FBL-EUR-C1-ZENIT-MILAN

Offshore drilling, UEFA Champions League: Milan 3, at Zenit St. Petersburg 2

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Man of the Match: Of Milan’s three goals, Stephan El Shaawary’s stands out. It was the one that didn’t need major help from a Zenit player to find nylon. El Shaawary’s goal didn’t need help from his own players, either. The Milan attacker took a pass on the left wing, and dribbled through Zenit’s defense before slotting the Rossoneri’s second goal just inside the right post.

It was the 19 year old’s first Champions League goal, part of a day where he continuously created trouble for Zenit defenders. With Milan spending most of the match defending a lead, El Shaawary played as much as a conventional wide midfielder as attacker. But when he went forward, he created huge problems for Zenit.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • What do you get when two struggling but talented teams meet? Add the stakes of Champions League, and you get an unbalanced game with wild swings, a form of soccer chaos. Large swathes of this match were characterized by one team’s control meeting the other’s failings. There was never a time where both teams were at their best, and while that produced a compelling match, neither team was actually that good.
  • The sides began with near-identical setups – four man defenses, three-man midfields, two wingers flanking a central forward – but only one team showed up at the opening whistle.
  • Milan started strong, their energy allowing them to move quickly into attack, usually down left side worked by Stephan El Shaawary and, coming from the middle, Bojan Krkic. Attacking midfielder Kevin Prince Boateng was staying so high (right behind Krkic) and came back so little, Milan’s formation played like a 4-2-4.
  • In the 13th minute, Milan’s ambition met a little luck. Zenit had just started coming into the match when midfielder Viktor Fayzulin committed a ill-advised foul on Urby Emanuelson, the Milan attacker cutting into the middle from his wide right position. Emanuelson’s restart from 24 yards out got mostly wall but still deflected up and toward goal, with goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev unable to get back from his move to the left to prevent a fortunate opener.
  • Malafeev really should have stopped it. After hitting the wall, the ball seemed to hang in the air and briefly looked like it would go well wide. But the spin sent the ball diving back toward goal. Malafeev was slow to react, his momentum toward the opposite post leaving him off-balance.
  • Four minutes later, Milan doubled their lead, with El Shaawary dribbling in from the left, beating Fayzulin and defender Nicolas Lombaerts before putting the Rossoneri’s second goal inside Malafeev’s left post.
  • That wasn’t the first time El Shaawary had done damage. Minutes earlier, the 19-year-old was given too much space to run at Zenit right back Aleksandr Anyukov. He was able to cut in and, although Anyukov got a foot to the ball, create a chance for Krkic. Eventually, Luciano Spalletti would have to switch Hulk away from that flank, getting his more defensively responsible winger, Vladimir Bystrov, onto El Shaawary’s side.
  • It was an absolutely inept start from Zenit. Milan was the better side at the opening whistle, but they weren’t executing anything so remarkable that Zenit couldn’t have held out. The first goal was fortunate, but it was one that came from Milan control drawing a bad foul. On the second goal, defenders just blindly went into tackles, come up with nothing, and couldn’t stop a run that was inelegant if successful.
  • It wasn’t until the 22nd minute, six minutes after Milan’s second goal, that Zenit started to pick up their energy. By then, you could see Milan already adjusting. El Shaawary and Emanuelson were sitting deeper on the flanks. When Zenit set up in the final third, Milan’s highest man (Krkic) was playing off the last midfielder instead of the defense.
  • That approach looked set to preserve Milan’s two-goal lead into half before a breakdown in the second minute of injury time. Ignazio Abate was drawn away from his place at right back, opening up too much room to the left of Cristián Zapata. Roman Shirokov found Hulk in the channel, the Brazilian’s left-footed shot beating Christian Abbati for Zenit’s opener.
  • What a huge difference a goal makes. Without Hulk’s score, Zenit goes into half time with nothing positive to take from the first 45 minutes. Down only one, Zenit goes into the locker room on a positive note. They don’t have to start the second half in panic mode.
  • Four minutes into the second half, Zenit was even. Shirokov beat his mark, Riccardo Montolivo, on a corner. Hulk’s ball swung in perfectly, drawing Abbiati off his line, giving Shirokov the entire goal to finish his equalizer.
  • Zenit would dominate the next 20 minutes, forcing Max Allegri into a change. Early in the half he had brought on Giampaolo Pazzini for Krkic – a like for like – but on the verge of conceding a go-ahead goal, he changed the shape. Emanuelson was off and Antonio Nocerino, a central midfielder, was in. He’d play on the one side of a diamond-esque midfield. El Shaawary played high on the other side, Montolivo above Nigel de Jong in the middle.
  • The change worked. Almost immediately, Milan started seeing more of the ball, able to possess for meaningful periods of time and not have to play in their own end.
  • The move almost worked too well. Spalletti immediately responded. In the 72nd minute, Bystov made way for a central midfielder, Konstantin Zyryanov.
  • The change never had time to take effect. In the 75th minute, sloppy play from Zenit coming out of their own end let to a turnover. Milan swung the ball ahead of a Montolivo cross. Pazzini’s attempted redirect went off defender Tomas Hubocan’s left arm and into Malafeev’s net. It was the second huge piece of luck Milan’d gotten, the difference between being down one and up 3-2.
  • As you’d expect, Spelletti immediately changed again, bringing on a forward (Maksim Kanunnikov) for a midfielder (Fayzulni). Allegri responded by bringing in a third central defender, Mario Yepes coming on for Boateng.
  • Allegri’s change killed off the match. Any time Zenit set up in attack, they’d see a box crowded with red and black between them and goal. Attempts to play in from wide almost never got past the first man. That match was over.
  • It’s a huge win for Milan, if a very lucky one. There’s no arguing that they got two goals out of pure fortune. Both the first and third game from otherwise innocuous plays. Milan gets three points, but it’s hard to say if they earned or stumbled into them.
  • The Rossoneri do deserve credit for the energy they brought from the get-go. In the preview, we talked about the morose aura that’s enveloped the team. None of that was evident tonight. There was no self pity, only effort.
  • For Zenit, it’s a crushing loss, but they did little to win this match. They never led, only played well for a 30 minute span in the middle, and needed a first half wakeup call to even get in the match. Against a Milan team that hasn’t been that good, they allowed the game to be taken from them

