Antonio Nocerino, right, has joined West Ham on loan from AC Milan.

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

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In Part I of their Serie A preview, Kirsten Schlewitz and Richard Farley talked about Juventus, Fiorentina, and Napoli’s changes at Italy’s crown. With the new season starting tomorrow, here’s their look at Milan, Inter, Roma, Lazio, and the pack:

Kirsten Schlewitz: Milan may have a hope, but they have the same defensive issues as Napoli. They’re still playing Philippe Mexes, for goodness sake. I guess when you have Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy up front, you don’t worry too much about the back. It also helps that Nigel De Jong is fit again, and can help relieve some of the pressure from the back four.

Richard Farley: I’d love to go on and on about an attack that will sometimes feature all of Balotelli, El Shaarawy, and M’Baye Niang, but can we pause for a moment and stand in awe of the fact that Max Allegri survived? My God, that was close. The man’s only had three straight top three finishes while having his team sold (and let go) out from under him. He’s not perfect, but yeesh. What’s a man go to do to keep his … oh, wait. Forgot we were talking about Italy.

Same building, different team. How much difference will Walter Mazzari make at Inter? Clearly, he’s not going to do worse than Andrea Stramaccioni did last season.

KS: Allegri’s secret is the fact that he casts a spell over his side while yelling “DAI! DAI! DAI!” again and again. That and the arrival of Mario, of course.

I’m a big cynic about Mazzarri, having to had to watch him closely over the past few seasons. Yeah, he did well to get Napoli where they are, but he also had great players. I’m not sure Inter have great players. His insistence on using the same players, week in and week out, in the same shape, makes it easy for other sides to exploit their weaknesses. And his refusal to give young players a chance often harms his sides.

But will he do better than Strama? Yes. A … searching for a food metaphor here … an eggplant would be better than Stramaccioni.

Yes, an eggplant. I couldn’t think of anything better.

RF: I know I should transition into another team here, but I’m already debating whether to keep that reference in the edit. Seriously: No more food metaphors. Don’t you know all cool sports writing references pop culture. Which member of One Direction would Mazzarri be?

KS: Who? I’m hungry and we’re talking about Italy. Food metaphors are necessary. Although to be fair, I didn’t invent the Ljajic one.

RF: Fair enough. We still have the two teams from Rome … who it feels like we’re just referencing because they’re big clubs. Should we just say “Michael Bradley” and “Hernanes” and get out of here? I think our audience wants to hear a little about how Bradley’s going to do (especially with Roma having changed … everything, ever, again), and Hernanes – well, I just picked Lazio’s best player. What can these teams do?

KS: We can talk about Bradley, but he’s not the reason to watch Roma. He’s certainly improved at the club, but his role may diminish with the arrival of Kevin Strootman.

Roma have had an … interesting … transfer market, …

RF: You don’t say.

source: Getty ImagesKS: As of right now, they still have Erik Lamela, they still have Miralem Pjanic, and of course, they still have Francesco Totti (right). Those players are all reasons to believe Roma can make a solid showing, but anyone saying they can do more than finish in the top five is simply dreaming.

What else …

RF: My love of Totti is well documented. But … Lazio.

KS: Oh, Lazio. Lazio kind of fell off the deep end at the end of last season and have done little to rectify the situation since. They held on to Hernanes and they still have Miroslav Klose, but, well, he’s old. At some point, he’s going to stop scoring. That point may have been in the Supercoppa match last weekend. Vladmir Petkovic is a solid coach, but not spectacular. I just don’t think there’s a lot to fear from Lazio this season.

RF: Give the readers one team we haven’t detailed who could surprise and, say, claim a European spot.

KS: I assume you mean besides Udinese, who always manage to slip in and get a Europa League spot against all odds?

RF: No, I didn’t mean besides them, but that’s my fault. I always forget they’re in Europe, given how much they always seem to want out. But … yes, let’s pick somebody besides Udinese.

KS: Well, Catania were the surprise last year, but with the losses of Alejandro Gomez and Francesco Lodi, I have trouble believing they’ll finish in the top half. So I’d say . . . Parma? They’re at least interesting, they’ve kept much of their squad and made decent reinforcements. If Roberto Donadoni wises up and learns how to use his players, such as Nicola Sansone, they could certainly be the thorn in the side of the big clubs.

RF: And of source you bring up one of the players I want to dote on (Sansone) as we need to move on. Our contracts with the International Blogger Council require us to make picks, but let’s keep it simple. Who wins the league?

KS: Juve.

RF: Took my answer. Second and third? I’ll go Napoli and … OMG … am I really saying this? I think Max gets them (Milan) into top three again. Same order as last year.

KS: Hmmmm.

RF: Look, I’m no Serie A expert. I just play one on the internet, where I’m allowed to say dumb stuff (as long as the domain name is twitter.com).  You, however, need to be right.

