Everything Else

I was trying to decide what to compare the Champions League final to, and—spoiler alert—there isn’t really something that’s comparable in a 1-to-1 way. At first I thought Super Bowl, but this isn’t like two teams coming from two conferences, a neat and clean path to the championship, although the hype and significance of the game itself may be reminiscent of the Super Bowl.

This isn’t like the Stanley Cup Finals either, even though they’re a circuitous path to winning. Champions League includes the top teams from leagues across Europe, so the clubs change (to a degree) each year as league play has the knock-on effect of determining a Champions League berth. And alas, as much as we would prefer never to watch the Ottawa Senators play a professional game again, this variability doesn’t happen in the NHL.

It’s not even really analogous to the World Cup. Yes, both tournaments feature pool play and then knockout rounds, but that’s like saying basketball in the Olympics is the same as the NBA Finals.
It’s not—national(ist) sentiment is different than rooting for your club. Suffice it to say, this is a unique event that combines arduous schedules and length of time, intense fan loyalty, and an international flair all into one.

How Did We Get Here?

And what about the teams themselves? It’s Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, whose name will never not be funny to me because it’s so stereotypically British (say “hotspur” in your head with a British accent). On the one hand, these are both Premier League teams so what the fuck? On the other hand, this is part of the charm—there’s no best of the worst coming from one division or one conference; they earned the right to be here, league be damned.

Is it a David and Goliath scenario? Ehh, not exactly. Liverpool is a powerhouse, but they had issues of their own getting here. Up and down their lineup they’re stacked, including having two of the world’s best forwards in Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino, literally the world’s best defender in Virgil van Dijk, and yet another superlative in goalkeeper in Alisson Becker. However, in the semifinal they ran up against Lionel Messi’s Barcelona and promptly got their ass kicked in the first leg 3-0. To make matters worse, in the second leg a bunch of those “world’s best” I just named didn’t even play—notably Salah and Firmino. And yet, they came out and destroyed Barca 4-0, thanks to substitute Georginio Wijnaldum and his two goals coming within minutes of each other early in the second half. This changed the entire nature of the match, since they had to not just win it but win by more than three goals—really fucking hard to do. (Another relative rando, Divock Origi, had the other two so clearly they can do it without the big names.)

In a way it’s almost like two Cinderella stories because as crazy as Liverpool’s comeback was, Tottenham’s berth is even more insane. They were seconds away from losing to Manchester City in the quarterfinals when a goal got called back for being offside, letting the Spurs squeak by what is, on paper at least, a much better team. A hat trick by Lucas Moura in the second half of the second leg of the semis against Ajax got them here—not unlike Liverpool popping off for a bunch of goals in the last possible moment. And all of this happened without their top striker, Harry Kane, who’s been injured for months. Again, like Liverpool, the entire team made the difference as opposed to reliance on one star player (as Barcelona and Juventus with Messi and Ronaldo, respectively, are painfully aware).

So Where Is It Going?

That’s all fine and good—now what the hell is going to happen, right? Well, Liverpool is ostensibly the better team, particularly with Salah and Firmino playing, and is definitely a big favorite to win. But then again, the Spurs should have been out two rounds ago, should have lost to these other, better teams, and sometimes emotion and momentum are enough in a one-match situation, just like a game 7.

Personally, I think Tottenham will do their thing where they dominate possession but make just enough mistakes for Liverpool to capitalize. Van Dijk practically lets no one get by him with the ball, and I expect the Spurs will struggle to get past him and the rest of the backfield, and even if they do they have Alisson to deal with. Meanwhile, Liverpool can take advantage quickly, move the ball through the midfield and have enough scoring threats to catch Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris on the back foot. He’s not terrible, but I’ll take Alisson over Lloris ten out of ten times. And they only need to do it once, maybe twice, and then shut down Son, Moura and Kane, who will likely play but I question if he’ll be much of a factor coming back from a months-long recovery for an ankle injury.

This is what is likely to happen, but this entire run has been full of unlikely turns of events so I reserve the right to hedge on this. To complicate things further, both the coaches are also world-class-superlative guys. Mauricio Pochettino has done incredible things with a veritable MASH unit all year and may be coaching himself to a better gig, and Jurgen Klopp has been here twice and never won the final, so there’s both experience and ridiculous determination for the prize (especially after losing out on the Premier League title by one fucking point).

It will not be dull and it won’t lack for championship drama—that much I’m confident about. Because, oh yeah, on top of everything, one of those finals that Klopp lost was with Liverpool last year, and Salah got injured early in the game and that is some major motivation for everyone involved. It’s more pressure too, but between the down-to-the-wire Premier League race and this drama, they should be getting used to it.

