Liverpool

Second place stings, but Liverpool should be proud

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33/1.

Those were the odds on Liverpool winning the Premier League title on opening day.

At the moment, nothing will soften the blow to Liverpool fans who saw their team clutch the trophy with a vicegrip only to see it slip out like a buttered up watermelon.

However, what they accomplished is by far the most surprising result of the Premier League season, at least in the top half of the table.

And while at the moment the disappointment of missing a once-in-a-career result is resounding, it would behoove fans to see how far the club has come, and how they’ve accomplished something far greater than winning a title.

VIDEO: Steven Gerrard reflects on Liverpool season, muses about Reds’ future

Brendan Rodgers has pulled the club out of the quicksand grasp that had held the club down for so long.

Seventh. Eighth. Sixth. Seventh.

source: AP
At the moment the pain is real, but that pain will help drive Luis Suarez and company next season.

Those are Liverpool’s last four table finishes in the Premier League. Reds fans can kiss those days goodbye. Rodgers has assembled himself a sustainable club that should fare just fine in its first season back into Europe’s upper echelon.

The club, for one, is young. There are just three players on the entire roster over 30 years old, with one being backup goalkeeper Brad Jones and the other the timeless Steven Gerrard. Meanwhile, eight players are in the prime 24-27 range, while plenty still are even younger and still proved vital this season.

Additionally, the growth – and failure – this squad faced over the course of the season will be invaluable to their title search in future years.  Players like Joe Allen, Jordan Henderson, Simon Mignolet, Daniel Sturridge, and even Luis Suarez now know what it’s like to come so close and yet not seal the deal. That kind of chip on the shoulders of these players should scare the rest of the league next season.

So fans, do your grieving, comfort the lump in your throat knowing the title was so close and yet lost forever. It’s inevitable.

But remember this – the club’s illustrious history aside, none of what Liverpool accomplished this season was remotely conceivable this summer. The club was mired in a four-year seemingly unbreakable slump and wrapped in player turmoil.

Now, that all seems ancient history, and it’s on to bigger and better things. Congratulate Manchester City on their victory this time around, and log this time in your memory, because come next year, it’s likely to be a whole different feeling.

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.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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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.