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Italy: Roma still perfect, Napoli stumbles, Juve fights back at Chievo (Video)

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Europe came into its midweek matches with four perfect teams across its top five domestic competitions. On Tuesday, Spain’s pair of perfectionists emerged unscathed, with Barcelona posting a 4-1 win over scuffling Real Sociedad while Atlético Madrid moved to 6-0-0 with 2-1 win over Osasuna.

On Wednesday, it was time to test Italy’s perfect duo, Napoli and Roma, who each entered the mid-week round not only perfect in four matches but also having cleared significant weekend hurdles.  Compared with this weekend’s trip to Milan, a visit from newly-promoted Sassuolo should have been a breeze for the Neopolitans, considering Inter had just run out 7-0 winners at Sassuolo this weekend. Roma has just downed rival Lazio but were in greater danger of losing their perfect start, with a Sampdoria playing at the Luigi Ferraris theoretically more capable of derailing the Giallorossi.

[MORE: Wrapping up last weekend’s action in Serie A.] 

But for the second game in a row, Roma responded to a scoreless second half with a 2-0 win, particularly interesting considering Rudi Garcia made five chances the team to that won this weekend’s Rome Derby. Like that team, today’s was better throughout, finally breaking through via a piece of Mehdi Benatia brilliance in the 65th minute (that’s a defender doing that, below). Arsenal refugee Gervinho doubled his team’s lead two minutes from time, keeping Roma at the top of the league.

Highlights:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Cue6Oj4ISE]

The 5-0-0 record is the best start in Roma’s history; or, put more precisely, the longest into a new season they’ve maintained a perfect start. That they’ve done so while operating under a new coach after selling one of their best attackers (Erik Lamela) and best defender (Marquinhos) explains while most are surprised. Having yet to face another of Serie A’s emerging top five, there are still questions, but with 15 points from five games, Garcia and Roma are certainly building  a margin for error.

“I’m really happy with the five consecutive wins, but I’m more interested in making history at the end of the season,” Garcia told the assembled media after the match.

“It’s too early to start assessing things, but I’m happy for the team.”

That happiness was not replicated in Naples, however, as Napoli suffered their first stumble of the season, drawing a game many saw as their easiest to date. And when Blerim Dzemaili cleaned up a poor, 15th minute clearance to give the partenopei and early lead, the result did seem a foregone conclusion.

That all changed five minutes later, with Pepe Reina allowing a shot form a sharp angle from Simone Zaza to go high an under the cross-bar for an unlikely equalizer (insert credit to Zaza here, because it was a surprisingly great shot). The Spanish international would make up it in the second half, but the fact he was needed only spoke to the extent to which Napoli were off their game. The 1-1 result was a reflection of a patient, dangerous performance from Sassuolo as well as Napoli’s inability to forge a winner.

Highlights:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cuWs1UcfRsc]

It was only a draw — in the big picture, not a huge deal — but it’s a result that leaves Napoli two points behind Roma. And now, only three teams in Europe’s big five remains perfect in their league campaigns.

JUVENTUS FIGHT BACK TO CLAIM FULL POINTS AT CHIEVO

When Chievo went up 1-0 in the 27th minute through Cyril Théréau, you knew what was going to happen. We’ve seen this performance before. Whether through skill or brute force, execution or fortune, Juventus was going to come back. And by the 65th minute, they had. Juve went on to beat the Flying Donkeys, 2-1.

But today’s performance, as controlling as it was after Juventus ceded the lead, still required more fortune than they would have liked. The 48th minute equalizer from Fabio Quagliarella wasn’t part of that, though, as Juve practically brute-forced the goal past Christian Puggioni. Besides, Quadliarella and Andrea Pirlo nearly had that equalizer just before halftime, going tantalizingly close on a sequence that ended when Pirlo went over the crossbar.

