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Contract signed, Barcelona’s new coach takes aim at Madrid

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Ernesto Valverde wants to start his tenure as Barcelona coach in the best way possible, by beating Real Madrid.

Shortly after becoming Barcelona’s 57th coach on Thursday, Valverde said his first goal was to get ready for a trio of “clasico” matches coming over the next few months.

“It makes the challenge we have ahead of us even bigger,” Valverde said about Barcelona’s friendly against Madrid in Miami on July 29 before the curtain-raising Spanish Super Cup in August.

[ MORE: USWNT star wins Champions League ]

“I just arrived, and I still have to think about everything, but it is important that the players find their form in the warm-up matches before the Super Cup,” Valverde said at his first news conference near Camp Nou. “We have a summer tour with games against tough teams, and the idea is to get ready for the Super Cup.”

The 53-year-old Valverde will be charged with reinvigorating a side that boasts one of the world’s most talented attacks in Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez, but finished last season behind Madrid in the Spanish league and the Champions League. Barcelona lost in the quarterfinals of Europe’s top-tier competition to Juventus, which Madrid will take on in Saturday’s final.

Barcelona announced on Monday that Valverde had agreed to a two-year contract with an option for a third season.

Valverde seems the perfect fit for Barcelona, given his knowledge of the club as a former player under coach Johan Cruyff in the 1980s and his experience as a well-traveled manager.

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He arrives after four noteworthy seasons at Athletic Bilbao. Having also coached successfully at Valencia, Villarreal, Espanyol and Greek club Olympiakos, Valverde has long been considered one of Spain’s sharpest soccer minds.

His serious, even-keeled demeanor should help him handle the high-pressure atmosphere surrounding Barcelona that left Luis Enrique in need of a long break.

“I know that the bar has been set very high,” Valverde said. “Barcelona has had great coaches. I think about Luis Enrique, (Pep) Guardiola, Tito Vilanova, Cruyff. I know the demands of this club and the challenge I face.”

While Valverde said he would “adapt” to Barcelona’s ball-possession style forged under Cruyff and perfected by Guardiola, his Bilbao sides displayed the intensity in pressuring up the field that Barcelona lacked last season.

Valverde has also proven to get the most out of his players, something which bodes well for a Barcelona youth program which has lost its weight on the first team. He said he plans to “have a fluid relationship” with the reserve team.

Despite being limited by Bilbao’s policy of only having players from the small Basque Country region or neighboring areas, Valverde made the club into one of the better sides in Spain. The club finished fourth, qualifying for the Champions League, in his first season and never finished below seventh through all four campaigns.

Valverde will now be making the jump from Bilbao’s homegrown squad to Barcelona’s collection of stars.

“How can I put it? Bilbao’s market for players is not the same as Barca’s,” Valverde said. But “I have never met players who were born millionaires. I believe I will find a young group of players who want to win.”

Facebook, Amazon Prime could bid for Premier League streaming rights

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One day in the not-too-distant future, we could be watching Premier League games on Facebook or Amazon’s streaming services.

That’s according to Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, who confirmed that both Facebook and Amazon are expected to to bid for the Premier League’s broadcast rights when they open again in 2022.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

“Absolutely I think they’ll enter the mix,” Woodward said. “Anecdotally there was strong interest in the last cycle, and we’re hearing that around the Premier League table, but we’re also hearing that from a European perspective as well in terms of interest in the Champions League and Europa League rights.

“In the wider picture you have to look at what’s happening elsewhere at the moment.There isn’t any clear European sale to these kind of partners at the moment. But looking at the interest Facebook and Amazon had in the Indian Premier League rights, anecdotally it sounded like very big numbers.

“So I do think we are going to see an increase in engagement from these and we would welcome the interest. I think it’s going to be increasingly important to digitally engage with fans, and we think we can be complementary to partners like this coming in.”

According to reports, Facebook bid $600 million to stream India’s cricket league aptly named the Indian Premier League but lost out to 21st Century Fox’s Star India, which bid for the television and streaming rights together.

Currently, NBC owns the Premier League rights in the U.S., including streaming rights, but perhaps in the future we could see separate deals for television and streaming sites.

