ManchesterUnited

Premier League 2014-15 preview: Manchester United

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Where to begin? Manchester United looks to rebound off its most disappointing season in decades with a new manager in Dutch genius Louis van Gaal. The man who watched over a third place Netherlands finish at the World Cup has quite the resume and reputation, having led Ajax, Barcelona, AZ Alkmaar and Bayern Munich.

How much difference can one man make? We may find out, as van Gaal will be cooking with a lot of the same ingredients as his predecessor David Moyes. The Red Devils continue to be linked with a bevy of big names, but so far the major acquisitions have been Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera. That means LVG will be focusing on Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie… just like the sacked Moyes.

[RELATED: Full PL season preview]

Transfers In: Luke Shaw (Southampton), Ander Herrera (Bilbao)

Transfers Out: Ryan Giggs, Alexander Buttner (Dynamo Moscow), Patrice Evra (Juventus), Federico Macheda (Cardiff City), Nemanja Vidic (Inter Milan), Rio Ferdinand (Queens Park Rangers), Bebe (Benfica)

Full PL schedule | Watch Manchester United live via Live Extra | BPL on NBC schedule |

Last season: United’s disappointment was a relative one, as the Red Devils finished just five points out of Europe, scored the fifth-most goals in the Premier League and allowed the fifth-fewest. Where the club really failed was allowing Old Trafford to be far less than a fortress, as West Brom, Everton and Newcastle were teams to snap historic winless skids in the building. In fact, United posted seven of its 12 losses at home. That’s no good.

But remember, the team also advanced deep into the UEFA Champions League without a cup-tied Mata. Bayern Munich needed the second leg at home to pick up a win. Could LVG have made a difference simply in selection in preparation? Absolutely.

source: Getty ImagesStar player: Wayne Rooney

Hard to choose between Rooney and van Persie, but England’s bulldog led the Red Devils with 17 goals last season. RVP’s strike rate was slightly better, but Rooney makes more of a difference at both ends of the park (something that infuriates some fans). Rooney also requires the freedom to freelance, and that could become a problem with van Gaal if the wins aren’t coming and the freelancing has left gaps in the formation.

Coaches’ Corner: Louis van Gaal

As mentioned earlier, we’ll learn a lot about how much of a difference a manager can make from van Gaal’s first year in charge. The fact remains that players are far more important than a boss, but LVG won all five of his friendlies on U.S. soil and will have the full backing of van Persie as he looks to rebuild the United brand.

PST predicts: Manchester United returns to battle for a Top Four spot and needs January additions to push itself into the championship discussion. The late moves don’t come in time to push them above Chelsea or Manchester City, leaving the club to duke it out with Arsenal and Liverpool for 3rd and 4th place. Do they make it? Not as currently constructed. United finish fifth and LVG uses the summer of 2015 to build his title contender.

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.