Europa League: Swansea get Valenica, draw kind to Tottenham and Wigan

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On Friday morning three British teams found out their opponents for the 2013-14 Europa League campaign.

And Premier League outfit Swansea were handed the toughest task to advance after landing Valencia in group A, as the Welsh side are competing in Europe for the first-time in over 22 years.

Michael Laudrup’s side face former winners Valencia and tough trips to Russia’s Kuban Krasnodar and Switzerland’s St Gallen. Many expect big things from the Swans with their possession based play more suited to European soccer than the hustle and bustle of the PL.

The Premier League’s other entrant, Tottenham Hotspur, face some tricky away trips to Eastern Europe as they landed Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala, FC Sheriff from Moldova and Norway’s Tromso in group K. Andre Villas-Boas has won the Europa League with FC Porto in the past and came agonizingly close to getting Spurs to the semifinals last year, as they were knocked out by Swiss side Basel in the quarterfinals on penalties. Tottenham will be one of the favorites this season.

The final British team in the competition is Championship side Wigan Athletic, after they qualified by winning the 2012-13 FA Cup. The Latics face the bizarre situation of being outside the English top-flight but still competing in one of Europe’s elite club competitions. This Europa League campaign also marks Wigan’s first-ever European adventure and Owen Coyle’s side face Maribor, Zulte Waregem and recent Champions League qualifiers Rubin Kazan in group D.

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Can AVB lead Spurs to the title after losing to Basel in the quarterfinals last season?

Plenty of US players will take part in Europa League action and USMNT striker Aron Johannsson and his AZ Alkmaar face PAOK Thessaloniki, Maccabi Haifa and Shakhter Karagandy. Elsewhere Terrence Boyd’s Rapid Vienna will face Dynamo Kiev, Genk and Thun. Look out for those two players to make a real splash.

Standing head and shoulders above the rest, there are a few tough groups stacked with big clubs in this seasons Europa League. Group J includes Italian side Lazio, Turkish team Trabzonspor, Legia Warsaw of Poland who almost qualified for the Champions League and Apollon Limassol from Cyprus. And Group I boasts regular Champions League qualifiers Lyon, La Liga outfit Real Betis, Guimaraes from Portugal and Croatian side Rijeka.

12 groups of four teams were drawn in Monaco as Europe’s second biggest club competition will begin play on September 19. The six matchdays will coincide with the Champions League dates, with games played on Thursday’s, and the group stages will finish on December 12. Then the eight third-placed Champions League teams join the 24 qualified Europa League teams for the knockout stages. This has been a controversial topic in Europe for many years but will go ahead again this season, as the 48 teams original Europa League sides battle it out to make the final in Turin at Juventus Stadium on May 14.

Full Europa League draw:

Group A: Valencia, Swansea, Kuban Krasnodar, St Gallen.

Group B: PSV Eindhoven, Dinamo Zagreb, Chornomorets Odesa, Ludogorets Razgrad.

Group C: Standard Liege, Salzburg, Elfsborg, Esbjerg.

Group D: Rubin Kazan, Wigan, Maribor, Zulte Waregem.

Group E: Fiorentina, Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, Pacos Ferreira, Pandurii Targu Jiu.

Group F: Bordeaux, APOEL, Eintracht, Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Group G: Dynamo Kiev, Genk, Rapid Vienna, Thun.

Group H: Sevilla, Freiburg, Estoril, Slovan Liberec.

Group I: Lyon, Real Betis, Guimaraes, Rijeka.

Group J: Lazio, Trabzonspor, Legia Warsaw, Apollon Limassol.

Group K: Tottenham, Anzhi Makhachkala, Sheriff, Tromso.

Group L: AZ Alkmaar, PAOK Thessaloniki, Maccabi Haifa, Shakhter Karagandy.

Zidane praises Ronaldo, says Real, Liverpool UCL experience “irrelevant”

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As Real Madrid prepares its bid to become the first three-peat winner of the European Cup since the mid-1970s, the Spanish giants still carrying the spirit of an outside, almost like an underdog.

[ MORE: Kane named England captain ]

You can hear it in Zinedine Zidane’s comments on himself, as he casually mentions that he’s not a great tactician.

There’s almost a feeling like he’s building up all of Madrid, including his players, to think of beating Liverpool in Saturday’s UEFA Champions League Final in Kiev like an upset.

