Posts tagged FC Barcelona
The Counter Press EP 33

Josh and Vijay chat about all the Champions League matchups, PSG giving up 5 goals to Lille, and the Premier League.

WrestleMania might be over but you can still rep Becky Two Belts with the brand new #FreeTheMan tees up now on the Barber's Chair Net merch shop
teespring.com/stores/the-barbers-chair
or
teespring.com/freetheman

Nearly Canceled: Entourage drops January 2019 exclusively on the Barber's Chair Patreon! Become a patron of The Barber's Chair on Patreon! $5 a month will get you a thank you on Ball Don't Lie and guarantees you access to Nearly Canceled: Entourage, along with more exclusive premium content from The Barber's Chair!
patreon.com/barberschairnet

The Counter Press - You Hate to See It

The Counter Press Boys are joined by Spurs fan @ryne_jones to talk about all things Premier League including Tottenham's list of transfers. We also dive into Champions League matchups along with some Serie A talk.

Follow Vijay on Twitter: @VJVemu
Follow Josh on Twitter: @highbiscuits

Celebrate your division champs by grabbing one of the NEW shirts straight from The Barber's Chair merch store!
teespring.com/stores/the-barbers-chair

Nearly Canceled: Entourage drops January 2019 exclusively on the Barber's Chair Patreon! Become a patron of The Barber's Chair on Patreon! $5 a month will get you a thank you on Ball Don't Lie and guarantees you access to Nearly Canceled: Entourage, along with more exclusive premium content from The Barber's Chair!
patreon.com/barberschairnet

2018-19 UEFA Champions League Preview: Group Stage Edition
Photo Credit:  Reuters Photo

Photo Credit: Reuters Photo

We are inching ever so close to having Champions League football back in our lives. The draw a few weeks ago helped us take one giant step towards us hearing “The Champions” blaring across our TV screens. The results turned out to be quite interesting. Sure some of the groups are real cakewalks (looking at you, Manchester City and Bayern Munich) but the rest of the teams surely have their work cut out for them.

There are some amazing matchups we are going to get during the group stages. Let’s take a look at the narratives in each of the eight groups along with who will make it to the Round of 16.

Group A

This is a good group if you want to watch two clubs with some young talent on display. Monaco and Borussia Dortmund both are well known for developing some of the world's best young players and selling them for mass profit. Atletico Madrid got younger too with the signings of Thomas Lemar and Rodri in the midfield. Lemar will have a reunion game as he faces his former club when Atletico and Monaco collide on Matchday 1.

Both Dortmund and Atleti will be looking to bounce back in the Champions League after crashing out in the group stage last year. It didn’t turn out so bad for them in Europe as Dortmund reached the knockout stages of the Europa League while Diego Simeone’s team lifted the trophy when it was all said and done. Atletico looked stronger than ever in the UEL final and in the UEFA Super Cup, beating Real Madrid 4-2. Dortmund had a huge win against RB Leipzig last week then followed it up with a 0-0 dud against Hannover. Lucien Favre has this team playing better than last year but they need to step it up a notch if they want to impress in Europe.

Club Brugge are the team from Pot 4 in this group. The good news for the Belgian side is that they have basically two weeks off before their first matchday and the only game in between is against Lokren, who are 14th in the Belgian Pro League. Then things get a bit tough as they have to play in all three competitions right after. Dortmund in the UCL, Gent in league play, and a Round of 32 cup clash against Deinzel all come in quick succession. They will fight hard in group play to snatch points against the big guns. Their best bet is nabbing some against Monaco.

Madrid and Dortmund are the favorites and rightly so, they are the two most talented squads. Monaco should be expected to finish around third with Brugge coming in the final spot.

Atletico Madrid and Dortmund advance

Group B

After impressing in the group stages last season (remember that 3-0 scoreline against Real Madrid?) Tottenham will be looking to do the same in this group. A summer with no transfers gave a lot of worry as to the squad depth of Spurs but they have started out the season in top form. We will truly get a sense of how much their lack of activity in the summer costs them as they try to advance deeper into cup tournaments along with fighting for a top 4 spot in the Champions League.

After getting a come from behind win against Lazio to get into the UCL, Inter Milan was rewarded by getting into a group with two of the top clubs in Europe. Inter have gotten a lot better in the transfer market, picking up additions such as Radja Nainggolan, Stefan De Vrij, and Keita Balde Diao. With Mauro Icardi up top and Ivan Perisic on the wings, Inter has solid threats in front of goal. They will be a much tougher out than many think and are certainly capable of an upset result in the group stages, especially at home in the San Siro.

PSV Eindhoven has a great young player in Chucky Lozano and he will be someone to watch for in the group stage. Lozano and Steven Bergwijn both possess talent on the wings. Even with PSV likely to finish last in the group, they should provide some highlights.

