly anticipated transfer window awaits in the summer, and there are improvements to be made for all the top clubs.

Chelsea

Romelu Lukaku is seen as a potential replacement for Diego Costa at Stamford Bridge. (Photo by Goal.com)

For presumed champions, Chelsea faces quite a bit of uncertainty heading into next season. Rifts between manager Antonio Conte and striker Diego Costa have caused the latter to be linked with a move to China. Real Madrid is also reportedly interested in superstar Eden Hazard.

 

It is paramount that the Blues hang on to Hazard and find an adequate replacement for Costa if he leaves. Two options are Everton’s Romelu Lukaku and Real Madrid’s Alvaro Morata. Both are quick, strong and left-footed handfuls for defenders. Lukaku once played with Chelsea and a deal featuring Hazard for Morata and money has been rumored as a possibility.

Chelsea will also want to make sure they hang onto goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who is seemingly always linked to leaving Stamford Bridge.

Tottenham

Mauricio Pochettino will be searching for the final piece to his Spurs title puzzle. After likely coming up short back to back seasons, the Spurs need to sign players to upgrade the wing and midfield positions.

Despite a great second half to the season, Son Heung-Min is not a true winger, and Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha, who has been linked to Tottenham, would be a great fit. He would add a pacy threat and could cross the ball into Harry Kane.

In the midfield, Moussa Dembele will turn 30 this summer. A young, dominant midfield presence alongside Dele Alli would boost the Spurs. The Monaco duo of Fabinho and Tiemoue Bakayoko are options, as well as Nice’s Wylan Cyprien.

As far as departures, Kyle Walker has been linked to a move to Man City. While his departure would be a blow, the Spurs should be fine as long as they retain Kane, Alli, Christian Eriksen and Toby Alderweireld.

Liverpool

Jurgen Klopp has continued to deliver results despite what many consider to be an underwhelming squad. Liverpool can perhaps improve more than any of their competitors with a good transfer window this summer.

Signing Virgil Van Dijk would sure up Liverpool’s woes at the back. (Photo by Sports Mole)

Klopp’s most glaring issue is at the back where Liverpool was repeatedly vulnerable. Alberto Moreno is not a true left back, and the Reds could use a solid center-back to pair with Joel Matip. Klopp is looking at Southampton duo Ryan Bertrand and Virgil van Dijk to fill the void. He also has his eyes on Burnley center-back Michael Keane.

Liverpool could also target a true striker this summer. While Roberto Firmino is great, he is not a true striker. Daniel Sturridge can’t stay healthy, and Divock Origi has been inconsistent. Romelu Lukaku or Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette could work in Klopp’s system.

The good news for Liverpool is that they aren’t expected to lose anyone major in the summer. If Klopp can be smart with his buying, the Reds could be really improved ahead of a likely Champions League campaign.

 

(Featured Image by Sportskeeda.com)

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Cristiano Ronaldo Continues To Carry Real Madrid Through The Champions League

Cristiano Ronaldo walked off the pitch Tuesday night at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeau with a wide smile his face. The 32 year old Portuguese superstar scored a hat trick in Real’s 3-0 first leg semifinal win over crosstown rivals Atletico Madrid in the Semifinal.

Despite his age and no longer possessing the athleticism he inched, Ronaldo is scoring big goals in big games and he’s scoring a lot of them. In Real’s last three Champions League matches (@Bayern, vs Bayern, vs Atleti), CR7 has scored an incredible eight goals. He has adjusted his play style and is one of the most lethal headers of the ball today. His attacking positioning is brilliant as well.

On his goal vs Bayern, Ronaldo shows how he has grown as a player. He has intelligent positioning and takes the cross down with class before dispatching it confidently into the net.

Ronaldo’s ability to adapt from a speedy winner to a smart, clinical finisher is the reason why he has been able to sustain his high level of play as long as he has.

In a season in which the fellow members of Real’s BBC (Bale, Benzema, Cristiano) have underwhelmed, Ronaldo has come through repeatedly for Madrid. Bale has missed a majority of the season due to injury and Benzema has been largely ineffective in his striker role. Los Blancos are in pole position to win La Liga in addition to being a step away from a third UCL final in four years.

As shown by his recent form, Ronaldo always seems to show up in the big games. With the comfort of knowing they have someone who can get it done in the clutch, Real Madrid have to like their chances going forward in the Champions League.

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Is Champions League Still Reachable For United Without Zlatan?

Manchester United’s quest for Champions League football next season took a massive hit when star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic suffered serious damage to his ACL and PCL ligaments in Thursday’s Europa League tie with Anderlecht .

United are fighting the battle for Champions League on two fronts, in England and in Europe. Jose Mourinho’s side controls their own destiny for a top four finish in the Premier League. Thursday’s showdown with Manchester City will have serious table implications in addition to the heated derby atmosphere.

