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.

Oxlade-Chamberlain injury update

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Jurgen Klopp does not seem confident that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will play again this season.

The Liverpool and England midfielder suffered an injury to his right knee early on in Liverpool’s 5-2 win over Roma in their UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg, as he appeared to extend his right knee under his body when making a challenge on Aleksandar Kolarov.

Speaking to the media following Liverpool’s dramatic win, Klopp was downbeat about Oxlade-Chamberlain’s chances of playing again this season.

“We don’t know exactly but if the medical department are quite concerned without a scan, you can imagine it’s difficult. The season is not that long anymore. It doesn’t look good,” Klopp said. “I’m a very positive person and still hope it only feels bad, but is not that bad. We’ll see. We lost a fantastic player tonight. It’s not good news.”

This injury has come at such a bad time for The Ox.

He has been flourishing with Liverpool in a central midfield role and has delivered key goals and assists in big wins since arriving from Arsenal last summer. Most notably the Ox’s driving midfield runs have caused Manchester City all kinds of problems and he scored two screamers against them in wins at Anfield in the Premier League and UCL.

Georginio Wijnaldum stepped in admirably for Oxlade-Chamberlain against Roma and the Dutch midfielder will be used alongside James Milner and Jordan Henderson from here on out by Klopp, especially with Emre Can battling a back injury.

As for Oxlade-Chamberlain, he will now be focused on trying to be fit for the UCL final on May 26 (if Liverpool get there) and on making England’s 2018 World Cup squad. That seems like a big ask given Klopp’s gloomy assessment.

Wenger: Timing of departure “not really my decision”

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Arsene Wenger has been speaking about his Arsenal departure and there are some intriguing details emerging.

Wenger, 68, announced last Friday that he would be leaving Arsenal at the end of the current 2017-18 campaign after almost 22 years in charge.

But when asked about the timing of his decision during his press conference ahead of the Europa League semifinal first leg against Atletico Madrid on Thursday and whether or not that was helpful, Wenger said it was taken out of his hands.

“The timing was not really my decision, the rest I have spoken about already,” Wenger said. “I focus on what I have to do every day. At the moment, I work like ever.”

Wenger added that he will “for sure” continue to work beyond this season but wasn’t giving anything away on where he would go. The Arsenal boss also said he had a “high opinion of Luis Enrique” but that he didn’t “want to influence the next manager” of Arsenal with so many contenders mentioned as he also confirmed he will have no say on his successor.

What do we make of all this?

Wenger still has one more year left on his current deal at Arsenal and it appears he was keen to be in charge next season, but he could have simply been saying that he would have preferred an announcement at the end of the season rather than before a big European semifinal. His comments can be interpreted either way but many journalists in the room are all suggesting Wenger was talking about the overall decision to step down now.

The growing, and widely reported, notion that Wenger stepped down before he was sacked seems to be on point. After three Premier League titles and 10 major trophies in total in over two decades in charge, it appears Wenger didn’t get to decide when he called time on his Arsenal career.

The perfect end for Wenger at Arsenal would be to win the Europa League and then leave on a high, but these comments suggest the Frenchman may not be happy with some of the hierarchy at Arsenal.

These comments amid links to PSG and the French national team also suggest to rule out a role upstairs at Arsenal, at least for the foreseeable future, for Wenger. Intriguing times ahead.

Roma condemn violent scenes outside Anfield

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AS Roma have condemned an attack from some of its supporters on Liverpool’s fans before the game after a 53-year-old Liverpool supporter was injured outside Anfield before the UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg on Tuesday.

The Serie A side said that a “small minority of traveling fans brought shame on the club” as two men from Rome have been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder after the attack on the Liverpool fan who is in a critical condition after suffering head injuries.

Below is the statement in full from the Italian club.

AS Roma condemns in the strongest possible terms the abhorrent behavior of a small minority of traveling fans who brought shame on the club and the vast majority of Roma’s well-behaved supporters at Anfield after getting involved in clashes with Liverpool supporters before last night’s fixture.

There is no place for this type of vile behavior in football and the club is now cooperating with Liverpool Football Club, UEFA and the authorities. The club’s thoughts and prayers are with the 53-year-old Liverpool fan in hospital and his family at this time.

Salah’s sensational season in context

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Mohamed Salah is having a season on the same level as Lionel Messi.

Some* will even say it’s better.

