Juventus FC v FC Internazionale Milano - Serie A

Looking back at the end of Juventus’s strange, remarkable run

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Juventus went 49 Serie A games without a loss, but when they finally fell 3-1 to Internazionale yesterday, the reaction was less shock than confirmation, the feeling that an inevitability had come. Inter were clearly the better side – an advantage they needed after a wrongly allowed goal put them down one after 18 seconds – though they weren’t the first team to outplay Juventus over the league 18 months. That they were the first to beat them in league made the preceding 49 games all the more confusing.

“We came back out for the second-half with so much anger after the offside goal,”1 Inter striker Diego Milito admitted afterward, the Argentine having taken his customary place in the big stage’s spotlight. His two goals had Inter up in by the 75th minute, with Rodrigo Palacio’s late insurance handing Juve their first loss at Juventus Stadium.

“We are still proud of these lads, who didn’t lose for 49 games,” Juve general manager Guiseppe Marotta said. [N]ow we must look forward.”2

“The Nerazzurri will compete at the top right until the end. We accept this defeat and we’re not going to make any bones about it.

For some, it was a surprising moment of humility. In the days before the game, Marotta made the mistake of publicly chiding Inter’s preparation, his glib derision catching the Nerazzurri’s attention.

“I was annoyed by what Mr. Marotta said before the game,” Inter coach Andrea Stramaccioni conceded after ending Juve’s run. “He made a sarcastic remark about our blithe approach. We work hard and you could see that.”3

The team’s formation symbolized that preparation. Stramaccioni took advantage of Juve’s two-forward approach by going three at the back, an approach they’ve used a various times this season, the team using both 3-4-3 and 4-3-3 formations. Surprisingly, Stramaccioni chose the more audacious approach on Saturday, Inter’s 3-4-3 seeking to pressure Juve high while taking advantage of the Old Lady’s lack of a top finisher.

Though Inter relinquished their clean sheet early, Juventus was held at bay for the next 90 minutes, a testament to both the Nerazzurri’s preparations and Juve’s lack of punch.

“We weren’t used to losing anymore, even if we played well,”4 captain Gianluigi Buffon said after the game, Juventus conceding three goals in league for the first time since last November. eventually noting another issue with Juve’s attitude. They’d never conceded three in their new home.

Buffon went on to note another issue which, like Marotta’s ill-advised criticisms, hints Juve took Inter for granted.

“I did not like our attitude after we went 1-0 up. I don’t understand why we sat there waiting for them outside our own box, we were far too carefree.”

Passivity is not a new problem for Juventus, a team whose 49-match unbeaten streak defied their approach. This year’s Champions League has highlighted the problem, the Old Lady sitting on a disappointing three points after as many matches. The team too often relies on opportunism in lieu of control, and while their streak shows the approach can be successful, it frequently leaves your success in the hands of your opponents.

The approach also leaves the team content to sit on a lead, an attitude that would have been difficult to maintain last year had Inter, Milan, and Napoli (thanks to their Champions League commitment) not all, simultaneously taken a step back. Udinese had sold Alexis Sanchez. Fiorentina was in disarray. As with all remarkable results, Juve’s streak required remarkable circumstances.

“In my view, we could’ve dealt with the game differently,” Buffon continued, “but after 15 minutes we just left the initiative to them.”

“Was our attack light,” Moratta asked, rhetorically, after the game. “Yes, maybe with a more clinical striker we might’ve had a different result.”5

The remark understates the difference between the sides. With better finishing, Juventus may have scored another goal, but they still wouldn’t have had an answer for Milito.

Coming into the game, Inter’s focal point had 113 goals in his 191 Serie A appearances, yet he’d never scored from open play against Juventus. He’d converted from the spot during his time with Genoa, and in the 59th minute, Milito did the same on Saturday, equalizing after a penalty on Claudio Marchisio.

