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.

Southampton: Van Dijk won’t leave, selling days likely done

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - MARCH 29:  Ralph Krueger the Southampton Chairman looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Newcastle United at St Mary's Stadium on March 29, 2014 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
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Ralph Krueger doesn’t plan on selling any more big Southampton stars, and there’s none brighter than Virgil Van Dijk.

The Dutchman is perhaps the best center back in the Premier League, regularly linked with transfers to anywhere from Manchester City to Liverpool.

[ MORE: Liverpool hires new CEO ]

But Krueger says Saints have had enough of selling big assets. Southampton has sold Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Sadio Mane, and Nathaniel Clyne in the past three seasons, and those are just the names to go to Liverpool. Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama have also moved on from St. Mary’s.

From Sky Sports:

“We would like to move away from that and we feel confident this summer will be a lot quieter in Southampton and we can keep the core of this team moving forward for a few years.

“That is going to be important when you see how excellent the group is right now and how exciting the football is. The game we are playing is a pleasure to watch and a pleasure to be part of.”

Saints were the more effective side in a 3-2 EFL Cup Final loss to Manchester United this weekend, but are well off the pace in the race to make back-to-back trips into Europe.

It will be hard to hold onto Van Dijk and even new bright light Manolo Gabbiadini without Europe, but Krueger is a strong leader with the ability to convince almost anyone to buy into a plan.

Real Salt Lake signs Plata to multi-year DP deal

Real Salt Lake forward Joao Plata (8) gestures while walking during an MLS soccer game against New York City FC Saturday, May 23, 2015, in Sandy, Utah. (Leah Hogsten/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP) DESERET NEWS OUT; LOCAL TELEVISION OUT; MAGS OUT
Leah Hogsten/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP
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SANDY, Utah (AP) Real Salt Lake has re-signed forward Joao Plata to a multi-year contract and he will continue to hold a designated-player spot.

The 24-year-old was acquired from Toronto FC before the 2013 season and he has 30 goals and 30 assists in regular-season play with RSL.

[ MORE: Liverpool flops vs LCFC ]

Plata ranks No. 3 on the team’s all-time assists list and No. 5 in goals. He has 33 goals and 35 assists during his MLS career.

Real Salt Lake begins the season Saturday when it hosts Toronto FC.

Gotze out indefinitely with metabolism disorder

ROTTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - NOVEMBER 06:  Mario Goetze (R) and Ann-Kathrin Broemmel attend the MTV Europe Music Awards 2016 on November 6, 2016 in Rotterdam, Netherlands.  (Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images for MTV)
Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images for MTV
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Mario Gotze’s last few seasons have not fulfilled the expectations thrust about the World Cup-winning attacker.

Gotze, 24, scored the 113th minute goal that lifted Germany past Argentina in the 2014 World Cup, but has endured successive disappointing seasons between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.

[ MORE: Liverpool hires new CEO ]

With just two goals this season, Gotze has played just 24 minutes since BVB came back from winter break. On Monday, the club revealed why: a metabolism disorder that will keep him out for an indefinite period of time. From Sky Sports:

“We are glad to know the reasons for Mario’s complaints and we are convinced that after recovering he will give us extra quality with his exceptional abilities,” said Dortmund’s director of sport Michael Zorc.

“Mario gets the full backing and maximum support from all of us at Borussia Dortmund on his way back.”

It’s been a while since we’ve seen Gotze at his best, and here’s hoping this problem is both curable and the reason for his struggles.

Liverpool hires EA Sports executive as new CEO

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Liverpool has named Peter Moore as the successor to chief executive office Ian Ayre.

Ayre, 53, is off to 1860 Munich this summer, and has stepped down early to allow Moore to take over.

[ MORE: Liverpool flops vs LCFC ]

A Liverpool-born executive, Moore was the chief operating officer at EA Sports and has also worked with Microsoft and SEGA.

The move “completes a transitional phase” which saw several new names join the fray. From The Liverpool Echo:

The appointment completes a transition plan by FSG which included appointing Michael Edwards as sporting director while Billy Hogan was promoted to the role of managing director and chief commercial officer.