Lazio, Genoa and Lecce to face match-fixing charges

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Three Italian clubs, Lazio, Genoa and Lecce, along with eight players, one of which is Lazio captain Stefan Mauri, will all face charges related to the alleged match-fixing of two Serie A games in 2011.

Mauri and his eight conspirators – Mario Cassano, Carlo Gervasoni, Omar Milanetto, Alessandro Zamperini, Massimiliano Benassi, Antonio Rosati and Stefano Ferrario – all face charges of sporting fraud, while Mauri and Zamperini face two additional charges for violating the Code of Sports Justice’s principles of loyalty, fairness and integrity, and a ban on betting.

The trial is set for July 24th and if found guilty the players face bans while the clubs could be deducted points. Mauri could be in line for the steepest punishment, with prosecutor Stefano Palazzi reportedly set to ask for the 33 year old to be suspended for five years.

This is the third consecutive off-season that the Italian Football Federation is set to hand out point deductions. Since mid 2011, at least 50 people in Italy have been arrested for match fixing.

The incident at issue appears to stem from Mauri & Co.’s attempt to fix the last two matches of the 2010-11 Serie A season in order to earn Lazio a spot in the Champions League. Here’s how the situation played out.

After losing three consecutive matches – a 1-2 defeat at Inter Milan, a 0-1 home loss to Juventus and a 1-2 loss at Udinese – Lazio’s dreams of playing in the 2011-12 Champions League were fading fast.

With two matches remaining in the season – against Genoa on May 14, 2011 and Lecce on May 22, 2011 – Lazio needed to collect all six points if they were to have a chance at qualifying for Europe’s top competition. With the fixes allegedly in place, Lazio defeated both Genoa and Lecce by scores of 4-2.

What Lazio could not control, however, was how the other Serie A side vying for a Champions League birth, Udinese, would fair in those final two weeks. In their penultimate match the Biancocelesti beat Chievo Verona 2-0.

In their final contest, against that year’s Serie A Champions AC Milan, Antonio di Natale & Co. managed an incredible 0-0 draw. That point was enough to put Udinese into 4th place, edging out 5th place Lazio (who were equal on league points with 66) by mere goal differential.

Just another reminder that even in football, crime never pays.

“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

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Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

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Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.