Sixteen minutes later, Milito finally had his open play goal, putting home a rebound of a Fredy Guarin blast to give Inter the lead. With Palacio’s late goal, Inter had their 3-1 win, giving Andrea Stramaccioni the biggest victory of his young career.

“Is this the best day of my career? The best day of my career was when the president chose me to coach Inter,” the 36-year-old modestly explained after the victory, preferring to keep the focus on the club rather than himself. “I’m proud to be the Inter coach and I’m happy for our fans who can enjoy this win.”6

Stramaccioni’s appointment was almost a last resort in spring, with Inter having already gone through two coaches after Leonardo’s departure to Paris Saint-Germain. Gian Piero Gasperini was dismissed almost immediately after the 2011-12 season started. Claudio Ranieri failed to engineer the same turnout he’d brought to Roma. When he was dismissed in March, Stramaccioni was promoted from the team’s Primavera side, becoming Inter’s fifth coach since José Mourinho left after the team’s 2010-11 league, cup, Europe triumph.

“Stramaccioni doesn’t need to be compared to Mourinho,” Inter president Massimo Moratti explained. “He’s just good. He’s surprising.”7

The surprises mean Inter have adjusted their goals.

“I’m happy because what seemed to be a transition season is now starting to look interesting,” Moratti said, with caution. “[Let’s] wait a bit before talking up our title challenge.”

Moratti doesn’t have a choice. Eleven rounds into the season, Inter sits second, one point back of Juventus. After a win in Turin, the Italian press is sure to see Inter as a contender, and with good cause. On talent, they have the means to compete with Juventus and Napoli. If Stramaccioni proves to have move tricks up his sleeve, Inter is as capable of claiming the Scudetto as the league’s other two title hopefuls.

It’s an assessment that only underscores the strange nature of Juventus’s streak. One loss after a 49-game unbeaten run would normally be seen as a blip. Not so in this case. While that feeling could come from the strength of their opponents or the sense that all good things must come to an end, it’s more likely a reflects a more general feeling about Juve’s quality. Though their title earned them respect, there was always wonder at how a team could go from out of Europe to unbeatable – from redesign to reign in one summer.

That wonder was a euphemistic one. Nobody felt Juventus unbeatable, an attitude reflected in how Napoli beat them in last year’s Coppa Italia final. Inter was similarly aggressive on Saturday, and in doing so, they may have affirmed a blueprint for dealing with the Bianconeri.

Mid-way through last season, Napoli was similarly found out, Juventus helping to uncover an antidote Walter Mazzarri’s 3-5-2. Now it’s Juve’s turn to adapt, even if their adjustment will be more mental than tactical. Though Stramaccioni’s innovations trickled into his formation, the real epiphany in attidute. Like Napoli in the Coppa final, Inter proved you can go after Juventus.



1 – http://www.goal.com/en-us/news/86/italy/2012/11/04/3502194/milito-anger-at-offside-goal-motivated-inter-comeback
2 – http://www.espnstar.com/football/serie-a/news/detail/item885085/Inter-driven-by-Marotta-comments/
3 – http://english.gazzetta.it/Football/03-11-2012/strama-a-sign-of-our-strength-now-juve-should-show-us-respect-913112705397.shtml
4 – http://www.football-italia.net/26879/buffon-slams-juve-attitude
5 – http://www.soccerway.com/news/2012/November/04/marotta-rues-lack-of-marksman/
6 – http://www.espnstar.com/football/serie-a/news/detail/item884902/Moratti:-Stramaccioni-is-just-good/
7 – http://www.espnstar.com/football/serie-a/news/detail/item884902/Moratti:-Stramaccioni-is-just-good/

Copa America trip helped convince Lodeiro of Sounders move

SEATTLE, WA - NOVEMBER 22: Nicolas Lodeiro #10 of the Seattle Sounders gets control of the ball during a match against the Colorado Rapids in the first leg of the Western Conference Finals at CenturyLink Field on November 22, 2016 in Seattle, Washington. The Sounders won the match 2-1. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
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Nicolas Loderio is getting set to play in the MLS Cup finals, something that only came to pass with a team visit to the United States, and the assistance of Luis Suarez.

