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Breaking down how Real Madrid-Juventus reached the UCL final

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In a little over three weeks, Real Madrid and Juventus will meet at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff to decide this season’s UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: Real reaches third UCL final in four years, moves past Atletico ]

For Real, it could be the club’s third UCL crown in the past four seasons, an astounding feat that hasn’t been met in the Champions League Era. Meanwhile, Juventus will go for its third-ever Champions League/European Cup title, and would be the Italian side’s first since the 1995/96 season.

PST takes a brief look back at how the two sides reached the UCL final:

Real Madrid’s road to Cardiff

Zinedine Zidane’s side were never really in doubt of missing out on the knockout phase, but Real definitely had a challenging time with Borussia Dortmund, who went on to win Group F.

The Madridistas went on to finish second in the group phase, two points behind Dortmund, setting up a meeting with Napoli in the Round of 16.

From there, the La Liga side went off with a six-goal aggregate performance against their Italian opposition. What was even more impressive was that Real did this without capturing any goals from Cristiano Ronaldo.

That certainly wasn’t the case for the Portuguese star though in the quarterfinal round as Ronaldo went off for five goals against Bayern Munich, including a controversial hat-trick in the second leg. Many considered Bayern among the title favorites in the competition, furthering Real’s case for returning to the final.

The semifinals brought out an all-Madrid clash when Real took on Atletico, and it was Los Blancos that took a convincing lead into the second leg after Ronaldo boasted another hat-trick in leg 1.

Despite Atletico’s best efforts in the second leg, and even pulling the aggregate score back to 3-2, Isco’s first-half finish put the tie to bed, setting up Real’s meeting with Juventus.

Juventus’ road to Cardiff

It all started back in Group H, and while it may have a fairly challenging set of group stage opponents to deal with Juventus still handled their business comfortably and confidently.

Massimiliano Allegri’s side breezed through their six group stage matches with an unbeaten record and +9 goal differential, setting up a Round of 16 clash with FC Porto.

The Italian giants picked up two crucial away goals in Portugal courtesy of Marko Pjaca and Dani Alves, while Juventus put the tie to bed when things returned to Italy for the second leg.

The quarterfinals may have been Juve’s most impressive performance of all, as Allegri’s men disposed of mighty Barcelona, 3-0, over two legs. To that point, Juventus still hadn’t allowed a goal during the first two knockout rounds.

That brings us to the final four as the Serie A leaders met up with one of the most exciting attacks in all of Europe; Monaco.

Despite boasting the threats of Radamel Falcao, Kylian Mbappe and others, Juventus did exactly what it has prided itself on for years and that’s stifling opposing attacks. After notching two away goals in France, Mario Mandzukic and Dani Alves gave the Italians another pair of finishes to make it 4-1 on aggregate at the Juventus Stadium.

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 —–