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Italy: Napoli, Roma stay perfect as top five pulls clear

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Rafa Benítez’s hot start to his Serie A return had failed to draw huge trumpets through three rounds, mostly because an easy slate of opening fixtures gave the new Napoli boss little chance to impress. This week, however, that changed drastically, with a Champions League visit from Borussia Dortmund and a trip to AC Milan guaranteed to test one of Italy’s last two perfect sides. If Napoli won both those games, there’d be no denying their place amongst the best clubs in Europe, right?

As it turns out, not all wins are created equal, and while the Neopolitans deserve credit for posting successive 2-1 wins, each require some more context. On Wednesday, a first half red card left visiting Dortmund with 10 for the second half, and while Napoli were already up by the time Roman Weidenfeller handled outside his area, the sending off amounted to a huge what if. What if last year’s Champions League finalists had got to halftime at full strength? Would some of the push we saw at match’s end have been better-rewarded?

Sunday’s caveats were different, but there were still caveats. Napoli went up early on a set piece through Miguel Britos, controlled much of the first half, and saw a Gonzalo Higuaín blast through Christian Abbiati give them a two-goal lead early in the second half. But somewhere along the way, Milan had gained control, with Mario Balotelli becoming game’s focal point. Stressing a defense that was thought to be Napoli’s weak spot before the season, the Milan attacker slowly made the game into a question of whether (and how often) he’d break through.

But a penalty stop by Pepe Reina, the first miss in 22 career tries by Balotelli, hinted there’d be no breakthrough. Another blast off the woodwork midway through the second provided confirmation, as did a penalty appeal denied by Luca Banti. Despite 12 shots on goal and a late consolation tally (a nice finish by the Italian international), Balotelli was unable to dent Napoli’s perfect start, eventually earning a second yellow card for a post-whistle altercation with Valon Behrami.

Milan would end up with big advantages in all the main indicators — shots (22-9), shots on goal (8-3), and possession (56-44) — but most of that was due to Napoli’s early lead. On the road against one of Italy’s most talented (if injury-riddled) sides, the partenopei’s win was a strong one, even if Batoletti seemed determined to take it from them. On another day — if the penalty goes in, if Balotelli’s a little more precise earlier in the match, if Abbiati doesn’t concede a soft one to Higuaín — Napoli’s willingness to give Milan so many cracks many have bitten them. On Sunday, it served as confirmation their defense could hold out.

In that sense, it wasn’t the most resounding of victories, but it was still a good one. And with Rafa Benítez on the sidelines, Napoli fans are going to have to get used to this type of game management. But given the team’s won five in a row and sit near the top of the league, it’s hard to nit-pick too much. If Rafa’s style continues to produce these results, we’ll soon hear those trumpets

Highlights:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ovErYfcPVsY]
source: Getty Images
Francesco Totti, who signed a contract extension through 2017 mid-week, assisted on Sunday’s first goal as Roma win this year’s first Rome Derby. (Photo: Getty Images.)

ROMA KEEP PACE AT TOP

If you do want to nit-pick, Napoli’s not actually at the top of the league. At best they’re joint top, but if one team were to be singled out, that honor would belong to Roma, whose 2-0 victory over rival Lazio moves them first on goal difference. Along with Napoli, Barcelona, and Atlético Madrid, they are one of four perfect teams remaining in Europe’s top five leagues.

Like Napoli, part of their climb has been fueled by a kind fixture list, one that should have become decidedly more difficult with today’s Rome Derby. Yet to a Roma defense that had only allowed one goal all year, the Aquile offense never presented a problem. Morgan De Sanctis went untested in the Giallorossi goal, leaving the match to be decided by Rudi Garcia’s attack.

For one half, Roma were no more effective than their rivals, but when Francisco Totti set up Federico Balzaretti’s left-footed volley just past the hour, the game was all but decided.

