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How will Louis van Gaal revolutionize Manchester United?

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Manchester United’s ‘bouncebackability’ will be tested to the max this season as Louis van Gaal arrives and tries to turn the Red Devils back into the imperious force they once were.

This will not be easy. Not at all. But if anyone can do it, van Gaal can.

[RELATED: PL season previews]

Last season, their first Premier League campaign without legendary boss Sir Alex Ferguson in charge, United finished in seventh under new manager David Moyes who didn’t finish out the campaign before being fired. That was their lowest ever finish in the PL era and something had to change.

[RELATED: How will United line up?]

Dutch national team boss van Gaal (who led his country to an unexpected semifinal berth at the 2014 World Cup this summer) is the man tasked with a monumental overhaul. So far, things have gone rather smoothly for LVG during preseason but we all know that counts for nowt as the new season is almost upon us. Winning the International Champions Cup after beating the likes of Real Madrid, Roma and Liverpool is all well and good during a U.S. tour but the 38 PL season is what matters most. With no European soccer to distract them this season, United’s sole focus will be on returning to the top four. At least.

How will van Gaal make that happen? Here are five steps the Dutchman will likely take to usher in a new era at Old Trafford.

source: Getty Images
Van Gaal’s no-nonsense approach has already won him plenty of fans on the terraces.

3-5-2 formation

Van Gaal loves the flexibility this formation gives him and he championed it with Holland at the World Cup this summer. There are plenty of square pegs in round holes at United right now, but in the long term it seems like the formation of the future. Just as Tiki-Taka too over in the last decade, expect a fluid 3-5-2 formation to become the most fashionable in soccer. With three ball-playing center backs, LVG stays true to his Dutch beliefs. The midfield three are interchangeable and are encouraged to drop deep and pick up the ball. Summer signing Ander Herrera has already shown he’s a star of the future in the holding role. While Juan Mata is given the role of chief creator in the hole behind two central strikers of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie. It is adaptable when United will be under pressure as the wing-backs will drop in to create a five-man defense. It also allows you to dictate the tempo but the players must be extremely fit to make it work.

Hunger, fight, hard work

That segue’s us nicely onto this next point. The passion, desire and determination to roll up the sleeves and grind out wins seemed to disappear from United last season. LVG is working hard to instill that back into his players. With Darren Fletcher back fit and leading the charge from central midfield, United have a figurehead as the wily Scot is a warrior in the engine room. Just like van Gaal had with Nigel de Jong with the Dutch team, he needs players who aren’t the most gifted but will graft and sacrifice themselves for the team. Look at the way he singled out the most expensive teenager in the world, Luke Shaw, and made him train on his own to up his fitness levels. That sent out as message to United’s players: they must be willing to give all they have to succeed.

Experience counts for everything

In order to succeed, experience is key. Now, after the fact, we can point to Moyes appointment last season as the wrong choice as he had no experience managing a side who are expected to win the league title and other trophies. Van Gaal has that, in abundance. LVG has won trophies wherever he has gone. He has claimed silverware at European giants Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich. He is no stranger to success and knows exactly what to do to achieve it. However he has never managed in the PL, so this may be his biggest challenge yet. Especially with Sir Alex Ferguson’s success hanging over him ominously from the get-go.

source: Getty Images
Mata and Rooney will be key as United’s players roll up their sleeves to succeed.

‘Us against them’ mentality returns

Fergie was famous for this. A wall has already been erected by LVG between his side, the press and the outside world. His no-nonsense approach has already won him plenty of fans with the Red Devils faithful as the similarities between his mentality and Sir Alex’s is striking. LVG has screamed and bellowed at his players in practice sessions this summer and has put them through their paces with a grueling routine. However, publicly he has been supportive of them (even Shaw) and it is clear that he wants to foster a family environment at Old Trafford.

Clean slate signifies new attitude, philosophy

The old United ‘family’ have gone. Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra have left this summer, while Nani, Anderson, Javier Hernandez, Marouane Fellaini and Rafael have apparently been told they are free to leave United should a suitable offer arrive. The ‘clearing of the deadwood’ so to speak, needed to happen last season and we all saw why. Veterans like Ferdinand, Evra and Vidic have been great servants for the club but it was one season too many. Now van Gaal can finally cast aside a group of players who were so loyal to Sir Alex that perhaps they weren’t willing to change their style under a new boss at United. Van Gaal has been ruthless and he has needed to be to provide a clean slate to every single Manchester United player. No matter how much you cost or what your name is, you are all the same to van Gaal. That is huge for United heading into the new season as a new attitude and philosophy arrives at old Trafford. Lets see how successful it is but one thing is certain, van Gaal has impressed at every hurdle so far. Now the biggest one is on the horizon: returning United to glory.

