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Laurent Koscielny to Barcelona gaining momentum

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We picked out one, but you don’t have look deep in your paper of choice to find a connection between Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny and Barcelona, a team that’s lacked depth in central defense for some time. While more glamorous rumors around the Catalan titans have focused on the type of goal scoring forward the Blaugrana have ben without since David Villa broke his leg, the age of (and dependency on) Carles Puyol makes central defense a more-pressing need.

Stylistically, a connection to Koscielny makes sense. Competent on the ball and athletic enough to handle himself in the one-on-one scenarios to which Barcelona subjects their central defenders, Koscielny seems like somebody who could slot right in to the left of Gerard Piqué. At 27 years old, he’s no prospect, but the French international is young enough to be classified as more than a stop-gap measure.

All of which prompts the question: Why would Arsenal sell? Koscielny was clearly Arsène Wenger’s best defender last season, and in a year in which the Gunners are expected to push on after a rumored summer spending spree, keeping Koscielny would seem crucial to their hopes to solidify a place among England’s top four. Even if they sold him for an unexpectedly large sum, Arsenal can’t afford to take a step back from Koscielny.

Is $20 million (€15 million) enough for a player whose contract reportedly runs through the 2016-17 season? Yes, if you’re a team that can afford to take a step back. Or if you’re a team that has to fill multiple holes in the squad. If you’re a club for whom $20 million would be a once-in-a-generation sale, capable of bankrolling new facilities and the club’s wages for years on end, then the sale makes sense. Twenty million bucks is hard to turn down.

But Arsenal’s argument may be more straight forward. In their heart, they may not see Koscielny, who they bought for around £8.5 million, as worth that much. For them, this may be a sell high proposition.

Still, the timing is all wrong. After a year in which Koscielny proved so valuable, it’s hard to see a sale doing anything but moving the club closer to fifth-place Spurs. And reportedly having money to burn in the summer’s market, Arsenal doesn’t need to sell.

Given the club would need to replace him to meet next year’s goals, it’s difficult to see what the Gunners would get out of this type of Koscielny sale.

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.