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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.

[ REPORT: Massive Arsenal bid for Mbappe ]

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.”

Premier League TV, streaming schedule

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More midweek action is coming up in the Premier League. Let the festive fun continue.

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The full TV schedule for this weekend is below, plus you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com,the NBC Sports App and by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold.

Gold also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: Premier League live here ] 

You can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” at for all the goals as they go in. Goal Rush is available via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App.

[ MORE: Premier League “Goal Rush” ] 

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here for the games streamed on NBCSports.com and here for the games on NBC Sports Gold.

Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days. Enjoy.


FULL TV SCHEDULE

Tuesday
2:45 p.m. ET: Burnley vs. Stoke City – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
2:45 p.m. ET: Crystal Palace vs. Watford – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
3 p.m. ET: Huddersfield Town vs. Chelsea – NBCSN [STREAM

Wednesday
2:45 p.m. ET: Swansea City vs. Manchester City – NBCSN [STREAM]
2:45.m. ET: Southampton vs. Leicester City – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
2:45 p.m. ET: Newcastle United vs. Everton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
3 p.m. ET: West Ham United vs. Arsenal – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
3 p.m. ET: Liverpool vs. West Brom – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
3 p.m. ET: Manchester United vs. Bournemouth – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
3 p.m. ET: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Brighton & Hove Albion – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]

Premier League notes: Wanyama, Bolasie return after long layoffs, Sakho injured

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Two Premier League clubs saw a pair of players return to the field after long spells on the sidelines.

Tottenham revealed that Victor Wanyama took part in training on Monday for the first time since suffering a knee injury in late August, which has kept him off the field since then. Wanyama started in both of Tottenham’s first two fixtures of the season before the injury.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

At the same time in the northwest of England, Yannick Bolasie returned to the field for Everton’s reserves for the first time since suffering a torn ACL last December against Manchester United. Everton manager Sam Allardyce hinted recently that Bolasie could even make the first team subs bench before the end of the calendar year as he continues his rehab.

(more…)

Report: Sporting KC on verge of signing French midfielder Croizet

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Sporting Kansas City could be adding some European flair to its midfield this offseason.

According to multiple reports, the MLS club is in negotiations to sign French midfielder Yohan Croizet, who currently plays for Belgian first division side KV Mechelen. Croizet, who reportedly cost Mechelen a transfer fee worth more than $1 million, has started all 15 games he’s played for his side this season but has been substituted off on seven occasions and Mechelen are currently struggling in the league, sitting in 13th place with 18 points from 18 games.

Croizet hasn’t played since November 17, and appears on his way out.

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Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes, a Hungarian-American, is no stranger to the European market and has brought over plenty of diamonds in the rough from Europe to star with Sporting KC. Some previous examples, though in different positions from Croizet, include current winger Gerso, Krisztián Németh, Uri Rosell, and Aurelien Collin.

It will be interesting to see where Croizet plays in the Sporting KC side should it sign him, and how he works with Benny Feilhaber, who is turning 33-years old in January.

Arsenal lands Ostersunds in Europa League draw

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Arsenal will face a team with an English connection in the UEFA Europa League Round of 32.

The Gunners were paired with Swedish side Ostersunds in the Europa League knockout stage draw Monday, with matches set to be played on February 15 and February 22. Ostersund are managed by Englishman Graham Potter, who played in the Championship and lower in England before starting his managerial career with Ostersunds in 2010 in the fourth tier of Swedish soccer.

[READ: UCL draw+analysis]

Ostersunds surprised many earlier this year winning the Swedish Cup to qualify for the Europa League, and then advanced out of a group that included Hertha Berlin and Athletic Bilbao.

It represents an interesting draw for Arsenal, which will have to balance the squad during a tough February. The weekend prior to the first-leg match is the second leg of the North London derby against Tottenham, and following the second match with Ostersunds is a showdown with Manchester City.

Here’s a look at how the rest of the draw shook out: