Italy Soccer Champions League

Eight-minute spell costs Juventus against Real Madrid, leaves Old Lady drawn, winless in Champions League

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An eight-minute span of the second half sparked by a defender’s mistake nearly cost Juventus on Tuesday, but thanks to a 65th minute equalizer from Fernando Llorente and some help in Copenhagen, the Italian champions still control their knockout round fate. Yet with Tuesday’s 2-2 draw against visiting Real Madrid, Juventus still drop to fourth in their Champions League group, the Old Lady left winless through four group stage matches.

Real Madrid, on the other hand, move six points clear in Group B despite suffering their first blemish of the competition. Thanks to second half goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, the Merengues were able to overcome an often oppressive host, salvaging a result the run of play said they had no right to claim.

Juventus were dominant in the opening half, their halftime edges in shots (15-5) and shots on target (6-1) indicative of the game’s flow. A superior effort in midfield had not only pinned Real Madrid in their own end but quickly rebuffed any forays toward Juve’s goal. When Raphael Varane conceded a penalty before half, allowing Arturo Vidal to open the scoring before intermission, the one-goal lead was more justice than fortune.

The second half seemed set to continue Juventus’s control before right back Martín Cácares gave Real Madrid their first spark, his terrible back pass deserving of an assist in Ronaldo’s 52nd minute equalizer.  Trying to hit a ball back to his central defenders from along the right sideline, the Uruguyan passed the ball straight to Karim Benzema, who drew the last two defenders to him before laying off to Ronaldo for Real Madrid’s gifted opener.

Eight minutes later, Gareth Bale was allowed to cut in on his left foot and hammer a shot past a lead-footed Gianluigi Buffon, permitting a decidedly second-best Real Madrid to claim a 2-1 lead.

Juventus snared an equalizer five minutes later, Cáceres’s cross finding Fernando Llorente after the Spaniard beat a right back-rusty Sergio Ramos, but by that time, Real Madrid had their legs. Whereas at one time Juventus looked set to claim vital points in their quest to claim Group B’s second spot, the Old Lady had lost control of the match. They were standing on even footing with Real Madrid when they needed to claim a winning goal.

But that score never came. From a game that was within their grasp, Antonio Conte’s team could only claim one point, leaving them winless through four rounds of the tournament. And, thanks to the result of Denmark (Group B’s other game), Juventus is now in last place, their three points in four games one worse than both Galatasaray and a victorious Copenhagen.

The good news, however: They still control their knockout round fate. Win both of their final group stage matches, and their nine points will see them through. But with a trip to Istanbul on the round’s last day, Juve still find themselves in a precarious position, one they could have avoided without eight terrible minutes on Tuesday.


Juventus: 42′ Arturo Vidal (p.k.), 65′ Fernando Llorente

Real Madrid: 52′ Cristiano Ronaldo, 60′ Gareth Bale


Juventus: Gianuligi Buffon, Martín Cáceres, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Kwadwo Asamoah; Andre Pirlo; Paul Pogba, Arturo Vidal, Claudio Marchisio; Carlos Tevez (82′ Fabio Qugliarella), Fernando Llorente (88′ Sebastian Giovinco)

Unused Subs: Angelo Ogbonna, Marco Storari, Simone Padoin, Paolo De Deglie, Mauricio Isla

Real Madrid: Iker Casillas; Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane, Pepe, Marcelo; Xabi Alonso (71′ Aiser Illarramendi), Sami Khedira, Luka Modric; Gareth Bale (75′ Ángel Di María), Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema (81′ Jesé)

Unused Subs: Daniel Carvajal, Diego López, Isco, Álvaro Arbeloa

“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

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Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

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Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.