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Shipped from abroad: Reflections on an Italian Serie A Saturday

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It’s difficult for an undefeated team to sneak up on anybody, but without mid-week European soccer to keep them in on out radars, it’s been easy to lose track of Juventus. With all the draws and the lack of a prominent goalscoring threat, the Old Lady’s kept a low profile; yet, here we are, with just over a month left in the season, and not only is there still that stale bagel in their loss column, but thanks to one of their castaway attackers, they’re back in first place.

It’s unlikely Amauri was trying to do his old team any favors, yet with this 89th minute goal at the San Siro against Milan, he gave Fiorentina a desperately needed win (2-1), Milan their fifth loss of the year, and Juventus first place thanks to the Bianconeri’s 2-0 win at Palermo. Now 17-14-0, Juventus have a one point lead at the top of the Serie A and, thanks to another clean sheet, have dismissed another significant obstacle in their quest for an undefeated season.

Most wouldn’t describe Palermo as a major hurdle, but with the likes of Fabrizio Miccoli and Josip Ilicic leading one of the most dangerous attacks in the league (their 44 goals sitting seventh overall), there was always a chance the Aguile could run out on Juve the same way they did against Lazio (5-1, Feb. 19), Genoa (5-3, Jan. 22), and Inter (4-3, Sep. 11).

But since their trouncing of Lazio in February, the Renzo Barbera has not been as kind to Palermo. They’ve scored only once in their last four home games, losing to Milan, Roma and Juve while drawing against Udinese. To be sure, those are four difficult opponents (the worst sitting sixth in league), but it still seems Juventus caught the Sicilians at the right time.

Those are the kind of breaks you need if you’re going to go undefeated, and with their 17th clean sheet of the season, Juventus is one step closer to being invincible. They’ve now gone 373 minutes in league without allowing a goal ahead of Wednesday’s meeting with third-place Lazio, now the biggest obstacle between the Bianconeri and a loss-less season.

Their next biggest challenge after that: a home match with a Roma team that gave up four goals to Lecce on Saturday. No other team in their run-in sits higher than 12th.

Elsewhere in Italy

All results: Cesena 0-0 Bologna; Chievo 3-2 Catania; Milan 1-2 Fiorentina; Novara 1-1 Genoa; Cagliari 2-2 Internazionale; Udinese 3-1 Parma; Lecce 4-2 Roma; Atalanta 1-2 Siena; Palermo 0-2 Juventus; Lazio 3-1 Napoli

Stuff that stuck out:

  • Napoli was without Christian Maggio (injured) and Juan Zuniga (suspended), while Andrea Dossena wasn’t fit for 90. That meant that Walter Mazzari had to abandon his 3-4-3 for lack of defenders who could play on the wings. But on a night when Lazio honored Giorgio Chingalia, it’s uncertain Napoli’s full team could have gotten a result. The win leaves Lazio three clear of Udinese for third while Napoli, six back of the league’s last Champions League spot, looks to Europa.
  • Despite their loss, Roma is only one point behind Napoli, though Saturday’s result was beguiling. At a Lecce side seemingly set to book its place in Serie B, the Giallorossi were down four goals within an hour. It’s also the third time this calendar year Roma have given up four road goals to what you would think to be inferior competition (4-2 at Calgiari on Feb. 1; 4-1 at Atalanta on Feb. 26).
  • Michael Bradley’s sixth minute goal for Chievo against visiting Catania made him the first U.S. player to score in Serie A since Alexi Lalas during the 1994-95 season.

Up next: Mid-week action starts on Tuesday as Milan visits Bradley’s Chievo. Juventus hosts a Lazio team that has not beaten the Old Lady in league since 2003.

Hull City promoted, but Steve Bruce still considering future

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 28:  Steve Bruce, manager of Hull City lifts the trophy after victory in the Sky Bet Championship Play Off Final match between Hull City and Sheffield Wednesday at Wembley Stadium on May 28, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images
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Steve Bruce saw Hull City go down to the Championship, and pulled the Tigers right back up the Premier League.

Hull won promotion at the first time of asking after defeating Sheffield Wednesday 1-0 on Saturday, but Bruce wants to see stability at the KC Stadium.

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The club remains up for sale after owner Assem Allam saw his request to change the team name to Hull Tigers denied by the English Football Association.

From the BBC:

“I’ll sit down with the owners. It’s not often you walk away from the Premier League – that’s where I want to manage,” Bruce told BBC Radio 5 live.

“But I have to be given certain assurances that we’re all moving in the right direction.

“I keep hearing too many stories that there’s a takeover imminent. We’ll see what develops,” added the 55-year-old.

The longtime Manchester United back has been around the managerial block a few times, and it’d be nice to see him stay at Hull for the long term. He’s led the Tigers into the Premier League on two occasions, and is — seriously — the seventh longest tenured manager in the Football League. He would enter the Premier League as the second-longest serving manager, to Arsene Wenger.

