ACF Fiorentina v SSC Napoli - Serie A

Italy roundup: Cuadrado red card overshadows Napoli’s win at Fiorentina

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Controversy surrounding Juan Cuadrado’s late dismissal will overshadow the bottom line, and perhaps rightly so. The Columbian winger saw a second yellow card late in Florence, his apparent embellishment after a Gokhan Inler tackle in Napoli’s penalty area drawing his second booking for simulation.  The visitors would go on to beat Fiorentina, 2-1.

In the replay, the card looked harsh. While the fall seemed theatrical, there was obvious contact – and not the incidental kind. In an attempt to play the ball just inside the 18-yard box, the Swiss destroyer stuck out his right leg, caught Cuadrado, and sent him to ground. It wasn’t a huge hit, and it wasn’t intentional, but it was there. Upon review, a penalty call seemed just as plausible as the booking, if not more so.

If that penalty gets called, Giuseppe Rossi likely converts for the equalizer. He’d already beaten Pepe Reina from the spot earlier in the match. Instead of suffering their second loss of the season, la Viola take a point, stay tied for fourth, and pull Napoli farther back of league-leading Roma. Instead, Rafa Benítez’s side saw first half goals from José Callejon and Dries Mertens pull them within two of the Giallorossi, who host Chievo tomorrow.

Cuadrado’s dismissal came a minute into stoppage time, so it didn’t have a prolonged impact on the match. Even if Giampaolo Calvarese doesn’t made the mistake of dismissing the Colombian, there’s no guarantee he would have awarded the penalty. The match may have finished 2-1 regardless.

Still, the whole scene was a strange one. In one moment it appeared a player had achieved the rare feat of being sent off for two diving infractions. In the next, the second infraction seemed bogus and Fiorentina hard done.

And then the whistle blew.

Elsewhere in Italy on Wednesday:

Juventus 4-0 Catania: A dominant performance by the defending champions saw the Bianconeri out-shoot their guests 23-7, putting 10 shots on target to Catania’s one. First half goals from Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo were complemented by Carlos Tévez and Leonardo Bonucci scores in the second. Juve moves two points back of Roma.

Hellas Verona 2-0 Sampdoria: Samp took the table-climbing promotees to halftime scoreless before Juan Gomez Taleb broke through six minutes into the second half. Luca Toni gave Verona the insurance they sought 12 minutes from time, leaving the Mastiffs in fifth place.

Milan 1-1 Lazio: A well-placed goal from Kaká got the Rossoneri on the scoresheet in the 54th minute, but defender Michaël Ciani’s equalizer left the hosts with a frustrating draw. With the win, Milan would have climbed to seventh, but the 1-1 keeps them 10th.

Sassuolo 1-2 Udinese: Toto Di Natale opened the scoring from the spot before Simone Zaza equalized in the 25th minute, creating a scoreline that would hold until Luis Muriel’s 56th minute winner. The hosts’ chances to pull even received a fatal blow in the 80th minute when Zaza saw straight red.

Genoa 1-0 Parma: Alberto Gilardino made up for his missed penalty kick in the second minute with the winner just before the hour. With only their second clean sheet of the season, Genoa puts five points between themselves and the drop.

Cagliari 0-3 Bologna: Left back Nicola Murru’s second yellow card in the 52nd minute left the hosts down a man and a goal, György Garics’ 26nd minute opener giving Bologna a 1-0 lead.  After the dismissal, Bologna quickly tripled their lead, getting goals from Panagiotis Kone and Michele Paziena before the hour.

Livorno 3-3 Torino: The visitors were on their way to an easy day with two goals in the first seven minutes (Ciro Immobile, Kamil Glik). By the 33rd minute, however, Livorno were back even, Paulinho and Leandro Greco sending the game to halftime 2-2. Emerson put the hosts in front near the hour, but a late penalty conceded by Leandro Rinaudo allowed Alessio Cerci to equalize just before full-time.

Men in Blazers podcast: Conte v. Pep, Cherries comeback, Spurs-Swans

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Rog and Davo relive the tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, marvel at tiny Bournemouth’s comeback win over high-flying Liverpool and duck-and-cover while recapping Spurs 5-0 Swansea.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Mourinho accepts Zorya compliment, but says best coach “doesn’t exist”

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky
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On the eve of his side playing Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League, Zorya Luhansk boss Yuriy Vernydub called counterpart Jose Mourinho the best manager in the world.

And Mourinho disagreed.

Well, in principle.

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

The Portuguese was flattered by Vernydub’s compliments and isn’t one to turn down praise. Yet at the same time, Mourinho thinks a coach’s success is year-to-year. There’s no clear best in the sport, according to Mou.

From ManUtd.com:

“He was nice by saying that but I don’t think he is right. I don’t think there is a best coach in the world. It doesn’t exist in my opinion. Every season one has to win the FIFA Gold Ball but I don’t think there is the best. You can say the best of the year and that I agree. Every year there is one with the most important result. So he is just being nice, no more than that.”

That’s almost meta, Mou.

Conceptually we understand, and Mourinho would feel he was the best in the world three seasons ago but not last year or this year (yet). Yet it’s difficult to say that the bodies of work from Pep Guardiola, Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Antonio Conte, Luis Enrique, and Jurgen Klopp couldn’t be measured against each other, right?

[ MORE: United, Saints advancement scenarios ]

Onto the little picture Mourinho is worried about a potentially rock hard pitch at Zorya affecting the game. This, from the BBC:

“The pitch is very hard, the pitch is very icy,” said United boss Mourinho.

