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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.

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Introducing #AskJPW: On West Ham and the Top Four

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You’ve read his reports from the hallowed grounds of the Premier League, hung out with him during Facebook Lives outside those same stadia, and now there’s a new way to interact with ProSoccerTalk‘s lead writer and editor.

Joe Prince-Wright is now bringing you #AskJPW, a place to quiz the whiz on every aspect of the Premier League, and the goings-on around it.

[ MORE: (Very) Fresh faces for USMNT ]

Just use the #AskJPW (and follow him on Twitter at @JPW_NBCSports).

In this edition, Joe delves into fan trouble at West Ham, who will finish 2-4 on the table, and more.

Ronaldo versus Messi: Scoring race heats up in Spain

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MADRID (AP) Regardless of who wins the Spanish league title, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will be battling it out to the end.

Real Madrid doesn’t have much chance of keeping Barcelona from winning the league, but Ronaldo is making a strong run to snag the scoring title from Messi with nine matches remaining.

[ MORE: (Very) Fresh faces for USMNT ]

Ronaldo added another four goals in Madrid’s 6-3 win over Girona on Sunday, giving him 22 for the season. That is only three below Messi, who scored his 25th in Barcelona’s 2-0 win over Athletic Bilbao.

“Hopefully he can catch him,” Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said of Ronaldo. “It’s important for him and for us, too. When he’s playing well, the team plays well. He transmits an important and positive energy to the group. He’s always in very good form come the end of the season. He’s got an eye for goal and he’ll never lose that.”

Ronaldo has scored at least one goal in his last eight matches in all competitions. He has 21 goals in his last 11 games.

“He’s unbelievably ambitious and that comes across in every training session and in everything he does on the field,” Zidane said. “If he has a penalty in training, he will take it with the maximum concentration. It’s what makes him different from the rest.”

Ronaldo is trying to keep Messi from winning the top-scorer’s “Pichichi” trophy for the second consecutive year. The Argentina forward scored 37 league goals last season, 12 more than Ronaldo.

Ronaldo hasn’t won the award since 2014-15, when he had 48 goals. That was still shy of Messi’s record of 50 goals in 2011-12.

Despite’s Ronaldo’s impressive run, Madrid’s chances of repeating as league champion remain slim. Madrid trails Barcelona by 15 points after 29 matches. The teams will play again in May in a league match at Camp Nou. They could also meet in the Champions League semifinals or the final.

Messi scored twice against Madrid this season – in a 3-1 loss in the Spanish Super Cup final at the beginning of the season and in a 3-0 win at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in a league match late last year. Ronaldo scored against the Catalan club in that Spanish Super Cup game.

Messi has scored at least a goal in his last six matches in all competitions. He has scored at least 25 league goals in nine consecutive seasons with Barcelona.

“Messi is the best player in the world and he shows it game after game,” Athletic defender Unai Nunez said after his team’s loss to Barcelona on Sunday.

Ronaldo has scored at least 25 league goals in the last eight seasons. He scored four or more goals in a match with Madrid eight times.

“He’s on unbelievable form at the moment,” Madrid forward Lucas Vazquez said of Ronaldo. “He helps the team with his work, goals and assists. Everyone benefits from it.”

More AP Spanish soccer coverage:

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Manchester United triggers extension for Ashley Young

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Ashley Young has earned another year at Manchester United.

Multiple reports say Young will stay with the club at least through the 2018-19 season, having joined the club from Aston Villa in 2011.

[ MORE: Southampton momentum? ]

Young’s resurgent play under Jose Mourinho earned him a return to the England set-up, with a November cap his first since 2013. He’s been named Man of the Match four times in Premier League play this season.

The versatile 32-year-old wide player is a left back who can man midfield on both sides of the field as well as right back.

He has 320 Premier League appearances in his career, and has hit the pitch 193 times in all competitions for United. He has 74 career goals with 107 assists, 16 and 38 of which have come in a Red Devils shirt.

United beat Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday to clinch a place in the FA Cup semifinals, where it will face Tottenham Hotspur.

Mourinho is understandably under the microscope, but the work he’s done in restoring Ashley Young and Marouane Fellaini to previous form deserves credit.

Who’s this now? Digging into the USMNT roster

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The United States men’s national team will roll young for this month’s friendly against Paraguay in Cary, North Carolina.

Interim head coach Dave Sarachan named 17 players under the age of 24 for the match and that list does not include Christian Pulisic, who is getting needed respite.

[ MORE: Southampton momentum? ]

It’s an interesting list, with DeAndre Yedlin‘s 49 caps the most followed by Bobby Wood’s 36 and Darlington Nagbe’s 24.

And there are a bunch of “Who?” names for those who aren’t elbow deep in their knowledge of the U.S. player pool, so let’s dance with the ones Sarachan is bringing to North Carolina.

Andriya Novakovich is destroying the Netherlands second-tier, netting 18 times including six goals in his last five matches. Keeping in mind that even the country’s top flight is free-scoring, that’s impressive stuff from the former Reading man, a tall 21-year-old striker.

Shaq Moore became the first American to make a La Liga start since Oguchi Onyewu in 2013. The 21-year-old Levante right back got the playing time due to injury, making eight total appearances, but is back on the bench in recent weeks.

Antonee Robinson left Everton for a loan spell at Bolton Wanderers, and the 20-year-old could maybe, possibly, hopefully, please-sir-please be a long-term left back. It’s his first appearance in the U.S. set-up since 2014, and the English-American could start a recruiting battle should he continue his growth at Everton. He has five assists in more than 2,400 minutes between left back and left mid for Bolton.

Cameron Carter-Vickers is a name many in this space will know, but in case you don’t: The Spurs center back, 20, suffered through fits and starts in a Championship loan at Sheffield United, much like the club itself, which was cut short. Sent to Ipswich Town, “CCV” has been one of their finer players over the second half of the season.

And, just for fun, how might we see the Yanks line up in North Carolina?


Yedlin — Carter-Vickers — Miazga — Lichaj

Nagbe — McKennie — Adams — Saief

Wood — Novakovich