The winner, however, came via an Alessandro Bernardini own goal, a score that doubled-down on Chievo frustrations after their own go-ahead tally had been waved off. Earlier in the second half, the Donkeys, seemingly taking advantage of another disappointing performance from Gianluigi Buffon, had buried a ball spilt in front of goal only to see the assistant referee’s flag lifted overhead.

Still, as they have when they’ve converted other sub-par performances into results, Juventus deserve credit. As we see with Napoli’s result, it’s not uncommon for a good team to struggle and drop points against inferior competition. But Juventus avoided that fate today. By whatever means necessary, skill or fortune, they got three, not one. As a result, they’ll pulled even with Napoli on 13 points, just behind Roma.

Highlights:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VhHWjgpOz0]

ELSEWHERE IN SERIE A

  • Bologna 3-3 AC Milan: The Rossoneri again are left to fight back late, with 26-year-old Ignazio Abate’s first goal for Milan (149 appearances) giving Max Allegri’s team a stoppage time equalizer.
  • Lazio 3-1 Catania: The Aquile bounce back from derby disappointment through Ederson and Senad Lucic before Hernanes added late insurance against the 10-man Elephants.
  • Livorno 1-1 Calgliari: Andrea Luci and Victor Ibarbo trade goals as Livorno get their eighth point of the season (2-1-2).
  • Torino 2-2 Hellas Verona: Alessio Cerci’s up to three goals in two games for Torino after today’s brace, but Jorginho Frello’s second half penalty conversion allows Verona to escape with a point.
  • Parma 4-3 Atalanta: Thanks in part to a first half double from Marco Parolo, Parma went into half up 4-2 but came out of intermission made to hold on. Amauri’s straight red in the 52nd minute allowed Atalanta to control the rest of the game, but only a 79th minute goal from Marko Livaja saw the visitors make any progress.
  • Udinese 1-0 Genoa (Tuesday): Antonio Di Natale’s late restart went off Emanuele Calaio and into his own net, the own goal deciding an otherwise mundane affair 11 minutes about time.
  • Inter Milan – Fiorentina (Thursday):  Coming off their 7-0 win, Inter gets their second match of the young season against one of the league’s big five. Thankfully for them, both this and Sept. 14’s meeting with Inter take/took place at the San Siro.

Copa America 2016 preview, Group A: USA, Colombia, Costa Rica, Paraguay

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USA

This will be the USA’s fourth Copa America appearance and they’ve struggled in this competition in the past with their best finish coming in 1995 when they finished fourth. Can the hosts finish in the top four this time?

Star player: Bobby Wood – I would’ve gone for Clint Dempsey but I think Wood will carry this team after a stunning season in Germany. He’s so sharp right now and is clinical.

Why USA will flop and pile more pressure on Klinsmann: The U.S. head coach has already stated their target as reaching the semifinals. That’s attainable but they’re in a very tough group to get out of. It is hard to see them getting out of this group, which will then pile more pressure on JK.

[ MORE: Full Copa America 2016 coverage ]

But this is how they’ll really battle through and make the semifinals: However, how many times have we written this U.S. team off? Plenty. And they always seem to have a surprise in them. They got out of the Group of Death in Brazil two years ago and it is all about getting a positive result in the opener against Colombia. Win that and the team, fans and the nation will believe. As the host nation, that’s a powerful thing.


Colombia 

James Rodriguez, Colombia
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They burst onto the scene as a reborn team at the 2014 World Cup but they’ve struggled to regain that form since. Colombia has won the Copa America once in its history, back in 2001 when Victor Aristizabal  ran the show for the host nation.

Star player: James Rodriguez – Real Madrid attacker will lead Colombia and thrives on being the main man. That’s what he will be this summer. Watch him go.

How Colombia can regain 2014 World Cup form: They’ve lost a spark in the last 12-18 months since the World Cup but there’s no doubt that Jose Pekerman’s men have the talent to succeed. The shackles will be off this summer and their fans travel well. Los Cafeteros will play in front of a sea of yellow wherever they go.

