Matri goal leaves Inter searching for silver linings after Derby loss

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As Inter Milan slipped to sixth in Italy’s Serie A you could already imagine the tick, tick of the volume dial on the Andrea Stramaccioni debate. We’re at the point where any negative result will stoke some embers under the 37-year-old boss, though after today’s 2-1 loss to Juventus at the San Siro, the positives should be noted in any fair evaluation of the Inter boss. Hopefully, the debate about the young Stramaccioni’s quality can saty in stasis for a few more days.

The Nerazzurri fell behind early in today’s Derby d’Italia only to equalize early in the 54th minute through Rodrigo Palacio, just deserts for the effort given after the opening goal. But six minutes later, a breakdown allowed Juve to move through the middle of Inter’s defense, with the effort of Fabio Quagliarella rescuing a ball from touch and finding Alessandro Matri at the near post. Adding an assist to his opening goal, Quagliarella allowed Matri to beat Andrea Ranocchia and hammer the winner past a helpless Samir Handanovic.

It was Juventus playing to type. Over the course of 90 minutes, the only thing that separated their opponents was a few pieces of execution, most noticeably on the second goal. The sides were basically even in shots on goal (6-5, Inter) and possession (50-50), but after going ahead on the hour, Juventus locked down the match. Their win temporarily puts them 12 points clear at the top of Serie A, and with Bayern Munich visiting Turin on Tuesday, you can’t blame Bianconeri supporters for further indulging dreams of European glory.

But in Juventus’s need to show their first place form was a testament to Inter’s burgeoning. Though the Nerazzurri seemed to be slipping earlier this month, that now appears to be more of a phase than a pattern. Still hold a match-in-hand over Lazio and Fiorentina (the two teams above them in the standings), Inter have reason for hope.

Under normal circumstances Inter’s Saturday effort would have cashed in on that hope, but against a team used to stretching the smallest of margins into three-point chasms, Inter were left empty-handed. But that state shouldn’t overshadow the performance Stramaccioni was able to get out of his team, just as Inter’s elimination from Europa League shouldn’t make people forget they embarrassed Tottenham over 90 minutes two weeks ago. If Inter can carry that momentum forward, they may yet challenge for a Champions League spot.

Stramaccioni’s results need to improve, but after two good performances against quality opposition, now is not the time to fuel an inquest. Instead, it would be better to look at what Inter’s done well and ask whether that can be carried forward to Wednesday’s match at Sampdoria.

League Cup semifinal preview: Arsenal vs. Chelsea

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  • Chelsea has won 4-of-7 League Cup matches vs. Arsenal
  • Arsenal leads all-time series 74W-58D-62L
  • Clubs have drawn four times this season

Hardware hopes are on the line when Chelsea hits the Emirates Stadium for a League Cup semifinal second leg with Arsenal on Wednesday.

The sides drew 0-0 at Stamford Bridge, giving Chelsea the advantage of knowing a scoring draw would do the trick and set up a date with Manchester City at Wembley on Feb. 25, though Arsenal has home field advantage in pursuit of a win.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

Henrikh Mkhitaryan may debut for Arsenal, though the club released an interesting note on Tuesday: He’ll wear No. 7 in most competitions, but will have to use a different number in the Europa League because Alexis Sanchez wore it to start the tournament.

Chelsea’s Antonio Conte won’t have Alvaro Morata (back) and Cesc Fabregas for the match, though Andreas Christensen will be available for selection.

The clubs are no strangers to each other in big non-PL spots, squaring off in this season’s Community Shield (Arsenal won in penalty kicks) and last season’s FA Cup Final (Arsenal won).

Nothing has separated the sides on the field aside from those penalty kicks at Wembley Stadium, as Arsenal and Chelsea have drawn 1-1, 0-0, 2-2, and 0-0 since August.

What they’re saying

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger on Henrikh Mkhitaryan“He can play in different positions, but personally I see him first in a wide position, but I’m thinking about him a possibility to play through the middle. You are certain in our job of nothing, that’s absolutely sure. But you believe and I believe he has the qualities to do well, is a team player and our game is based on team attitude and movement and I think he can absorb the quantity of movement in our team.”

Chelsea’s Conte on the lineup: “Every game is different, you change the quality of your opponent and you must be intelligent enough to understand if you should continue with the same players or make some changes.”

Javier Mascherano leaving Barcelona after 8 seasons

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says defender Javier Mascherano is leaving the club after eight seasons.

Barcelona says there will be a farewell ceremony on Wednesday with Mascherano, club president Josep Bartomeu and the rest of the squad.

[ MORE: Man City to buy $86m CB ]

The 33-year-old Argentina international will say goodbye to the fans before Thursday’s game against Espanyol at Camp Nou in the Copa del Rey. He is reportedly going to play in China.

Mascherano, who also played as a defensive midfielder, arrived in Barcelona in 2010 from Liverpool and helped the Catalan club win 18 titles. He has made 334 appearances with Barcelona, but recently hadn’t been playing much.

The club earlier this month signed Colombia international Yerry Mina to boost its defense.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga

Man City reportedly agrees $86m price for Laporte

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Sky Sports reporter Guillem Balague is reporting that Manchester City is set to seal an $86 million purchase of center back Aymeric Laporte from Athletic Bilbao, and all that’s left is for City to agree to contract terms with the player.

[ MORE: MCFC into League Cup Final ]

The 23-year-old has been with the Basque outfit since 2012, making more than 200 appearances for Athletic. Balague issued a Tweet saying Man City opted for Laporte over $34 million Jonny Evans of West Brom.

Laporte is a smooth and technical passer at center back who shouldn’t have a problem with the physical nature of the Premier League either. He’s yet to break into the French national team, and is only the second French player to play for Bilbao.

Rumors have circulated for some time, though a Tuesday report was dismissed because Laporte was in advanced discussions with Man City during a previous transfer window when he changed his mind.

It’s more big money from City, a boon for Athletic Bilbao, and terrific competition for John Stones and any Man City center back not named Nicolas Otamendi (and Vincent Kompany when healthy).

Rapids hire Patel as director; Highest ranking female exec in MLS

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The Colorado Rapids have hired Ena Patel as their new director of player personnel. She becomes Major League Soccer highest ranking female executive, according to the Denver Post.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s MLS coverage ]

According to the Rapids, she’ll report to club GM Padraig Smith and “oversee player contracts, salary budget, regulatory compliance, and soccer operations protocols.”

The move comes about a month-and-a-half after Sporting KC hired Megan Cameron as an assistant director of player personnel, the first woman hired to an MLS team’s technical staff.

Patel’s resume is outlandishly strong, though this is her first foray into the sports world. Here are some words from Smith, from ColoradoRapids.com:

“Ena’s hiring is the final piece of the puzzle for us on the front office side,” Smith, the Rapids executive vice president and general manager, said in a statement released by the club. “Bringing in a sharp, legal mind who can oversee our contractual processes and complex league mechanisms is a really important part of ensuring that we’re fielding the best possible team. We can’t wait for her to get started.”