Italy: All of a sudden, Juventus is three points clear of Roma

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Roma’s allowed just four goals all season. They’ve scored 27 and have not lost in 14 games, yet despite putting together a 10-match winning streak to start the season, they now find themselves three points out of first. Some of that you can blame on the three-point win rule, and can put a little more on their four-match winless run. Had they taken more than four points from Torino, Sassuolo, Calgiari, or Atlanta (who they drew with, 1-1, on Saturday), Roma wouldn’t have let Juventus reclaim their place at the top of the table.

Thanks to their own four-match winning streak, the two-time defending champions have extended their lead over Roma, a last minute goal from Fernando Llorente on Sunday giving the Old Lady a 1-0 win over visiting Udinese and a three-point cushion stop Serie A. Held off the board for over 90 minutes, Juventus seemed destined to stay within one point of Roma despite out-shooting their guests 27-9. Yet with their last shot, one set up by the returning Stephan Lichtsteiner, Llorente gave Juventus their 12th win of the year, the club unbeaten since losing at Real Madrid on Oct. 23.

It’s a sobering turn for those hoping Serie A’s title might switch hands. Between Fiorentina and Napoli’s summers, Inter’s rebound, and Roma’s burst from the blocks, Juventus seemed in for a steeper fight than the past two years, a challenge which may still come. Yet as players like Paul Pogba and Llorente become more important parts of this team, contributors like Lichsteiner and Andrea Barzagli return from injury, and Gianluigi Buffon leaves his uneven summer form behind, Juventus have started to look even stronger than last year. With Carlos Tévez providing a legitimate scoring threat and Arturo Vidal one of Italy’s best players, this season’s looks like the best team of the Antonio Conte era.

That the early competition in Serie A hasn’t been able to keep them from first place doesn’t speak well for the field’s chances. Though Champions League expectations and Coppa Italia demands will take their toll, two years of building on the team that reclaimed the scudetto has left Juventus with quality depth at all levels. If Roma, Napoli, Inter and Fiorentina are going to pull the Bianconeri back, they’ll have to do it themselves and not wait for Conte’s team to wear down.

Of course, there’s also the possibility that the contenders will drop off. Perhaps Napoli and Fiorentina can be expected to maintain their current paces, but they’re nine and 13 points back (though both play on Monday). Roma and Inter, however? There’s the lingering suspicion each will cool off, even if their goal differences and their performances against Juventus hint they’re as like as anybody to stick around.

But whether you judge by form, the standings, recent success or the names on the team sheet, Juventus looks like the clear favorite. While we would have said the same thing at the beginning of the season, four rounds ago, many were whistling a different tune. Three weeks later, this race is starting to look like the last two: Juve’s to lose.

Here’s what else happened this weekend in Serie A:

Elsewhere

  • Parma 1, Bologna 1 – The teams swapped goals within the match’s first half hour, Antonio Cassano’s sixth of the season pulling back Panagiotis Kone’s 10th minute opener. In the 53rd, Frederik Sorensen saw his second yellow card, leaving the visitors to hold out with 10 for their draw.
  • Genoa 1, Torino 1 – Davide Biondini scored in the 69th minute to extend Genoa’s unbeaten run to five, with Omar El Kaddouri’s early goal having given Torino the early lead. Keeping Alessio Cerci and Ciro Immobile off the board, Genoa were able stay in seventh place despite giving up 10 shots on goal.
  • Catania 1, AC Milan 3 – Milan’s first league win since Oct. 19 means Max Allegri’s team is tied on points for eighth despite what’s been panned for their terrible start. On Sunday, Riccardo Montolivo, Mario Balotelli, and Kaká goals began the process of putting that disappointment in the past, with a 64th minute red card to Catania’s Panagiotis Tachtsidis greasing the rails for the Rossoneri.
  • Inter Milan 1, Sampdoria 1 – Renan’s 89th minute goal gave Sampdoria a result one of coach Sinisa Mihajlović’s former clubs, the Serb having steered 19th place Samp to consecutive draws after his appointment on Nov. 20.
  • Atalanta 1, Roma – A 90th minute equalizer from Kevin Strootman set up by Adem Ljajic kept Roma from their first loss of the season, the former leaders still struggling to recapture their attacking swagger without Francesco Totti.
  • Cagliari 2-2 Sassuolo – Lino Marzorati and Simone Zaza goals had the visitors up two within 20 minutes, a lead that lasted until the 72nd. That’s when Nene’s header cut the lead to one ahead of Marco Sau’s 87th minute equalizer.

