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UEFA Europa League preview: Mourinho eyes more hardware, Spurs to Belgium

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The battle for Pogba family bragging rights just so happens to be Jose Mourinho’s next step in a quest for lots of laurels at Manchester United.

Sure Mourinho won the Charity Shield to start the season, but the Man Utd boss is within a win of the EFL Cup, and in the final 16 of both the FA Cup and Europa League competitions.

Yeah he’s won them all before, but Mourinho would love clinching an automatic Champions League berth for next size by winning the Europa League.

[ MORE: Bayern 5-1 Arsenal | 3 things ]

The next step to that is Saint-Etienne, who visits Old Trafford on Thursday. The Ligue 1 side is more than a story line involving Florentin Pogba going up against little brother Paul Pogba of the Red Devils; You’ll remember Jordan Veretout and Henri Saivet from brief Premier League stints.

But, yes, the focus is on the Pogba family, including the matriarch according to Mourinho:

“I think it’s a nice destiny. I think only Mum Pogba is in a little bit of trouble, which is normal. It’s difficult for the lady to choose. It’s not difficult, it’s impossible for her to choose. I know from Paul that the mum wants a draw but next week one son will be happy and another one will be sad.”

Still, United will be expected to advance to the next round, as will fellow Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur.

Spurs are coming off a disappointing performance at Liverpool last weekend, and now visit Belgium for a match-up with KAA Gent. Captained by Nana Asare and coached by Hein Vanhaezebrouck, Gent will hope to keep Spurs off the scoreboard at home before a trip to London.

Other highlights on the schedule include Roma’s trip to Villarreal and Fiorentina’s visit to USMNT wideman Fabian Johnson and Borussia Monchengladbach.

Full schedule of Thursday’s first legs

11 a.m. EDT
Krasnodar vs. Fenerbahce

1 p.m. EDT
Alkmaar vs. Lyon
Astra Giurgiu vs. Genk
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Fiorentina
Rostov vs. Sparta Prague
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Copenhagen
Celta Vigo vs. Shakhtar Donetsk
Gent vs. Tottenham Hotspur
Olympiacos vs. Osmanlispor

3:05 p.m. EDT
Manchester United vs. Saint-Etienne
Anderlecht vs. Zenit Saint Petersburg
Villarreal vs. Roma
PAOK vs. Schalke
Hapoel Be’er Sheva vs. Besiktas
Athletic Bilbao vs. Apoel Nicosia
Legia Warsaw vs. Ajax

Suspended Villar says Spain in danger of missing World Cup

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The suspended president of the Spanish soccer federation, who is under investigation for corruption, tried Monday to stoke up fears that the country could be kicked out of the World Cup because of government interference.

Angel Maria Villar, who is free on bail, spoke at a news conference in Madrid and again denied any wrongdoing. He also blamed the government for meddling in the federation’s affairs by suspending him.

“This government is putting Spain’s participation in the World Cup at risk,” the 67-year-old Villar said in his first news conference since being arrested in July along with his son, Gorka Villar, and two other officials.

[ BLANC: I turned down USMNT talks ]

“The risk is serious,” Villar said. “The only party responsible for Spain not going to the World Cup will be the Spanish government.”

Villar spoke three days after FIFA said it was concerned about the independence of the Spanish soccer federation and that it would soon send a delegation to analyze the situation. FIFA made no mention of a possible suspension of the federation, which could keep Spain out of next year’s World Cup in Russia or even knock Real Madrid and Barcelona out of the Champions League.

Villar, who has spent time behind bars to impede the possible destruction of evidence, and the other three officials are being investigated for alleged improper management, misappropriation of funds, corruption and falsifying documents.

Villar resigned his vice presidencies of both FIFA and UEFA following his arrest. But he tried to stay on as the head of Spanish federation, a post he held for three decades.

