Shipped from abroad, Italy: When Juve-derived confusion buries third-place’s lead

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The last time Juventus made out like world beaters, I sang their praises, noting a four-goal win over Roma was the type of performance we’d been waiting for – the type of performance that would overshadow all the misgivings that’d formed during a very vincible season of being Invincibles.

Then came their mid-week win over Cesena – where the Old Lady needed a late goal from Marco Boriello to claim all three points from a relegation-embattled side – and I completely regressed, indulging in all the hyperbole you’d expect from somebody violently flopping from one side of the fence to the other.

With that pattern you’d expect another pendulum-esque swing following Juventus’s 4-0 Sunday thrashing of Novara, but no. I guess I’m finally starting to learn. After Boriello and Arturo Vidal complemented a Mirko Vucinic double, I’ve finally stopped trying to describe Juventus as anything but undefeated and on course to claim Serie A.

Before, when they were clawing their way to draws and 1-0s, I wanted Juventus to be a paper tiger. Juventus is more resourceful than good, I could write. I know that story.

When they posted dominant victories, I could write about how Juventus was growing into the title. Now, as we enter the season’s final match days, the Old Lady is playing the part their record dictates. They were a sleeping giant all along, that story goes.

It’s all so lazy. Instead of watching Juventus and writing what I saw, I took in the performances and asked “which archetype does this fit?”

Which of the X number of team-types in my mind does Juventus conform to? I decide which one, write some variation on that theme, and hope the next week I seem prescient.

This year, that way of going about things has failed me time and time again. This year’s Juve isn’t a type to be categorized with all the teams that’ve come before. They’re a team to be taken in and appreciated on their own merits. They are their own side.

Whereas I’d previously (if implicitly) bemoaned the squad’s inconsistency, now I see them as capable of both greatness and resourcefulness. If I’d previously wondered if they truly were Italy’s best, now I absorb Juve’s performances independent of anything Milan’s done.

After Sunday’s win, Juventus has finally carved out their own, distinct place in my mind. I’m not comparing them to any pre-constructed types. I’m not wondering if they meet whatever standard I’d created for a league champion or undefeated team.

Juve just are, and and with three matches left in the season, they’re still undefeated, still three points clear of the rest of the league.

Elsewhere in Italy

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


Champions League: Juventus (77 points/35 games), Milan (74/35), Napoli (55/25)

Europa League: Udinese (55/35), Internazionale (55/35), Lazio (55/35)

Stuff that stuck out:

  • All of a sudden, Serie A’s gotten amazing. There’s a four-way tie for the last Champions League spot.
  • The first tiebreaker is points amongst tied teams. Napoli has 11 points from games among the four teams, three better than Udinese.
  • The run-ins for each team:
    • Napoli: Palermo, at Bologna, Siena
    • Udinese: at Cesena, Genoa, Catania
    • Inter Milan: at Parma, Milan, at Lazio
    • Lazio: Siena, at Atalanta, Inter Milan
  • Neither of Roma’s clubs have won over the last three match days. Lazio’s four-match winless run as seen them fall from third to sixth. Is the streak a factor in Lazio freezing out the press after their weekend loss, a purported protest over Udinese’s second goal (they claim should have been disallowed after whistles were heard on the pitch)?
  • With two goals on Sunday, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is up to 26 for the year, four ahead of Edinson Cavani for Serie A’s capocannonieri. However, he is also on pace to finish on a non-first place team for the first time since his 2002-03 season with Ajax.
  • But the real story from Milan’s match: The full return of Antonio Cassano. The Milan forward posted a goal and two assists.

Up next: Mid-week action sees two Tuesday matches (including Napoli’s hosting of Palermo) ahead of both title contenders taking the field on Wednesday. If Milan loses and Juve wins, the title goes to Turin.

Alexis Sanchez discusses Man United struggles

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Alexis Sanchez appears to be struggling with his disappointing start to life at Manchester United.

The Chilean star, 29, became the highest-paid player in the Premier League when he arrived from Arsenal in January in a swap deal for Henrikh Mkhitaryan, but Sanchez has scored just one PL goal.

Sanchez has failed to make his mark on a consistent basis as United have also crashed out of the UEFA Champions League.

What does Sanchez put his lack of form down to?

In an Instagram post he left a caption saying that he was mentally exhausted: “I know you are tired. I know you are psychologically and emotionally exhausted. But you have to smile and continue”.

Speaking to the Chilean media ahead of their friendly against Sweden in Stockholm on Saturday, Sanchez revealed he has been struggling with the lack of impact he has had at United.

“The change of club was something that was very abrupt – it was the first time I’ve changed clubs in January – but many things have happened in my life that are difficult… As I am self-demanding, I expected something better. After my arrival at United, it was hard to change everything very quickly. I even hesitated to come here [to Sweden].”

