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Serie A preview: Talking through Italy’s new season – Part I

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Italy starts on Saturday, with two matches ringing in the new Serie A season. ProSoccerTalk’s Richard Farley and new PST contributor Kirsten Schlewitz (who also serves as Serie A editor at SBNation.com) walk through the storylines ahead of a campaign where Juventus is picked by many to win their third straight title:

Richard Farley: So … I suppose there’s no other way to start this. Can anybody beat Juventus? Or, should we expect anybody to keep Juve from three-in-a-row?

Kirsten Schlewitz: Three wins in a row? Three scudetti? That’s a bigger challenge. With less than two weeks left in the transfer window, Juventus have lost none of their starters and made quality reinforcements. Meanwhile, their two biggest challengers — Fiorentina and Napoli — have both lost their best player.

RF: You’re talking Stefan Jovetic and Edinson Cavani. A lot of people are still talking about Fiorentina, as if all the hipsters who ruined Dortmund last year have been told Viola’s the new bacon. Why all the buzz?

KS: Yeah, the Viola are bacon dipped in chocolate and covered in a thin candy coating. They’ve got a hot young manager (Vincenzo Montella), play in a fantastic city, have a great new striker in Mario Gomez and they play in purple — what more can a new fan to Serie A want in a team?

RF: Jovetic, probably. Seems a lot of people in England didn’t know much about him (no, he’s not a No. 9). Can you explain how big a loss this will be? Preferably without food metaphors (still recovering over here).

KS: Well, most Fiorentina supporters seem to think their side is better off now that their star has shot off to Manchester. I find that interesting, however, as Gomez and JoJo aren’t the same player. Gomez will play in the same position, but they’re very nearly opposite forwards. The manner in which he’ll produce the goals will be different.

But Gomez will still have Juan Cuadrado and, as of today, Adem Ljajic helping him out up front, which may be why Viola supporters just aren’t that worried.

And Vincenzo Montella has brought in reinforcements for those wide roles, so if Ljajic leaves, or decides to go back on his Nutella diet, there are players , such as Joaquín, to step in

RF: Nutella. I’m sure there’s a segue to Napoli here — one referencing the irresistibility of their play under Walter Mazzarri — but I can’t find it. Regardless, Mazzarri’s at Inter, Rafa Benítez is in (resisting another Nutella reference here), and Naples has experienced a small Spanish invasion. Enough to offset the losses of Cavani and Hugo Campagnaro?

source: Getty ImagesKS: Honestly, I don’t think so. In a way, Napoli lost not one but two defenders, considering all the tracking back Cavani did. I don’t think — I don’t think ANYONE thinks — Higuain is at Cavani’s level. He won’t score 29 league goals next season and he won’t rescue opposition shots off the line. But he’ll be quality.

What helps in terms of production is Marek Hamsik (right) — 13 goals last season and the orchestrator of the Napoli attack — as well as Lorenzo Insigne. Insigne didn’t start much under Mazzarri, but Rafa doesn’t have the same aversion to youth, and the forward should be given many more chances this year. He’s looked immense in preseason as well.

So, in all honesty, I think the bigger loss is that of Hugo Campagnaro. Napoli haven’t replaced the centerback. They bought Albiol, but yet there’s still Paolo Cannavaro, who’s looked past his prime for well over a season now. Napoli looked bad enough defending set pieces last season. If the preseason is anything to go by, that will continue. Supporters will continue hiding behind their sofa cushions when Napoli concede a free kick, and it won’t even need to be from the likes of Andrea Pirlo for the strike to be threatening.

RF: Napoli in decline … no wonder the hipsters have flocked to Fiorentina. And given Napoli were the only real threat to Juve last year, the Bianconeri’s additions of Tévez and Llorente seem even scarier, given the state of the peloton. What about the other big names: Milan, Inter … Roma and Lazio? And hope of contention there?

KS: Okay, as a Napoli fan, I have to say that “in decline” is going a bit too far. “In transition” would be better. They still look great going forward and questionable at the back, which is more or less what we saw last season. Just the highs will be lower and the lows will be higher for a bit.

RF: Fair enough. My bad …

… in part two, we get to the Milan clubs, Roma’s duo, and look for surprises from this year’s Serie A.


