FBL-ITA-SERIEA-MILAN-NAPLES

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

Leave a comment

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.

Liverpool keeper Karius to miss two months

MEYRIN, SWITZERLAND - JULY 22:   Loris Karius of 1. FSV Mainz 05 in action during the pre-season friendly match between 1. FSV Mainz 05 and AS Monaco at Stade des Arberes on July 22, 2015 in Meyrin, Switzerland.  (Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images)
Harold Cunningham/Getty Images
Leave a comment

He was tabbed to be Liverpool’s opening day starter in goal, but Loris Karius could now miss the first two months of the Premier League season after suffering a hand injury in Wednesday’s International Champions Cup loss against Chelsea.

[ MORE: Real looking at Sissoko, Verratti as midfield options ]

The 23-year-old was brought to the Reds this summer from Bundesliga side Mainz for over $6 million.

Karius opted not to represent Germany at next month’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in order to avoid missing any game action with Liverpool. Unfortunately, the young keeper will now likely miss between eight and 10 weeks.

Italian legend Christian Vieri looks to make comeback

ROME, ITALY - OCTOBER 19:  Christian Vieri poses with the UEFA Champions League Trophy during the UEFA Champions League Trophy Tour 2012/13 on October 19, 2012 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images for UEFA)
Paolo Bruno/Getty Images for UEFA
Leave a comment

His career ended over seven years ago, but former Italy international Christian Vieri is looking to make an improbable comeback in a country that continues to attract big stars.

The 43-year-old Vieri is reportedly coming out of retirement to join the Chinese Super League, and posted a video on Twitter confirming his plans.

Last playing in 2009, Vieri finished his career where it began — in Italy — with Atalanta. During his career, the striker played for 10 clubs in his native country, while also spending time in Spain and France with Atletico Madrid and Monaco, respectively.

Vieri made his name with Inter Milan, where he recorded six straight seasons with double-digit goals. At the height of his career with Internazionale, Vieri netted 27 times across all competitions during the 2002/03 season.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Real looking at Sissoko, Verratti

PARIS, FRANCE - JULY 10:  Cedric Soares (l) and William Carvalho of Portugal (c) combine to tackle Moussa Sissoko of France during the UEFA EURO 2016 Final match between Portugal and France at Stade de France on July 10, 2016 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Clive Rose/Getty Images
Leave a comment

While Real Madrid still holds a slim hope of winning the signature of Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba, Los Blancos are said to have a viable backup plan in the event the Frenchman does the inevitable and joins Manchester United.

[ MORE: Ten most noteworthy summers transfers (so far) ]

Real is reportedly looking at another French midfielder, Moussa Sissoko, to fill the center of the park. The 26-year-old has made 118 appearances for Newcastle since joining the Magpies back in 2013.

While it may be outside option, Real is also interested in Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Marco Verratti, although the French champions likely aren’t willing to part ways with the player.


Andy King has signed a new four-year contract with Leicester City, after Jamie Vardy and Ben Chilwell each agreed to a new deals this summer with the Foxes.

The midfielder appeared in 25 matches last season in the team’s Premier League title-winning campaign, while also featuring for Wales this summer at EURO 2016.


Aston Villa manager Roberto di Matteo has confirmed that Everton is set to acquire Idrissa Gueye.

The 26-year-old shined during the 2015/16 season for Villa, appearing in matches as a deep-lying midfielder. Everton has reportedly met the player’s release clause of over $9 million, and is now discussing personal terms with Gueye.


Swansea City striker Bafe Gomis has joined French side Marseille on a season-long loan after netting 17 goals in 71 matches in England.

The Frenchman is likely seen as the replacement for Michy Batshuayi, who left for Chelsea this summer.

Roma’s Spalletti on massive transfer fees, Italians in Premier League, more

CAMBRIDGE, MA - JULY 27:  AS Roma manager Luciano Spalletti speaks to media after a friendly match against the Boston Bolts at Ohiri Field on July 27, 2016 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Luciano Spalletti takes his longest pause before answering a question on the massive and controversial transfer fees paid out for Serie A stars Gonzalo Higuain and (probably) Paul Pogba.

Some of his players, like Francesco Totti, have been very vocal in their distaste for Higuain’s departure from Napoli for one of the highest fees in football history, but Spalletti understands what’s going on.

The 57-year-old AS Roma manager has been around the block, highlighted by two stints each with Roma and Udinese as well as parts of five seasons with Zenit Saint Petersburg which included a pair of league titles.

[ MORE: Klopp frowns at Pogba fee ]

And when it comes to making more than $100 million on a player, you do it. As for buying a player like that, it’s a different story.

“You have to sell that player because you can turn that into two or three very good players,” Spalletti said in a translated interview Friday with ProSoccerTalk. “I think it’s the best thing. Personally, I wouldn’t spend that kind of money on a single player, but these clubs have very high goals like winning the Champions League.”

ROME, ITALY - APRIL 20: Francesco Totti and his head coach Luciano Spalletti of AS Roma react after the Serie A match between AS Roma and Torino FC at Stadio Olimpico on April 20, 2016 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)
(Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)

Of course Spalletti has that goal as well.

The manager was speaking ahead of Roma’s date with Liverpool in St. Louis on Monday, one of two dates in North America. I Lupi faces the Montreal Impact on Wednesday before heading home to prepare for its Aug. 20 Serie A opener against Spalletti’s former club, Udinese.

Spalletti’s second stint with Roma saw the club go to the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16, and his familiarity with success in the competition bodes well for the club moving forward.

He shepherded i Lupi to the quarterfinals in 2006-07 and 2007-08 before being bounced in the Round of 16 in the final season of his first stint, and also led Zenit to two UCL Round of 16s.

[ MORE: Higuain, Napoli boss trade barbs ]

Roma also finished third in Serie A despite being mid-table when Spalletti took over. He’d like to better that this season, after selling superstar Miralem Pjanic but picking up Stephan El Shaaraway and making standout defender Antonio Rudiger’s loan permanent.

“I can count on a very good squad,” Spalletti said. “It won’t be easy to build on the season, but we want to keep doing what we just finished.”

PST asked Spalletti about the quartet of Italian coaches who’ve taken the step to the Premier League. Claudio Ranieri won the Premier League with Leicester last season while Francesco Guidolin helped rescue Swansea City.

Now Chelsea has hired Italian mastermind Antonio Conte, and Watford has brought in Walter Mazzerri. It’s a source of pride for coaches in Serie A.

“Italy has a great tradition of coaches and production,” Spalletti said. “The Italian league allows you to build a coach with valuable experience that you can later pass on at international levels. The two coaches, Conte and Mazzarri, are two great coaches who have proven their class.”