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.


LIVE – Champions League playoff: Nice-Napoli headlines action

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With Celtic (just about) booking their spot in the UEFA Champions League group stage on Tuesday, four more teams will join them.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ] 

Napoli, Olympiacos, Sevilla and Hapoel Be’er Sheva all have narrow leads heading into the second legs which sets things up rather nicely for the winner takes all second legs. Olympiacos and Be’er Sheva will be feeling particularly nervous after conceding at home in the first leg.

On Wednesday five more ties takes place across Europe with Liverpool looking to book their spot in the UCL group stage against Hoffenheim.

Below is the full schedule for Tuesday’s games, which kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET, while you can click on the link above to follow live commentary on all four matches.


Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League playoff second legs

Nice vs. Napoli (Napoli lead 2-0 on aggregate)
Astana 4-3 Celtic (Celtic advance 8-4 on aggregate)
Rijeka vs. Olympiacos (Olympiacos leads 2-1 on aggregate)
Sevilla vs. Istanbul Basaksehir (Sevilla leads 2-1 on aggregate)
Maribor vs. Hapoel Be’er Sheva (Hapoel Be’er Sheva lead 2-1 on aggregate)

LIVE – Premier League clubs enter League Cup

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Seven Premier League teams enter the League Cup second round on Tuesday with plenty of potential upsets lined up.

[ LIVE: Follow League Cup scores ]

All 13 PL clubs (six more are in action on Wednesday) face teams from the lower leagues with the likes of Crystal Palace, Leicester City, Bournemouth and Swansea City all on upset alert.

U.S. national team players to watch out for include Lynden Gooch who starts for Sunderland and Emerson Hyndman who is on the bench for Bournemouth.

Below is the schedule for the League Cup games on Tuesday with all games to kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET unless otherwise stated.


Tuesday
Crystal Palace vs. Ipswich Town – 2:30pm
Aston Villa vs. Wigan Athletic
Leeds United vs. Newport County
Middlesbrough vs. Scunthorpe United
Norwich City vs. Charlton Athletic
QPR vs. Brentford
Fulham vs. Bristol Rovers
Cardiff City vs. Burton Albion
Carlisle United vs. Sunderland
Doncaster vs. Hull City
Grimsby Town vs. Derby County
Brighton vs. Barnet
Accrington Stanley vs. West Brom
Sheffield United vs. Leicester City
Birmingham City vs. Bournemouth
Watford vs. Bristol City
MK Dons vs. Swansea City
Reading vs. Millwall – 3pm
Bolton vs. Sheffield Wednesday – 3pm

Celtic qualify for UEFA Champions League group stage

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Celtic survived a scare in Kazakhstan to qualify for the group stage of the UEFA Champions League for the second season on the trot.

[ MORE: Champions League schedule ]

Brendan Rodgers‘ side beat FC Astana 5-0 in the first leg of their playoff last week at Celtic Park but the trip to Kazakhstan proved much trickier with Astana leading 4-1 late in the game which had pulled the score back to 6-4 on aggregate.

However, Scott Sinclair had scored a priceless away goal to make it 1-1 at half time and despite a late flurry of goals for the hosts Olivier Ntcham scored a deflected effort and Leigh Griffiths wrapped things up late on as Celtic lost 4-3 on the night but went through 8-4 on aggregate.

Last season the Scottish champions went out in the UCL group stage after being drawn with Manchester City, Barcelona and Borussia Monchengladbach and will be hoping for a kinder draw this time around.

Premier League clubs on League Cup upset alert

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The second round of the League Cup (known as the Carabao Cup in 2017-18 for sponsorship reasons) kicks off on Tuesday with 13 Premier League clubs in action.

[ MORE: League Cup scores live ]

All 13 have been drawn against lower-league opposition and those klaxons you can hear signify upset alerts.

Below is a look at how each Premier League club will get on as they enter the competition on Tuesday and Wednesday with a ranking on each game out of 10, with 10 being the most likely for an upset to occur.

Remember: the seven PL teams in European competition will enter the League Cup in the third round.


Upset alert ranking for PL clubs

Tuesday
Crystal Palace vs. Ipswich Town – 8/10
Brighton vs. Barnet – 4/10
Accrington Stanley vs. West Brom – 7/10
Sheffield United vs. Leicester City – 6/10
Birmingham City vs. Bournemouth – 7/10
Watford vs. Bristol City – 5/10
MK Dons vs. Swansea City – 5/10

Wednesday
Newcastle United vs. Nottingham Forest – 6/10
Southampton vs. Wolves – 7/10
Huddersfield Town vs. Rotherham United – 7/10
Cheltenham vs. West Ham United – 8/10
Stoke City vs. Rochdale – 6/10
Blackburn Rovers vs. Burnley – 6/10