More than likely they’ll bow out in quarterfinals: Despite all of their attacking prowess, they’ll probably bow out at the quarterfinal stage just like they did at the last three major tournaments. That’s because defensively they’ve struggled to replace veterans such as Mario Yepes and some of their more experienced players in Radamel Falcao and Jackson Martinez won’t be in action this summer.


Costa Rica

Costa Rica and Mexico clash.
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This will be just the fifth time Costa Rica has participated in this tournament as a guest nation. They reached the quarterfinals in both 2001 and 2005.

Star player: Joel Campbell – He’s had an up and down season with Arsenal but his pace, power and clinical finishing mean he will be a real handful.

Los Ticos could surprise everyone and make a deep run: They did it in 2014, why not now? With Bryan Ruiz, Campbell , Keylor Navas and Celso Borges around, they have a real solid core of players who came within penalty kicks of a World Cup semifinal. They’ll surprise again.

However, they will likely just come up short due to defensive weakness: In defense they look a little week and you get the sense that if the balance of this team isn’t right, Navas will be a busy man.


Paraguay

Paraguay's forward Derlis Gonzalez celebrates after scoring against Brazil during their 2015 Copa America football championship quarter-final match, in Concepcion, Chile, on June 27, 2015. AFP PHOTO / NELSON ALMEIDA (Photo credit should read NELSON ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images)
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Ranked 7th out of the 10 CONMEBOL teams, it is always easy to underestimate Paraguay but they usually perform very well in this tournament. They reached the semifinals last summer in Chile and were runners up in Argentina in 2011.

Star player: Derlis Gonzalez – The Dynamo Kiev forward looked sharp last summer but without Roque Santa Cruz, there are no obvious stars on this team.

Why they will do better than anybody expects: It’s just what they always do. In the Copa America last summer they drew with Uruguay and Argentina in group play and knocked out Brazil on penalties in the quarterfinal. They will fight until the end.

Close, but no cigar: This time around you get the sense that this is a team in transition. Without Santa Cruz they will struggle for goals and fairytale is not in the stars this time.


Game schedule – Full schedule for Group A, here

Who’s going through, who’s going home: Colombia, Costa Rica going through; USA and Paraguay going home

Marquee match: I’m going with USA vs. Colombia in the opener in Santa Clara at Levi Stadium on June 3. Amid much fanfare, expect a tense, exciting game. 

Top players to watch

1) James Rodriguez
2) Juan Cuadrado
3) Joel Campbell
4) Bobby Wood
5) Bryan Ruiz

Lionel Messi sets sights on Copa America glory in USA

Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates after his teammate Gabriel Mercado scored his side's second goal against Chile during a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match at the National Stadium in Santiago, Chile, Thursday, March 24, 2016. (AP Photo/ Luis Hidalgo)
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Lionel Messi is fired up and ready to roll this summer.

The Barcelona and Argentina superstar, 28, will captain La Albiceleste at the 2016 Copa America Centenario being held across the United States of America this summer.

[ MORE: Mourinho to hold United talks

Argentina is in Group D alongside Chile, Panama and Bolivia and they are the favorites to win the competition this summer.

Messi has been named FIFA’s World Player of the Year five times. He’s won every major trophy with Barcelona.

Yet one thing eludes him: glory with Argentina.

He was part of the Argentine Olympic squad which won Gold at Beijing in 2008 but the mercurial playmaker has never won a major trophy such as a World Cup or Copa America with Argentina.

[ MORE: What is USMNT’s best XI? ]

Speaking to Sports Illustrated in first person ahead of this summer, Messi spoke of his fondness for the U.S. after multiple trips to play friendlies with club and country in recent years nd how he aims to end Argentina’s 23-year trophy drought this summer, especially after losing in both the 2014 World Cup and the 2015 Copa America finals.

“Of course, outside of my family nothing would make me happier than to win my first World Cup with Argentina in 2018. The Copa America this summer is an important step along the way, a chance to show that we can raise a senior trophy for the first time in 23 years. And if we can do that, it will also mean spending nearly a month in the U.S. and learning more about this special country. If you Americans are looking forward to seeing me in person, trust me: The feeling is mutual.”

