La Liga: Ernesto Valverde admits Gerard Pique injury concern

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Ernesto Valverde admits that he had taken Gerard Pique off during Barcelona’s 2-0 win at Valencia due to an injury concern as the defender “felt a strain coming on.”

Pique had been an injury doubt going into Thursday’s game and lasted 83 minutes before Yerry Mina replacing him for his Barca debut although the Catalans reached yet another Copa del Rey Final.

“Pique? He felt a strain coming on and we decided that the best thing was to take him off,” Valverde said after the game in which January signing Philippe Coutinho scored the only goal in the game against Valencia to help the Catalan team progress to the final stage of the domestic Cup. The club have won the competition three times in a row since losing to Real Madrid in the 2014 final.

“Barca are used to reaching Finals and playing in them, me not so much,” Valverde added. “I’m very happy, given it’ll be the fifth consecutive Final for these players, something that’s very difficult to repeat and repeat.”

“We thought it’d be very difficult and it was, but we’re going home with tickets to the Final in our pockets. We thought they’d give us the ball and they did. They wanted to win the ball back from us and hit us on the break”

“We were able to find players in space and take advantage. We tried it with Messi, Iniesta, etc… We had to try and it went well. We won so we’d reach the Final. We found it difficult against Celta and Espanyol and now we have against Valencia. We had a busy January.

Barca, who also look to be runaway winners of La Liga this season, will play Sevilla in the final after the sixth placed team in La Liga reached their second Copa del Rey final in three seasons with a 3-1 aggregate win over La Liga rivals Leganes.

They will host their next opponents, Girona in the Spanish top-flight on Sunday, while Barca face mid-table club Getafe CF.

West Ham United to sign Patrice Evra on free agent

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West Ham United is set to sign former France captain Patrice Evra until the end of the season.

Evra, 36, has been without a club since his contract with Marseille was terminated by mutual consent in November after kicking one of the club’s home fans before a Europa League match.

The former Manchester United defender was subsequently banned from UEFA fixtures for the rest of the season, but will be allowed to play domestically for West Ham.

He played for current Hammers boss David Moyes when the Scotsman managed Manchester United, before leavingOld Trafford for Juventus in 2014, spending three seasons there before moving to Marseille in January 2017.

He played 379 games for United between 2006 and 2014 and won nine major trophies, including five Premier League titles and the Champions League in 2008.

Evra made nine appearances for Marseille this season, most recently in October, before the incident prior to a European game against Vitoria Guimaraes on 2 November.

West Ham has also insisted they are not making plans to change manager in the summer and will hold talks with Moyes at the end of the season, after reports surfaced claiming that Moyes is unlikely to extend his stay at West Ham past the end of the current campaign regardless of whether or not the club stay in the Premier League.

Moyes had agreed on a contract with the Hammers until the end of the season when he replaced Slaven Bilic in November but despite a significant upturn in results and performances, says that he has no intention of opening talks about a new deal yet.

Mauricio Pochettino claims overanalysing “kills” the game

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Mauricio Pochettino has admitted that Dele Alli deserved to be booked for diving at Liverpool on Sunday but also claims that overanalysing every controversy would kill the game.

The Tottenham Hotspur manager made no excuses for Alli, who went down under zero contact inside the Liverpool penalty area during the 2-2 draw, making it three occasions in which the midfielder received a yellow card for diving in his two-and-a-half season Premier League career.

However, Pochettino dismissed it as a minor issue while he made the point that football was “about trying to trick your opponent” one way or another — whether it be with a step-over, a tactical tweak or even a dive, which were a part of the game. Still, he maintained that when a player was rumbled — as Alli was against Liverpool — he had to be punished by the referee but that should be the end of the matter.

“It was a yellow card,” Pochettino said. “It happens. During different games, a lot of situations like this happen. The problem now is we are so sensitive about the situation. And then we are so focused on Dele Alli.”

“The referee was right and perfect. It was a yellow card and nothing [else]. It’s too much sometimes. There is such a focus on this type of situation. I think it’s a minimal issue.”

“Dele is not perfect. Nobody is perfect,” added Pochettino. “He is a clever boy. He is a little bit nasty. Football is a creative sport in which you need the talent that grows in a very intelligent person, a very smart brain. But the problem today is that, more than this type of situation, I am worried we are going to change the game we know.”

“We are so focused on minimal details. I am worried that in a few years, the sport we love and that people love to watch around the world, will be pushed into a very rigid, structured thing — with the VAR and with being focused too much on the small actions like this.”

Ronald Koeman appointed as new Netherlands manager until 2022

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Former Everton and Southampton manager Ronald Koeman has been appointed as the new Netherlands national team coach up until 2022.

Koeman will take charge of the national squad against England on 23 March as the country hopes to compete at the Qatar World Cup having failed to qualify for Russia 2018.

A statement by the Dutch FA on Tuesday read: “The KNVB has reached an agreement with Ronald Koeman over his appointment as the Dutch national team coach. Koeman has just signed a contract that ties him to Oranje with immediate effect up to and including the 2022 World Cup.”

Koeman, who has been out of work since being sacked at Goodison Park in October, succeeds Dick Advocaat, who stepped down last year after failing to lead the Netherlands to the World Cup in Russia this year.

“I’m really positive about the future of the team,” Koeman said in a press conference. “We have enough talent but we have to change some things, which I will talk about at a later stage.”

“I think the Netherlands should and must be qualifying for major finals and I see a bright future in that regard. That’s why I’ve taken the job.”

This will be 54-year-old Koeman’s 10th managerial post after spells in charge of Vitesse Arnhem, Ajax, Benfica, PSV Eindhoven, Valencia, AZ Alkmaar, Feyenoord, Southampton and Everton, where he was sacked in October after guiding them to seventh in his only full season in charge.

However, his status as a Dutch legend himself could help his tenure after winning 78 caps and won the European Championship in 1988 as a player for the team.

He also saw success in the Premier League as he led Southampton to finishes at sixth and seventh in the Premier League in his two years in charge at St Mary’s.