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Newcastle owner blasts Rafa Benitez for ‘money first’ attitude

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Newcastle owner Mike Ashley ripped former manager Rafa Benitez for an apparent “money first” attitude that he believes doomed any chance of a contract extension this summer.

Benitez, a fan favorite thanks to his sparkling resume and excellent results with very little to work with, departed the club this summer for Chinese side Dalian Yifang after lengthy negotiations for an extensions with Newcastle came to an end with no agreement. The Spaniard had stuck with the club through a season in the Championship and guided the Magpies back to the Premier League, helping finish safely in 13th last season.

However, Ashley says that Benitez did not, in fact, care about the club but instead cared only about money. According to the Newcastle owner, Benitez knew he had leverage in negotiations and hoped to use that to his advantage. “Every time with Rafa it was impossible,” Ashley said in a lengthy interview with the Daily Mail. “There was always another thing, and the next thing, and the next thing. He asked for a 50 per cent pay increase and I think he did that because he knew it couldn’t work. And if we had agreed to that, I think it would have been something else. And everyone thinks we lost him because we wouldn’t pay a couple of quid more. He had the microphone and we didn’t.”

Ashley even goes as far as to say he brought up the idea of an eight-year contract with Benitez, comparing the club to his other financial investments. “At one stage they were talking about a one-year extension and I said my preference would be for an eight-year contract,” Ashley said. “That’s what I have to do in business when I invest. I have to take a medium to long-term view. I don’t worry about my takings on a Saturday. And we are now talking planning and strategy.”

The Sport Direct CEO went on to say that he believes the deal with the Chinese club was already finalized and that Benitez simply stayed in negotiations with Newcastle for appearance. “Looking back, though, it doesn’t really matter what Rafa asked for because I think the Chinese thing was done. He had talked about what he could earn in China previously. We were not even slightly surprised by that move.”

Finally, Ashley rambles about the possibility of a deal for Hoffenheim striker Joelinton, saying that the 22-year-old was Benitez’s number one target, but when it came time for the Spaniard to sign off on the deal, he balked and wanted his own situation sorted before securing the player.

The Magpies owner is a disliked figure among Newcastle fans, and it’s likely that very little from Ashley can be taken at face value. Ultimately, whether what Ashley is saying is true or not, Benitez knew he had leverage based on positive results and wished to be compensated fairly for not just his results at Newcastle, but also for the pedigree of a Champions League winning manager to stay at a mid-table Premier League side. Benitez often talked in the media about having a long-term vision for the club, and ultimately Ashley proved at the negotiating table he was not willing to pay the price for that long-term plan, even if it meant spending more than the club had previously planned to maintain Benitez’s services.

Europa League preview: Man Utd, Wolves travel to stadium burdened by racial abuse

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Manchester United hopes to build off Monday momentum when it visits Partizan Belgrade in the Europa League, though the hosts have some off-field aims following a pair of closed-door matches due to racist behavior.

Partizan boss Savo Milosevic, a former Aston Villa striker, has vowed that the match will be void of racism and a “celebration of football.”

United players Harry Maguire and Marcus Rashford were part of an ugly atmosphere in Bulgaria while on England duty — something Maguire called “sickening” — but believe things will be better in Belgrade.

[ MORE: Genk 1-4 Liverpool | Ajax 0-1 Chelsea ]

Maguire is set for a new experience in the tie should he start, sort of. Maguire played a UEL qualifying round match with Hull City in 2014, but this is his first start in a European tournament proper. From ManUtd.com:

“Playing in Europe is another challenge,” he said. “It’s something I’m looking forward to, something I’m relishing. I want to play in the biggest games with the biggest pressure and that’s why I signed for a club like Man United, one of the biggest in the world. I’m looking forward to challenging myself under the lights in European football.”

United kicks off at 12:55 p.m. ET as one of two early starts for Premier League teams.

Wolves begin back-to-back matches against Slovan Bratislava in Slovakia, another situation where the hosts are dealing with recent racial problems.

Thursday’s match was supposed to be behind closed doors, but UEFA have allowed ticket giveaways to youth players and school kids. Wolves aren’t exactly impressed at the lessened punishment.

Here’s Matt Doherty, who says his Wolves will gladly leave the pitch if there’s a problem of any kind. From The Birmingham Mail:

“If it comes to it when players feel uncomfortable then I wouldn’t have a problem with it,” Doherty adds. “I would hate to be in a position where you have to choose. I would hate that, so hopefully it doesn’t happen. I would be more in the mind of trying to beat them on the pitch.”

Wolves have a win and a loss, leaving them a point behind their Thursday opponents and Braga.

The lone PL club kicking off at 3 p.m. is Arsenal, the Gunners having played very well in the Europa League but fairly substandard in the league.

Arsenal is one of five 2-0 teams in the UEL, and can essentially cement their place in the next round by dealing with Vitoria at the Emirates Stadium.