Monday: Fiorentina vs. Hellas Verona, Lazio vs. Napoli

Standings
Each team with 14 games played unless otherwise noted.

1. Juventus, 37 pts.
2. Roma, 34 pts.
3. Napoli 28 pts. (13 games)
4. Inter Milan, 27 pts.
5. Fiorentina, 24 pts (13 games)
6. Hellas Verona, 22 pts. (13 games)
7. Genoa, 19 pts.
8. Parma, 17 pts.
9. Atalanta, 17 pts.
10. Lazio, 17 pts. (13 games)
11. Milan, 17 pts.
12. Torino, 16 pts.
13. Udinese, 16 pts.
14. Cagliari, 15 pts.
15. Sassuolo, 14 pts.
16. Chievo, 12 pts.
17. Bologna, 12 pts.
18. Livorno, 12 pts.
19. Sampdoria, 11 pts.
20. Catania, 9 pts.

Dempsey, Sounders steal a point on wild night in Portland

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The game in 100 words (or less): An entire game can change in the blink of an eye. For the Seattle Sounders, that blink came in the 44th minute of Sunday’s 2-2 draw with the Portland Timbers. Up 1-0 by way of Joevin Jones’ opener in the 27th minute, the defending MLS Cup champs were poised to head into halftime with a one-goal advantage and every belief imaginable that they’d been the better team for the entire first half. Blink. Brad Evans wrapped his legs around Darlington Nagbe, giving away a penalty and earning himself a red card, just like that, in the blink of an eye. Fanendo Adi stepped up to convert from the spot, but it still was to be a hard-fought 1-1 scoreline from Seattle’s perspective. Then, Dairon Asprilla got loose, completely unmarked atop the six-yard box, on a corner kick, and it was 2-1 after four minutes of first-half stoppage time. 45 more minutes pass, and the Timbers… blink. Clint Dempsey, 34 years old but fresh off the bench 40 minutes earlier, out-leaps everyone in the box and heads past Jake Gleeson to steal a point for Seattle.

[ MORE: San Jose fire Kinnear after 2.5 seasons ]

Three Four moments that mattered

27′ — Jones gets two chances, puts the second away — It’s a classic case of “I dropped my controller” from Alvas Powell, who just stops as Jones cuts across the penalty area. There’s no reason Jones should get a second look on this one.

44′ — Evans brings down Nagbe in the box, sees red — Goodbye, lead. Goodbye 11 versus 11. Things would unravel very quickly for Seattle.

45+4′ — Asprilla rises above to make it 2-1 — Seattle’s marking of Asprilla was nonexistent, and the Colombian showed off some serious hops to get his head to David Guzman’s corner kick.

90+4′ — Dempsey heads home deep in stoppage time — A costly turnover by Asprilla, a hit-it-and-pray cross by Roman Torres, and Dempsey snatches a point at the death.

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Man of the match: Cristian Roldan

Goalscorers: Jones (27′), Adi (45′ – PK), Asprilla (45+4′), Dempsey (90+4′)

Russia has reasons for optimism despite Confed Cup exit

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MOSCOW (AP) When the anger subsides after another group stage exit and another goalkeeping blunder, Russian fans might find they can be proud of their team at the Confederations Cup.

Russia failed to reach the knockout rounds of a fourth major tournament in a row, but there’s no shame in losing by one goal to European champion Portugal and North American champion Mexico.

“We will move on,” coach Stanislav Cherchesov said after Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Mexico. “We have won (the fans’) hearts and minds to a certain extent in this month that we have been together … I think that we have given some reasons to feel optimistic about us.”

If Russia’s fans agreed with Cherchesov that Russia had done well to limit Portugal to a single Cristiano Ronaldo goal, there was frustration that Russia hadn’t done better against a poor Mexican side.