UEFA Europa League group stage: Man United, Saints handed tough draws

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 19:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United celebrates scoring the opening goal with Paul Pogba during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Southampton at Old Trafford on August 19, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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Premier League clubs Manchester United and Southampton were both handed tough, but exciting, draws in the 2016-17 group stage of the UEFA Europa League.

[ MORE: Europa League schedule

The draw, which took place in Monaco on Friday, saw Jose Mourinho’s United placed in Group A as they face Turkish giants Fenerbache, Dutch powerhouse Feyenoord and Ukrainian side Zorya Luhansk with some big games coming up at Old Trafford.

Saints, who have reached the group stage of the Europa League for the first-time in club history, face mouth-watering clashes against Inter Milan, while they also have tough games against Czech giants Sparta Prague and the champions of Israel Hapoel Beer-Sheva.

48 teams who had qualified for the Europa League group stage were split up into 12 groups of four teams with some other big ties cropping up as Group G looks particularly strong as it contains Ajax, Standard Liege, Celta Vigo and Panathinaikos.

The Europa League final will take place in Stockholm, Sweden at the Friends Arena on May 24, 2017.

Below is the draw in full, with the opening group games taking place on Thursday Sept. 15. There are six group games in total for each team and you can see the full schedule by clicking on the link above.


GROUP A
Manchester United
Fenerbache
Feyenoord
Zorya Luhansk

GROUP B
Olympiakos
APOEL FC
Young Boys
FC Astana

GROUP C
Anderlecht
St Etienne
FSV Mainz 05
Gabala

GROUP D
Zenit St Petersburg
AZ Alkmaar
Maccabi Tel-Aviv
Dundalk

GROUP E
Viktoria Plzen
AS Roma
Austria Wien
Astra Giurgiu

GROUP F
Athletic Bilbao
Genk
Rapid Wien
Sassuolo

GROUP G
Ajax
Standard Liege
Celta Vigo
Panathinaikos

GROUP H
Shakhtar Donetsk
SC Braga
Gent
Konyaspor

GROUP I
FC Schalke 04
FC Salzburg
Krasnodar
Nice

GROUP J
Fiorentina
PAOK FC
Slovan Liberec
Qarabag

GROUP K
Inter Milan
Sparta Prague
Southampton
Hapoel Beer-Sheva

GROUP L
Villarreal
Steaua Bucharest
FC Zurich
Osmanlispor

UEFA: Top four leagues guaranteed four teams in UCL from 2018

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 27:  UEFA  Champions League trophy is seen ahead of 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 David Ramos/Getty Images)
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The UEFA Champions League will see a big change for three seasons from the 2018-19 campaign.

[ MORE: UCL group stage draw ]

On Friday it was announced by UEFA that several changes, most notably the way teams qualify for the UCL, had been approved and will take place in the next competition cycle.

The biggest change and the one everyone is talking about is that from 2018 the teams who finish in the top four of the four highest ranked UEFA nations will automatically qualify for the UCL group stage.

[ MORE: Analyzing UCL draw for PL teams ]

That means no more UCL play-off for teams who finish fourth in the Premier League.

In a statement on their website, UEFA’s General Secretary ad interim Theodore Theodoridis revealed everyone is happy with the changes.

“The amendments made will continue to ensure qualification based on sporting merit, and the right of all associations and their clubs to compete in Europe’s elite club competitions. We are happy that European football remains united behind the concepts of solidarity, fair competition, fair distribution and good governance.”

Some argue that having 16 places guaranteed to teams from the top four nations in Europe — currently Spain, Germany, England and Italy — is a monopoly and limits the chances of smaller clubs from smaller nations from qualifying.

UEFA also revealed a new coefficient system with clubs no longer having a country share tacked on to their coefficient under most circumstances, plus historical success will be weighted in the coefficient rankings to take into account past UCL and Europa League titles won.