And it comes off especially true when he discusses any criticism of his serial Ballon d’Or chaser, Cristiano Ronaldo:

“A player can go through some hard times, but when he does not score he does not get wound up. He knows that the next game he could maybe score two or three goals. That is what happened this year. That’s what makes him the best. There are players that do not thrive under pressure but some do thrive. He is one of those that does. The more you criticize him, the more you should beware. I am a quiet person and in the end, it is better to have Cristiano Ronaldo by your side because he shows year in year out that he is top dog. He will be vital, because he is the best there is.”

Zidane also said Real’s status as a two-time reigning champion, and Liverpool’s 11-year break between UCL finals, are “irrelevant.”

“We must prepare for the game, look at our opponent’s flaws and try to hurt them. It is one match and we are both playing away from home. We are ready and experience will not give us any edge at all. It’s a football match and we have to show that we want to win it.”

Transfer Gossip: Pep scouts de Ligt, Lewandowski to Chelsea?

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Just days after winning his first Premier League title, Pep Guardiola is already on the road, scouting for new signings.

One of these players that Manchester City is reportedly scouting – likely along with many European clubs – is Ajax’s young defensive wiz Matthijs de Ligt. Just 18-years old, de Ligt finished his second full season in the Ajax first team, playing 39 games across all competitions and scoring three goals.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

The youngster was even fast-tracked into the Netherlands National Team, starved of quality defenders as they are, but he made some crucial errors that led to the Oranje missing the World Cup and a second-straight tournament.

Guardiola is eying de Ligt as the eventual replacement for Vincent Kompany, but there’s a chance Guardiola could wait to sign him with Nicolas Otamendi, Aymeric Laporte and John Stones ahead of de Ligt in the pecking order. However, considering how well Davinson Sanchez has done in his time in England this season, de Ligt could in theory have a similar performance, assuming he adjusts physically.

Either way, should de Ligt join Man City, they’ll have two of the brightest young defenders in European football.

Here’s a look at some other transfer rumors across the Premier League and Europe:

(more…)

Sources: Patrick Vieira move to Nice finalized

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New York City FC’s fantastic start to 2018 will have to continue without its manager, as Patrick Vieira is set to move overseas.

Multiple sources have told Pro Soccer Talk that Vieira’s move to Ligue 1 side OGC Nice –which was reported by PST over the weekend — has been finalized.

The deal is for a two-year contract with the French club, who finished eighth place in Ligue 1 during the 2017/18 campaign.

French outlet L’Equipe has reported that NYCFC won’t receive a buyout for the remainder of Vieira’s contract, which was set to run through the conclusion of the 2018 MLS season in December.

Vieira was at NYCFC training on Tuesday, and is expected to be once again on Wednesday, per a source familiar with the situation.

Tomorrow’s training session will likely be Vieira’s last though, and he won’t travel to coach NYCFC for the team’s MLS match on Friday night against the Houston Dynamo.

There aren’t any indications to this point as to whether or not NYCFC has an interim manager in mind to replace the outgoing Vieira.

The 41-year-old manager has spent the last two-plus seasons in New York City, guiding NYCFC to back-to-back second-place finishes in the Eastern Conference. He took over at the team in 2016, following the firing of the team’s first-ever manager Jason Kreis (now at Orlando City).

Vieira will be replacing Lucien Favre at Nice, who recently left the club at the conclusion of the Ligue 1 season. Favre has since taken the vacant managerial position at Borussia Dortmund.

Over recent months, Vieira has been linked to several other European jobs, including Saint Etienne (Ligue 1) and Southampton (Premier League), neither of which escalated to a serious level of interest.

FIFA: Insufficient evidence of doping by Russia’s World Cup squad

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA says there is insufficient evidence any players in Russia’s World Cup squad have previously doped.

The governing body has been assessing information from the World Anti-Doping Agency, samples recovered from the Moscow lab, and information from its former director Grigory Rodchenkov.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Russia last week named a provisional 28-man squad, plus seven reserves for the World Cup, which kicks off in Moscow on June 14.

After investigating the players, FIFA says “insufficient evidence was found to assert an anti-doping rule violation. FIFA has informed the World Anti-Doping Agency of its conclusions, and WADA in turn has agreed with FIFA’s decision to close the cases.”

FIFA did not provide information on the status of investigations into players who are not in the World Cup squad.