Russia wasted chances to exploit Mexico’s ragged defending and add to Alexander Samedov’s opener, while goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev performed an inexplicable lunge which allowed Hirving Lozano to head in the winner. Akinfeev was lucky not to be red-carded, too, after his foot caught Lozano in the chest.

Akinfeev was the immediate scapegoat for Russia’s exit, with fans and newspapers calling for his removal.

The most-capped player in the squad – the Mexico game was his 101st international appearance – Akinfeev’s bulletproof consistency in the Russian Premier League has kept him the undisputed national-team No. 1 for years.

When the world is watching, though, he gets flustered and makes mistakes.

Against South Korea at the 2014 World Cup, an innocuous long shot slipped from his grasp and went in, paving the way for another early Russian exit from the tournament. There have been more than a few blunders in the 43 games since Akinfeev last kept a clean sheet for CSKA in the Champions League, too.

But it’s hard to see who could replace him. The naturalized Brazilian reserve keeper Guilheme is agile but injury prone, while Vladimir Gabulov is a solid but unspectacular veteran. Zenit St. Petersburg’s Yuri Lodygin challenged Akinfeev for a while, but was brought low by his own tendency for embarrassing errors.

On the positive side for Russia, defender Georgy Dzhikiya was solid in all three group games after having only made his debut on June 5, and Cherchesov’s three-man back line was mostly reliable.

Less successful was Cherchesov’s attempt to bolster the midfield by starting Roman Shishkin – usually a defender – in a defensive midfield role against Portugal and Mexico, while 33-year-old ex-Chelsea winger Yuri Zhirkov did his World Cup hopes no favors with a red card Saturday.

Russia’s run of injuries before the tournament weakened the midfield in particular, with Alan Dzagoev and the promising Roman Zobnin both missing out. Forward Artyom Dzyuba’s absence left Cherchesov relying heavily on Fyodor Smolov, who showed touches of class but missed a good chance against Portugal.

Perhaps the biggest damage from Russia’s Confederations Cup exit will be to Russian pride.

Officials have often bragged that the home advantage for next year’s World Cup could drive Russia to new heights, perhaps a repeat of South Korea’s charge to the semifinals in 2002. Those expectations are now being reviewed.

Just one World Cup host in history – South Africa in 2010 – has failed to get out of the group stage. Avoiding a repeat may be the most Russia can hope for.

FOLLOW LIVE: Timbers host Sounders in PNW showdown

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They don’t get much bigger, or more heated, than this one in MLS — it’s Portland versus Seattle, the Timbers versus the Sounders, tonight at Providence Park (10 p.m. ET).

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Timbers vs. Sounders ]

To keep up-to-the-second informed on proceedings in Portland this evening, hit the above link, or click right here.

Seattle won the first meeting between these sides, 1-0 back on May 27, on their home turf at CenturyLink Field. Cristian Roldan, who’ll depart for U.S. national team camp following Sunday’s game, scored the only goal that afternoon in Seattle, a 4th-minute header from three yards out.

Mustafi: Arsenal players powerless, hope “brilliant” Sanchez will stay

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Shkodran Mustafi admits that he, along with his Arsenal teammates, feels helpless with over the ongoing transfer saga of Alexis Sanchez.

[ MORE: Sunday’s transfer rumor roundup | Saturday | Friday ]

The Chilean superstar is linked with a move away from Arsenal this summer, as the Gunners fell out of the Premier League’s top-four and the 28-year-old’s contract is set to expire next summer. Perhaps most importantly, Sanchez hasn’t so much as publicly stated a desire to remain at the club, which, from the outside, appears to have left his future in even greater doubt.

Mustafi admits he hasn’t a clue how things will shake out in the coming weeks, but he’s quick with a pleading sales pitch for Sanchez to stay — quotes from Goal.com:

“I have no idea. Obviously the other players cannot make that decision, he has to make that decision.

“I’m not too much involved. I hope he stays because he is a really brilliant football player but there’s nothing in my hands that I can do.”

[ MORE: De Boer set to be named new Crystal Palace boss ]

Arsenal would likely have to double (if not more) Sanchez’s current $180,000 weekly wages in order to convince him to forego a season in the UEFA Champions League and commit his long-term future to a club presently trending in the wrong direction.