No moral victories as Napoli loses at Inter Milan

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If Roberto Mancini was indignant after his team’s loss to Manchester United, Walter Mazzarri had reason to be irate. Manchester City’s boss spent his post-match interviews insisting his team was the better side in Sunday’s Manchester Derby, but his team’s perceived dominance was nothing compared to the pressure Napoli maintained on Inter Milan throughout Sunday’s match at the San Siro.

Unfortunately, just like City, Napoli came up short, dropping the 2-1 result and a place in the table to Internazionale. The Nerazzurri now sit second in Serie A, four points behind Juventus. Napoli, the other main threat to Juve;s defense, trail by five.

The Azzurri controlled play from the opening kickoff only to see Inter stop prove feisty every time their visitors tried to initiate an attacking move. Napoli’s early energy was defused by a well-timed challenges, clearing balls into the combative midfield before Napoli’s Gokhan Inler and Valon Behrami regained possession and cycled Napoli into a new attack.

That dynamic changed in the eighth minute when Inter’s Fredy Guarin latched onto a corner from the left, perfectly hitting a ball inside Morgan De Sanctis’s left post for the opener. On a restart from Antonio Cassano lofted well beyond the middle of the area, Guarin connected with the ball just before it hit the ground, an attempt we normally see end up in the stands. This time, Guarin drove the ball on goal while De Sanctis stopped short of the near post to try to maintain position for a cross-goal shot. The gap gave Gaurin enough room for the opener.

After the score, Inter’s combativeness went away. Starting both Javier Zanetti and Walter Gargano in the midfield of their 3-5-2 formation, the Nerazzurri stopped challenging and started parrying Napoli’s attacks, a stance that persisted through the end of the match. The posture allowed Mazzarri’s team to complete 83 percent of their passes while holding 63 percent of the ball, outshooting Inter 21 to 8 (total shots). Under siege in the second half, Inter leveraged a late first half goal from Diego Milito to hold out for a 2-1 win. Napoli’s only goal came from Edinson Cavani in the 54th minute.

It was Inter’s first big win since beating Juventus on Nov. 3, a victory that announced Andrea Strammacioni’s team as potential title contenders. Unfortunately, Inter regressed in the wake of that win, earning only one point in their next three matches. With a trip to Lazio on Saturday, Strammacioni can not afford to let his team fall into a similar lapse.

But given the way the game played out, Sunday’s result will be seen as more of a road bump for Napoli than a pedestal for Inter. The Nerazzurri merely illustrated their capacity, whereas Napoli, in the third year of their run as one of the better teams in Serie A, are looking for more than mere good performances.

After losing Ezequiel Lavezzi to Paris Saint-Germain this summer, there is a lingering feeling that the window for this team may be closing. Whether that end point is the sale of Cavani or the loss of more supporting parts, Napoli’s time is now. As such, games like Sunday’s at the San Siro – in front of a surprisingly supportive crowd, against a team that’s there to be beaten – are discouraging.

Napoli (and the rest of Italy) can take solace in the fact that Juventus doesn’t appear ready to pull away. While the gap to the holders may be five points, the Partenopei have every reason to believe they are just as capable as the leaders.

Going forward, they’ll need to convert strong performances like Sunday’s into full points if they’re to unseat the champions.

PL Preview: Brighton vs. Stoke City

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  • Stoke leads all-time 16W-14D-9L
  • First league meeting since 2006
  • Potters have won last 8 in series

Brighton and Hove Albion meets Stoke City for the first time in Premier League history when the two battle at the Amex Stadium on Monday (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Brighton is unbeaten in its last four PL matches, with a pair of away wins and two draws at home.

They’ve been led at the back end by Shane Duffy and in attack by Pascal Gross, but it’s been a well-traveled Premier League veteran filling the goals. Glenn Murray has historic motivation to keep scoring, knowing that a marker versus Stoke would make him the first Brighton player to ever score a goal in four successive top flight matches.

Stoke followed up its win over Watford with a draw against Leicester City. The Potters have two goals and four assists from Swiss attacker Xherdan Shaqiri, and three and one from Senegalese scorer Mame Biram Diouf.

What they’re saying

Brighton’s Chris Hughton on bagging wins“For a club like us to get back-to-back wins would show the level we are playing at. It’s tough. I remember being told by somebody with one of the promoted teams that they didn’t get their first away win until February-March. That can happen and it’s exactly the same for a team getting promoted to get back-to-wins. They are hard to come by. Any way we are able to do that would certainly be a major boost for us.”

Stoke manager Mark Hughes on Xherdan ShaqiriHe is taking on more the role of the main instigator of our attacking threat. When he gets the ball, I think the whole team responds to that. You sense that maybe something’s going to happen. And I think the crowd sends it as well. And I know opposition team sense it too.”