It’s not hard to determine who the best team in this group will be and it’s Barcelona. The Catalans are ready for a deep Champions League run, especially after the collapse they had against Roma. One of the topics Leo Messi talked about in his captain's speech to the fans was about winning the Champions League. It’s clear they want the Champions League title and should be favorites. With a summer of bringing in talent to solidify the bench, Barca is a deep team. It also helps that young starlet Ousmane Dembele has gotten off to a fast start this season. He scored the game-winning goal in the Spanish Super Cup and has been a menace on the wings every time he has featured for the Catalans thus far. He looks a lot more confident and could show those promising steps in development many Barcelona fans hoped for when he first signed with the club.

This will be a tough road for the top three teams but Barcelona will make it out of the group as winners. The Catalans should get enough points early to see their way through. Inter Milan will put up a fight but ultimately Tottenham should finish second. We will get to see some drama in the later matchdays of this group, including the final one where Barcelona will play Spurs. This could possibly decide who finishes first in the group.

Barcelona and Tottenham advance

Group C

This features a group with three strong attacking teams so look for some really high score lines on their given matchdays. We all know about Liverpool and their potent attack. With Sadio Mane and Mo Salah on the wings, they are a constant threat to burn your back line on counter attacks. Roberto Firmino does a good job as the central striker and his pressing defensively helps make Jurgen Klopp’s system run more smoothly. Liverpool also ramped up their midfield with the arrivals of Naby Keita and Fabinho. Keita will be instrumental in their success against Europe’s elite. They shocked the world by reaching the Champions League final before running into the buzzsaw which is Real Madrid. While back to back appearances to the final is highly unlikely, they can make some noise. Their defense has seemed stable so far in Premier League but they will be facing two teams with explosive attacks of their own. Both Paris Saint-Germain and Napoli can punch a couple of goals into the back of the Liverpool net if they are not careful.

PSG have had a great start to the Ligue 1 season as they look to dominate the French league once again. Like Liverpool, they have a big three of their own in Neymar, Edinson Cavani, and Kylian Mbappe. It will be a nightmare for the rest of the three to try and stop Paris. They cruised in group play last season despite having giants such as Bayern Munich in their group. The real goal for Paris however, will be in the knockout stages. They will be pushed in this group stage as there are three legit teams who all have a shot at advancing. Questions are going to be asked about their defense as well as their depth in the middle of the park. They still haven’t totally gotten over the loss of Blaise Matuidi and need a real box to box player to solidify things. While the Parisians should be favorites to win the group, as they have the best side, it’s not certain.

Napoli had their share of losses too this summer with Maurizio Sarri and Jorginho heading to Chelsea. It doesn’t mean they have taken numerous steps back, however. Carlo Ancelotti still inherits a very talented squad and despite crashing out of the group stage last year, they have a puncher's chance to advance. It was clear from the onset last season they were more focused on the league and decided not to pursue any other trophies because of it. We will see this season how Ancelotti rotates the squad in Europe. At the very least they are slotted at a solid third. Red Star Belgrade will be a tough place to play and the atmosphere will be great. Against these three teams, however, it’s hard not seeing them finish anywhere other than last.

Liverpool and PSG have the most offensive firepower while their defenses seem more stable than Napoli’s at the moment. The Partenopei will be right with them step for step, though. If either of them slips up, Napoli will be waiting to pounce at a chance of reaching the knockout rounds.

PSG and Liverpool advance

Group D

Out of all the groups in the Champions League, this is the one which is a toss-up. This is actually a pretty crazy group when you think about it as it’s not often you see four teams all with a shot at advancing. There aren’t any European giants or any real minnows in group D. It looks to be an all-out slugfest.

The four teams will be Porto, Schalke, Galatasaray, and Lokomotiv Moscow. If anything, it will be a group which requires a ton of traveling as both Porto and Lokomotiv will have to travel across Europe to play each other. None of these teams are particularly overpowering over the other so it will be hard to tell who is the favorite heading into the first matchday. Both Porto and Schalke have experience in the knockout rounds. Galatasaray and Moscow are tough away fixtures. If both are able to churn out a result or two on the road, it will go a long way in their hopes of finishing in the top two or even the Europa League spot. The team to watch out will be Schalke. They have gotten off to a shaky start in Bundesliga play with two losses to begin the season. Things could get even worse with a fixture against Borussia Monchengladbach awaiting them. A good start to their European season would calm down some of the voices of worry but you have to wonder if they will be able to handle both Champions League and Bundesliga simultaneously.

Out of all the teams in the group, Porto is the ones who are the most likely to advance given their pedigree in Europe. Hector Herrera still runs the midfield and Vincent Aboubakar will poach some goals in this group. Second place is honestly a toss up but in the end, talent tops all. Schalke should have enough to barely scrape by for second place. Lokomotiv will surely be in the battle for second too and are a dark horse to watch in this group. After making the Round of 16 in Europa League last year, it will be a big jump in talent for the Russian side. If there is a group where they can raise some eyebrows, this is the one.

Porto and Schalke advance

Group E

Now we enter the first of the two cakewalk groups. It’s a common joke to say the Bundesliga is essentially Bayern Munich and everyone else. It applies to Group E as well.

