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Liverpool, Everton ready to take Wembley for Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal

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The Merseyside Derby wouldn’t need the “longest-running, first division derby in England” label to attract attention. That doesn’t make it any less true, though they’re not the only facets that distinguish the rivalry. Proximity, facilities (Everton was the original occupant of Liverpool’s home ground, Anfield), prestige, longevity or even primary colors can be used to hype the match. Even a derby neophyte can choose between blue and red.

On Saturday, you can also cite stakes. That’s when the friendly derby hits Wembley for the weekend’s first FA Cup semifinal (kickoff 7:30 a.m. ET). It’s the clubs’ first trip to England’s national stadium since 1989, when the “Mersey Monopoly” was concluding a stretch that saw Liverpool’s clubs win seven straight First Division titles.

On that day, Stuart McCall’s 89th minute equalizer sent the sides into extra time. There, McCall completed his double, though his second was bookended by goals from Liverpool substitute Ian Rush, the Welshman’s second giving the Reds an emotional victory five weeks after the Hillsborough disaster.

When they met in 1989, Mersey’s clubs were among the top tier’s elite. Now, they’re better described as “on the edge of Europe” (if Liverpool wasn’t already qualified for Europa League). Overcoming their now characteristic early season stumbles, Everton’s risen to seventh in league. To the embarrassment of their red rivals, the Toffees sit one spot above Liverpool. Despite spending commensurate with a league title-contender, Liverpool sits an awkward eighth, one point behind their cash-strapped rivals.

Everton’s limitations, born from their shallow pockets, are most evident up front. Whereas Liverpool’s brought forwards Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez in the last 14 months (financing the moves with the sale of Fernando Torres), Everton’s sold Louis Saha while bringing in Scotland-based Croatian (Nikica Jelavic from Rangers) and a relatively unknown Argentine (Denis Straqualursi from Tigre). Liverpool forked over £57.8 million for their duo. Everton spent an estimated £5 million on Jelavic, while Straqualursi’s on loan.

Despite their restraints, Saturday will see an Everton side with uncharacteristic depth. For years fans have seen the Toffees make due with thin squads, but on Saturday they could see Sylvain Distin, Tony Hibbert, Victor Anichebe, James McFadden and Stracqualursi as potential substitutes. It’s not depth Manchester City would envy, but for David Moyes, it provides an uncustomary number of options.

The January acquisitions of Jelavic, Darron Gibson (Manchester United), Stephen Pienaar (Tottenham) have allowed David Moyes to keep his team fresh through the notoriously trying Premier League winter, but against a Liverpool defense that has proved one of the league’s stingiest, Everton’s newest threat must maintain his hot streak. Jelavic, who scored 31 in 45 in the Scottish League, is already only one goal off the club’s league high-mark. That Anichebe leads the Toffees with only five Premier League goals says everything about Everton’s attacking options.

Scoring won’t be much easier at the other end of the park, where an impressive array of talent will try to contain a Liverpool attack that’s done well to contain itself. Phil Jagielka and John Heitenga are likely to start in front of Tim Howard, with Phil Neville and Leighton Baines in the wide positions. Shielding the defense will by Marouane Fellaini and Gibson. That rear-guard that’s more than capable of containing the Premier League’s 11th-ranked attack Should they break down, there’s always Tim Howard.

But despite Liverpool’s goalscoring problems in league, they’ve managed to find goals against Everton. In each of the last three derbies, Liverpool’s scored at least two goals, including a Steven Gerrard hat trick the last time they met (Mar. 13’s 3-0 win at Anfield). Rested mid-week at Blackburn, Gerard’s sure to be primed for Saturday’s game.

“It’s a proud day for me to lead the lads out at Wembley again and it’s a proud day for the city,” Gerrard told the media on Thursday. “It’s a massive game and it’s been a long time since Liverpool played Everton at Wembley so it’s a fantastic occasion for the supporters.”

If Wembley’s full, it will be the largest crowd to see a Merseyside Derby since 98,000 watched the 1986 FA Cup final. Then, two second half goals from Rush countered Gary Lineker’s opener, helping to make King Kenny the first player-manager to win the trophy.

Should Liverpool win Saturday, Dalglish will get his chance to add a third FA Cup to his managerial resumé.

