Barcelona

Three reasons why Barcelona need to win Copa del Rey final vs. Real Madrid

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Ahead of the Copa del Rey final in Valencia on Wednesday, reigning Spanish champions Barcelona are in a rut.

Not a small one, but a big old rut they have to climb out of, fast.

With the first Spanish title of the 2013-14 on the line, two of world soccer’s biggest rivals will square off for the silverware, with Barcelona in much more need of a win than Real Madrid.

(PREVIEW: Real Madrid vs. FC Barcelona, Copa del Rey final)

In the midst of two-straight defeats, which has seen their UEFA Champions League hopes ended by Atletico Madrid and their La Liga title ambitions dented after losing to midtable Granada, Barcelona is in free-fall before their cup final with Real.

Here’s three reasons why they have to win at the Mestalla.

To save Gerardo “Tata” Martino’s job

With many focusing on the difficult job David Moyes has had at succeeding Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United this season, at the Nou Camp Gerardo Martino has had an equally difficult task. The Argentine manager has tampered and altered the shape of the team, training methods and many of the other factors that have been common place at Barca for many years. It is not easy to replace Pep Guariola and his former assistant Tito Vilanova after their sensational record of success. Yet Martino’s side have looked disjointed and jaded in the last few months. If Tata doesn’t win any silverware this season, he will likely be on his way out. Some Barca fans may think getting rid of Martino is a good thing but we all know continuity often breads success. Chopping and changing rarely does.

Send the veterans off on the right note

Carlos Puyol is racing against injury to be fit for the final, yet even if he doesn’t take part, Barca’s players on the pitch must have Puyol and others on their mind. Puyol’s winning legacy at Barcelona will be remembered fondly for many years but finishing on a high note with a least one trophy to celebrate this season would be a good way to go. Along with Puyol, long -term ‘keeper Victor Valdes had his season ended through injury and he will likely never play for Barca again. The aging Xavi Hernandez may also see his time at Barcelona dwindling in the coming seasons, so this trophy isn’t just another game, it is a chance to grab a final piece of silverware for some of the clubs greatest every players.

Kick start their La Liga campaign

Confidence. It’s massive in soccer. Once you’re playing in a team that’s rolling, it’s difficult to explain that no matter who you’re up against, you know you will win. If Barcelona beat Real Madrid on Wednesday and lift a title in the process, they can be inspired by that with their last five La Liga games coming up. Right now they are four points off leaders Atletico Madrid, but Copa del Rey success could re-ignite the hunger in Barca’s players.

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.

Emre Can back in the Liverpool side ahead of Europa clash vs. Villarreal

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 14:  Emre Can of Liverpool battles for the ball with Idrissa Gana of Aston Villa during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Liverpool at Villa Park on February 14, 2016 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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Emre Can has recovered from an ankle injury and will be in Liverpool’s squad for their Europa League semifinal against Villarreal on Thursday night.

The German international has not played since April 14 when he was forced off in the Reds’ wild 4-3 win over Borussia Dortmund.

[ MORE: Liverpool prepping for Villarreal ]

Giving his team update on Wednesday, manager Jurgen Klopp said Can is back in the team, although captain Jordan Henderson is still out. The Reds enter the second leg trailing 1-0 on aggregate.

Another positive note out of Melwood was the return of Danny Ings to first-team training. The 23-year-old striker signed with Liverpool last summer, but managed just eight appearances before having his season end to a torn ACL in October. Ings is still far away from his full return, but it was a good sight to see him back on the pitch and making progress in his recovery.

Disappointed Pellegrini rues lack of offense in Man City’s loss to Real

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 04:  Sergio Aguero of Manchester City reacts during the UEFA Champions League semi final, second leg match between Real Madrid and Manchester City FC at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on May 4, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images )
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Manchester City put in an uninspired performance against Real Madrid on Wednesday, losing the match 1-0 and falling out of the UEFA Champions League.

[ RECAP: Real Madrid 1-0 Man City ]

The match was decided by just one goal, but the scoreline was flattering to City as they failed to create any kind of real chances at the Bernabeu. Over the two legs, City managed just two shots on target.

While City were wildly disappointing in the second leg, manager Manuel Pellegrini did not think the match was that one-sided, saying both teams struggled on the attack.

I am disappointed because I think that was a very close game with two teams who did not create many chances. The two teams were working with no-one making a difference.

It is not the best thing changing a defender very early but I don’t think we had any problems in defence, we had problems creating, same as Real Madrid. They did not create many chances.

Real Madrid was not in top form, but they still could have scored three or four goals on Wednesday. Joe Hart had to come up with some big saves to keep things close, as the England goalkeeper was by far City’s most valuable player throughout the tie.

[ MORE: Liverpool preparing for Europa League match vs. Villarreal ]

The absence of David Silva through injury certainly hurt City’s attack, but there was very little service moving forward from the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Yaya Toure. The poor play in the midfield left Sergio Aguero stranded alone up top, nearly invisible in the second leg.

Without service, Aguero was forced to track back to try and find the ball himself, leaving City no options to hit on the counter. For a tie between two of the most expensive teams in the world, neither side was truly impressive, but City surely disappointing.