It’s clear the Bavarians are through and out the heavy favorites to win this group. Even after looking like they took a step back quality wise in the Champions League, Bayern still has enough depth in the middle of the field to keep things chugging along. Their 5-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt should ease concerns too. This will be the first real test for Niko Kovac, Bayern Munich’s new manager. Carlo Ancelotti was immediately sacked after their blowout loss to PSG so it shows you how seriously they view their form in Europe. Luckily for Kovac, there isn’t an opponent of the Parisians quality in their group. Bayern should comfortably finish first.

The battle for the second place spot probably won’t be a drama-filled one either. Despite both having to play in the playoff rounds to reach the group stages, there is a gap of quality between Benfica and Ajax. Like Bayern, this should be an easy group for the Portuguese side to navigate. Finishing second won’t be a hard task for Benfica.

This now leaves the third place spot between Ajax and AEK. The Greek side barely scraped by in the play-off round as well and Ajax fought in a tough two-legged battle against Dynamo Kiev. There are gaps in quality between everyone in Group E. The battle for third place is no different. Ajax is the better side and should make their way into the Europa League.

Bayern and Benfica advance

Group F

All you need to do for Group F is take one look at the teams lined up and know who will top it. Manchester City is far and above the best team and should have it all wrapped halfway through the group stage. Even with the injury to Kevin De Bruyne, the Man City machine keeps plugging along. Pep Guardiola’s side has played stellar and has done so despite the likes of Leroy Sane getting off to tough starts. With the addition of Riyad Mahrez and a healthy Benjamin Mendy, Man City have so much firepower to work with. Bernardo Silva looking more comfortable in the system is a boost too. Last year they got bamboozled by Liverpool in the quarterfinals and looked pedestrian during the tie. Guardiola should have this side motivated and ready to go from the start. They are favorites to not only win the league but are in the mix of teams who can win the entire competition.

Now for who will finish behind Manchester City in the second spot is another open-ended question. Shakhtar, Lyon, and Hoffenheim all have what it takes to rally a couple of strong results together and stumble into second. At the same time, there are numerous questions surrounding the consistency of the last two in the group in Lyon and Hoffenheim. You don’t know which versions of these teams will show up on a given matchday. Lyon, for example, has a very underrated attack with Memphis DePay at the helm but they can’t seem to find the back of the net often. A lot of times for Lyon it’s been a lot of low-quality chances from outside the box and on the counter. Hoffenheim have started their season on an ok note but the jury is still out on how they will stack up against tougher competition in Europe. Shakhtar Donetsk should be the leader of the pack in this race for second. Like Porto, Shakhtar has done well in Europe as of late. While they won’t necessarily trouble Manchester City, they should be favorites to finish second.

Manchester City and Shakhtar Donetsk advance

Group G

Last season was a magical Champions League campaign for both Roma and Real Madrid. It often illustrates the difference in the level of expectations for teams in Europe. While for Roma supporters it would have been grand to see them win the Champions League, just reaching the semi-finals was an amazing achievement. It was even sweeter considering how they reached there, on the heels of one of the greatest comebacks in Champions League history. After being thrashed 4-1 in the first leg, Roma staged an epic comeback back home in the return leg. They beat the Catalans 3-0 and advanced thanks to an away goals tie-breaker. It was one of the best comebacks in a Champions League tie the soccer world has ever seen. Now Roma has to play another Spanish giant as it draws defending winners Real Madrid in their group. Apart from their numerous pre-season matches in the summer, 2016 was the last time these two teams played in a competitive game. It was the Round of 16 in the UCL and Real Madrid dominated the tie, earning back to back 2-0 victories to see off the Italian side.

After winning three straight Champions League titles, this will be a completely different Champions League campaign for Real Madrid and we all know why. The departure of Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus this summer shocked the club and not splashing the cash for a superstar to replace him was perplexing as well. While they almost certainly will try to land a top ten player in the world next summer, it looks like Real Madrid are making Gareth Bale the star of this team. The Welshman is now the star and will be looked upon to bag more goals for Los Blancos. Bale does have the talent to be a star for Real Madrid. His blistering pace causes so many problems for defenders and will open up spaces in the defense for others. Guys like Karim Benzema and Marco Asensio will have more goal scoring opportunities because of it. The midfield and the defense will still be the same as Luka Modric and Toni Kroos in the middle of the park. Raphael Varane, who had an exceptional season for both club and country, will lineup along Sergio Ramos. With the loss of Zinedine Zidane factored in as well, it will be a tall mountain to climb for Madrid if they want to win the UCL for the fourth time in a row. They might not make it back to the final but a quarterfinal appearance isn’t an unreasonable expectation.

The two other teams in this group are CSKA Moscow and FC Viktoria Plzn. These two teams will battle for the third place spot of this group with the Russian side being the favorites. They are currently 6th in the Russian Premier League as Zenit and Spartak Moskova have gotten off to great starts domestically. Plzn are huge underdogs and despite being in the thick of things in the Czech league, it will be difficult for them to get results in this group. Their best shot comes on matchday one when they face off against CSKA.

