Everton, Tottenham, Hull City into next year’s Europa League

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Manchester United misses out entirely on European play as Tottenham’s 3-0 win over Aston Villa dumps the Red Devils out of Europa League contention.

Everton joins Spurs as qualifiers through table position in fifth and sixth respectively.

The FA Cup final often decides whether the 7th-place finisher gets to play in the Europa League, but in this case Arsenal have already qualified for the Champions League, so the runners-up get the place automatically. Those runners-up are Hull City, so Steve Bruce will have to navigate the depths of the Europa League next year.

MORE: Final Premier League standings

The fixture congestion coming from Europa League play is always a concern for mid-table clubs, and Bruce addressed the issue, adding that the draw of European play will bring players to the club.

“There’s a huge complication with Europe,” said Bruce. “However, let’s not derail it before we get into it. When the draw comes out in mid-July then to see our name in amongst it is fantastic. That’s when it will grab hold of people. Big clubs with huge traditions and histories. To be part of it is great.”

European play can be fatal for teams that aren’t equipped to cope with yet another competition, and Bruce will have to weigh an improbable run to the Europa League later stages with securing Premier League safety for yet another year.

It can be done, as Fulham showed a number of years ago with their incredible run to the competition’s final, just losing in extra time.

Tottenham, meanwhile, are no newcomers to the rigors of the competition, having played in the tournament for the last few years.  They fell to Benfica in the Round of 16 this past season, a decent run having beaten clubs like Dnipro and Anzhi.

Spurs manager Tim Sherwood insisted the competition was coveted by the club, saying,

“I think that is hugely important for a club like Tottenham,” Sherwood told Sky Sports. “Everyone aspires to be in the Champions League, but we know how difficult it is to actually achieve that. We’ve got a big squad of players and when they’re all fit… they need a games programme and I think the Europa League gives them opportunities to play games, keep themselves mentally prepared and physically ready.”

For Everton, they will be upset at missing out on a chance at the Champions League, which would have been a big boost to the club.

However, Roberto Martinez will no doubt relish his chance in the competition, making the playoff round through their 5th place finish.

The draw of European play will be most benficial to the Toffees, who have the most holes to fill following the expiry of a number of important loan deals. Europa League play along with the promise of a fight towards Champions League qualification would go a long way in convincing players like Romelu Lukaku to stick around.

The double-edged sword of European play rolls on, but ultimately the achievement is a mark of a successful season for these three clubs.

Spanish police dismantle match-fixing scheme in 3rd, 4th tiers

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MADRID (AP) Spanish police have dismantled a match-fixing scheme involving players and clubs in the country’s lower divisions.

Authorities said more than 20 people have been detained as part of the police operation launched on Monday, including players, although no names were immediately disclosed.

The matches under suspicion were in the third and fourth divisions this season and last season.

The match-fixing scheme reportedly involved Chinese betting sites.

The Spanish league said the operation was based on information collected by its analysts about suspicious activities.

UCL preview: Chelsea host Barcelona; Bayern vs. Besiktas

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  • Chelsea vs. Barcelona, at Stamford Bridge
  • Bayern Munich vs. Besiktas, at Allianz Arena
  • Champions League round of 16 resumes on Tuesday

[ UCL: Spurs fight back to draw Juventus | Liverpool thrash Porto in leg 1 ]

Chelsea, mired in some of their worst form since the disastrous 2015-16 season, welcome a Barcelona side enjoying one of the best six-month runs of results in the famed club’s entire history. The Blues have won just four of their last 12 games across all competitions, while the Blaugrana have lost once in 38 games.

On the plus side, Chelsea enter Tuesday’s colossal clash as winners of their last two games — back-to-back wins for the first time in 2018 — having outscored the likes of West Bromwich Albion and Hull City by a combined 7-0. Star striker Alvaro Morata returned to action against Hull after five weeks out with a back injury, thus Antonio Conte has something of a selection dilemma on his hands with the Spaniard perhaps only partially fit, and Olivier Giroud racking up a goal and three assists in the last two games, his first starts for the club.

Barcelona, meanwhile, have conceded just two goals in their last nine games (all competitions) and even managed to overturn their lone defeat, to Espanyol, and advance to the Copa del Rey semifinals (and eventually final). Despite losing Neymar in the summer, Barca mostly cruised through their Champions League group, only dropping points in draws away to Juventus and Olympiacos. Lionel Messi has, strangely, never scored a goal in his eight career appearances against Chelsea, a record which has been spoken about at length in the build-up to Tuesday — similarly to the goal-less record which plagued him against Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, whom he finally bested back in September.

[ MORE: Man City win big away to Basel | Real Madrid 3-1 PSG ]

In the other round-of-16 first-leg matchup on Tuesday, five-time (soon-to-be six) defending Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich host surprise winners of Group G, Besiktas, ahead of the likes of Monaco, RB Leipzig and Porto.

Since taking over on an interim basis (through the end of the season), Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes has won 21 of 22 games of which he’s been in charge, including four of six games during the group stage en route to finish second behind Paris Saint-Germain, while also racing out to a 19-point lead back home in Germany.

Aguero involved in clash with Wigan fan after FA Cupset

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Sergio Aguero was involved in a confrontation with a Wigan fan as ugly scenes marred the end of the third-division side’s shock FA Cup win over Manchester City on Monday.

[ MORE: Wigan shock Man City, the world and themselves ]

Fans spilled on to the pitch at DW Stadium as the host celebrated its 1-0 fifth-round win against the runaway English Premier League leader.

Supporters from both clubs were involved in disturbances, while television pictures appeared to show a home supporter and striker Aguero involved in a physical exchange.

Aguero appeared to hit the supporter after the fan said something to the player, and Aguero had to be held back by his City teammates.

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Advertising hoardings were also ripped out and thrown as a pitch invasion by Wigan fans got out of hand while the defeated City players were being escorted off the pitch.

Footage also appeared to show objects, including an advertising board, being thrown at police officers by fans in the City end.

Wigan shock themselves: “Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet”

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Wigan Athletic didn’t just shock Manchester City with their FA Cup fifth-round slaying of the runaway Premier League leaders; nor did they merely shock the rest of the footballing world; they also shocked themselves into disbelief, according to defender Dan Burn.

[ MORE: Goodbye, quadruple! Wigan bounce 10-man City from FA Cup ]

Speaking following Monday’s triumph over Pep Guardiola‘s quadruple-chasing side at the DW Stadium, Burn admitted he himself didn’t know what to make of the night that would undoubtedly highlight and change his own professional career — quotes from the BBC:

“Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet. It was a really tough game. The belief was always there. We’ve got Will Grigg, who does what he keeps doing.

“We pride ourselves on our clean sheets. We had a couple bad results before, so we wanted to prove ourselves, so a clean sheet against the best team in England is great.

“Once we scored, the fans really got behind us, just knew we needed to hang on. It was the longest 10 minutes of my life.”

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Manager Paul Cook was able to articulate his happiness and pride only slightly better — “It feels great” — but offered the highest of praises to his players, whom “had to ride [their] luck at times” during the game, and gave everything they had to the cause, because that’s the only way you beat a team like Man City:

“It feels great. It’s such a severe test. They’re such a strong side and move the ball so well. We had to ride our luck at times and the sending off is always a big incident.

“Our lads deserve credit for their work and some of the blocks they made were outstanding, and to beat Man City you have to do that.”