Prediction

Few matches are more of a toss-up than this one, and there’s no recent match-ups on which to rest our heads. So we’ll side with the home team managing a point, and maybe a pair of old-timer goals from Murray and Peter Crouch, in a 1-1 draw.

Italy soccer chief resigns after failure to reach World Cup

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ROME (AP) Italian football federation president Carlo Tavecchio has resigned a week after the Azzurri failed to qualify for the World Cup.

Monday’s announcement came following calls for a complete overhaul of the nation’s most popular sport, from the amateur leagues right up to Serie A and the national teams.

[ MORE: What’s next for West Brom? ]

Sweden’s playoff win over Italy kept the four-time champion out of the World Cup for the first time in six decades.

Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura was fired two days after the loss.

For the last week, Tavecchio has resisted calls to step down but he eventually lost the support of the federation’s board of directors.

Former federation chief Giancarlo Abete said as he left the board meeting where Tavecchio resigned that a new election would be held within 90 days.

Managerial change a slippery slope for West Brom

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Tony Pulis brought much needed stability to West Bromwich Albion before his tenure soured in a hurry.

When Pulis took over at the Hawthorns, West Brom had seen both Pepe Mel and Alan Irvine do little winning in abbreviated managerial stints. Mel won three of 17 matches in charge, while Irvine could only nab five in 22.

[ MORE: Pulis sacked ]

So there is little debating, even for those who West Brom fans who revel in the club’s former free-flowing ways, that Pulis had a productive time in charge from January 2015 right on through most of last season.

But Pulis was seemingly limited to setting a points total and then kicking his heels up once Premier League safety was reached.

While that sounds a bit laughable, the facts are that the Baggies finished 10th last season despite an impressive start that saw the club comfortably eighth for much of the season. However, West Brom won five points from its final 12 matches to finish 16 points behind a European place (including five shutout losses at home).

The Baggies finished 14th the previous season, Pulis’ first full year in charge, but collapsed again after hitting the rarefied air of 11th. That final stretch? Five losses and four draws including shutout losses at home to Norwich City, Watford, and West Ham.

In doing so, Pulis belied his own budgetary critiques by proving the Baggies had the talent to compete for something relatively special.

Pulis was good at getting his side to play with the fury of a relegation contender from Day One, but it was so clear the side was sated once safety was secure. It wouldn’t be callous to opine that the manager would’ve viewed the Europa League as a nuisance to his “never been relegated” reputation (an idea buttressed by West Brom’s performances in Cup competitions, where Pulis never advanced to a quarterfinal while losing to Reading, Norwich City, Derby County, Northampton Town, and, this season, Man City).

What West Brom does next will say a lot. If it’s as simple as a rehashing of the “never been relegated” deck with Sam Allardyce, well, that’s something. But the Baggies are in the tricky predicament of having to replace a relatively stable hand who was their first good hire in three tries, while also running with the knowledge that their players clearly are capable of so much better than 17th.

The names on the bettor’s lists show what’s expected of West Brom: gritty style from an island manager. Derek McInnes is the favorite, with Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill just ahead of Sam Allardyce. Alan Pardew is next, followed by Ronald Koeman (For what it’s worth, bookies are still milking money from gamblers by including Jurgen Klinsmann’s name at 20:1 or so).

West Brom is in its eighth-straight Premier League campaign. The firing will jostle an already rocking ship, but the Baggies have steady leadership in Jonny Evans, Ben Foster, Chris Brunt, Gareth Barry, Gareth McAuley, and Craig Dawson. They have the wherewithal to achieve safety again, and can even look good in the process should a manager find the right way to use Salomon Rondon, Matty Phillips, Jay Rodriguez, Nacer Chadli, and others.

Who’s the right man for the job?

West Brom fires manager Tony Pulis

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Tony Pulis‘ reign over the Hawthorns is over, as West Bromwich Albion has fired the 59-year-old after just under three years in charge of the Premier League outfit.

Assistant coach Gary Megson takes over on an interim basis.

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The Baggies have not won a game since August, and were belted 4-0 at home by Chelsea on Saturday to leave the club one point above the drop zone.

Overall, Pulis oversaw wins in just 36 of his 121 matches, losing 49, in what will go down as one of the least successful stints in his well-traveled career. Only three PL clubs have scored less than the Baggies’ nine goals.

Here’s the club statement:

“These decisions are never taken lightly but always in the interests of the Club.

“We are in a results business and over the back end of last season and this season to date, ours have been very disappointing.

“We would like to place on record our appreciation of Tony’s contribution and hard work during a period of transition for the Club which included a change of ownership. We wish him well in his future endeavours.”

Pulis will almost certainly be back on the touch line soon, as he hasn’t spent more than a few months out of work since 2002.