It’s clear who the two best teams are in this group in Real Madrid and Roma. They’ll be the ones who advance to the knockout stages. Expect Madrid to finish at the top despite the transition to a life without Ronaldo.

Real Madrid and Roma advance

Group H

To say it’s been a turbulent season so far for Manchester United is an understatement. Between the comments made by Jose Mourinho and the two losses to start the season, the pressure is on in Old Trafford. Despite finishing second in the league last season, it was still defined as an “ok”. Losing to Sevilla in the Champions League Round of 16 didn’t help either. This is a big year for Mourinho as he enters in the heavily talked about "Year 3 Mou". It's usually around the time things implode and the Portuguese manager is let go. It will be an uphill battle in the league as both Manchester City and Liverpool are favorites to lift the trophy. The Champions League draw did no favors for the Red Devils either. Manchester United can’t afford to have performances like they did against Brighton if they want to do well in this group. They have made some upgrades and depth signings this summer, especially in the midfield with the addition of Fred from Shakhtar. Mourinho still has a lot of questions left to answer about this squad. Who will start on the wings is the first question. Defense is in question as well with Eric Bailly in and out of the lineup constantly. There is a lot of shuffling in those two areas for Manchester United and it shows on match days.

United’s biggest problem will be Juventus. The Italian champions had a fantastic summer picking up Emre Can, Joao Cancelo, Leonardo Bonucci, and some guy named Cristiano Ronaldo. Last season’s UCL campaign ended in infamy as a fantastic comeback in Bernabeu was canceled out by a late penalty awarded against the Old Lady. Juventus are bringing back a lot of their old squad but have replaced Gonzalo Higuain with Ronaldo, an obvious upgrade. The only real question for this squad will be the goalkeeping situation with Gigi Buffon now gone. The adjustment of Ronaldo on this Juventus team has gotten off to a rocky start but expect him to start scoring goals soon. Now it’s up to Max Allegri to see how he can field the best starting XI. Juventus will be very hard to stop in the Champions League this season.

Valencia is a sneaky underdog in this group. They have some young talent in attack with Michy Batshuayi and Goncalo Guedes, who made his move from Paris permanent this summer. They can catch teams on the counter with the pace on the wings too. After finishing 3rd in a group with Gent, Lyon, and Zenit last season they will be itching to make it back to the Round of 16. They certainly have the talent to make this happen.

Valencia has a chance to finish second in this group, especially if Manchester United slips up. However, Manchester United should have just enough to squeak into second. This is setting up to be a group to pay attention to.

Juventus and Manchester United advance

2018-19 La Liga Power Rankings: Can FC Barcelona repeat as champs?
Photo credit: Aitor Alcalde / Getty Images

Photo credit: Aitor Alcalde / Getty Images

Spanish teams have had quite the decade when it comes to domestic football. La Liga teams have dominated both European competitions as Barcelona and Real Madrid have swapped Champions League honors while Sevilla has ran wild with Europa League in that span as well. With the Spanish Super Cup and the UEFA Super Cup completed, it’s time for the La Liga season to begin. There will be some changes in the hierarchy but nothing earth-shattering. Despite expectations for La Liga to go pan out exactly how many expect it to, it doesn’t mean it’s not a fun league to watch. Especially with the growing number of quality teams in the league.

Class 1: Title aspirations

Barcelona
Atletico Madrid
Real Madrid

If you have watched any of La Liga in the past couple of years, you already know which teams are going to be in this category. It’s the Big 3 of FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Atletico Madrid. The battle between the three teams is always a slugfest. Each of these games is passionate and filled with excitement.

Barcelona is the expected favorites to repeat as La Liga champions and rightly so. The Catalans made some key reinforcements in the transfer market and held on to Ousmane Dembele as well. Keeping the young French winger was a huge move and credit to Barcelona for not giving up on him so easily. He struggled in his initial season and the injuries didn’t help either. Arturo Vidal, Lenglet, and Malcolm were all good additions despite the large transfer fees. None of the three will likely be starters but they will serve as depth signings. In the case of the latter two, they are young and hopefully can ease their way into the squad later on. Expect Ernesto Valverde to run with his patented 4-3-3 with Suarez, Dembele, and Lionel Messi up top. The real questions will be in the midfield as the backline/goalkeeper will likely be set as well. Who will the third midfielder be alongside Rakitic and Busquets? Arthur will have a shot at being in the starting XI and but his chances look grim. He faces stiff competition in Coutinho as the Brazilian now has the No. 7 shirt and had a great World Cup too. Valverde always seems to take the more stable option so expect Coutinho to be playing in the Iniesta role next season as a playmaker. He also adds his own own offensive threat of being able to curl one into the top corner from outside the box. The Catalans will be defensively compact and stable in possession like last season. While they won La Liga with ease, they still have the bitter taste of the Roma defeat in their mouths. A trophy or two should be in crosshairs for this team.