Highlights:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=av7ZiHFdeKU]

Between their decisive round two loss to Juventus and today’s underwhelming derby performance, Lazio looks like they’ve taken a step back from the team that won last year’s Coppa Italia. It may be too early to write them off, but it’s not too early to note something’s wrong. Through four rounds they’ve collected six points, but they were a combined -5 against Juve and Roma.

The Giallorossi, on the other hand, have claimed 12 and are part of a quintet that look poised to pull away from the league. In a season they were expected to compete for Europe and little more, Rudi Garcia may be slotting his team along side Inter as surprise competition for the league’s three favorites. A controlling win over their fiercest rivals hints Roma may be destined for greater things.

THE REST OF “THE FIVE”

After this weekend’s action, that quintet of Roma, Napoli, Inter Milan, Fiorentina and Juventus have pulled a full game clear of Livorno and Torino (sixth, seventh place). Inter did so with a 7-1 demolition of newly promoted Sassulo, giving them 13 goals through four games (with only one allowed). Fiorentina got another goal from Giuseppe Rossi in their 2-0 win at Atalanta, while Juventus had to come back from one down to take full points from Verona in Turin. Each team is 3-0-1, two points behind Roma and Napoli.

ELSEWHERE IN ITALY

Manolo Gabbiadini scored twice late at Calgiari, both equalizers sandwiched around Daniele Conti’s goal, as Sampdoria got a 2-2 result on the road … Serio Pellissier and Luca Rigoni had turned around a first-minute deficit by halftime as Chievo defeated visiting Udinese, 2-1 … Catania and Parma played to a 0-0 … A late first half red card to Bologna’s Cesare Natali proved decisive as Alessio Cerci’s penalty gave Torino the 2-1 lead they’d keep through full-time.

Netherlands coach Danny Blind leaves Depay off squad

AP Photo/Jon Super
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THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) Manchester United winger Memphis Depay was left out of the Netherlands squad on Friday for a friendly against Greece followed by its first World Cup qualifier against Sweden.

Veteran strikers Klaas-Jan Huntelaar of Schalke and Robin Van Persie of Fenerbahce were also omitted from coach Danny Blind’s 24-man squad, while a debut was given to 21-year-old PSV Eindhoven midfielder Jorrit Hendrix.

Blind appeared to be opting for youth over experience in the qualification campaign for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but that policy did not help 22-year-old Depay, who has struggled for form since moving from PSV Eindhoven to Old Trafford last year.

“It’s important for him to first focus fully on getting into the first team at Manchester United,” Blind said. “From there, he needs to play more and hopefully he will then put himself back in the picture.”

Tottenham’s new striker, Vincent Janssen, will look to continue his impressive international form – the former AZ Alkaar star has three goals in five matches since making his debut in March.

The Netherlands, which failed to qualify for the European Championship, takes on Greece on Thursday in Eindhoven, and plays its first Group A qualifier against Sweden in Solna on Sept. 6.

Netherlands:

Goalkeepers: Jasper Cillessen (Barcelona), Maarten Stekelenburg (Everton), Jeroen Zoet (PSV Eindhoven).

Defenders: Patrick Van Aanholt (Sunderland), Daley Blind (Manchester United), Jeffrey Bruma (Wolfsburg), Virgil Van Dijk (Southampton), Kenny Tete (Ajax), Joel Veltman (Ajax), Ron Vlaar (AZ Alkmaar), Jetro Willems (PSV).

Midfielders: Riechedly Bazoer (Ajax), Jorrit Hendrix (PSV), Davy Klaassen (Ajax), Davy Proepper (PSV), Wesley Sneijder (Galatasaray), Kevin Strootman (Roma), Georginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool).

Forwards: Steven Berghuis (Feyenoord), Bas Dost (Wolfsburg), Vincent Janssen (Tottenham Hotspur), Luuk De Jong (PSV), Luciano Narsingh(PSV), Quincy Promes (Spartak Moscow).