According to Seattle Sounders GM Garth Lagerwey, he spoke with Lodeiro often in his attempts to bring the 27-year-old from Boca Juniors to Major League Soccer. The moment that swayed him was a trip to the US. A business trip.

With Uruguay competing in the Copa America Centenario, it allowed the two to speak more frequently, but when the Uruguayan became frustrated with his own handle of the native language, a friend stepped in to help. He asked national teammate Suarez to help translate, and thus the transfer came to pass.

“You don’t have body language, it’s harder than it is straight to the face and so he just got frustrated that he couldn’t understand everything that I’m saying,” Lagerwey told MLSSoccer.com’s radio show. “And so he says, ‘Hold on, speak to my friend,’ and I said, ‘OK,’ and I have no idea what’s happening. And Luis Suarez gets on and says, ‘Hi, this is Luis Suarez, how are you?’ And I’m like, ‘Morning, Mr. Suarez, how are you?’ And he was our translator.”

Lodiero has been a revelation for the Sounders since joining in the summer. A creative force all season, the Uruguayan has scored four goals in five playoff matches, bursting onto the national scene on the biggest stage.

“It was just funny. Nico and I, we talked fairly regularly during the process, in part because it took four months for the thing to play out,”  “And he was in the US for the Copa America with Uruguay, obviously, and in hindsight that ended up being a big deciding factor for him, because he brought his wife and his little son and they got to see America and I think liked it and developed a comfort level with it. And I think that’s what ultimately pushed them to make the leap, but I was talking and Nico’s English is actually pretty, pretty good, but he isn’t always so comfortable on the phone.”

With over 50 caps for the national team, Lodeiro is a well-known presence with the Barcelona striker and his other national teammates. The two have hooked up on the field as well, with Suarez assisting Lodeiro’s fourth national team goal back in October.

Zidane’s Madrid on cusp of setting new unbeaten record

BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 03: Zinedine Zidane, Manager of Real Madrid looks on during the La Liga  match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF at Camp Nou on December 3, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Zinedine Zidane is one match away from coaching Real Madrid to a new unbeaten record.

When Zidane replaced Rafa Benitez midway through last season, the inexperienced former midfield standout got off to an auspicious start with a 5-0 victory over Deportivo La Coruna.

Eleven months and one Champions League title later, Madrid faces Deportivo again at home on Saturday with the chance of surpassing its longest unbeaten run since the club was founded in 1902.

On Wednesday, Madrid equaled a club record of 34 games without a loss set in 1989 under coach Leo Beenhakker when it drew 2-2 with Borussia Dortmund.

“It’s important to continue to make history and continue our good run,” Zidane said after the match. “I don’t think it’s very important for me to leave my mark. What interests me the most is to continue with this great run that we’re on.”

Last season, when Real Madrid president Florentino Perez tapped Zidane to take over a struggling team, the decision smelled of desperation.

A fan favorite from his playing days as part of Madrid’s “galaticos” bunch, Zidane was promoted from coaching the reserve team to take over a side that was lurching from one embarrassing episode to the next.

Madrid’s 2015-16 campaign had started with Perez flubbing his play to sign away Manchester United goalie David De Gea. The team was then disqualified from the Copa de Rey for fielding an illegible player, and it endured a 4-0 defeat from Barcelona at home as it failed to click with Benitez.

Perez needed to make an impact move. But instead of searching for a veteran manager, he charged the unproven Zidane with turning around Madrid’s group of talented underachievers.

At first, the team remained erratic, and even looked set to bow out of the Champions League after a shocking 2-0 loss at German side Wolfsburg.

But that defeat on April 6 proved to be a catalyst. The team hasn’t lost since, recovering to claim its 11th European Cup and almost nip Barcelona for the Spanish league crown, before roaring out to lead la Liga this season.