[ MORE: LFC 2-1 Roma | Klopp reacts ]

There are few ways to overstate how well the Egyptian has performed for Liverpool this season, and few matches have been as strong as Tuesday’s destruction of AS Roma.

Make no mistake about it: Destruction is the right word. I Lupi isn’t dead thanks to the Reds right side of the defense and James Milner‘s arm, but it was fading out of consciousness when Salah departed the game.

It’s not crazy to draw the connection. Just ask Jurgen Klopp:

“If anyone wants to say it is my mistake that we concede the two goals because I change the striker, I have no problem with that,” he said. “Mo was running all the time and it would not have helped us if he gets an injury. What a player. If you think he is the best in the world, write it or say it. He is in outstandingly good shape, world-class shape, but to be the best in the world you need to do it over a longer period, I think. The other two are not bad.”

No, no they are not, but Salah is on their level.

The aesthetics of his first goal were first-class, dinging off the bottom of the cross bar like a vicious swish of a Steph Curry three. When the night ended, Salah had two more goals and two more assists to bring his total to 43 goals and 15 assists in 47 matches. In three more matches, the best player on the planet has 40 and 18 (Ronaldo has 42 and 7 in 39).

[ MORE: LFC supporter in critical condition after Roma attack ]

The reason not to overreact is Luis Suarez’s 2013-14, in which he posted posted 31 goals and 24 assists in 37 games and would’ve arguably made Salah’s season look just “pretty great” if the Reds were in European football (or, one could argue, Suarez wasn’t slowed by the demands of a more congested adventure).

And we also won’t know Salah’s path next season. Take Cristiano Ronaldo’s 2007-08 season, the closest thing we have to Suarez or Salah in this generation. The then-23-year-old posted 42+8 in 49, but took a step back the next season before exploding into space upon debut with Madrid the following season (His second Real campaign, 2010-11, was the first real otherworldly CR7 campaign, with 53+18 in 54).

Salah is the Premier League Player of the Year, and he’s the front-runner for the Ballon d’Or (which is likely to be determined by this summer’s World Cup in Russia, with Argentina and Portugal possibly on a quarterfinal collision course and Egypt in an very winnable Group A with Russia, Uruguay, and Saudi Arabia).

Jurgen Klopp deserves much credit for Salah’s explosion. Even if the Egyptian began his ascent in Italy, there’s been nothing like this. And if he can do it a few more years, he has the chance to land amongst the generational names in soccer (perhaps as the best African player in Premier League history with Yaya Toure and Didier Drogba).

He’ll almost certainly become the all-time single-season Liverpool league goal scorer this season barring rest for the UCL, and he’ll be their top all-time according to Opta if he nabs four or more goals across 4-5 matches (Roma again, Stoke, Chelsea, Brighton, and probably Real Madrid or Bayern Munich).

The Reds were unbelievably good for 80 minutes on Tuesday — 75 of which were Salah-led — and the praise would’ve been flowing like a waterfall had they not switched off for 10 (in which it must be said Liverpool was fortunate to only concede twice!).

*By the way, Messi fans, you’ll be relieved to count me as not one of those who’d say Salah is having a better season. It’s closer than you think. Messi is better than Salah in league play, while Salah is having a superior UCL campaign. Given the general consensus top-to-bottom on Premier League vs. La Liga and Barca’s UCL competition vs. Liverpool’s opponents — which is drawing level now — we’d say it’s even.

Messi vs. Salah league play (per 90, Squawka)
Assists: Messi 0.4-0.31
Key passes: Messi, 2.16-1.63
Chances created: Messi, 2.56-1.94
Attack score: Messi, 73.04-54.5
Possession score: Messi, 5.6 to minus-5.12
Pass completion (%): Messi, 81-77
Shot accuracy: Even (62%)
Tackles won: Salah, 0.24-0.2
Take-ons won (%): Messi, 69.47-64.96

Messi vs. Salah league play (per 90, Squawka)
Assists: Salah, 0.45-0.23
Key passes: Salah, 2.13-1.72
Chances created: Salah, 2.58-1.95
Attack score: Salah, 70.89-55.69
Possession score: Messi, 2.71 to minus-3.34
Pass completion (%): Messi, 81-73
Shot accuracy(%): Salah, 73-69
Tackles won: Messi, 0.69-.45
Take-ons won (%): Salah, 76.4-61.4