Ranieri returns to Leicester to say final goodbyes

SWANSEA, WALES - FEBRUARY 12:  Claudio Ranieri manager of Leicester City looks on prior to the Premier League match between Swansea City and Leicester City at Liberty Stadium on February 12, 2017 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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Claudio Ranieri was at Leicester City’s training ground one final time on Saturday morning as he said goodbye to members of his former staff and his former players.

Let that sink in.

[ MORE: Ranieri – “My dream died”

Ranieri, 65, was sacked by Leicester on Thursday, just nine months after delivering the Premier League title (the first top-flight title in their 132-year history) for the Foxes.

Leicester are currently languishing just two points off the bottom of the PL table, one point and one place above the relegation zone, and have lost five-straight PL games as well as failing to score in six-straight games.

[ MORE: Latest news on Ranieri

It has been widely reported that the players met with the owners to state they were unhappy with Ranieri following the 2-1 defeat in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg at Sevilla on Wednesday. Less than 24 hours he was fired by Leicester’s owners.

Speaking briefly to the media as he left the training ground on Saturday, Ranieri remained classy until the very end.

“I feel good now, because of what we achieved at Leicester,” Ranieri said. “I hope it happens again but it will be very difficult.”

He was then asked by reporters outside the training ground if it was emotional saying goodbye to his former players.

“No it was normal,” Ranieri said, before driving off.

Shortly after he departed the training ground Leicester’s Thai owners then arrived in a helicopter as they flew in for talks with the players and caretaker boss Craig Shakespeare.

His firing has sparked outrage across the soccer world as the beloved Italian manager who led the 5000-1 shots from relegation fodder to title glory last season was ruthlessly cast aside. Yes, Ranieri’s Leicester are in a relegation scrap, but surely he deserved a chance to turn it around in the final 13 games of the season?

Now, the Leicester job is a poisoned chalice with Roberto Mancini, Alan Pardew and even former boss Nigel Pearson being touted as Ranieri’s successor. Nobody seems to want to take the job.

With the players under heavy scrutiny for their role in Ranieri’s sacking they’ll be under more pressure to perform against Liverpool on Monday at the King Power Stadium (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Ranieri’s name is sure to be sung loud and proud by the Leicester fans as they make their feelings known to the players and the owners about what has happened over the past few days.