KS: Well, by “Max” you mean “Mario,” right? Nevermind. Predictions are dumb and I always end up alienating fan bases. No more. I quit.

RF: Fair enough, but I’m not the one who’ll have to answer to the council.


Klopp played three positions in Liverpool staff team’s draw with Stanford

Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool FC (Photo credit: @StanfordMSoccer)
Photo credit: @StanfordMSoccer
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From the Endearing Jurgen Klopp Tales file, the Liverpool manager reportedly starred in defense, midfield and attack for a squad full of Reds coaches against Stanford on Sunday.

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Liverpool, who have based themselves on the sunny, warm Stanford University campus as part of their preparations for the 2016-17 Premier League, took on the collegiate side and played the youngsters to a 1-1 draw.

Klopp failed to get his name on the scoresheet, though the former Mainz striker had one golden chance turned away by Stanford’s goalkeeper. The same couldn’t be said for physiotherapist Ruben Pons, who scored from beyond the halfway line on a mishit long ball over the top.

With all the goodwill Klopp has banked with Reds fans in his first nine months at the club, he’s now only a PL title away from securing his place as an eternal Liverpool legend.

Liverpool will take on Chelsea in each side’s first International Champions Cup fixture Wednesday night (11 p.m. ET) in Pasadena, Calif.

Former Fergie assistant Phelan wants Hull job — “I want to be a manager”

SCUNTHORPE, ENGLAND - JULY 23:  Hull City interim manager Mike Phelan prior to kick off in the pre-season friendly between Scunthorpe United and Hull City at Glanford Park on July 23, 2016 in Scunthorpe, England.  (Photo by Daniel Smith/Getty Images)
Photo by Daniel Smith/Getty Images
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Following Steve Bruce’s sudden and unexpected resignation this week, Hull City find themselves without a first-team manager 20 days before the 2016-17 Premier League opener, which will pit the PL newcomers (again) against the reigning PL champions (not again) Leicester City on Aug. 13.

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The man presently in charge of the club, Mike Phelan, who served as Sir Alex Ferguson‘s no. 2 for a number of years at Manchester United, has essentially no first-team managerial experience, but he’s eager to cut his teeth and wants the job anyway — quotes from the Hull Daily Mail:

“I want to be a manager. I don’t really see why I shouldn’t want to be a manager. Time will tell. That decision doesn’t sometimes come down to you.

“I’ve had a small chat and I was asked if I would carry on being in charge for now. We have games, we have preparations, we’ve still got three weeks to go.

“My job is no different to what it has been except now I’m stood on the touchline in games doing my bit. We just have to do our job, there’s nothing else we can do until the powers that be make their decisions.”

Here’s why it’s (obviously) crazy for the club to delay a final decision any longer than absolutely necessary: with every passing day, important preparations for a PL season, a campaign in which the Tigers will almost certainly be fighting for their top-division status, are being undertaken by an interim boss who, based upon the daily whims of an outgoing owner, may or may not be the man to lead Hull into that 38-game battle.

Phelan previously served as interim manager for Norwich City in 2015, for a period totaling four days.

Int’l Champions Cup: Aurier scores twice as PSG throttle Inter Milan

Paris Saint-Germain's Serge Aurier, right, gets a shot past Inter Milan goalkeeper Samir Handanovic, left, in the first half of the International Champions Cup soccer match at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore., Sunday, July 24, 2016. (Andy Nelson/The Register-Guard via AP)
Andy Nelson/The Register-Guard via AP
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EUGENE, Ore. (AP) Serge Aurier scored twice and Paris Saint-Germain beat Inter Milan 3-1 on Sunday at the University of Oregon’s Autzen Stadium.

Layvin Kurzawa also scored for PSG on a free kick in the 61st minute in the International Champions Cup match. Stevan Jovetic scored for Inter Milan on a penalty kick in stoppage time following the first half.

Autzen Stadium, the home football field of the Oregon Ducks, hosted the match, part of the International Champions Cup. Real grass was laid down on the artificial turf field, obscuring the yellow `O’ at midfield.

The International Champions Cup is an exhibition tournament involving 17 teams playing on four different continents. It serves a tuneup for the regular season.

Inter Milan was coming off a 2-1 victory over Real Salt Lake earlier in the week in Utah. Striker Mauro Icardi played in that match, and was given the day off against PSG.

Paris Saint-Germain, which beat West Bromwich Albion 2-1 its last time out on July 14 in Austria, is embarking on its first season under Unai Emery, who took over for Laurnet Blanc. In addition to the new manager, PSG will also need to adjust to the departure of enigmatic forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who signed with Manchester United earlier this month.

Ibrahimovic had 38 goals in 31 French league games last season, helping PSG to a fourth successive title. On Sunday midfielder Javier Pastore wore No. 10.

Angel Di Maria, Edinson Cavani and Thomas Meunier entered as subs for Paris Saint-Germain in the second half.