Sanchez has looked better in a central role behind Romelu Lukaku but he hasn’t been used there often enough by Jose Mourinho.

At Arsenal he had the license to roam free in the attacking third but in Mourinho’s more defensive, rigid system he appears to be struggling to get on the ball in the right areas in and around the box. Sanchez has cut a frustrated figure out on the left wing and has given the ball away on multiple occasions as he tries to make the difficult passes and open up opposition defenses.

It appears that Sanchez is perhaps trying to hard to impress United and given his all-action displays, that is not easy to do.

United need more of him in the final third than out wide or tracking back to help out his own defense if they’re going to seal their top four spot and win the FA Cup to see out the final months of the season.

There’s no doubting Sanchez’s quality as we all know just how good he can be from his four seasons at Arsenal.

Yet, as he acknowledged himself, something at United isn’t quite right.

Premier League player Power Rankings

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With the Premier League players on international duty this week before the league resumes on March 31, now seems like a good time to take stock of which stars are shinning brightest.

[ MORE: Power Rankings archive ]

Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham were all in action over the past week, with four Premier League games and four FA Cup games taking center stage. The likes of Manchester City and Arsenal weren’t in action, so none of their players can be involved.

Remember: this is a list of the top 20 performing players right now in the Premier League.

Let us know in the comments section below if you agree with the selections.

  1. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) – Up 8
  2. Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) – New entry
  3. Willian (Chelsea) – Up 1
  4. Riyad Mahrez (Leicester) – Down 2
  5. Romelu Lukaku (Man United) – Down 2
  6. David De Gea (Man United) – Up 4
  7. Heung-Min Son (Tottenham) – Down 1
  8. Nemanja Matic (Man United) – New entry
  9. Davinson Sanchez (Tottenham) – New entry
  10. Sadio Mane (Liverpool) – Up 1
  11. Roberto Firmino (Liverpool) – New entry
  12. Jamie Vardy (Leicester) – Down 3
  13. Erik Lamela (Tottenham) – New entry
  14. Junior Stanislas (Bournemouth) – New entry
  15. Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace) New entry
  16. Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea) – New entry
  17. Cenk Tosun (Everton) – New entry
  18. Theo Walcott (Everton) – Up 1
  19. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (Southampton) – New entry
  20. Alvaro Morata (Chelsea) – New entry

Dutch police detain 25 England supporters for violence

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AMSTERDAM (AP) Dutch police say they detained 25 English soccer supporters overnight after drunken fans threw beer bottles at officers ahead of a friendly match between the Netherlands and England.

Police say riot police were deployed to downtown Amsterdam to deal with the rowdy supporters. Police detained the England fans for offenses including public disorder.

England will play the Netherlands at the Amsterdam Arena on the southern edge of the Dutch capital. Police say they plan to beef up security before and after Friday’s match.

About 1,500 England fans traveled to the Dutch capital for the match.

LA Galaxy announces Zlatan Ibrahimovic signing

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LA Galaxy have confirmed that Zlatan Ibrahimovic has signed for them.

The Swedish veteran, 36, is the new No.9 for the Galaxy and in the video below he is shown alongside a lion and simply says: “Los Angeles, welcome to Zlatan!”

Classic Zlatan. The fact he announced his arrival in Los Angeles by taking out a full page ad in the LA Times on Friday also says it all.

[ MORE: Where will Zlatan rank in big-name players?

Major League Soccer now has a new icon as Ibrahimovic continues his glittering career in the USA after he terminated his contract with Manchester United earlier this week.

“I decided to sign with the Galaxy because I decided it was the best place for me. I have a lot to give. I can help them a lot. They are the best team in the U.S. There were no doubts,” Ibrahimovic said. “Hopefully it goes like I want and we can all share the happiness by winning. I feel good. I am training very hard. I need to play games to go in the rhythm. The more I play, the better I will be.”

With that positive update on his own fitness following some recent setbacks, Ibrahimovic was asked what he wants to achieve in MLS.

“I want to accomplish as much as possible,” Ibrahimovic said. “Wherever I went, I won. I played in the best clubs in the world, different countries, and I won. I am coming with this objective. I come to win. I want to win. I think it’s in my DNA that I am winning my trophies. It is no luck, no special moment. It is just me. Different place but same Zlatan.”

LA confirmed that Ibrahimovic has arrived via Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) as they currently have filled all three of their Designated Player spots.

It is believed Zlatan has joined on a two-year deal reportedly worth around $3 million per year. He could make his debut against new crosstown rivals LAFC on Mar. 31.

No doubt he will probably score the winner late on after jumping off the bench, then declare himself the Mayor of LA…