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Humiliation or redemption? League Cup final vs. Manchester City could save Manchester United’s season

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On Wednesday night Manchester United need to overturn a 2-1 deficit to reach David Moyes’ first major cup final in charge of the Red Devils.

Sunderland stand in United’s way at Old Trafford in the League Cup semifinal second leg, kick off at 2:45pm ET live on BeIN Sports in the USA, with 9,000 away fans expected to create quite a racket at one end of the famous stadium. Moyes and United hope the Black Cats fans won’t have much to cheer about.

If United do overturn the narrow first-leg defeat, which many including myself expect, then they will face fierce neighbors Manchester City at Wembley on March 2 in the Capital One Cup final.

Do fans of Manchester United really want that?

City just blew away West Ham 9-0 on aggregate in the other League Cup semifinal and they’ve already passed the 100 goal mark in their 35 outings so far in 2013-14.

United were pummeled, and I mean absolutely obliterated, at the Etihad back in September by their noisy neighbors in a damaging 4-1 loss that portrayed how much City had moved ahead of their rivals.

(MORE: League Cup semifinal – Three goals see Manchester City to 9-0, two-legged romp past West Ham)

It’s not untrue to say that most United fans are hoping they don’t beat Sunderland on Wednesday, to avoid the embarrassment of having their bottoms smacked in front of 90,000 at Wembley and billions watching across the world. One humiliation from City is about as much as United’s fans can handle for one season. If they make the League Cup final, it could happen three in a season (given the likelihood that City will stroll into Old Trafford and have their wicked way with United for the third season running).

But, and this is a big but, what if United made the final against City and won the trophy?

Surely it would be worth the chance of getting humiliated by your nearest and heavily despised rivals? The Charity Shielf aside, it would allow Moyes to lift his first meaningful trophy as United boss too.

A piece of silverware in his first season in charge would be more than Sir Alex Ferguson managed and it would clam everyone down about the rebuilding project the Scot has on his hands. Moyes’ dynasty would officially be off the ground and United could kick on for the final three months of the season with a renewed vigor and sense of belief that they can make the top four of the PL and make a deep run in the Champions League.

I say, why not?

Yes, City are blowing every team they play out of the water of late, heck even Barcelona are shuddering at the thought of visiting the Etihad in their last 16 UEFA Champions League tie and dealing with Alvaro Negredo, Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure, Vincent Kompany et al, but they have to lose sometime.

I’d hazard a guess that City wouldn’t fancy having all the pressure and weight of expectancy piled upon them as the favorites in a big cup final against their biggest rivals. Fans of the Citizens would be expecting a mauling of epic proportions. That air of optimism and self-confidence could be their own worst enemy and United may pounce to put one over on their nearest rivals. Remember the FA Cup final last season when Robert Mancini’s City crumbled and lost to massive underdogs Wigan at Wembley? They are a different team now, but the core of that side remains. The weight of expectancy in a big cup final was too much for some of City’s players to handle.

Is making the League Cup final an opportunity United can pass up? Or one they can’t afford to not take advantage of?

Maybe, just maybe, a League Cup trophy could be the catalyst for United’s woes to evaporate and see the Red Devils kick on for the remainder of the Premier League season.

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.

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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.