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Juventus hands Roma season’s first loss, moves eight clear in Serie A

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Serie A’s match of the year was anything but, even if it did leave little doubt as to the state of Juventus’s reign. With goals from Arturo Vidal, Leonardo Bonucci, and Mirko Vucinic, the two-time defending champions handed Roma their first loss of the season, eliminating what little hope onlookers had for a title race with a 3-0 result in Turin. Now on a nine-game winning streak that’s carried them eight points clear of the second place Giallorossi, Juventus seems fated to claim a third straight scudetto.

The win, however, came in a somewhat uncharacteristic way, with Antonio Conte setting up his normally ball-controlling team (57.4 percent for the year) to descend into its own half, giving Roma most of the game’s possession. Rudi Garcia’s team would end up with 59 percent of the ball, yet almost none of their four shots on goal gave Juve keeper Gianluigi Buffon any problems. Maintaining a well-organized back five in their defensive phase, Juventus were able to keep Roma at arm’s length, with only two of Roma’s eight shots coming from inside the 18-yard box.

Juventus, on the other hand, made the most of their chances, the first coming in the 17th minute through Carlos Tévez. The Argentine was able to get Daniele de Rossi on his heals in the right of the penalty area, holding the ball at 10 yards out before playing behind the line for an oncoming Vidal. The Chilean international beat Morgan de Sanctis to give the home side first blood.

Following intermission, after blunting Roma for the first period’s final half hour, Juve doubled their lead, a pristine restart from Andrea Pirlo allowing Bonucci to make it 2-0. Sixteen yards from the line along the left flank, Pirlo curved a perfectly driven restart just inside the six-yard box at the far post. Unable to get out quick enough, de Sanctis was helpless on Bonucci’s shot, a goal that seemed to eliminate any question Juventus would take full points.

source: AP
Juventus’s Antonio Conte (right) is congratulated by Roma’s Rudi Garcia after Juve’s 3-0 win. (Photo: AP.)

If that status was in doubt, it was settled over a three-minute stretch beginning with de Rossi’s 75th minute red card. After a reckless challenge that saw the Italian international slide through Giorgio Chiellini’s legs, referee Nicola Rizzoli produced a red card, momentarily leaving Roma with 10 men. When, one minute later, Leandro Castán intentionally handled a ball on the Roma line, the visitors were reduced to nine, with Mirko Vucinic’s ensuing penalty kick giving Juventus their 3-0 victory.

That the game ended with a three-goal margin may have exaggerated the teams’ gap in quality, but there was no doubt which was the superior side. Juventus gave Roma the ball and dared Garcia’s side to beat them, yet from the moment Pirlo took the ball off Fernando Totti in the opening minutes to the Roma captain’s solemn descent from the stands at the final whistle, the Giallorossi proved impotent. Silenced, the likes of Totti, Gervinho, Adem Ljajic and Miralem Pjanic were unable to reproduce Roman’s potent attack in Turin, a failure that leaves the team closer to fourth than first.

Over the course of 90 minutes, the difference between Juventus and the rest of Italy was made crystal clear. An undefeated team that came into the game averaging over two goals per game was handed a 3-0 loss, pushing them eight points back of first in the process. They’d only allowed seven goals on the season, but on Sunday, Roma’s previous exploits were rendered irrelevant. All that mattered was their inability to match up with Juve.

Barring some unpredictable change of course, Serie A’s title race is over – assuming there was ever one to being with.

AT THE HALF: Man City 1-2 Monaco; Atleti lead in UCL round of 16

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Radamel Falcao Garcia of AS Monaco celebrates as he scores their first and equalising goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City FC and AS Monaco at Etihad Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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We’re only halfway through the first leg of Manchester City versus Monaco, and Bayer Leverkusen versus Atletico Madrid, in the UEFA Champions League round of 16, but the goals are coming fast and furious from England to Germany.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

Man City found themselves 1-0 up at the Etihad Stadium, when Leroy Sane turned on video-game mode to set up Raheem Sterling for the opening goal in the 28th minute. But, as City have so typically done in the Champions League, they began self-destructing four minutes later. Radamel Falcao‘s diving header brought Monaco level in the 32nd minute, and Kylian Mbappe’s finish over the head of Willy Caballero put the visitors 2-1 up eight minutes later.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

As for Tuesday’s other round-of-16 tie, Saul Niguez simultaneously opened the scoring and snatched the soul of every Bayer defender who dared to contest him. Antoine Griezmann added a second for Atleti, who hold their 2-0 lead at halftime, seven minutes later.

LIVE: UCL last 16 – Man City v Monaco; Bayer v Atletico Madrid

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 06:  Sergio Aguero of Manchester City celebrates after scoring his sides fourth goal during The Emirates FA Cup Third Round match between West Ham United and Manchester City at London Stadium on January 6, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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Two more UEFA Champions League Round of 16 clashes get underway on Tuesday.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

Manchester City host AS Monaco at the Etihad Stadium with Pep Guardiola knowing his shaky defense must stay strong against the leading scorers in France’s top-flight. Monaco have already come to England and beaten Tottenham Hotspur in the UCL group stage and under talented manager Leanardo Jardim the likes of Radamel Falcao looks fired up and ready to go.

