File photo of Swansea City's manager Michael Laudrup gesturing during their English Premier League soccer match against Liverpool in Swansea

Europa League: Swansea get Valenica, draw kind to Tottenham and Wigan

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On Friday morning three British teams found out their opponents for the 2013-14 Europa League campaign.

And Premier League outfit Swansea were handed the toughest task to advance after landing Valencia in group A, as the Welsh side are competing in Europe for the first-time in over 22 years.

Michael Laudrup’s side face former winners Valencia and tough trips to Russia’s Kuban Krasnodar and Switzerland’s St Gallen. Many expect big things from the Swans with their possession based play more suited to European soccer than the hustle and bustle of the PL.

The Premier League’s other entrant, Tottenham Hotspur, face some tricky away trips to Eastern Europe as they landed Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala, FC Sheriff from Moldova and Norway’s Tromso in group K. Andre Villas-Boas has won the Europa League with FC Porto in the past and came agonizingly close to getting Spurs to the semifinals last year, as they were knocked out by Swiss side Basel in the quarterfinals on penalties. Tottenham will be one of the favorites this season.

The final British team in the competition is Championship side Wigan Athletic, after they qualified by winning the 2012-13 FA Cup. The Latics face the bizarre situation of being outside the English top-flight but still competing in one of Europe’s elite club competitions. This Europa League campaign also marks Wigan’s first-ever European adventure and Owen Coyle’s side face Maribor, Zulte Waregem and recent Champions League qualifiers Rubin Kazan in group D.

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Can AVB lead Spurs to the title after losing to Basel in the quarterfinals last season?

Plenty of US players will take part in Europa League action and USMNT striker Aron Johannsson and his AZ Alkmaar face PAOK Thessaloniki, Maccabi Haifa and Shakhter Karagandy. Elsewhere Terrence Boyd’s Rapid Vienna will face Dynamo Kiev, Genk and Thun. Look out for those two players to make a real splash.

Standing head and shoulders above the rest, there are a few tough groups stacked with big clubs in this seasons Europa League. Group J includes Italian side Lazio, Turkish team Trabzonspor, Legia Warsaw of Poland who almost qualified for the Champions League and Apollon Limassol from Cyprus. And Group I boasts regular Champions League qualifiers Lyon, La Liga outfit Real Betis, Guimaraes from Portugal and Croatian side Rijeka.

12 groups of four teams were drawn in Monaco as Europe’s second biggest club competition will begin play on September 19. The six matchdays will coincide with the Champions League dates, with games played on Thursday’s, and the group stages will finish on December 12. Then the eight third-placed Champions League teams join the 24 qualified Europa League teams for the knockout stages. This has been a controversial topic in Europe for many years but will go ahead again this season, as the 48 teams original Europa League sides battle it out to make the final in Turin at Juventus Stadium on May 14.

Full Europa League draw:

Group A: Valencia, Swansea, Kuban Krasnodar, St Gallen.

Group B: PSV Eindhoven, Dinamo Zagreb, Chornomorets Odesa, Ludogorets Razgrad.

Group C: Standard Liege, Salzburg, Elfsborg, Esbjerg.

Group D: Rubin Kazan, Wigan, Maribor, Zulte Waregem.

Group E: Fiorentina, Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, Pacos Ferreira, Pandurii Targu Jiu.

Group F: Bordeaux, APOEL, Eintracht, Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Group G: Dynamo Kiev, Genk, Rapid Vienna, Thun.

Group H: Sevilla, Freiburg, Estoril, Slovan Liberec.

Group I: Lyon, Real Betis, Guimaraes, Rijeka.

Group J: Lazio, Trabzonspor, Legia Warsaw, Apollon Limassol.

Group K: Tottenham, Anzhi Makhachkala, Sheriff, Tromso.

Group L: AZ Alkmaar, PAOK Thessaloniki, Maccabi Haifa, Shakhter Karagandy.

Seven unheralded stars of this Premier League season

during the Barclays Premier League match between A.F.C. Bournemouth and Tottenham Hotspur at Vitality Stadium on October 25, 2015 in Bournemouth, England.
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Look, it’s been a crazy year in the Premier League. Leicester City is top by five points, Chelsea is a bottom-half side, and not one of the league’s top three scorers hails from a team in last season’s Top Four.

So it follows that among the league’s other statistical leaders — advanced and traditional — are some surprisingly shining stars.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Or at least they aren’t mentioned a ton. We plan to rectify that here. By no means do we claim these statistical leaders without fault this season, but hats off to the good they’ve done (or, in some cases, the pain they’ve felt).

Most saves in a starring role

You wouldn’t know it from the goal totals these past few weeks, but Stoke City’s Jack Butland has been playing otherworldly between the sticks. His 87 saves lead the Premier League, and the Potters would be in the thick of a relegation battle if he hadn’t shone as brightly.

Ironman

Eleven players have played every minute of their side’s Premier League campaign this season (a 12th, Gareth Barry, has played all but one). Four of those 11 are goalkeepers, and six more are defenders. The only midfielder? Bournemouth’s South African standout Andrew Surman (above).

Top thief, too

Surman is also the league leader in interceptions with 92. The next seven players on the list, headed by Chris Smalling, are all defenders.

The most under-appreciated of the underdogs

Kante (Mark Thompson / Getty Images)

Leicester City has been fantastic, and people are quick to name Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy as big parts of the table-topping effort at King Power Stadium. Then, perhaps they’ll say something about goalkeeper Kaspar Schmeichel or defender Wes Morgan.