Both of the Madrid clubs had rather opposite summer transfer markets. Real, as we all know, suffered a huge loss in Cristiano Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane. Both are losses Madrid did not expect to occur and it set them back. It was evident in Madrid transfer plans this summer. No big names other than Thibaut Courtois came in and no replacement for CR7. Now it’s Gareth Bale’s team offensively. Florentino Perez’s favorite Galactico signing will have the full reins in Julen Lopetegui’s system. With Karim Benzema and Marco Asensio likely up top with him in the attack, expect a lot more of the Bale of old or the one we see play for Wales. A guy who is much more comfortable taking on guys 1 v. 1 and burning them with pace. Hopefully, for Madrid’s sake, he can step up and show the quality which commanded his humongous transfer fee. The rest of the lineup should be the same as the same crew who won their 3rd straight Champions League title. This will be a tough year for Real Madrid and their fans. Their core group is a year older and they lost one of their most influential players in Ronaldo. There’s a high chance Real Madrid could walk away from this season with zero trophies to show for it, which in their terms is chaos. The loss against Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup could be a telling sign.

Speaking of Atletico, they had an aggressive transfer market. Particularly in the midfield with the additions of Thomas Lemar from Monaco and Rodri from Villarreal. Both played in the UEFA Super Cup and played well in their competitive debuts. The Frenchman Lemar was a natural fit in his given role and showed how much of a playmaker he could be for this team moving forward. Diego Simeone now has some toys he can play with offensively so expect Atletico to open up just a bit more than they have in the past. With Griezmann and Costa still up top for, they still possess a potent strike force which can strike at any time. We all know about the defense led by Diego Godin and Jon Oblak has shown why he can be a top 5 goalie in the world when he’s on his game. The only question is the right-back position as 33-year-old Juanfran is currently holding the starting role. Simeone’s team is currently the second-best in Spain at the moment and with enough balance in the squad, they can make another run at the La Liga title. Plus they are a dark horse in Champions League play with the signings they have made. Watch out for Atletico Madrid this year, they still have the same grind-it-out/going into battle attitude but with more flair than ever.

Class 2: European competition contenders

Sevilla
Villarreal
Valencia
Athletic Bilbao
Real Betis
Getafe

The battle between the big three are slugfests and so is the rotating door of who will finish 4th behind them. It’s same cast of teams who battle for the right. Usually their seasons include an ok Europa League campaign along with the occasional upset against a giant. Most fans are familiar with the Villarreal and Valencia’s of the world but there maybe a new team challenging for a European spot. It’s lesser well known team from Seville: Real Betis.

Betis had a robust transfer market, showing all of Spain they wanted to continue the success they had last year in the league when they finished 6th and qualified for the Europa League as well. Coming into the Benito Villamarin this summer were the likes of William Carvalho, Takashi Inui, Pau Lopez, and Sergio Canales. Add the addition of Marc Bartra in the winter window and you have a splendid year of transfers for Betis. It’s going to be a challenge this season as they have to balance their energy with Europe. Most teams struggle with this adjustment but at the same time, many clubs didn’t make the transfers Betis did. They are going to be in the chase for Europe qualification spots again this season but they won’t be sneaking up on anyone this time around.

Despite knocking out Manchester United in the Champions League, Sevilla still had a troubling domestic season by their standards. They finished 6th in the table and have to play in the qualification rounds of the Europa League because of it. Sevilla also bring in a new manager as Pablo Machin arrives from Girona. His 3-5-2 system created some problems for Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup and it bodes well for how they will do in La Liga this season. Obviously, it was different from the style they played last season but change is good sometimes. Ever Banega will still be pinging passes around in the midfield and bringing in Andre Silva from AC Milan was a smart move. Muriel and Pablo Sarabia should be the main attacking threats with the ever speedy Wassim Ben Yedder ready to come off the bench. Losing their second stable presence in midfield in Steven N’Zonzi will really hurt as he left for Roma a few weeks ago. Sevilla will be hoping they can restore some of the quality in the middle but they might struggle to find a guy who can screen the backline like the Frenchman could. Overall Sevilla is still a talented side and always seem to outperform what their squad sheet looks like on paper. Machin will have his side invigorated and revving to go.

After finishing 5th, Villarreal was the best of the Europa League qualifiers in terms of points. Javier Calleja’s men weren’t talked about much this summer although it doesn’t mean they had a poor one. In fact, the Yellow Submarines had a solid transfer window and brought in some decent players. They strengthened their attack by bringing in the likes of Gerard Moreno, and Karl Toko Ekambi while also promoting youngster Daniel Raba from the B team. With Carlos Bacca now back at AC Milan, it was wise to give Enes Unai and Roberto Soriano more attacking support and depth up top. Ekambi will be the man to watch as he is brought in from Angers for a decent fee. Other transfers included Ramiro Funes Mori, Javi Fuego, Miguel Layun, and Santi Cazorla as he made his return back to the Estadio de la Ceramica. Losing Rodri to Atletico Madrid hurt and they will miss having a young CDM in the central area of the park. There were some smart signings by Villarreal and a Europa League spot is in sight. Maybe if they overperform, they can knock on the door of the 4th place Champions League place.