For example, Liverpool’s coefficient will likely increase despite not playing in Europe this season as instead of the coefficient being solely made up of how they and other English teams have performed in Europe over the past few years, now their five previous UCL titles will be weighted and their coefficient will improve due to past success.

Blatter says he will accept verdict as CAS appeal begins

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JULY 25:  FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter speaks during the Preliminary Draw of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia at The Konstantin Palace on July 25, 2015 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.  (Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images)
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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter arrived for his appeal hearing against a six-year ban from football on Thursday, pledging to accept the verdict of the Court of Arbitration for Sport

“I do hope it will be positive for me,” Blatter, sporting a light gray beard, told reporters at around 8 a.m. (0600 GMT) ahead of a hearing expected to last several hours.

The court’s verdict is expected within several weeks, and could be challenged in a further appeal to Switzerland’s supreme court.

The 80-year-old Blatter denies wrongdoing in authorizing a $2 million payment to former FIFA vice president Michel Platini in 2011. They claimed it was for backdated and uncontracted salary for work Platini did in advising Blatter from 1999 to 2002.

[ MORE: Ranking Champions League groups ]

The so-called “disloyal payment” led Blatter to be put under investigation for criminal mismanagement by Swiss federal prosecutors last September. That investigation is ongoing.

FIFA’s ethics committee judged the $2 million deal was a conflict of interest and initially banned Blatter and Platini for eight years last December. FIFA’s appeal committee cut both bans to six years.

Platini’s appeal to CAS was already judged in May, when Blatter appeared in person as a witness. Platini promised a further appeal to the Swiss Federal Tribunal after his ban was only cut from six to four years.

Platini arrived at the hearing around midday local time to be a witness. Both men have denied any wrongdoing.

Blatter’s comments Thursday suggest he would not pursue a federal case. Federal judges can intervene only if legal process is abused.

“We are football players, we learned to win but also we learned to lose and it will not be the end of the world,” Blatter said outside CAS.

The three-member panel for Blatter’s case is expected to respect the verdict of a separate panel which judged Platini.

A failure to overturn the ban for Blatter would likely end his hope to one day be named FIFA honorary president by its 211 member federations.

[ MORE: Ranking Champions League groups ]

The case already ended Platini’s chance to replace Blatter as FIFA president, and also forced him out of European governing body UEFA.

On Sept. 14, UEFA members will elect a successor to replace Platini who had a mandate through March 2019. By imposing a four-year ban, the CAS panel ensured UEFA had to replace Platini, rather than wait for him to return.

The “disloyal payment” emerged last year when Platini was strongly favored to win the election to replace Blatter, who had announced his departure plans after 17 years as president amid pressure from American and Swiss federal investigations of corruption implicating senior FIFA officials.

[ MORE: Bundesliga season primer ]

Both men were questioned at FIFA headquarters last September by Swiss investigators who were waiting for them outside an executive committee meeting.

During the turmoil in world football, Platini’s right-hand man at UEFA, Gianni Infantino, submitted an election candidacy on the entry deadline day and won the vote in February.

Arriving at the hearing with his Zurich-based lawyer Lorenz Erni, Blatter said he hoped the CAS panel “will understand that the payment made to Platini was really a debt that we had against him.”

“This is a principle, if you have debts you pay them,” Blatter said.

NASL weekend preview: Miami, Minnesota meet playoff fortunes head on

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There are still two full months of soccer to go in the NASL’s Fall Season, but this weekend could be a major day for the title fortunes of one squad in particular.

Miami FC and Minnesota United are level on points with 15 heading into Saturday’s match at FIU Stadium.

[ MORE: MLS Weekend Preview ]

If you’re unfamiliar, the NASL Playoffs involve four teams: the Spring champion (Indy Eleven), the Fall champion, and two other teams with the best combined record between seasons.

Miami’s played one fewer game, and both it and Minnesota — fresh off the news it’s headed to MLS in 2017 — are seven points shy of first-place FC Edmonton.

But Minnesota is on pace to make the playoffs through combined schedule, while Miami had a poor first half and would be better served to win the Fall Season if it wants a shot at the NASL Soccer Bowl Trophy.

Saturday
Carolina Railhawks at New York Cosmos
Rayo OKC at Tampa Bay Rowdies
Minnesota United at Miami FC

Sunday
Indy Eleven at Ottawa Fury
Puerto Rico at FC Edmonton