A difficult schedule still awaits, with visits to City, Arsenal and Tottenham still to come. Zlatan’s injury thrusts the spotlight on young Marcus Rashford and club legend Wayne Rooney at striker. Anthony Martial will also likely be given a chance to redeem himself for past chances not taken.

Manchester United will need Wayne Rooney to re-find his form of old.

Rashford has been significantly better in the last month and can give shaky backlines fits with his pace and work rate. Rooney and Anthony Martial both stepped up by scoring United’s goals in a 2-0 win over Burnley on Sunday. If that trio continues to play well, it could even be an improvement over filtering the entire attack through Ibrahimovic. Liverpool’s loss to Crystal Palace on Sunday puts United in their best table position in months, making a top four dream very much alive.

In Europe, the Red Devils are in the Semi-finals of the Europa League. They must win the competition in order to automatically qualify for next season’s Champions League. Celta Vigo from Spain will prove to be a difficult test in the semis.

While they only sit tenth in La Liga, Celta have proved they can be giant killers by defeating both Barcelona and Real Madrid this season. Forward Iago Aspas is tied with Antoine Griezmann for fifth in La Liga with 16 goals on the season. Man U also lost defender Marcos Rojo to injury and will be shorthanded facing Aspas and the dangerous Celta attack.

Iago Aspas has tormented opposing defenses all season.

United will likely play similarly to the way they did against Anderlecht. Expect Mourinho to be conservative in the opening away tie and attack back home in Manchester in the decisive second tie.

 

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Premier League’s Three Most Underrated Players

Despite being dubbed the “glamour league” and receiving the majority of the sport’s media attention, many class talents go unnoticed in the Premier League.

1. Jordan Henderson, Liverpool

While his more flashy teammates and lovable manager soak up the majority of the limelight, Henderson is vital piece of Liverpool as well as for England. Henderson is the leader in passes in the league this season by a wide margin. He often plays in the important defensive midfield role for Liverpool. With the Reds’ back line being very shaky, they rely heavily on Henderson for stability.

Henderson’s ability to play multiple positions (he has played on the right and the left for England) is also a major bonus. He doesn’t score very much and that is part of the reason why he is so underrated. Henderson is undoubtedly a major reason behind Liverpool’s recent rise.

2. Gylfi Sigurdsson, Swansea

While Henderson doesn’t get the attention he deserves because of his position and style, Sigurdsson goes under the radar because he plays for a bottom tier club. Sigurdsson, who has played for Tottenham in the past, is an excellent attacking midfielder with excellent vision. He has amassed eight goals and 11 assists in the Premier League this season.

Gylfi Sigurdsson is undoubtedly Swansea’s most talented player.

Without the Icelandic international, Swansea would likely be deep in the relegation zone. Sigurdsson has had a hand in over half (19/37; 51%) of Swansea’s league goals. His build up play has also been key on other goals. Bigger clubs will likely come knocking for the 27 year old this summer, especially if Swansea are relegated to the Championship.

3. Ander Herrera, Man United

Like Henderson, Herrera has been a key player at a top club for a long time but has always been overshadowed by his peers. While he was inconsistent in the past, Herrera has stepped up as a trustworthy midfielder this season for Jose Mourinho. Herrera has had five assists and  joins Henderson and teammate Paul Pogba in the top three passers this season.

Herrera showed what he can do on Saturday in a masterful man of the match performance in United’s 2-0 win over Chelsea. Herrera completely neutralized Blues’ star Eden Hazard and scored the second goal for Man United. Herrera is reaching his prime and his play is certainly showing it.

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Leicester Can Take Many Positives From First Leg Defeat

Despite falling 1-0 to Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal tie, Leicester City still should have a positive outlook heading into the second leg to played back in England on Tuesday.

Heavy underdogs, Leicester were dealt a blow before the match even started when it was announced that captain Wes Morgan would miss yesterday’s match in Madrid. Despite being pressed against the wall for ninety minutes, it took a questionable penalty call and ensuing Antoine Griezmann finish to break what would have been a scoreless draw.

Although an away goal would have been nice, Leicester know how to make up one goal deficits. They advanced past Sevilla with a 1-0 win at home in the second leg. A same result on Tuesday would force extra time and potentially penalties.

Leicester have proven very difficult to beat in the confines of their own stadium. Behind what is sure to be a raucous crowd, exoect Craig Shakespeare’s men to come at Atleti with full force.

Leicester Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel will need to repeat his round of 16 heroics against Atletico Madrid.

It will be vital that midfielders Wilfred Ndidi and Danny Drinkwater win the battle in the midfield and set up Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy, and others for scoring chances. Kasper Schmeichel, who came up huge against Sevilla, will need to cope with the absence of a suspended Robert Huth.

While taking down last years finalist would truly be a monumental feat. These Foxes, with this coach, at this stadium, are the ones to do the job.

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