But how about the Premier League’s leader in tackles. Midfielder N'Golo Kante (right) has 115 tackles, 12 more than second-best Yohan Cabaye of Crystal Palace.

An all-expense paid journey to the massage parlor for…

Five players have been fouled more than 50 times this year, and you need to be around the ball a lot for that to happen. The four also-rans are Southampton’s Sadio Mane, Swansea City’s Andre Ayew, Everton’s Ross Barkley and Mahrez, but the man who deserved to skip to the head of the ice bath line is from Crystal Palace: Wilfried Zaha has been fouled 59 times. And that’s the amount of times the foulers were caught in the act.

Let Newcastle United’s captain climb in second, though; Fabricio Coloccini‘s 47 blocked shots are eight more than runners-up Neil Taylor (Swans) and Christian Fuchs (Leicester).

A man possessed

He hasn’t been heralded like a year ago, and most witnesses would tell you the midfielder’s been playing much worse. No, touches don’t equal success, but Cesc Fabregas‘ 2,027 credited touches are 74 more than the next player despite the fact that he’s the only player in the top four to have started less than 25 matches. He’s also completed 83 more passes than the closest competitor (Surman).

All-around stars

Advanced stats site Squawka uses an algorithm to generate statistics on who just might be the most complete player in the Premier League.

It’s certainly not foolproof, but the best player per-90 minutes would likely surprise you: Mousa Dembele of Spurs (Minimum 15 matches).

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As for who’s produced the most when numbers are averaged out over the entire game, one man rises to the top: Ross Barkley.

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Oft-targeted in the Premier League, Carvalho extends deal at Lisbon

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William Carvalho has been running through the rumor mill for ages, and Sporting Lisbon has made sure they’ll get their due if he ever stops somewhere else.

The Angola-born Portuguese defensive midfielder with 15 caps has extended his contract with Sporting through 2020, a date that carries him through his 28th birthday.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Carvalho is 23 now, and has been linked with loads of big name clubs from Manchester United to Chelsea, Arsenal to PSG.

His new buyout clause is said to be as high as $53 million, and Carvalho hopes his commitment calms his supporters.

“Sportinguistas, I say to you that I am very happy with the deal which I signed up to 2020 and that you will have total effort on my part to be champions.”

Sporting is tied with Benfica atop the Portuguese table, second on goal differential. The club leads third-place Porto by six points, and is still alive in the Europa League. Bayer Leverkusen is up next.

Klinsmann hints at Euro-heavy roster for World Cup qualifiers

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 08:  Danny Williams #14 of the United States looks on before an international friendly against Brazil at Gillette Stadium on September 8, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
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If your favorite Major League Soccer players don’t make the cut for Jurgen Klinsmann’s next roster, don’t think you won’t see them in the red, white and blue this summer.

[ JPW: What’s the best XI for USMNT’s World Cup qualifiers? ]

Perhaps it’ll be different for the players who were a part of January camp — stars Lee Nguyen and Steve Birnbaum chief among them — but Klinsmann says the late start of the MLS season can affect fitness for the critical qualifiers home and away to Guatemala.

That means there’s a better chance to see in-form Championship midfielder Danny Williams (above) or Pachuca’s Omar Gonzalez then, say, Orlando City’s Brek Shea or Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman.

From USSoccer.com:

“We are basically looking all over the place. We monitor all the players in Europe. We monitor all the players in Mexico, and obviously we can’t wait until MLS starts as well. It’s really kind of crucial that we see everybody getting in the best shape possible, everybody getting into a rhythm and making statements.

“Then you say, ‘Is the roster you see at the end of March the same one as Copa America?’ Probably not. The end of March comes early for MLS players. The European players are in the full swing, and also Mexican players because they started already a month ago with Liga MX. So we’ll be monitoring everyone.”

We’ve already covered the obstacle that is the CONCACAF-CONMEBOL Olympic qualifying playoff occurring at the same time as the Guatemala matches, but this is still good news for players in England, Germany and other European locales seeking caps in March.

Klopp on struggling Benteke: “He wants to score and we need him to score”

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09:  Christian Benteke of Liverpool reacts as he foiled by goalkeeper Darren Randolph of West Ham United during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Replay match between West Ham United and Liverpool at Boleyn Ground on February 9, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Jurgen Klopp had his appendix removed this weekend, but it’s doubtful he’s feeling as sore as his big Belgian striker.

Christian Benteke had the opportunity to put himself in the good graces of Liverpool fans with a number of decent chances in Tuesday’s FA Cup loss to West Ham, but couldn’t get the job done.

[ MORE: Match recap | Watch Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

In one case, Benteke put himself in a prime spot only to lash his shot wide of the post. Instead, he’s now at 11 appearances without a goal (despite ripping nine shots against the Irons).

From the BBC:

“I don’t believe in the easy goal. He has to carry on like this. It’s not the nicest moment in his career but he has to work hard. He wants to score and we need him to score. We will work on it in the days, weeks and months.”

Klopp maintained that Liverpool was “the better team” on the night — counterpart Slaven Bilic disagreed — despite conceding a pair of very similar looking goals.

The game could’ve avoided extra time through Benteke’s boots and body, but he couldn’t find his finish again.

The 25-year-old has seen his goal production drop by nearly half since joining from Aston Villa in the summer, and it’s sure to return… just maybe not under Klopp.