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Ronald Koeman plays down Barcelona speculation

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Ronald Koeman has moved to reassure Everton fans he will be sticking around at the Toffees (terrible pun klaxon) for the foreseeable future.

[ MORE: Mourinho to rest players?

After speaking to Catalan outlet Sport, Koeman was quoted as saying that he was “his dream” to return to Barcelona and manage the Nou Camp club, as well as to manage the Dutch national team.

Asked about that interview ahead of Everton’s trip to Swansea City on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCsports.com) Koeman played down talk of him heading to Barca this summer as the Spanish giants will lose manager Luis Enrique’s who is stepping down.

“I mentioned several times that I think it is human ambition that means for players, that means for managers. That is not changing my contract or my ambitions with Everton,” Koeman said. “I am really happy to be in Everton. I am looking forward to next season. It is a big project and I would like to be a part of that project. The interview is coming out of 25 years ago we won the title at Wembley, so it is normal they will ask me questions about the Barcelona job. There is no chance I will leave Everton before the end of my contract.”

Koeman’s current deal at Everton runs until 2019 and by that time the Toffees may be close to having a new waterfront stadium in the City of Liverpool plus if owner Farhad Moshiri’s continues to invest heavily in the squad, Koeman may well lead Everton in the UEFA Champions League as all Evertonians dream.

Yet his dreams of returning to the place where he won a Champions League title (his free kick handed Barca a 1-0 win against Sampdoria in the final at Wembley in 1992) as a player to manage the club appear to be at the forefront of his mind.

Over the past few years Koeman has had great success in the Premier League first with Southampton (7th place in 2014-15 and 6th place in 2015-16) and now with Everton as the Toffees can easily finish the season in fifth place.

However before his move to England his nomadic coaching career took him to Holland, Portugal and Spain and in the latter two countries he failed to inspire big clubs in Benfica and Valencia. That, plus his ill-fated stint as an assistant at Barcelona from 1998-00 when Louis Van Gaal was in charge, means that perhaps not everyone at Barcelona is convinced that Koeman is the right man for one of the biggest jobs in the game.

With the Barcelona job becoming available this summer, it may be a case of the wrong place at the wrong time for Koeman. However, with Lionel Messi 29-year-old and the likes of Luis Suarez and Neymar around, can he really turn down the chance to manager Barca if they come calling?

Everton fans have every right to be a little worried.

 

AT THE HALF: Man Utd lead Ajax in UEL final, thanks to Pogba (video)

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After 45 minutes of Wednesday’s Europa League final, between Manchester United and Ajax, in Stockholm, Sweden, Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils have one foot in next season’s UEFA Champions League.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

After a cagey opening 15 minutes that saw neither side create anything of consequence, Man United pulled ahead on a fair bit of luck in the 18th minute. Paul Pogba received the ball 25 yards from goal, took a touch toward goal and fired a low shot toward goal. Davinson Sanchez did everything he could to get his body in front of the strike, but the ball glanced off his shin, sending it one direction and goalkeeper Andre Onana the other.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Europa League final ] 

Having conceded just eight goals in 14.5 Europa League games thus far this season, would you bet on United conceding an equalizer in the final 45 minutes? Hit the link above to follow along, live.

Valverde dismisses deal to coach Barcelona

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MADRID (AP) Departing Athletic Bilbao coach Ernesto Valverde has been avoiding talk about a possible move to Barcelona, saying he has not entered into negotiations with any club.

Valverde did not confirm reports that he has already reached a deal to coach Barcelona next season, and did not dismiss taking a year off after four seasons at Athletic.

“I haven’t committed to any club, I haven’t talked to anybody,” Valverde said. “I have an agent and there are teams that have shown interest in me. Now I have to decide whether I will take on a new adventure, and it would have to be a challenging one.”

The 53-year-old Valverde has been widely touted to replace Luis Enrique, who announced earlier this year that he was tired and would not continue as Barcelona’s coach.

The Catalan club ends its season after the Copa del Rey final against Alaves on Saturday.