That said, City have been much better in recent weeks and have shown their best form this season in the UCL. Remember, Pep has never failed to reach the semifinals of this competition as a manager. Quite the record.

Elsewhere Bayer Leverkusen welcome Atletico Madrid to the BayArena with Mexico’s Javier Hernandez back among the goals and aiming to give the Bundesliga outfit a lead to take with them to Madrid.

The runners up late season, Atleti are currently fourth in La Liga but Diego Simeone’s side have looked stellar in Europe this season once again as they finished above Bayern Munich to win their group. Expect a tense, tough game in Germany.

Click on the link above to follow live commentary on both games, while we will have reaction and analysis on all of the UCL knockout games here at Pro Soccer Talk.


Tuesday’s UCL Round of 16, first legs

Manchester City vs. AS Monaco – 2:45 p.m. ET
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Atletico Madrid – 2:45 p.m. ET

Bayern defends Ancelotti for middle-finger gesture to fans

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MUNICH (AP) Bayern Munich has defended coach Carlo Ancelotti for raising his middle finger to Hertha Berlin fans after supposedly being spit at following a dramatic 1-1 draw in the Bundesliga.

[ MORE: Shaw in betting investigation ]

Bayern says “basically we find the human reaction of Carlo Ancelotti with the gesture to be emotionally understandable after the nasty spitting attack.”

Robert Lewandowski’s injury-time equalizer for Bayern on Saturday prompted altercations between Bayern and Hertha players in a heated atmosphere at the Olympic Stadium.

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The German soccer federation ended its investigation into the matter after Ancelotti agreed to pay 5,000 euros ($5,300) to its foundation for social work.

In 2014, Norbert Duewel, then-coach of second-division club Union Berlin, was fined 3,500 euros for raising his middle finger in a 4-1 loss at home against 1860 Munich.

Sacha Kljestan ready to take reigns as Red Bulls captain

HARRISON, NJ - MARCH 6:  Sacha Kljestan #16 of New York Red Bulls dribbles past Steven Beitashour #33 of Toronto FC  during their match at Red Bull Arena on March 6, 2016 in Harrison, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
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When news began to spread of a trade regarding one of Major League Soccer’s most recognizable faces, Sacha Kljestan was with his New York Red Bulls teammate at the U.S. Men’s National Team’s January camp.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

The clarity over Dax McCarty’s move to Eastern Conference foe Chicago Fire is very much uncertain — even a month after the fact — but the veteran midfielder’s absence left an opening for the Red Bulls captaincy.

[ MORE: PST talks with Atlanta president Darren Eales ahead of 2017 ]

And that was an opportunity that Kljestan was honored to be named.

“I was just proud. My first feeling was that I’m thankful for Jesse [Marsch] having that trust in me and my teammates having that trust in me as well, which is very important,” Kljestan said. “But I just feel very proud to represent Jesse and the coaching staff and represent every member of the club that works with the New York Red Bulls. Most importantly I want to represent the fans in a way that they are proud of.”

Fortunately for the Red Bulls, what they have had over the past two seasons in Kljestan is a player that not only provides flash and brilliance on the pitch but also stability off the field and in the locker room.

Since making his return to MLS in 2015, Kljestan has notched an astounding 34 assists — the most of any player during that span — to go along with his 14 goals.

Red Bulls manager Jesse Marsch has been impressed with Kljestan’s work ethic since bringing in the Designated Player, and he says little thought needed to be put into naming the U.S. international his squad’s next captain.

“It almost wasn’t even a choice at all,” Marsch said in regards to naming Kljestan his primary captain. “He had served as basically a vice-captain for two years and it was an natural fit. There were discussions with the staff but I think it was pretty clear that this is a guy that is a top leader. That being said, we’ve said all along that the captain isn’t a one man job.

“It’s about a community of people and certainly the two guys that will support Sacha the most will be Luis [Robles] and Brad [Wright-Phillips]. I think the three of them will take on big leadership roles and there’s room for young guys to blossom into bigger leadership positions as well.”

The Red Bulls have undoubtedly proven their success in the regular season since rebranding to the aforementioned name in 2006 when the Global giant, Red Bull, acquired the franchise.

The last 11 seasons have provided the club with plenty to cheer about, including two Supporters’ Shield crowns and only missing out on the postseason once, but the Red Bulls have struggled to get past one major hurdle.

Winning an MLS Cup is challenging.

It’s only something that 11 teams have accomplished in the league’s history. Of those 11 teams, only five of them have won two or more titles since MLS’ inception in 1996.

Marsch’s approach since day one has been very clear to both his team and the opponents that the Red Bulls face. The goal has been to play an attacking-minded press, similar to that of Barcelona in the club’s hay day.

While that pressing style likely won’t change, the team is prepared to add another dimension to its attack by switching to a two-forward setup starting in 2017.

“With our little tweak in formation that we’re doing now, we’re trying to be less susceptible to opening ourselves up and creating too much space between our lines,” Kljestan said. “We’re working on ways now to become more connected and become harder to break down and really make teams earn their chances against us. We might go through some growing pains with the formation but I think it’ll make us stronger in the long run.”

The Red Bulls begin their 2017 journey on Wednesday when they face the Vancouver Whitecaps in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. The two sides will meet a second time on March 2 in Vancouver.