“They are putting warmth on the top of it, but the pitch is very difficult and people cannot make miracles. Let’s hope everything goes well.”

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Designing the perfect UEFA Champions League Round of 16

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MAY 06:  Lionel Messi of Barcelona chips the ball over goalkeeper Manuel Neuer of Bayern Muenchen to score his team's second goal during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final, first leg match between FC Barcelona and FC Bayern Muenchen at Camp Nou on May 6, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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With 16 teams settled into their spots for Monday’s UEFA Champions League draw, what would be the most tantalizing octet of matches for February’s Round of 16.

We’ll include a full list of seeded and unseeded teams at the bottom so you can pair ’em up however you like, but let’s start with our best ideas.

Remember: Teams can neither be drawn against teams from their own domestic leagues, or against the other advancing team from their group stage quartets.

[ MORE: USMNT GK off to Belgium? ]

Let’s begin with the reigning champions. Real Madrid is unseeded, and cannot draw Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, and Borussia Dortmund. Our vote would be Juventus and a reprisal of the 2015 final in Berlin.

Real boss Zinedine Zidane would not be pleased.

Staying in Spain, seeded Barcelona only knows it will avoid Manchester City, Real Madrid, and Sevilla. We’re interested in attractive soccer, so how about a bombastic battle with Bayern Munich.

Manchester City is the lone Premier League team in the unseeded pool, and cannot face Arsenal, Leicester City, or Barcelona. We’re thinking Sky Blue vs. Sky Blue, and a match-up with Napoli.

Leicester City completes the Premier League trio. Given our above draw and group mates Porto, that leaves Benfica, Bayer Leverkusen, Sevilla, and PSG as potential rivals. We’ll chose Bayer Leverkusen as the match-up likely gives the Foxes their best chance to hit the snooze button and keep dreaming.

The biggest name left is Paris Saint-Germain (with apologies to BVB). Unai Emery’s bunch would be left with Atletico Madrid as the lone option, and another tete-a-tete between the ex-Sevilla boss and Diego Simeone works for us.

Now Arsenal… who do you draw with the hopes of a quarterfinal berth in ages? The remaining options are Benfica, Sevilla, and Porto. We’ll give Benfica a trip to the Emirates, leaving Porto to face Monaco, and Sevilla on the road to Borussia Dortmund.

Our final draw:
Arsenal vs. Benfica
Monaco vs. Porto
Borussia Dortmund vs. Sevilla
Barcelona vs. Bayern Munich
Atletico Madrid vs. Paris Saint-Germain
Napoli vs. Manchester City
Leicester City vs. Bayer Leverkusen
Juventus vs. Real Madrid


Seeded
Arsenal
Atletico Madrid
Barcelona
Napoli
Monaco
Leicester City
Juventus
Borussia Dortmund

Unseeded
Paris Saint-Germain
Bayern Munich
Manchester City
Benfica
Bayer Leverkusen
Porto
Sevilla
Real Madrid

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Europa League preview: Saints, Man Utd hope to join Spurs in Round of 32

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 03:  Yuto Nagatomo of Internazionale (R) and Ivan Perisic of Internazionale close down Nathan Redmond of Southampton during the UEFA Europa League Group K match between Southampton FC and FC Internazionale Milano at St Mary's Stadium on November 3, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images
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Tottenham Hotspur will be seeded in the UEFA Europa League’s Round of 32. What do Manchester United and Southampton need to do Thursday to join them?

Both the Red Devils and Saints enter the final group stage match day in their respective groups’ second place, but only United can claim a seeded place in the Round of 32.

[ UCL: Scenarios for Premier League sides ]

United can still win Group A, and would need to better Fenerbahce’s result on Thursday. Jose Mourinho’s men are in Ukraine against bottom-dwelling Zorya Luhansk, while Fener are away at Feyenoord.

Manchester United will advance with a draw, and could also go through if they lose and Feyenoord doesn’t defeat Fenerbahce.

As for Saints, Claude Puel‘s men are level with Hapoel Be’er Sheva and welcome the Israel side to St. Mary’s after drawing 0-0 in the reverse fixture.

Southampton needs to beat Hapoel or hold them to a scoreless draw. A scoring draw would push HBS through via road goals.

Full UEL schedule

11 a.m. EDT
Konyarspor vs. Gent
Qarabag vs. Fiorentina
Osmanlispor vs. Zurich
Braga vs. Shakhtar Donetsk
Villarreal vs. Steaua Bucuresti
PAOK vs. Liberece

1 p.m. EDT
Vikrotia Plzen vs. Austria Wien
Apoel Nicosia vs. Olympiacos
Sassuolo vs. Genk
Anderlecht vs. Saint-Etienne
Zorya Luhansk vs. Manchester United
Rapid Wien vs. Athletic Bilbao
Young Boys vs. Astana
AZ Alkmaar vs. Zenit Saint Petersburg
Feyenoord vs. Fenerbahce
Maccabi Tel-Aviv vs. Dundalk
Mainz vs. Gabala
Astra Giurgiu vs. Roma

3:05 p.m. EDT
Panathinaikos vs. Celta Vigo
Standard Liege vs. Ajax
Inter Milan vs. Sparta Prague
Southampton vs. Hapoel Be’er Sheva
RB Salzburg vs. Schalke
Nice vs. Krasnodar

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