Valencia were the best of this group in terms of points last season, finishing with 73 points, 12 ahead of 5th place Villarreal. In his second summer, Marcelino made some solid additions to Los Che but also raised some questions with this moves as well. He got some depth at center-back with Mouctar Diakhaby arriving from Lyon and Cristiano Picci from Portugal to shore up the right back spot. Geoffrey Kondogbia, who played exceptional for Valencia in the second half of the season, had his loan spell become permanent from Inter Milan. Uros Racic and Daniel Wass were brought in to help the midfield in their own ways. Racic or Kondogbia may slot into the spot which was left by Nemanja Maksimovic who left for Getafe. It will be a fight to see who will play alongside captain Dani Parejo. Wass will have a much tougher time finding a starting role with the abundance of attackers Valencia now have on their hands. Despite losing Goncalo Guedes back to PSG, Valencia still has a lot of guys who they can play up top. They brought in both Kevin Gameiro and Michy Batshuayi. They join a group of Simone Zaza, Rodrigo, and Santi Mina. It’s going to be tough to distribute the minutes. It could be a rotating door up front at the two striker positions. Valencia obviously has talent but with some of the teams around them getting better, they will have to scrape to finish 4th again.

Disastrous was the one word to describe Athletic Bilbao’s season last year. After Ernesto Valverde left for the Nou Camp, things crumbled for the Basque side. They finished a surprising 16th in the table and although they weren’t in any relegation trouble (14 points ahead of 18th place), it was a big drop off from the same Bilbao we have seen. It’s clear this squad still has some quality in Inaki Williams but there are big problems when it comes to how they can bounce back. Their transfer policy doesn’t always allow for much movement but they brought in two Eibar players and Yuri Berchiche from PSG. This is Eduardo Berizzo’s first summer so business might be slow but he needs to figure out how this is all going to work. They won’t have any Europa League games to deal with so they can go all in on getting a solid league spot. There is also a worry of relying a lot on an aged striker such as Aritz Aduriz. Athletic supporters will have to hope Berrizo can come in and get things back on track. Last season may have been a fluke but it also exposed a lot of problems in the squad. They could be in trouble this year as well.

Another team to look out for here could be Getafe. They finished three points behind 7th place and nearly qualified for Europe. It was a final matchday day draw between Sevilla and Betis which sealed their fate. After being promoted in 2016, this was a big jump for Getafe. Most teams who go down after a long spell in the top flight don’t always bounce back. If there is a dark horse, it’s Getafe.

Class 3: Mid-table shufflers

Eibar
Girona
Celta Vigo
Real Sociedad
Espanyol
Alaves

This part is also a tricky one as it’s a shuffle each season between quite of a few of these teams. There are some interesting ones though.

Girona will be one to watch for as they now have lost their manager after having a fantastic season by their standards (10th place). It was a good finish considering they were playing in the Segunda division just two years ago. Now it’s up to see just how much they will miss Machin. Girona has made some very solid transfers by getting two Manchester City players in Aleix Garcia and Patrick Roberts on loan. They also brought in Marc Muniesa from Stoke to shore up their defense. They might not finish as high as the upper mid-table like they did last year but Girona has seemed to make enough moves to at least stay out of the relegation battle.

After two straight 13th place finishes in La Liga, Celta Vigo seem to be sleepwalking through La Liga. It’s odd considering how this club was in a Europa League semi-final not too long ago. They made some moves in the window by picking up Southampton’s Sofiane Boufal and a teenager from Rayo Vallecano in Fran Beltran. This is sort of the case we have seen with Southampton in the Premier League. Celta Vigo has let their best talent go to bigger clubs and haven’t exactly been able to replace them. They might not be as in trouble as the Saints are but they are just one bad stretch of games from finding themselves fighting for their La Liga lives

Real Sociedad are also an interesting figure to watch for. They recently picked up Theo Hernandez on loan from Real Madrid and Mikel Merino from Newcastle. The computers also seem to love Sociedad, as 538’s La Liga predictions have them finishing 6th in the table.

Class 4: Relegation zone

Leganes
Levante
Huesca
Rayo Vallecano
Valladoid

As always, the three promoted teams are the ones that should be the most worried about going down. Huesca, Valladolid, and Rayo Vallecano will have to claw their way out of the bottom three and I think one of them will do it. Leganes could be in trouble after finishing a spot out of the relegation zone. Same goes for Alaves as well but the gap between them and the bottom teams was pretty big. Espanyol could be the upset pick to be in trouble for relegation but their defense should be able to save them. Levante is a team which should be worried too. They finished with 46 points last season and it’s not a hot take to say they might not finish around that same range again. It won’t be like last season where the bottom three going down were decided by March or so. This year will be much tougher.