Viktoria Plzen set to sign midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz

Obafemi Martins, Oniel Fisher, Andreas Ivanschitz
Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
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PRAGUE (AP) Czech champion Viktoria Plzen is close to signing Austrian midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz.

Plzen says Ivanschitz agreed terms for a contract lasting 1 + seasons and will sign it when the team returns from a training camp in Spain. Ivanschitz has already joined the squad at the Oliva Nova resort, the club says.

Ivanschitz helped the Seattle Sounders win their first MLS Cup in December.

[ NEW HOMES: Fonte | Berahino ]

No financial details were given.

The 33-year-old Ivanschitz also played for Rapid Vienna and Red Bull Salzburg in Austria, Mainz in the Bundesliga, Levante in Spain and Panathinaikos in Athens.

Ivanschitz played 69 games for Austria in 2003-14, scoring 12 goals.

FIFA allows Matip to represent Liverpool during AFCON

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 29: Joel Matip of Liverpool heads to score his team's third goal during the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Liverpool at Selhurst Park on October 29, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images
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Joel Matip is going to get to play for Liverpool during AFCON after all.

The center back had turned down the chance to represent Cameroon at the Africa Cup of Nations, and Liverpool was forced to apply to FIFA for a waiver.

[ PL PREVIEW: Swansea vs. Liverpool ]

Matip suffered an ankle injury in December, adding to his desire to stay at Anfield. He declared himself internationally retired and was one of six Cameroon players who refused call-ups for AFCON.

He last played for the Reds on Dec. 11, and can be selected by Jurgen Klopp against Swansea City on Saturday.

Man United captain Rooney raises $1.5m from charity game

FILE - A Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017 file photo of Manchester United's Wayne Rooney leaving the field after the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and Liverpool at Old Trafford stadium in Manchester, England. Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney says he raised 1.2 million pounds ($1.5 million) for charity from a friendly game against former club Everton last year. (AP Photo/Dave Thompson)
AP Photo/Dave Thompson
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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney says he raised 1.2 million pounds ($1.5 million) from a friendly game against former club Everton last year.

That represents the profits, after operational costs, from August’s sellout match at Old Trafford and goes toward the Wayne Rooney Foundation’s target of raising 5 million pounds for children’s charities.

[ NEW HOMES: Fonte | Berahino ]

Rooney said: “I’d like to thank all the fans who came to the testimonial and made it such a special night. They’ve raised a huge amount of money for children who are disadvantaged and it will make a real difference to their lives.”

Rooney is one goal from breaking Manchester United’s scoring record, with the striker currently tied with Bobby Charlton on 249 goals.

Rooney joined United from Everton in 2004.

WATCH: Lewandowski’s juggling stoppage time winner

Bayern's Robert Lewandowski celebrates after scoring his side's first goal during the German soccer Bundesliga match between SC Freiburg and FC Bayern Munich in Freiburg, Germany, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. (Patrick Seeger/dpa via AP)
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Robert Lewandowski picked up where he left off.

The Polish striker scored twice for Bayern Munich, once in stoppage time, as the Bavarians improved their Bundesliga lead to six points after toppling Freiburg 2-1 on Friday.

[ MORE: Bundesliga second half preview ]

And what a winner it was, Lewandowski taking a Douglas Costa cross with two juggling touches before hitting an offspeed bouncer inside the post.

It was the league’s first match following the winter/holiday break, giving Bayern a cushion before RB Leipzig takes the pitch against Eintracht Frankfurt in a Top Five tilt on Saturday.

Lewandowski moves closer to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the goal scoring chart. His 13th and 14th goals have him two back of Borussia Dortmund’s striker, as Lewandowski pursues a third Golden Boot in four seasons.

Full Weekend Schedule
Freiburg 1-2 Bayern Munich — Friday
Augsburg vs. Hoffenheim — Saturday
Schalke vs. Ingolstadt — Saturday
Darmstadt vs. Borussia Monchengladbach — Saturday
Werder Bremen vs. Borussia Dortmund — Saturday
Wolfsburg vs. Hamburger SV — Saturday
RB Leipzig vs. Eintracht Frankfurt — Saturday
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Hertha Berlin — Sunday
Mainz vs. Koln — Sunday