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CHAPMAN: Smart money is on Man City in all-English Champs League final

Chelsea and Manchester City will meet in the second all-English Champions League final in three years. Reuters

For the second time in three years there’s an all-English final in the Champions League.

While the smart money, money being the key word, is on Manchester City finally cashing in on their promise to be the best club in Europe, it’s quite remarkable to see Chelsea in the final next to them.

Make no mistake, this isn’t a plucky underdog story though. In fact, in the shadow of the Super League debacle, the spectacle of two of Europe’s most financially irresponsible teams playing in the final highlights the disparity that plagues the sport.

It shouldn’t be surprising that Chelsea are in the final considering they spent $375 million (Canadian) on players last summer alone. Any team that splashes that much cash in one shopping spree should be expected to reach the top. What you must take away from this run though is the job manager Thomas Tuchel has done at Chelsea.

Frank Lampard oversaw Chelsea’s extravagance in the transfer market last summer, but with the club sitting ninth and the new purchases looking like massive wastes of money, the club legend was sacked and Tuchel recruited. He now has Chelsea purring as they have rocketed into the top four, and find themselves now playing for Europe’s biggest prize.

They are full value for stunting a spent Real Madrid side, but the task before them in beating Manchester City is not only a daunting one but one they will preview post-haste. You have to wonder how both sides will manage their Premier League match this Saturday against each other. There will be decidedly less fanfare, but you wonder how adventurous either manager will be to learn all they can ahead of a the Final in Istanbul.

Obviously anything can happen in a one-off match, a dodgy penalty, a rash challenge, a lucky deflection can all turn the game. But the way City have locked things down at the back, and have a lethal attack purring thanks to young phenom Phil Foden, it looks like the Citizens will finally see a payoff to their massive investment.

In terms of the rest of the league, we’re treated to a full midweek schedule now the European finals are set on top of this weekend’s action. Because the Manchester United v. Liverpool game was postponed last week due to fan protests at Old Trafford, United now face three games in five days. They play Villa on Sunday, Leicester on Tuesday and finally play the Liverpool match on Thursday. All games are available on DAZN. (https://www.dazn.com/en-CA/l/european-soccer)

FRIDAY: Leicester City v. Newcastle United.
SATURDAY: Leeds United v. Tottenham Hotspur; Sheffield United v. Crystal Palace; Manchester City v. Chelsea; Liverpool v. Southampton.
SUNDAY: Wolverhampton Wanderers v. Brighton; Aston Villa v. Manchester United; West Ham United v. Everton; Arsenal v. West Bromwich Albion.
MONDAY: Fulham v. Burnley.
TUESDAY: Manchester United v. Leicester City; Southampton v. Crystal Palace.
WEDNESDAY: Chelsea v. Arsenal.
THURSDAY: Aston Villa v. Everton; Manchester United v. Liverpool.

La liga

What a weekend we have in La Liga as leaders Atletico, with 76 points, take on Barcelona, who have 74. Real Madrid, also on 74 (but with the tie-break on Barca because they swept their two league games), take on fourth-place Sevilla who have 70 points. An Atletico win would likely end Barca’s title push after their horrid start.

While Barca have seen increased production from formerly disappointing big stars, Antoine Griezemann, Frenkie De Jong and Ousmane Dembele, it’s been long-standing workhorse Lionel Messi who has 28 goals this season to lead the race for Spain’s Golden Boot. The key subplot to this game: can Luis Suarez, who was thrown out for essentially nothing by new Barca manager Ronald Koeman, ruin the party for his old club? Suarez still remains close to Messi but would love to stick the boot in to Koeman and add to his 19 goals this season.

Obviously one of Barca and Atletico will drop points, maybe both, and you wonder if Real will be able to capitalize. Sevilla is no easy task, and Real will be suffering an emotional hangover after losing in the Champions League semi-final to Chelsea without even really landing a glove on the Londoners. The Spanish press is also on another massive witch hunt for costly signing Eden Hazard. Plucked from Chelsea two seasons ago, the former Premier League player of the year has never hit anywhere near top gear in Spain. And images of him laughing and hugging and smiling with his former Chelsea teammates after they were eliminated have press and fans calling for him to be sold immediately.

Karim Benzema remains the only bankable player for Real this season, but compartmentalizing the disappointing loss in just a matter of days will be a difficult feat.

FRIDAY: Real Sociedad v. Elche.
SATURDAY: Alavés v. Levante; Barcelona v. Atlético Madrid; Cádiz v. Huesca; Athletic Bilbao v. Osasuna.
SUNDAY: Getafe v. Eibar; Valencia v. Real Valladolid; Villarreal v. Celta Vigo; Real Madrid v. Sevilla.
MONDAY: Real Betis v. Granada.
TUESDAY: Sevilla v. Valencia; Celta Vigo v. Getafe; Huesca v. Athletic Bilbao; Atlético Madrid v. Real Sociedad.
THURSDAY: Real Valladolid v. Villarreal; Eibar v. Real Betis; Granada v. Real Madrid

Serie A

With Inter running away with the title, the big news in Italy this week is one of the more puzzling hires in recent memory. After being nothing but an abject failure in London with Tottenham, and a stint in charge of Manchester United that created more drama than Coronation Street, Jose Mourinho was unveiled this week as the new Roma manager.

Roma is a landmark club that has slipped into irrelevance. After flirting with some Champions League success within the last five years, including a legendary comeback to knock out Barcelona, they are miles out of the Champions League spots and languishing in seventh place, a whopping 27 points behind Inter. Most had thought after the disastrous spots in Tottenham and Manchester that Mourinho’s days as a top manager were over and maybe the Portugal national team coach was the best job he would land. But Roma will be hoping the Italian league will spur on the magic that saw Mourinho win the treble with Inter, including the elusive Champions League, in 2010. Roma face Inter next Wednesday. All Serie A games are available on DAZN. https://www.dazn.com/en-CA/l/european-soccer

SATURDAY: Spezia v. Napoli; Udinese v. Bologna; Inter Milan v. Sampdoria; Fiorentina v. Lazio.
SUNDAY: Genoa v. Sassuolo; Benevento v. Cagliari; Parma v. Atalanta; Hellas Verona v. Torino; Roma v. Crotone; Juventus v. AC Milan.
TUESDAY: Napoli v. Udinese.
WEDNESDAY: Cagliari v. Fiorentina; Atalanta v. Benevento; Bologna v. Genoa; Inter Milan v. Roma; Lazio v. Parma; Sampdoria v. Spezia; Sassuolo v. Juventus; Torino v. AC Milan.
THURSDAY: Crotone v. Hellas Verona.

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