See you this summer, Lionel.

Argentina has not won the World Cup since 1986 and the Copa America since 1993. They’re long overdue a trophy and Messi seems hellbent on delivering it during his time as skipper. Gerardo Martino’s side are among the 10 teams from CONMEBOL who will link with six nations from CONCACAF in an expanded format of Copa America to celebrate the competitions 100-year anniversary.

ProSoccerTalk will have full coverage of the entire 16-team Copa America Centenario tournament, which you can find here.

Five things Jose Mourinho must do at Manchester United

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 29:  Jose Mourinho manager of Chelsea looks on prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea at White Hart Lane on November 29, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Jose Mourinho will reportedly take charge of Manchester United before the end of this week.

[ MORE: Mourinho to hold United talks

The Portuguese coach, 53, has been out of a job since he left Chelsea last December but now the job he’s been muttering about and mentioning for over a decade has arrived.

“The Special One” seems to be the chosen one, at least when it comes to United’s hierarchy who are ready to hand him the keys with Louis Van Gaal out as boss on Monday.

[ MORE: What is USMNT’s best XI? ]

Mourinho has plenty of work to do to first restore United to the top of the PL and then to Europe.

Below is a quick checklist of what Mourinho must sort out first when he likely arrives at Old Trafford in the coming days.

He has a huge job on his hands but if anybody can do it, it’s Mourinho.


1 – Get a new, more powerful spine of the team

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 12: Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Paris Saint-Germain beats Eliaquim Mangala (20) and Joe Hart of Manchester City to score, but his goal is disallowed during the UEFA Champions League quarter final second leg match between Manchester City FC and Paris Saint-Germain at the Etihad Stadium on April 12, 2016 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

A lot has been said about the laborious rate of play under LVG the best two seasons but not much has been said about why it’s been like that. Of course, pace is a huge factor in that but as is winning the ball back in key areas and United haven’t done that enough in midfield and defense. Getting in two destructive players in central midfield and central defense is key for this team. With Nemanja Matic linked to United, that would work in midfield. John Stones and Raphael Varane in central defense would also work and with Zlatan Ibrahimovic up top, boom, there’s your new spine of the team. It’s more powerful and able to dominate teams.

2 – Convince David De Gea to stay

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 02: David De Gea of Manchester United celebrates the opening goal scored by Juan Mata (not pictured) during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Watford at Old Trafford on March 2, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

This is a big one and has this storyline has somehow got lost in the shuffle a little in the past few months. Let’s not forget that De Gea missed United’s opening games of the season after he lost focus with his potential move to Real Madrid up in the air. He accepted it when it didn’t happen after an eleventh hour breakdown and the Spanish international was once again named the PL’s best goalkeeper. De Gea, 25, is key to this United team and to that strong spine we’re talking about. Without UEFA Champions League action to offer next season, Mourinho must convince him to stay at United as Real lurk in the background ready to activate his reported release clause.

3 – Play Wayne Rooney as a No. 10

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 02: Wayne Rooney of Manchester United celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Swansea City at Old Trafford on January 2, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

I’ve seen enough of Rooney in midfield in recent weeks to believe this is where his future lies. United’s captain even seems to believe it now too. However, he should play in a slightly more attacking role than he has been. That is where he’s at his best. We’ve seen him struggle with some of the easier passes and given the ball away in key possessions as he takes too many risks on the ball as a holding or deeper central midfielder. Play him just in front of two defensive midfielders and let him roam free behind a target man like Zlatan or Marcus Rashford.