Official table predictions:

  1. FC Barcelona

  2. Atletico Madrid

  3. Real Madrid

  4. Sevilla

  5. Valencia

  6. Real Betis

  7. Villarreal

  8. Athletic Bilbao

  9. Getafe

  10. Real Sociedad

  11. Eibar

  12. Celta Vigo

  13. Girona

  14. Alaves

  15. Espanyol

  16. Leganes

  17. Rayo Vallecano

  18. Levante

  19. Valladoild

  20. Huesca

The Counter Press EP 22 - La Liga preview

After reviewing the EPL last week, the Counter Press boys are back with another guest in Jeremy Beren(@JBBeren). We talk about the Spanish Super Cup, preview the upcoming La Liga season along with our table predictions as well as talk about the UEFA Super Cup.

Follow Josh: @highbiscuits
Follow Vijay: @VJVemu
Follow Jeremy Beren: @JBBeren

What 2 Watch: Wednesday, May 9th

Philadelphia 76ers v. Boston Celtics
8pm EST, TNT, TNTdrama.com or TNT app

The Sixers survived to play another day Monday, but history beckons... Teams who have gone down 0-3 in a Best-of-7 series are 0-129. TJ McConnell's playoff career high 19 points can't stop destiny. Boston needs the tune up before the Cavs come to down in the Eastern Conference Finals, but don't let this shit drag on... LeBron will be rested, and waiting...


Boston Red Sox v. New York Yankees
7pm EST, ESPN, ESPN.com, ESPN app

A pair of bombs from Giancarlo Stanton and 11 K's from Luis Severino pushed the Evil Empire past the Sox last night. They've won seven straight, 16 of their last 17 games, and are now tied with Boston for the best record in baseball. Yanks send Masahiro Tanaka to the mound against an undefeated Rick Porcello. Didn't I say this rivalry is back?


Arizona Diamondbacks v. Los Angeles Dodgers
10pm EST, MLB Network, MLB.TV, MLB At Bat app

D-Backs lefty Patrick Corbin tries to continue his early dominance against a Dodger team that's STRUGGLING to get going. Gotta suck blowing the 7th game of the World Series right? I can't relate... nevertheless Arizona will go for the short two-game sweep tonight. They've won eight of 11 against Los Doyers this season, who entered the series with a home OPS of just .697! Keep an eye out for Dodgers starter Alex Wood against Diamondback Steven Souza. The two had a heated conversation last night after Souza made a bad slide into third base and started chirping with Wood from the dugout.


Chelsea v. Huddersfield FC
3:00pm EST, NBCSN, NBC Sports App

The Blues host Huddersfield in the top flight for the first time since 1972. There's a lot riding for both clubs in this match - A win for Chelsea helps their chances of qualifying for the Champions League next season, while a win for Huddersfield secures top flight status for next season. At the same time, Tottenham (currently 4th in the EPL table) host Newcastle. Both Chelsea and the Spurs are in a battle with Champions League finalist Liverpool for the final two PL spots in next season's Champions League.


FC Barcelona v. Villarreal
2pm EST, BeIN Sports

Barcelona is three matches away from an unbeaten season in La Liga, a feat no other Spanish team has accomplished over a 38-game season. The talk on the pitch will be about the relentless attack of Messi and Suarez, who both knocked home goals in an El Classico tie with Real Madrid Sunday. The talk off the pitch will be about Atlètico Madrid's Antoine Griezzman and the possibility of the Frenchman joining the Catalans in the offseason.

Champions League QF second leg preview

After a world wind of first legs in the Champions League quarter finals, all eight teams must quickly get back into the swing of things. Unlike previous rounds, the ties are beginning to be played back to back as the Champions League revs up towards the final in Kiev. Despite some lopsided score lines (3 teams are up 3 goals on aggregate), there are still storylines and themes to discuss. Let’s get started

FC Barcelona vs. Roma (First leg: 4-1 Barcelona)

(AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

(AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

Although they didn’t look like they were playing their A game, Barcelona still cruised to a 4-1 win over Roma in the first leg at the Nou Camp. It was an interesting strategy from the Italian club in the first leg to go out and press Barcelona, unlike most teams. But the Catalans had two slices of luck fall their way as the two opening goals in the tie were Roma own goals. They were bitter pills to swallow for the away side and things got even worse when Gerard Pique made it 3-0. The scoreline didn’t reflect how the game was being played on the field. Roma were able to generate somes chances throughout the game but only were able to capitalize on one of them, scoring a crucial away goal thanks to Edin Dzeko. Despite being the only player who was consistently in Barcelona’s half, the striker found a chance to pounce and did just that. Even with Barcelona up 3-1, an away from Roma at least made things a little interesting heading to the second leg in Rome. But Luis Suarez put all hope away as he knocked in a 4th for the Catalans before the referee blew the final whistle.

Heading back home for the return leg, Roma will surely have to go out in attacking mode. But they have to be wary of a Barcelona counter attack, especially if Ernesto Valverde plays the likes of Ousmane Dembele on the wing with the usual pairing of Messi and Suarez. Having Sergio Busquets back in the midfield should help normalize the Catalans, who often looking shaky in the midfield without the 29 year old. Valverde made some interesting choices in his starting XI in the first leg so who honestly knows who he is going to put in the midfield or up top on the wing.