Third goalies, selection issues, and words from the captain – they’ll be more a little later from Liverpool’s side of Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal. We’ll also take a look toward Sunday, when Chelsea and Tottenham complete the FA Cup’s rivalry weekend. (Update: And now here it is. -rf)

Bayern’s Vidal says “ugly” Atletico not deserved UCL finalists

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 27: Juanfran of Atletico Madrid and Arturo Vidal of Bayern Munich argue during the UEFA Champions League semi final first leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Bayern Muenchen at Vincente Calderon on April 27, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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Bayern Munich midfielder Arturo Vidal has declared “ugly” Atletico Madrid unworthy finalists in the UEFA Champions League.

Bayern was eliminated in the Champions League semifinal by Atleti on Tuesday, with Diego Simeone’s Spanish side advancing on away goals.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]

However, Vidal believed Bayern were the better team in the second leg, saying Atletico played “ugly football” to get through.

Today ugly football – Atletico – played against the best football in the world. The only time they saw the ball was for the goal.

They are going to be dreaming about us right up to the final. They did not have the ball, they took on the best team in the world, they took their chances and got to the final.

The best does not always win in football, like today. They are not deserved finalists.

Bayern Munich controlled more than 70-percent of possession and had 33 shots compared to Atletico’s nine, but those stats mean little as Antoine Griezmann’s away goal was enough to send Atleti to the final.

[ MORE: Former England striker Joe Cole headed to NASL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies ]

Atletico may not play the most attractive football, but after eliminating Barcelona and Bayern Munich in consecutive legs, it’s hard to argue anyone deserves this more than Simeone’s men.

Europa League preview: Liverpool, Shakhtar look to overcome Spanish foes

VILLARREAL, SPAIN - APRIL 28:  Cedric Bakambu of Villarreal is watched by the Liverpool defence during the UEFA Europa League semi final first leg match between Villarreal CF and Liverpool at Estadio El Madrigal on April 28, 2016 in Villarreal, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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The second leg of the Europa League semifinals kick off tomorrow, with two La Liga sides looking to make it an all-Spanish final.

[ MORE: Premier League Playback ]

Villarreal holds a 1-0 lead over Liverpool, while Sevilla scored two away goals in their 2-2 draw at Shakhtar Donetsk.

Liverpool vs. Villarreal – 3:05 p.m. ET
Villarreal won first leg 1-0

Adrian Lopez’s late winner in the first leg has given Villarreal a slight lead, while the Spanish side did well not to concede an away goal. However, Liverpool have overcome deficits at Anfield before, including their memorable 4-3 victory over Borussia Dortmund in the quarterfinals. Emre Can is back fit for the Reds, as manager Jurgen Klopp will hope his fellow German can help the team to a cup final in his first year in charge.

[ RELATED: Liverpool preparing for another big Thursday night at Anfield ]

Sevilla vs. Shakhtar Donetsk – 3:05 p.m. ET
First leg ended 2-2 draw 

Sevilla are looking to become the first team to win three consecutive Europa League titles as the two-time defending champions face off against Shakhtar Donetsk. Sevilla are in the driver’s seat after scoring two away goals in Ukraine, and will feel confident of advancing to the final with a great home record at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium.

Men in Blazers podcast: Celebrating Leicester’s title with Arlo White

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In the latest Men in Blazers podcast, Rog and Davo celebrate Leicester City’s improbable Premier League title with Leicester’s own Arlo White.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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European police say Russian mafia infiltrating soccer clubs

LISBON, PORTUGAL - NOVEMBER 04:  Sporting Lisbon fans celebrate after their team score a goal during the Portuguese Liga match between Sporting Lisbon and Uniao Leiria at the Alvalade XXI Stadium on November 4, 2005 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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LISBON, Portugal (AP) Portuguese and European police say they have broken up a cell of an important Russian mafia group that allegedly laundered money through European football clubs.

Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, said in a statement Wednesday the group identified EU football clubs in financial distress and infiltrated them with benefactors who brought much-needed cash.

[ MORE: Man City bounced from UCL ]

Once they were in control, the mobsters allegedly laundered millions of euros (dollars) through player transfers, TV rights deals and betting.

Portuguese and European police on Tuesday raided third-division Portuguese club Uniao de Leiria and arrested three key members of the Russian gang. Three other Portuguese clubs’ premises were searched.

Europol said the operation helped identify serious crimes in Austria, Germany, and the United Kingdom, though it gave no details.