Di Maria had just returned to his club team earlier in the week after taking some time off following the Copa America tournament. He played for his native Argentina in the final, which Chile won on penalty kicks.

David Luiz apparently did not make the trip to Eugene from Los Angeles, where PSG was training.

Aurier, who played in the 2014 World Cup for his native Ivory Coast, left-footed the rebound of a free kick off goalkeeper Samir Handanovic into the bottom left corner.

Inter Milan evened it on Jovetic’s penalty kick into the top right corner in extra time following the first half. The penalty was awarded when Lucas Moura was called for a handball.

Aurier had a good chance in the 57th minute but his shot hit the crossbar. A few minutes later, Kurzawa struck a perfectly placed free kick that Handanovic couldn’t reach that put PSG in front.

Aurier’s second goal was a header off a cross from Alec Georgen in the 87th minute.

Is MLS MVP a three-horse race at the All-Star “break”?

Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco laughs after being named Major League Soccer's 2015 Most Valuable Player in Toronto, Wednesday, Dec.  2, 2015. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)
Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP
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With the 2016 MLS All-Star Game set to be played Thursday night (versus Arsenal, at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, Calif.), it got me thinking about the race for this year’s Most Valuable Player award. (If MLS is going to continue holding the All-Star Game every year — and they are — it should include an actual break, as is the case in all other America sports.)

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While the field is a small one at this point of the campaign, it’s also much closer than it was last year, when Sebastian Giovinco took home the honor in an absolute landslide of a vote.

Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC

The reigning MVP is on pace for something of a come-down in his second season in MLS, but when you put up 22 goals and 16 assists in your debut campaign, can you really expect to replicate that kind of production from one year to the next? Still, 11 goals (on the most shots in the league – 124) and 7 assists through 20 games (Giovinco has played in 19) has him on pace for 18 goals and 12 assists. Of course, when you consider he snapped a skid of eight games without a goal with a hat trick Saturday night, and that he’s unlikely to endure such a slump through the final 14 games, 18 and 12 should be considered the proverbial floor.

TFC have scored just 25 goals this season, and Giovinco has scored or assisted 18 of them (72 percent).

As for TFC’s present standing and how that impacts Giovinco’s MVP candidacy, fifth place through 20 games is a disappointment considering this was to be “the year” where they were less of a collection of talent, and more a functional team. Of course, injuries (and national team call-ups) have robbed the Reds of Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Will Johnson for lengthy periods already. That TFC find themselves presently a playoff team, and a measly six points back of the Eastern Conference’s top spot with two games in hand, should benefit Giovinco’s case more than hurt it.

David Villa, New York City FC

This one’s pretty simple: NYCFC weren’t supposed to be anywhere near the top spot of the East this season, yet that’s where they find themselves at the break, and Villa has spearheaded their unlikely run by scoring 13 goals (most in MLS – on 117 shots – 46 more than the next-closest player) and one assist through 22 games (Villa has played in 21). The question is this, though: will Patrick Vieira’s side still be there come the end of the season? So much of Villa’s claim to MVP is that he’s been the best player on one of the best (and certainly most surprising) teams in MLS this year.

If they’re to fall back into the pack (they’re just two points clear of the New York Red Bulls following Sunday’s 4-1 derby disaster, and only four points from fourth), Villa will quickly fall from MVP candidate to “the best best player on a subpar team.”

New York City FC forward David Villa, left, and New York City FC defender Chris Wingert celebrate Villa's early goal during the first half of the match between New York City FC and Toronto FC, Sunday, July 12, 2015, at Yankee Stadium in New York. (AP Photo/Kevin Hagen)
(AP Photo/Kevin Hagen)

Ignacio Piatti, Montreal Impact

The Impact have, for my money, the most complete roster in the Eastern Conference. Didier Drogba is arguably the most dominant goal-scoring force MLS has ever seen (8 goals in 12 appearances this season; 11 in 11 last year), and the depth in midfield and defense is unparalleled, yet Piatti has been the unrivaled star through the first 20 games of the season (he has played in 18). His 12 goals and 5 assists are rivaled only by Giovinco’s numbers, and he’s been a far more consistent contributor than the Italian (never more than three games without a goal, while playing as a non-forward, unlike Giovinco).

The knock on Piatti has always been his inability to stay healthy and approach a pace of 30 appearances in a single season. Finally consistently healthy in 2016, he’s taken his short-term production and replicated that same kind of output over 90 percent of his team’s games this season. If he can reach 30 games played this year, Piatti has the best chance of stopping Giovinco from becoming the first back-to-back MVP winner in league history.

Montreal Impact's Ignacio Piatti, left, of Argentina, scores a goal as Vancouver Whitecaps' Kendall Waston, of Costa Rica, defends during first half MLS soccer action, in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Sunday, March 6, 2016. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
(Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)

On the fringe, with a chance to catch the leaders: Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls – 5 goals, 12 assists), Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers – 9 goals, 5 assists)