Roma will obviously come out and attack to make Barcelona sweat. Also given how Valverde’s tactics ensure Barcelona don’t get exposed, they may be more willing to let the Romans have possession. Valverde’s Barcelona preaches defensive structure than anything else and it likely be on display in the second leg. But that doesn't mean they still can’t get up in attack. Given the form Leo Messi is in, all Barcelona need are a couple of chances on the counter and that’s it.

Prediction: 2 - 1 Barcelona

Liverpool vs. Manchester City (First leg: 3-0 Liverpool)

IMG_8588.JPG

This was one of the bigger shockers in the first legs. Liverpool thrashing Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, scoring 3 goals in the first half and never looking back. It was clear Guardiola’s side did not look ready for this game at all. This was also another example of Guardiola’s downfall as he went away from the successful gameplan which has his side basically led his side to run the English Premier League. Putting a midfielder like Kevin De Bruyne on the wing didn’t help Manchester City either as it opened up their midfield to be exposed. However, credit should be given to Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side, who took advantage of the opportunities given to them. The likes of Mo Salah, Sadio Mane, and Roberto Firmino had a field day with acres of space to work with. Manchester City opened themselves vulnerable to speedy wingers which is Liverpool’s strength.

We have seen mistakes like this from Guardiola before as he played 3 at the back against Luis Enrique’s Barcelona side a couple of years ago in the first leg and it costed him dear. Like in Merseyside, Guardiola’s tactics backfired and it led to the same result he suffered at the hands of his former club, 3-0.

Now returning back to the Etihad for the second leg, Manchester City have a mountain to climb. But as long as Guardiola realizes his mistakes and runs with City’s normal lineup. Expect the Citizens to control a lot of the possession and generate a ton of chances. Get a goal early and it’s game on. It’s no secret that Liverpool’s defense has been suspect this whole season and don’t expect things to change over night.

But with all the controlling Manchester City will do in this game, they do play into Liverpool’s game plan of counter attacking and pressing. Klopp’s side is fine without the ball and if Manchester City slip up one moment, they could be picking the ball out of their own net in the next.

This second leg will be so hard to predict given how powerful City have shown to be but also at the fact of Liverpool being up 3-0. I say Manchester City will make this an interesting tie but Liverpool strike back with an away goal and it proves to be vital for them.

Prediction: 2-1 Manchester City

Real Madrid vs. Juventus (First leg: 3-0 Real Madrid)

AP

AP

Usually you hate to say ties are finished after the first leg but this one might as well be all but over.

It was a horror show for Juventus during the first leg in Turin. Despite controlling a lot of the action, the reigning Italian champions were bamboozled by Real Madrid and were witnesses to the one man wrecking crew of Cristiano Ronaldo.

Ronaldo had his way with Juventus the whole night and took advantage of two horrible defending mistakes by Juve centre backs for both of his goals. First, Barzagli failed to mark him in the box and Ronaldo pounced to poke home a cross for Real’s first away goal. Then a mistake by Chiellini spraked a crazy sequence with forced Gigi Buffon to make a sprawling save on Lucas Vazquez. Then the ball came to Dani Carvajal who crossed it into the middle of the penalty area. Ronaldo then went up and performed a bicycle kick to a tee. The ball landed in the corner of the Juventus net and it was the one which buried the spirits of the Old Lady. Marcelo added a third to add salt to the wound and then a red card by Paulo Dybala all be sealed Juventus’s fate.

Unless Juventus can go out and attack without fear, they won’t have a chance in this second leg. Problem is that it’s against their DNA to senselessly attack. But their backs are against the wall and they need 4 goals to advance. Time for Allegri to put Juve’s tactics on all out attack. But it will leave them more vulnerable at the back and with a hungry Ronaldo ready to pounce.

Prediction: 1-1

Bayern Munich vs. Sevilla (First leg: 2-1 Bayern Munich)

This was closest first leg out of all the ties and it was also the wackiest. Like Barcelona, Bayern Munich came out of the gate looking out of sorts and it costed them. Sevilla pounced on Bayern’s weariness with a goal and sprung the tie into life. But Bayern quickly responded as an own goal from Jesus Navas came about as a result of great build up play by the Bavarians. They then picked up a second goal in the second half thanks to Thiago. It left Bayern with two away goals but the early goal does Sevilla some hope.

As bad as Bayern have been away from home, they have been dominant in the Allianz Arena. That place is a fortress and very few teams come away from there the victors in a two way tie. The good news for Sevilla is the past three teams which have been successful at Allianz Arena have been Spanish teams. Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Atletico Madrid all had good performances to defeat Bayern in their own labyrinth and advance. Problem is that Sevilla isn’t like those other teams.

They also won’t have the luxury of walking into a two legged tie with the scoreline 0-0 like they had against Manchester United. But Sevilla have shown some resilience and won’t quit, it just likely won’t be enough. Bayern aren’t about to sit back and let Sevilla back into this tie, they will go for the jugular immediately and then open the flood gates. Or we could be in store for another La Liga team knocking out Bayern.

Prediction: 3-0 Bayern Munich