BREAKING: Olympiacos striker Pulido kidnapped in Mexico

DRENTHE, NETHERLANDS - JULY 29:  Alan Pulido of Olympiacos in action during the pre season friendly match between FC Twente and Olympiacos Piraeus held at Sportpark Veenoord on July 29, 2015 in New Amsterdam and Veenoord, Netherlands.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
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Terrifying news out of Mexico, where 25-year-old Mexican national team striker Alan Pulido has reportedly been kidnapped in his hometown.

Pulido, 25, has four goals in six caps for El Tri and moved to Olympiacos in 2015, where he scored five goals in eight matches.

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Various reports claim that Pulido and his girlfriend were taken after masked gunmen cut off the vehicle in which they were riding, and only released the girlfriend.

From the Associated Press:

The official says the 25-year-old player was kidnapped near his hometown of Ciudad Victoria on Sunday after leaving a party.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case under investigation.

Klinsmann hails Zardes’ character; USMNT forward likes his first touch

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 29:  Gyasi Zardes #9 of the United States Men's National Team controls the ball against Guatemala during the FIFA 2018  World Cup qualifier on March 29, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. The United States defeated Guatemala 4-0.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Gyasi Zardes’ remarkable rise from Cal State Bakersfield to fixture on the United States men’s national team is one of the better stories in recent team history.

The USMNT attacker nabbed his fourth and fifth international goals in Saturday night’s blowout of Bolivia, and he’s up to 25 caps since making his debut in Jan. 2015.

[ USMNT-BOLIVIA: Recap3 things | Player ratings ]

Jurgen Klinsmann deserves some credit for putting the L.A. Galaxy on the field almost religiously as Zardes works on so many facets of his game. He’s improved dramatically in positioning, runs and 1v1 battles and reportedly soaks up information like a sponge. Klinsmann loves the guy, and for good reason.

It’s also important to note that, despite his ever-present status, Zardes remains 24 and a work in progress.

From MLSSoccer.com:

“Sometimes it’s perfect, and maybe the next day it’s not so good, but it’s totally fine – because every player has his strengths and weaknesses. So as long as they keep on working on those weaknesses and getting them better and better, it’s totally fine. He’s very straight in his thought process in front of the goal. He knows exactly what he wants to do.

“You have to follow your first thought. That’s crucial. If you start to have two thoughts, then you’re going to get messed up. He was very calm, putting two goals in there, and the whole game he was involved. It’s coming along.”

Zardes’ club goal production dropped last year from roughly a goal every other game to one every three, but he’s been growing as a playmaer and this season has four goals and four assists through 11 matches.

I really like Zardes — see my post calling for his USMNT call-up in 2014 — but let me say one negative thing about his bristling at first touch questions and saying, “To be honest, me personally, I think I have a good first touch”: I’m glad he feels that way and his woes may be a bit overblown, but calling his Saturday goals first touch goals is accurate but kind of hilarious.

The criticism of his first touch, which his betrayed him on major scoring chances in each of the last two USMNT matches, has nothing to do when his first touch is directed at goal. On his brace last night, the first was a good finish where he had to work it past the keeper and the second was a plant foot shot. Both, in fact, were shots.

Those count as your first touch on the ball, but when we discuss first touch it’s about taking the ball off a pass or dribble and possessing it for a purpose. Of course he was right to shoot, but it’s cool if your eyes rolled pretty hard in reading his comments.

Koeman: Manchester United “don’t deserve a medal” for treatment of Louis van Gaal

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 20:  Louis van Gaal, Manager of  Manchester United talks to Ronald Koeman, Manager of Southampton during the  Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Manchester United at St Mary's Stadium on September 20, 2015 in Southampton, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)
Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images
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When it comes to the firing of Louis Van Gaal, his countryman has his back.

Southampton boss Ronald Koeman doesn’t like the way Manchester United handled LVG’s fate with the team, firing him within hours of the Red Devils winning the FA Cup.

Like many, Koeman doesn’t buy that the LVG to Jose Mourinho transition happened in a week.

[ MORE: Early and (purposefully) absurd 2016-17 PL predictions ]

Given the gossip mill since Chelsea fired Mourinho in January, that’s not a hard thing to buy, and Koeman is angry that LVG was kept out of the loop. Reports claim that Van Gaal had drawn-up plans for 2016-17 with him on the day he was let go.

From Sky Sports:

“If Louis was not told about getting the sack until after the FA Cup final, then Manchester United as a club don’t deserve a medal for the way they treated him.

“If you know a little bit about the business at the highest level in football, then you know that these kind of deals are not done overnight.”

Koeman hedges his words with conditionals, but there’s little doubt what he means. Managers generally stand together when it comes to dismissals, but it’s nice to see someone stand up for LVG’s treatment (whether he deserved to be canned or not).