Zidane, whose top-tier coaching experience had been limited to his stint as an assistant under Carlo Ancelotti, has now reached the half-century mark as head manager. During that 50-match period, he has overseen 37 wins, 11 draws and only two losses. That other loss came at Atletico Madrid in February.

“The players have to be congratulated. They’re the ones out on the pitch, it’s them who run, fight and dig in,” Zidane said. “We also have to thank the fans, who always get behind the team and support us. They’ve got to take some credit for what the team is achieving”.

Gifted with world-class stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Luka Modric, Zidane focused on getting more from Madrid’s supporting cast. He put a new emphasis on defense in his midfield by favoring Mateo Kovacic and Casemiro over flashier playmakers James Rodriguez and Francisco “Isco” Alarcon, and he has helped the little-known Lucas Vazquez blossom into an important piece of its attack.

“(Zidane) has gotten us to work hard and for things to go well for us, and that is paying off with this run of 34 unbeaten games,” defender Dani Carvajal said. “Everyone on the team has words of praise for him.”

Whereas the draw with Dortmund was disappointing because it cost Madrid a first-place finish in its Champions League group, its 1-1 stalemate earned last weekend at Barcelona tasted of victory. The “clasico” draw kept Madrid six points clear of Barcelona at the top of the Spanish table.

After it plays Deportivo, Madrid heads to Japan for the Club World Cup.

If Zidane sets the new club mark, his next goal would be the milestone held by Barcelona under counterpart Luis Enrique, whose 39-game unbeaten run was ended by Madrid last April.

Top 5 Premier League storylines for Week 15: Chelsea top, Leicester tested

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03:  Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Arsenal at London Stadium on December 3, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)
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This weekend is absolutely critical for the Premier League. Last time out, the top of the table kept pace and little changed. This time around, there is danger lurking for much of the top. Arsenal, Liverpool, and Spurs all have difficult tests, but can Tony Pulis be the one to pin Chelsea back?

Spurs and Manchester United 9:15 a.m. ET Sunday, NBCSports.com) meet with both teams clawing for scraps from those above them. These two teams very well could be battling it out for a final Champions League place at the end of the season, meaning this matchup could go a long way in building a true gap in the table.

[ MORE: Jose Mourinho failing to adapt at Manchester United ]

The bottom of the table is fascinating as well. Bob Bradley has his biggest chance yet to pull the Swans off the bottom against Sunderland amid the noise, while Hull City and Crystal Palace have a key meeting.

1. Moving day for Chelsea

Chelsea vs. West Brom — 7:00 a.m. ET Sunday, NBCSports.com

Chelsea is in the best form of any Premier League team in years. Their clean sheet streak predictably ended two games ago, but it hasn’t stopped the Blues’ fine run. They’ve won eight in a row and look impossible to stop. Can Pulis-ball keep the Blues at bay? They’re three points on top of the table, and another win would likely give them even more space considering tough matches for the other top teams.

2. Any magic left in the tank for Leicester City?

Leicester City vs. Manchester City — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday, NBCSports.com

The Foxes topped their Champions League group, but things continue to look more and more bleak in league play. Claudio Raneiri admitted they’re in a relegation battle with the Foxes just two points above the drop. But we’ve learned not to count this team out already, and a win against Pep Guardiola‘s stumbling team could be more than just three points.

Speaking of Manchester City, Pep was pipped by fellow first-time Premier League manager Antonio Conte last weekend, and then held to a 1-1 draw with Celtic in midweek Champions League action. However, City has taken care of business so far this season against weaker opponents, and the Foxes certainly seem to be just that at this point.

Claudio Ranieri admitted Leicester City is in a relegation battle (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Claudio Ranieri admitted Leicester City is in a relegation battle (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

3. Will Arsenal stumble against Stoke?

Arsenal vs. Stoke City — 10:00 a.m. ET Saturday, NBCSports.com

For all the heat the Gunners have (unfairly?) taken this season, Alexis Sanchez has them just three points off the top. For Arsenal to still be one game off Chelsea despite the Blues’ fabulous run is somewhat remarkable, and for them to have thus far weathered the storm, it would be truly something to see them capitalize on a slip-up from Conte.