4 – Keep faith in the youngsters

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 20: Daniel Rashford of Manchester United in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Manchester United at Etihad Stadium on March 20, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Okay, so Jose has been terrible at doing this in the past. Wherever he has gone he’s had a short-term approach, a “win now, worry later” mentality which has left some of the teams in ruins after his departure. Yet, at United it can be argued that many of the youngsters giving their debuts this season by Van Gaal were the bright spots. Rashford is a special talent and Jesse Lingard is flourishing, while Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson showed promise. Then you have Anthony Martial, Luke Shaw and Memphis. The latter could get a new lease of life under Mourinho and, all of a sudden, Mourinho could have a very young team. That said, he’ll likely go out and bring in some experience form his days at Real Madrid or Chelsea but he should not neglect this opportunity to thrust youngsters into the limelight like he has done so readily in the past.

5 – Prioritize the Premier League

Jose Mourinho, Chelsea FC
Jose Mourinho, Chelsea FC

He’s won plenty of FA Cups and League Cups with Chelsea in the past but it is time for Mourinho to fully focus on one thing when he arrives at United: finishing in the top four. United simply have to be in the UCL in 2017-18 and their failure to qualify for that tournament this season was the main reason LVG is out. Like Liverpool showed a few years ago and Leicester City showed us this season, when you only have one competition to focus on, then anything is possible. Play the kids in all of the Europa League, FA Cup and League Cup games and keep your star players hungry to succeed in the Premier League.

Ahead of Copa America, what is USMNT’s best XI?

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Jurgen Klinsmann’s U.S. national team has a big few weeks ahead of them.

[ MORE: What’s next for USMNT? ]

The USMNT have two more friendlies — Ecuador on Wednesday, then Bolivia on Saturday — before they face Colombia in the 2016 Copa America Centenario opener in Santa Clara, Calif. on June 3.

Klinsmann has already stated the USA’s goal is to reach the semifinals of the 16-team tournament as CONCACAF and CONMEBOL’s finest square off. Getting out of a tricky Group A will be a big achievement for the U.S. as Colombia, Costa Rica and Paraguay stand in their way.

[ MORE: Mourinho to hold United talks ]

With the Major League Soccer contingent of players just joining up with the squad, plus others leaving after taking part in the friendly win in Puerto Rico last Sunday, Klinsmann now has the majority of his final 23-man roster with him and available for selection.

Who should start against Colombia in 10 days time? Let’s take a look at the best XI Klinsmann can pick.


USMNT’s best XI

—– Guzan —–

— Yedlin — Cameron — Birnbaum — Johnson —

— Bradley — Jones —

— Bedoya — Dempsey — Zardes —

—– Wood —–

Thoughts

We know that Klinsmann has named Brad Guzan as his starter for the Copa America and given that he’s played more regularly than MLS-bound Tim Howard over the past six months, that’s understandable. Do I still think Howard is overall a better goalkeeper than Guzan? Yes.

The back four, for me, picks itself. DeAndre Yedlin has shown his development, especially defensively, as a solid right back at Sunderland this season. That loan move did him the world of good. Geoff Cameron is the clear leader in central defense (he has been struggling with a hamstring injury but should be good to go next Friday) and you have to select a center back who can compliment him best. I believe Steve Birnbaum is that man even though John Brooks may be the better overall player. Fabian Johnson should play at left back simply because the U.S. doesn’t have many options in that area. The Borussia Monchengladbach winger is incredibly useful going forward but needs must.

Central midfield should be locked down by Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones, although Kyle Beckerman or Darlington Nagbe do have a chance of starting in that area to give Bradley the chance to play as the central attacking midfielder.

In an attacking midfield three I’ve gone for Alejandro Bedoya, Clint Dempsey and Gyasi Zardes as I think they have the perfect mixture of pace, trickery and industry and they will support the man who has risen to stardom: Bobby Wood.

The hopes of Klinsmann’s team rest on the shoulders of Hamburg’s Hawaiian striker but whispers out of training camp suggest Wood is up to the challenge of leading the line after Jozy Altidore went down with an injury. Also, watch out for Christian Pulisic who will likely be used off the bench to support Wood. The 17-year-old Borussia Dortmund sensation can slot into any of the attacking midfield positions and is a real wildcard for Klinsmann to throw in when necessary.