MLS Snapshot: Real Salt Lake 2-1 Colorado Rapids (video)

Movsisyan
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The game in 100 words (or less): If either team has proved anything this season it’s that they’re both extremely hard to beat at home. Real Salt Lake battled back to fend off the Rapids on Friday night at Rio Tinto Stadium, and in the process picked up a vital three points to get Jeff Cassar’s side back in the race for the top spot in the Western Conference. Both teams sit on 43 points, just two points behind FC Dallas. RSL had every chance to create further separation between the two sides, but two late penalty kick misses kept the scoreline locked at 2-1. Despite Tim Howard‘s best efforts to keep the visitors in the game, making four big stops on the night, the Rapids couldn’t end RSL’s 13-match home unbeaten streak.

[ MORE: Sounders, Timbers meet again in major conference clash ]

Three moments that mattered 

5′ — Gashi provides Rapids with early lead — Sometimes you’ve just got to be in the right place at the right time.

39′ — Rapids can’t clear it, Movsisyan makes them pay — It was a bit lucky to take the initial deflection but Movsisyan always seems to be in the right spot at the right time.

48′ — Movsisyan hands RSL the lead — Early candidate for Goal of the Week after the RSL striker turned away from two Rapids defenders and blasted his chance past Tim Howard.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Yura Movsisyan

Goalscorers: Shkelzen Gashi (5′), Yura Movsisyan (39′, 48′)

PSG loans goalkeeper Sirigu to Spanish side Sevilla

FLORENCE, ITALY - MAY 26:  Salvatore Sirigu of Italy speaks to the media during a press conference at the club's training ground at Coverciano on May 26, 2016 in Florence, Italy.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
Claudio Villa/Getty Images
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SEVILLA, Spain (AP) French champion Paris Saint-Germain has loaned goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu to Spanish club Sevilla until the end of the season.

PSG said in a statement on Friday that Europa League winner Sevilla has an option to buy Sirigu at the end of his loan spell.

Sirigu will compete with Sergio Rico for the starting job on a Sevilla side being rebuilt under new coach Jorge Sampaoli.

The 29-year-old Sirigu, who has played 17 times for Italy, was a mainstay in the PSG side until Kevin Trapp replaced him as No. 1 last season.

Sirigu made 190 appearances for PSG after joining in 2011, winning four league titles, two French Cups, and three League Cups.

But his chances looked even more limited this season, with PSG recalling `keeper Alphonse Areola from a loan spell in Spain with Villarreal.

Lewandowski hat-trick caps impressive Bayern win in Bundesliga return

MUNICH, GERMANY - OCTOBER 04: Robert Lewandowski of Muenchen celebrates after scoring his team's fourth goal during the Bundesliga match between FC Bayern Muenchen and Borussia Dortmund at Allianz Arena on October 4, 2015 in Munich, Germany.  (Photo by Micha Will/Getty Images for MAN)
Micha Will/Getty Images for MAN
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Robert Lewandowski continues to rack up goals in a Bayern Munich jersey, and the Bundesliga side reaps the rewards for their star striker’s production.

The Polish international began the new Bundesliga campaign on Friday with a hat-trick, as Bayern capped off a dominating 6-0 win against Werder Bremen.

Xabi Alonso opened the scoring for the home side after just nine minutes, but all eyes were on Lewandowski on the night as he netted his first three goals of the 2016/17 season.

The 28-year-old added Bayern’s second goal in the 13th minute, before finishing off his hat-trick performance with tallies in the 46th and 77th minutes, respectively. While his final finish came from the penalty spot, Lewandowski already looks more than ready to help Bayern retain its Bundesliga crown.

Veteran defender Phillip Lahm and Franck Ribery also converted their chances past Bremen goalkeeper Felix Wiedwald on an afternoon that saw Bayern tally an overwhelming 27 shots, 14 of which landed on target.

Werder Bremen’s chances were limited, with Viktor Skrypnyk’s group recording a mere two shots on net throughout the night.

Meanwhile, U.S. attacker Julian Green was on the bench for Bayern, however, the young American wasn’t introduced into the match.