[ MORE: Sanchez among Premier League’s best 5 players ]

However, Stoke has been here before. The Potters have conceded just three goals in their last seven matches, including a pair with clean sheets; if anyone can stop Sanchez’s amazing form, it’s the Mark Hughes and the defensively stout Potters. A win for Stoke could potentially see them jump as high as sixth, could they go on the road and halt the Gunners? It’s possible, but a 315-minute shutout streak vs. Stoke for Arsenal puts things squarely in Arsene Wenger‘s favor before kickoff.

4. Bob Bradley’s golden opportunity

Swansea City vs. Sunderland — 10:00 a.m. ET Saturday, NBCSports.com

Bob Bradley has taken plenty of flak at Swansea City, and rightly so. Since his anointment as the first American manager in England’s top flight, the Swans have picked up just five points and still sit bottom of the table, two points back of anyone else. But to be fair, the competition has been tough. The four losses since his appointment have come against Arsenal, Stoke City, Manchester United, and Tottenham, and he picked up a pair of points against 8th placed Everton and 11th placed Watford. Now is his chance to pick the Swans off the bottom with a win against those directly above him.

[ RELATED: Swansea issues vote of confidence for Bob Bradley ]

Sunderland visits Wales sitting in 18th, and should Swansea win, they would jump above the Black Cats. The task is no given, however, with Sunderland owning three wins in its last four, meaning they’ve picked up nine of their 11 total points in the last month. Bradley fended off much criticism the past week, and if he’s going to silence those calls for his job after just two months, this is a must-win.

5. West Ham finishes gauntlet stretch

Liverpool vs. West Ham United — 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday, NBCSports.com

The Hammers are in the midst of a brutal run of matches where they have just two points, putting them a single point above the relegation zone. The teams they’ve played? Everton, Stoke City, Spurs, Manchester United, Arsenal. Yikes. And yet, if West Ham aspire to the heights they reached last season, Slaven Bilic will expect better. Can the Hammers get a result against the high-flying Reds? Liverpool sits four points off the top, but goalkeeper Loris Karius was exposed last week in the stunning Bournemouth comeback, and it’s possible that disappointment leaves a lasting impact. Who will prevail?

FA bans Leeds owner Massimo Cellino 18 months

LEEDS, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 13:  Massimo Cellino President and Director of Leeds United during the Sky Bet Championship match between Leeds United and Fulham at Elland Road on December 13, 2014 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Clint Hughes/Getty Images)
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Leeds United may be making a push to return to the Premier League, but they’ll have to do so without their owner.

Massimo Cellino, who took over Leeds in February of 2014, has been banned for 18 months by the English FA for his involvement in the sale of Ross McCormack to Fulham later that summer. He was also fined $315,000 and required to complete a course outlining the duties and restrictions for owners in the English league.

During McCormack’s sale, a significant payment was apparently paid to unlicensed agent Barry Hughes, facilitated by McCormack’s official licensed agent Derek Day, who was also banned for 18 months, although 11 of those are suspended, leaving him sidelined for seven months should no other infractions arise.

This likely will only serve to accelerate the current potential sale of Leeds to Andrea Radrizzani, with both sides having publicly acknowledged discussions are ongoing.

Leeds is currently in fourth in the Championship table, having won five of their last six matches. McCormack, meanwhile, scoring a whopping 42 goals in 100 appearances over two years before making a big-money move to Aston Villa this past summer, where he has slumped at Villa Park, owning just two goals over 13 Championship appearances this season and losing his place in the team. To be fair, he struggled in his early days at Fulham as well, scoring just twice in his first 15 matches before exploding in his second season at Craven Cottage with 21 league goals.