US advances in qualifying for Under-20 World Cup

LEIGH, GREATER MANCHESTER - OCTOBER 05: Tab Ramos, Head Coach of USA looks on prior to the Under 20s Four Nations Tournament match between Germany and the United States at Leigh Sports Village Stadium on October 5, 2016 in Leigh, Greater Manchester.  (Photo by Mark Robinson/Getty Images)
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The United States advanced to the second round of qualifying for the Under-20 World Cup as Sebastian Saucedo scored twice Friday in a 4-1 win over St. Kitts and Nevis at Tibas, Costa Rica.

Brooks Lennon and Jonathan Lewis also scored for the U.S., which plays Mexico on Monday and El Salvador on March 3 in the second round. The top two teams in each second-round group of the North and Central American and Caribbean region qualify for the Under-20 World Cup, to be played in South Korea from May 20 to June 11.

Lennon, loaned this month from Liverpool to Real Salt Lake, put the Americans ahead in the 16th minute with his fourth goal of the tournament, poking in Jeremy Ebobisse’s cross from 7 yards. Lewis, who is with New York City FC, doubled the lead four minutes later after Lennon’s corner kick to the top of the penalty area was volleyed toward goal by Eryk Williamson. Justen Glad missed an attempted shot from near the penalty spot, and the ball rolled to an unmarked Lewis.

Salt Lake’s Saucedo added goals in the 35th and 41st minute on a 25-yard shot and a 27-yard free kick.

Romario Martin beat U.S. goalkeeper JT Marcinkowski in the 77th after a poor American backpass. Jonathan Klinsmann, the son of former U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, started the first two games for the U.S.

The U.S. (2-1) and Group B winner Panama (3-0), which beat the Americans 1-0 last weekend, both advanced.

Bremen beats Wolfsburg to leave Bundesliga relegation zone

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL - AUGUST 10:  Serge Gnabry of Germany reacts during the Men's First Round Football Group C match between Germany and Fiji at Mineirao Stadium on August 10, 2016 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.  (Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images)
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WOLFSBURG, Germany (AP) — Midfielder Serge Gnabry scored twice as Werder Bremen moved away from the Bundesliga’s relegation zone with a 2-1 win at fellow struggler Wolfsburg on Friday.

Bremen and Wolfsburg are level on points and two above Hamburger SV, which is in 18th place and in the relegation zone.

It was a fifth defeat in six games for Wolfsburg coach Valerien Ismael, who won the league and cup double as a player with Bremen in 2004.

Gnabry fired the visitors ahead with a deflected shot in the 10th minute and made it 2-0 eight minutes later, controlling the ball with his chest before prodding home on the volley.

Striker Borja Mayoral, who is on loan from Real Madrid, scored with his chest following a Wolfsburg corner as Wolfsburg hit back moments later.

Midfielder Daniel Didavi struck the post with a free kick as Wolfsburg kept pushing for an equalizer.

Mancini reportedly not interested in Leicester City, De Boer says no

GENOA, ITALY - APRIL 20:  Head Coach of FC Internazionale Roberto Mancini looks during the Serie A match between Genoa CFC and FC Internazionale Milano at Stadio Luigi Ferraris on April 20, 2016 in Genoa, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Two top candidates to replace Claudio Ranieri at Leicester City have reportedly turned down any interest in the job.

Roberto Mancini, the heavy favorite out of the gates after Ranieri’s dismissal, tweeted his support for Ranieri after the news broke. “I am sorry for my friend Ranieri,” Mancini said. “He will be in the history of LCFC, in the hearts of Leicester fans and all football lovers.”

However, the fellow Italian has rebuffed Leicester’s informal advances towards his services. According to Sky Sports, Leicester sent “intermediaries” to “sound out” Mancini’s feelings towards the position, but came back empty-handed. The report states Mancini was turned off to the club after a short and unsuccessful spell there as a player in 2001.

That leaves a host of other names who have been linked to the job, with no clear favorite. One person mentioned was Dutch legend Frank de Boer, who is unemployed after an unusually short stint in charge of Inter Milan. However, De Boer’s agent went public to say he was not ever in the running.

“There is zero possibility that Frank could go to Leicester,” agent Guido Albers told Italian publication Tuttomercatoweb. “I too heard these rumors, but that’s all they are – rumors. I can affirm without doubt that Frank will not become the Leicester City manager. This will 100 per cent not happen.”

Albers explained that De Boer is only interested in joining a club in the offseason, preferring to enter a project with a blank slate rather than joining midseason with particular goals already clearly laid out. With Leicester, it seems De Boer is turned off by the notion of a relegation battle.