Even if you’re not that into soccer, this one will be worth your time.

Everything Else

As we expand our remit here at FFUD it gives us the chance to pester you with other non-hockey stuff that we like, such as European soccer (you’ve seen it before with English Premier League pieces from our fearless leader). To that end, the quarterfinals of Champions League are coming up in two legs over two weeks. And, despite the fact that my personal rooting interest (Napoli, Serie A) is out, these will still be some quality matches plus there’s the chance for some schadenfreude (at least for me, although unlikely). Let’s line them up:

Tottenham vs. Manchester City

1st leg: Tuesday, 4/9, 2pm central

2nd leg: Wednesday, 4/17, 2pm central

These teams are going to play each other three times in 12 days, with the first two matches being Champions League quarterfinals. Seeing as familiarity breeds contempt it should automatically be interesting, and the Spurs will be bordering on desperate to win this first match to prevent things from getting out of hand. On paper Man City is the better team, and they’ve pulled away from Tottenham in the Premier League table. However, at this very same time last year an equally dominant Man City got their ass kicked out of the quarters by Liverpool, so it’s not like it couldn’t happen. This first match will also be at Tottenham’s long-awaited finally-open new stadium, which they played at (and won) for the first time earlier this week. So maybe there will be some adrenaline rush with that. The bigger issues for them are staying healthy (at least Harry Kane and Dele Alli are both back), and their goalkeeper, Hugo Lloris, not being a sieve. He played pretty shitty against Liverpool recently and they’re comparable to Man City, so it sort of feels like a matter of time until Pep Guardiola’s squad gets to him.

Prediction: Manchester City

 Liverpool vs. Porto

1st leg: Tuesday, 4/9, 2pm central

2nd leg: Wednesday, 4/17, 2pm central

This one is going to be ugly for Porto. Liverpool is good—really good, and even when they aren’t that good they still find a way to pull shit out of their ass and/or take advantage of their opponents’ mistakes (Napoli had to score one goal…one fucking goal to get past them in the group stage and couldn’t do it but it’s their own fault and I’m not bitter and THAT’S NOT WHY YOU CALLED). Anyway, Porto may sneak in a goal or two but likely it’ll be over quickly.

Prediction: Liverpool

Ajax vs. Juventus

1st leg: Wednesday 4/10, 2pm central

2nd leg: Tuesday, 4/16, 2pm central

Ajax (pronounced “eye-ex”) is having a better run than I figured they would. They’re dominant in the Eredivisie in the Netherlands, but I definitely pooh-pooh’d their chances in Champions. Which gives me hope that they can get past Juventus (pronounced “you-vent-oos”, and no I’m not trying to be a dickhead I’m honestly trying to be helpful with some of these). They probably won’t, seeing as Juve’s entire motivation for existing is to win Champions League and it’s literally the exact reason they brought Cristiano Ronaldo over (and it’s been working out for them thus far). Juve’s backfield has been beat up but the bigger issue was that Ronaldo himself was injured. But as of today, their manager Massimiliano Allegri hinted pretty damn strongly that Ronaldo would play, and it would be nigh impossible to imagine him not taking part in what is his entire job description, i.e., winning in Champions. I would love nothing more than to see Juve lose this round, but I doubt it. They’ve got too much depth and keep getting bailed out by CR7 even when they don’t deserve to win.

Prediction: Juventus

Manchester United vs. Barcelona

1st leg: Wednesday 4/10, 2pm central

2nd leg: Tuesday, 4/16, 2pm central

This one has the potential to be the most interesting match-up of the round. Barca is leading La Liga, forward Ousmane Dembele may be back if not for the first leg than by the second (after tearing a hamstring in their ass-whooping of Lyon in the last round), and oh yeah Lionel Messi’s on this team. They played earlier this week and scored twice in extra time to get it to a draw, and although that was not against Man United so perhaps not apples to apples here, it should go without saying they can score (Messi is the leading goal scorer in Champions so far). And what about Man United? Since jettisoning international toxin Jose Mourinho as their manager they’ve been the annoyingly successful team you probably know from that one obnoxious acquaintance you had in college who had to be different and not watch American football. You know that guy—he was always a Manchester United fan. Anyway, they were a surprise coming out of the round of 16 after losing their first match to PSG, but they came back with a 3-1 win for the second match and since that was their away game, they ended up winning on away goals (a tie-breaker function—both teams scored a total of 3 goals over 2 games). So Barca is really the better team but Man United may be the hotter team…honestly I’m pissed for adding a prediction to these because it’s really tough to choose on this one. Luckily I’m under no obligation to be right.

Prediction: Barcelona