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.

Goals

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

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

Lineups

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

Mancini reportedly not interested in Leicester City, De Boer says no

GENOA, ITALY - APRIL 20:  Head Coach of FC Internazionale Roberto Mancini looks during the Serie A match between Genoa CFC and FC Internazionale Milano at Stadio Luigi Ferraris on April 20, 2016 in Genoa, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Two top candidates to replace Claudio Ranieri at Leicester City have reportedly turned down any interest in the job.

Roberto Mancini, the heavy favorite out of the gates after Ranieri’s dismissal, tweeted his support for Ranieri after the news broke. “I am sorry for my friend Ranieri,” Mancini said. “He will be in the history of LCFC, in the hearts of Leicester fans and all football lovers.”

However, the fellow Italian has rebuffed Leicester’s informal advances towards his services. According to Sky Sports, Leicester sent “intermediaries” to “sound out” Mancini’s feelings towards the position, but came back empty-handed. The report states Mancini was turned off to the club after a short and unsuccessful spell there as a player in 2001.

That leaves a host of other names who have been linked to the job, with no clear favorite. One person mentioned was Dutch legend Frank de Boer, who is unemployed after an unusually short stint in charge of Inter Milan. However, De Boer’s agent went public to say he was not ever in the running.

“There is zero possibility that Frank could go to Leicester,” agent Guido Albers told Italian publication Tuttomercatoweb. “I too heard these rumors, but that’s all they are – rumors. I can affirm without doubt that Frank will not become the Leicester City manager. This will 100 per cent not happen.”

Albers explained that De Boer is only interested in joining a club in the offseason, preferring to enter a project with a blank slate rather than joining midseason with particular goals already clearly laid out. With Leicester, it seems De Boer is turned off by the notion of a relegation battle.

Win over Las Palmas again has La Real on edge of CL spot

GETAFE, SPAIN - DECEMBER 11:  Xavi Prieto of Real Sociedad in action during the La Liga match between Getafe CF and Real Sociedad de Futbol at Coliseum Alfonso Perez stadium on December 11, 2015 in Getafe, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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All it took was one mistake. Real Sociedad’s Xabi Prieto capitalized, and has La Real once again on the verge of next year’s Champions League.

La Real finished 7th in 2013/14, and 9th in 2015/16, and this year, they’re closer than ever. Preito’s goal on the mistake by Las Palmas goalkeeper Javi Varas gave Real Sociedad the 1-0 road win and has them just a point off a Champions League place.

[ MORE: Antonio Conte pulling from experience to keep Chelsea on top ]

That could be even closer next week, as fourth-placed Atletico Madrid has to welcome Barcelona to the Calderon tomorrow, leaving the door open for La Real to make another move next weekend.

The goal down the stretch is not just to win the games they should, but make the teams above them work. La Real has won seven of their last ten matches, but the three losses came to Real Madrid, Villareal, and Sevilla, all teams fighting at the top of the table. They still have chances down the stretch, with matches against Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla, and Eibar coming up, with the latter on the docket next weekend.

Conte pulling from prior experience as title race pushes on

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea looks on during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Chelsea at Molineux on February 18, 2017 in Wolverhampton, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Antonio Conte has recalled some painful memories to push himself and his players forward despite their commanding lead at the top of the Premier League table.

Chelsea sits eight points clear of Manchester City, and has the chance to go even further in front with many of the top teams off this weekend, but that won’t give the Italian any better sleep at night.

In the 1999/2000 season, Conte was nearing the end of his 13-year Juventus tenure. He’d won three league titles already, plus two league cup trophies and a Champions League title with the Serie A giants. With a comfortable nine point lead after 26 matches, the club became complacent. They would lose four of their final eight matches, collapsing on the final day in the pouring rain, allowing Lazio to come roaring back to win the title.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks for Week 26 ]

“I was captain of the team,” Conte said. “I remember after this game I must go to the European Championships with the national team. I didn’t sleep for six days because it was a shock for me to lose the title.”

Clearly, that still haunts him. “I have experienced this,” Conte continued. “When I continue to repeat that there are 13 games, there are 39 points… there is a long time before we can say we won the title. We must be focused, we must go step by step.”

The Blues host Swansea City at Stamford Bridge on Saturday before a trip to West Ham next weekend. If anyone believes the Chelsea players are complacent holding such a significant lead with 13 matches to go, it’s clear that’s not nearly the case. Anything can happen in three months.

Sean Dyche says Joey Barton should have a TV show

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: Joey Barton of Burnley (L) and Matt Rhead of Lincoln City (R) exchange words during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Burnley and Lincoln City at Turf Moor on February 18, 2017 in Burnley, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Burnley manager Sean Dyche says Joey Barton‘s life is chock full of fascinating moments, so much so that he should have his own TV show.

Except when he’s behind closed doors at Burnley, of course. Then he’s a stand up individual. Right, sure.

“It could be a TV series,” Dyche said in his pre-match press conference ahead of an away tilt with Hull City. “Being Joey. It’d be interesting. Never a dull moment.”

But of course, immediately after that, Dyche switched gears. “Unless he’s in here, training with me,” he backtracked. “I think it’s pantomime stuff. I’ve seen a lot more controversy around Joey than that. If that’s as far as it goes, I’ll be a happy man.”

“That” referred to Barton’s embarrassing dive in the FA Cup loss to non-league opponents Lincoln City where the midfielder play-acted after nothing more than a brush of the elbow from Matt Rhead, falling to the ground and clutching his head. Barton was involved in a number of heated moments during that match, adding to his already massive list of controversial moments in a mercurial career.

“Joey’s been terrific,” Dyche said. “I thought by a mile, by an absolute mile, he was the best player on the pitch last weekend. So he’s been absolutely fine. He’s in good nick – as you can see – and he’s definitely up for the challenges that come in front of us.”

But word of Joey Barton apparently hasn’t reached London. A few weeks ago, ahead of Chelsea’s 1-1 draw at Burnley on February 12th, Blues manager Antonio Conte was asked if he was familiar with Burnley’s squad and Barton in particular – an admittedly leading question – and Conte was unable to give an immediate answer. He instead asked his press officer muttering, “Joey Barton?” under his breath. The press officer embarrassingly tried to save face before Conte stepped back in giving a generic answer that they had already played once and he was familiar with the squad.