His refusal to listen to pleas for him to step down led the Spanish government to suspend him from the post for one year pending the outcome of the investigation. Court documents allege that besides misappropriated funds, Villar is suspected of corrupting several regional federations by offering favors in exchange for votes.

Villar fired back at the government, saying his suspension had broken FIFA rules since it represented interference in the federation’s management.

“It’s easy to see that the source of concern was my arbitrary and unjustified removal from the presidency of the federation and for not respecting the presumption of innocence,” Villar said, adding that other teams are ready to take Spain’s place at the World Cup.

“Be careful. There are other powerful countries that didn’t qualify like Italy that are waiting to pounce and take our place,” Villar said.

Spain, which won the World Cup in 2010, is considered to be among the favorites for next year’s tournament.

Blanc: I turned down USMNT talks

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U.S. Soccer has not been inactive when it comes to the USMNT coaching search, despite its uncertainty with an impending presidential election.

Le Parisien has an interview with Laurent Blanc in which the ex-Bordeaux, France, and Paris Saint-Germain boss says he was approached by the United States Soccer Federation, but was not interested in the gig.

[ MORE: Making sense of the PL table ]

Blanc said an international job would have to touch his roots, and he’s most certainly not American. The tall 52-year-old had a glittering playing career with Saint-Etienne, Barcelona, Marseille, Inter Milan, and Manchester United amongst other stops.

More important, it shows that Sunil Gulati and his men have to some degree moved forward with keeping their imprint on the national team.

That’s a little worrying on any team: A hierarchy that may not be around much longer may be working to fill a position arguably more important than its own. It’d be nice to have them commit to not hiring anyone until after February’s election.

Premier League Preview: Everton vs. Swansea City

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  • Everton leads all-time 15W-9D-3L
  • BUT Swans unbeaten in 7 vs. Toffees
  • Toffees go ninth with win
  • Swans four back of safety

Everton hopes its up-turn in form can end three seasons of futility against visiting Swansea City when the two sides meet at Goodison Park on Monday (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Gylfi Sigurdsson gets a chance to face his former club for the first time, while longtime Swans man Ashley Williams may also feature for Sam Allardyce.

Swansea has no time to focus on the past, as Paul Clement‘s men sit deep in the drop zone. The last place Swans are four points shy of safety.

What they’re saying

Everton’s Ashley Williams on facing his former club (again)“The game is a little bit more important to me, I would be lying I said it wasn’t. You always want to play against your old teams and it’s a fixture you always look for.  I have been looking forward to this one and it will be nice to see old faces and old friends. It is a game we want to win and to keep a clean sheet in, especially at home, in order to keep our momentum going.”

Swansea City’s Roque Mesa on the match“This is a massive game for us. We need to pick up points because we are bottom and we need to improve our position. Everton have a new manager and their players have done very well under him – you can see their confidence has grown since he joined. But we did well against West Brom and picked up three points, which was very important. Then we faced Manchester City and they proved too good for us. They are the best team in the league, and unfortunately, we couldn’t match them on the night.”

Prediction

Swans need to move past that Man City loss and build on a 1-0 win over West Brom a few days previous. That may not be possible at Goodison, and the Welsh side would be thrilled to escape with a draw. It seems unlikely. Everton 2-1.

Report: Man City, Guardiola to discuss new contract this summer

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Manchester City does not want to let Pep Guardiola start the third year with the club without signing on for longer term.

Guardiola enters the third and final year of his deal in August, and the BBC reports that Man City plans to negotiate a new deal with the Catalan wizard this summer.

[ MORE: Making sense of the PL table ]

This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given City’s outstanding sophomore season under Guardiola.

Unbeaten City has an 11-point lead on the Premier League table after 18 weeks, with one draw and a PL record 16-straight wins. They have 56 goals scored, conceding just 12.

They’ve won five of six UEFA Champions League matches, only losing a match their opposition needed and they did not, 2-1 to Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine. City faces Basel next, and visits Leicester City in the League Cup quarterfinals Wednesday.