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/

New York Red Bulls introduce space at RBA for autistic families

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HARRISON, N.J. (AP) The Red Bulls have announced plans for a permanent sensory-friendly space at their stadium for families impacted by autism.

Formerly executive offices, the space overlooking midfield is a calm area that is free from the crowds and the noise of Red Bull Arena during matches. Families can use it for free.

The team announced the new space on Saturday before the Red Bulls were set to host the Chicago Fire. It was Autism Awareness Night at the stadium.

“Families deserve to feel welcome and comfortable each time they step foot into Red Bull Arena, not just one night a year,” Red Bulls GM Marc de Grandpre said in a statement released by the club. “We hope all sports teams and entertainment venues are inspired to take similar action to provide comfort for families with loved ones on the autism spectrum.”

League Two game restarted in empty stadium after fans storm field

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LONDON (AP) An English soccer game restarted in an empty stadium after a pitch invasion led to the crowd being told the fixture had been abandoned.

There were five minutes remaining in Leyton Orient’s fourth-tier game against Colchester on Saturday when a sit-down protest was staged on the pitch by Orient fans against Italian owner Francesco Becchetti.

It forced the referee to take the players off the field. The protests lasted for more than an hour before the crowd was told the game had been abandoned and the stadium eventually cleared. The teams came out and finished the game.

Leyton Orient lost 3-1 a week after its relegation from the English Football League was confirmed after 112 years.

“A decision was taken with the police to announce that the game had been abandoned as it was felt this would help clear the pitch, which proved correct,” the EFL said in a statement. “However, it was deemed appropriate that the game needed to be played to a conclusion in order to maintain the integrity of the competition.”

La Liga: Barcelona, Real Madrid hold serve in tight title race

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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: Super-duper Sunday preview — North London derby, plus 6 of top 7 ]

Espanyol 0-3 Barcelona

Barcelona are doing all they can do — win — in their bid to usurp Real Madrid in the race for the title. While they entered the weekend — and still are — ahead of their El Clasico rivals based on head-to-head results this season, Los Blancos still have a game in hand which will surely decide whether Madrid claim their 33rd top-division title, or a 25th for Barca.

On Saturday, Luis Enrique’s side had more than just the title at stake — also at stake: the Derbi Barceloni, against fellow Catalan side Espanyol.

For 45 minutes, the home side held firm and refused to break, but once Luis Suarez put the Blaugrana ahead in the 50th minute, that was all she wrote. Ivan Rakitic doubled the advantage in the 76th minute, and Suarez completed the scoring 11 minutes later.

Real Madrid 2-1 Valencia

By the time the derby kicked off, Madrid had already applied the pressure and gone three points clear with a 2-1 victory that was a whole lot closer than the final score indicates.

Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring just before the half-hour mark, and Zinedine Zidane’s side was well on its way to victory. Ronaldo followed up his opening goal with a missed penalty kick 10 minutes into the second half, and Daniel Parejo pulled the visitors level with a sensational free kick just eight minutes before the end of regular time. Points looked sure to be dropped, and the door opened wider for Barca, but Marcelo was prepared to play the part of hero on the day, and the Brazilian left back bagged one of the season’s more improbable goals, a right-footed strike from the top of the box, in the 86th minute.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Las Palmas 0-5 Atletico Madrid
Real Sociedad 2-1 Granada

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Osasuna vs. Deportivo La Coruña — 6 a.m. ET
Real Betis vs. Alaves — 10:15 a.m. ET
Eibar vs. Leganes — 12:30 p.m. ET
Celta Vigo vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:45 p.m. ET

Monday’s La Liga schedule

Malaga vs. Sevilla — 3 p.m. ET

Championship Focus: It’s all about the playoff places now

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With Brighton & Hove Albion and Newcastle United having already clinched the Championship’s two automatic promotion places, all eyes turn to the four teams behind them still jockeying for playoff positioning…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s coverage of the Championship ]

3rd — Reading — 82 points, +2 GD
4th — Sheffield Wednesday — 81 points, +16 GD
5th — Huddersfield Town — 81 points, +1 GD
6th — Fulham — 77 points, +27 GD

First of all, the Championship remains the least sensible league in the world. Disagree? Just try to explain the above wildly varying points totals and the corresponding goal differentials. Go ahead, I’ll wait

As for the weekend’s results, Reading and Wednesday did themselves major favors in the race for third with victories over Wigan Athletic (1-0) and Ipswich Town (1-0), respectively, while Huddersfield, who entered the weekend in that top playoff place, played 67 minutes with a man advantage against Birmingham City, and lost 2-0. All three of Reading, Wednesday and Huddersfield have clinched their place in the promotion playoffs, which begin two weeks from Saturday, on May 13.

[ MORE: PL Sunday preview — North London derby, plus 6 of the top 7 play ]

Given Leeds United’s 3-3 draw with Norwich City, a win would have clinched the fourth and final playoff place for Fulham, but the Cottagers dropped a pair of points themselves in a 1-1 draw with Brentford at Craven Cottage. Still, Fulham are all but into the playoffs with a three-point lead on Leeds, and a goal differential that’s 13 goals better.