The Mundo Deportivo newspaper reported this week that Valverde has already reached a two-year deal with Barcelona, with an option for a third season. The newspaper said the announcement would be made next week.

“I don’t know what’s been published,” Valverde said. “I never talk about negotiations with clubs and that won’t change. This wouldn’t be the first time that I have offers from important clubs.”

He said there was still the possibility of taking some time off and not immediately taking over another club.

“Why not?” he said. “In the end I can do whatever I want, no?”

A former forward, Valverde played two seasons with Barcelona in the late 1980s. He spent six years with Athletic from 1990-96.

Valverde didn’t hide that he will be hoping Barcelona wins the Copa del Rey title this weekend, which would guarantee Athletic a spot in the Europa League next season. Athletic finished seventh in the Spanish league, but will play in the second-tier European competition with a Barcelona victory because the Catalan club will play in the Champions League. Only the teams in fifth and sixth places automatically qualify for the Europa League.

Valverde led Athletic to victory over Barcelona in the final of the Spanish Super Cup in 2015, which marked the team’s first title in more than three decades. He also coached the club from 2003-05.

Valverde has also coached Espanyol, Olympiakos, Villarreal and Valencia.

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

LIVE: Man United face Ajax in Europa League final

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Manchester United and Ajax square off in Stockholm, Sweden on Wednesday for the UEFA Europa League trophy and a place in the Champions League next season.

[ LIVE: Europa League final ] 

This a huge game for Jose Mourinho and United bad coming less than 48 hours after a suicide bomber killed 22 people in Manchester, this game has taken an entirely different complexion.

The mood around the Friends Arena is a somber one as Manchester United’s fans mourn those lost in the terror attack and people around the world send their love and prayers to Manchester.

Black armbands will be worn by both teams and there will be a minute’s silence before the game to honor the victims.

United have never won this trophy and they will have their work cut out against a young, talented Ajax side.

Click no the link above to follow the action live from Stockholm, while here at ProSoccerTalk we will have all the analysis, reaction and more from the final.

How will Man United line-up vs. Ajax in Europa League final?

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How will Jose Mourinho set up Manchester United for their crucial Europa League final against Ajax in Stockholm on Wednesday?

[ MORE: Europa League final preview ]

With an automatic UEFA Champions League spot on the line, United must win to get back to Europe’s top club competition next season. If they don’t it is back to the Europa League for Mourinho’s men.

This won’t be easy, though, as United’s defense has been ravaged by injuries in recent weeks and they’re without Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Local lad Marcus Rashford has to come up with the goods.

[ MORE: Manchester clubs react to bombing

Ajax’s young, attack-minded side will be led by Kasper Dolberg and Bertrand Traore, while Davy Klaassen will pull the strings in midfield.

Back to United, and with Mourinho confirming Sergio Romero would start in goal ahead of David De Gea, just like he has done for most of the Europa League campaign, we know one starter. In defense it is likely to be Phil Jones and Chris Smalling in the center with Eric Bailly suspended, Marcos Rojo out injured and the duo of Ashley Young and Luke Shaw also missing. Valencia and Blind should get the nod out wide with Darmian in reserve.

Midfield is where things get tricky. Michael Carrick‘s experience may be invaluable but Mourinho is likely to go with Fellaini’s grit (if he’s fit) in the engine room alongside Ander Herrera.

Ahead of them in the three attacking positions, Mkhitaryan and Pogba seem certainties to start and then it’s a straight battle between Lingard, Mata and Martial for the other spot. Lingard may just win that battle due to his superior defensive abilities, but it will be close.

Up top it will be Rashford to start with Wayne Rooney waiting in the wings in what could be his final game for United.

Take a look at our suggested lineup below. Do you agree?


Manchester United starting lineup vs. Ajax, Europa League final

—– Romero —–

— Valencia — Jones — Smalling — Blind —

—- Herrera —- Fellaini —-

— Mkhitaryan — Pogba — Lingard —

—– Rashford —–