However, more than likely, pressure from Facebook and Amazon Prime could drive the cost of the rights up, ensuring an even bigger payout for all 20 Premier League clubs.

On This Day: The Battle of Old Trafford

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Fourteen years ago today, Arsenal headed north to Manchester for a famous matchup with Manchester United.

Taking the field at Old Trafford, Arsenal were unbeaten to start the season, having won its first four Premier League matches before drawing a week prior at home against Portsmouth. Manchester United meanwhile had four wins and one loss in that span.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

By way of Arsenal’s FA Cup title and Man United’s Premier League title the year before, the two teams met for the annual Community Shield a month earlier, and the game descended into a physical battle. Five yellow cards were shown, Arsenal substitute Francis Jeffers was shown a red card and defender Sol Campbell was later banned for kicking at an opponent, and Man United – backed by a young Tim Howard in goal – won 4-3 on penalty kicks after the score was tied at 1-1 after extra time.

With numerous physical encounters over the years, the September 21 encounter was shaping up to be another monumental showdown, and in terms of physicality, it didn’t disappoint.

Each team were shown four yellow cards and there was a combined 31 fouls. The match took a turn when Patrick Vieira was shown a second yellow card and subsequent red card for kicking out at Man United’s Ruud Van Nistelrooy after Van Nistelrooy had fouled Vieira going for a header. The decision set off a scrum in the middle of the field.

Despite being down to ten men, Arsenal held on until the final minutes, when Martin Keown was whistled for a foul in the box on Diego Forlan, giving Man United a penalty kick. But whether it was karma or lady luck, Van Nistelrooy’s penalty clanged off the crossbar and away to safety. Arsenal held on for a goalless draw, which helped boost the team’s belief in itself.

The Gunners went on to finish the 2013-2014 season undefeated, the only team to finish a Premier League season without a defeat. Man United wound up taking the FA Cup crown, settling for third place in the Premier League.

Watch some highlights from the match below.

Former Sunderland forward Scocco scores five goals for River Plate

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Veteran forward Ignacio “Nacho” Scocco is quickly endearing himself to the River Plate faithful.

Nearly three months since joining River, Scocco scored an incredible five goals in the second leg of his team’s Copa Libertadores quarterfinal matchup with Bolivian side Jorge Wilstermann. Scocco scored a first half hat-trick and added two more in the second half as River turned around a 3-0 deficit heading into the second leg.

Scocco had a mostly frustrating spell in 2014 ahead of the World Cup with Sunderland, joining the club as they staved off relegation by one point. Scocco failed to score for Sunderland in eight appearances, all off the bench.

However, since then, he returned to his native Argentina and starred for his hometown club Newell’s Old Boys before moving this summer to River as a replacement for Sebastián Driussi, who completed a transfer to Zenit St. Petersburg.

Here’s a look at all of Scocco’s goals Thursday evening.

Tammy Abraham denies switching national teams

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Fans of the England National Team may still have a chance to see Tammy Abraham don the Three Lions crest one day.

Abraham refuted reports from earlier Thursday that he was in the process of switching his national team to Nigeria from England. The 19-year-old Swansea City forward on-loan from Chelsea has played as high as the England Under-21 Men’s National Team but because of his Nigerian father, he’s eligible for the African nation.

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Abraham confirmed that he had met with Nigeria Football Federation chief Amaju Pinnick after Swansea’s last game, but denied that he was looking to play for the Super Eagles.

“I have informed The FA that I remain available for selection for England,” Abraham said, via the BBC. “Contrary to reports in the media I would like to clarify that I have not agreed to switch my national team allegiance. I can confirm I met the President of the NFF after our last game against Tottenham at Wembley on Saturday given he is a friend of my father. However, any suggestion that I have made a decision to change my international representation is incorrect and wide of the mark.”

Earlier in the day, reports emerged that Pinnick said the process was underway for Abraham to switch his international allegiance.

Abraham’s apparently decision to remain with the England set-up is good news for his club Swansea City, who will get to keep him closer to Wales on a regular basis, but Abraham may be missing a chance to play senior national team soccer at a young age.