Europa League full slate

12:55 pm. ET
Besiktas v. Braga
Roma v. Borussia Monchengladbach
CSKA Moscow v. Ferencvaros
Partizan Belgrade v. Manchester United
Qarabag v. APOEL Nicosia
Ludogorets Razgrad v. Espanyol
Slovan Bratislava v. Wolves
Porto v. Rangers
Saint-Etienne v. Oleksandriya
Gent v. Wolfsburg
Istanbul Basaksehir v. Wolfsberg
Young Boys v. Feyenoord
AZ Alkmaar v. Astana

3 p.m. ET
Celtic v. Lazio
Sevilla v. Dudelange
Arsenal v. Vitoria
Eintracht Frankfurt v. Standard Liege
Rennes v. CFR Cluj
Sporting Lisbon v. Rosenborg
Getafe v. Basel
Dynamo Kyiv v. Copenhagen
Malmo v. Lugano
PSV Eindhoven v. LASK
Trabzonspor v. Krasnodar

LIVE MLS Cup Playoffs — NYCFC hosts Toronto, Seattle-RSL

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Citi Field is the scene for New York City FC’s debut as the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed in the MLS Cup Playoffs.

Dome Torrent’s men have experienced opposition in Greg Vanney’s Toronto FC, who’ve been to two finals in three years but will have to advance another round without Jozy Altidore.

[ MORE: Live scores, box scores, stats ]

USMNT prospect Keaton Parks returns from injury for City and will partner with captain Alexander Ring beneath a dangerous quartet of attack-minded players.

Toronto hasn’t lost since Aug. 3 (5W-6D) and is well-equipped to deal NYCFC’s possession system on a postage stamp pitch.

The night-cap sees a 10 p.m. ET kickoff between Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake, the visitors bringing a stingy record; RSL has allowed the second fewest goals in the Eastern Conference.

The Sounders only lost two home matches this season, and have not lost a home playoff match under Brian Schmetzer.

Champions League wrap: Barcelona, Napoli hold group leads

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Antonio Conte‘s Inter Milan got a necessary win, while several other notable teams had a lot of work on their hands on the way to three points in the UEFA Champions League.

Lionel Messi set another record, Jesse Marsch’s Red Bull Salzburg put another scare into a big name, and both Lille and RB Leipzig puts difference-making wonder strikes on the board.


[ MORE: Genk 1-4 Liverpool | Ajax 0-1 Chelsea ]


Slavia Prague 1-2 Barcelona

Lionel Messi’s third minute goal didn’t send the Czech hosts running for cover, and Slavia Prague got a leveling goal through Jan Boril. It was deserved, too, with the hosts taking double the shots as their visitors when they made it 1-1. An own goal finished off the scoring in Prague.

Messi’s goal made him the first player to score in 15 Champions League tournaments. He’s good.

Red Bull Salzburg 2-3 Napoli

Jesse Marsch’s men know a bit about comebacks after last month’s memorable match in Liverpool, and Erling Braut Haland scored to make it 1-1 after Dries Mertens gave the favored visitors a lead. Haland answered another Mertens goal but the magic ran out for the hosts after Lorenzo Insigne provided the winner.

Lille 1-1 Valencia

Russian winger Denis Cheryshev looked like he’d see his goal stand up as a winner despite a late Valencia red card, but my goodness this equalizer from Jonathan Ikone:

Inter Milan 2-0 Borussia Dortmund

Make it six goals for Lautaro Martinez in 11 appearances for Inter Milan, who looked well-drilled at home under Antonio Conte. Roman Burki was sensational to keep the score 1-0, saving a penalty amongst several other timely interventions, but BVB couldn’t muster a goal. Antonio Candreva added the consolation marker.

Benfica 2-1 Lyon

Rafa Silva was in the right place to deposit a fourth minute goal, and Benfica rode the lead until Memphis Depay leveled in the 70th minute. Enter Pizzi, who scored with five minutes left to give Benfica a needed win. Last place Benfica is three points back of leaders RB Leipzig.

RB Leipzig 2-1 Zenit Saint-Petersburg

Yaroslav Rakitskiy gave the visitors a halftime lead against the run of play but Konrad Laimer leveled the score line and then — clear the deck — Marcel Sabitzer did this:

USWNT star Morgan pregnant, due 3 months before Olympics

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Add childbirth into USWNT superstar Alex Morgan’s summer plans.

The two-time World Cup winner said the “newest member of the Carrasco family” will be a girl, due April 2020. The Olympics begin three months later.

[ MORE: Pulisic assists Chelsea winner ]

Morgan is married to LA Galaxy striker Servando Carrasco, and the comments on her Instagram post include a who’s who of soccer including Kaka and Canadian WNT star Janine Beckie.

Congratulations are of course in order for Morgan, who understandably did not comment on how the addition to her family affects her late summer plans, but NBC’s Olympic Talk reports that she plans to play:

A source close to Morgan said, after the pregnancy announcement, that her goal is to play at the Olympics. Morgan has not stated her intention publicly either way since the announcement.