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Italy weekend roundup: Serie A back to its old, new ways

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Juventus put up a convincing number in last week’s showdown, besting second place Roma 3-0, but in the progress they rekindled a old stereotypes about the Italian league. For somebody that hadn’t paid much attention to the Serie A in recent years, tuning into the one-versus-two matchup would have been rewarded with an Italian leader adopting a classically Italian approach to defend-then-pounce on their challengers. “That’s so Serie A,” the cynic could note, electing to persist with old ideas about the Italy’s current landscape.

In truth, most of the Italy’s best teams are playing more modern, expansive soccer, with each of the league’s top contenders averaging at least 1.78 goals per game. Inter Milan (sixth) now features Walter Mazzarri’s rampaging wing backs, while Fiorentina (fourth) brought in Mario Gomez and Giuseppe Rossi this summer (only to see both get injured). Napoli (third) has been consistently pushing forward thanks to Gonzalo Higuain, José Callejón, and Marek Hamsik, while Rudi Garcia have Roma playing some of the most attractive soccer in Europe. Even Juventus, the team that employed a catenaccio-inspired approach against Roma, has typically thrived on possession while putting up goals. If the soul of Italian soccer is still a conservative one, its league’s best teams are doing more than merely thriving on the mistakes of others.

Napoli, on the road Sunday against fifth place Verona, continued that trend, with Dries Mertens, Lorenzo Insigne, and Blerim Dzemaili leading Rafa Benítez’s team to a 3-0 victory. The result kept them two points behind Roma, who rebounded from last weekend’s disappointment with a 4-0 win over Genoa. And Juventus, after giving up the first goal at Cagliari, got a double from Fernando Llorente en route to a 4-1 win in Sardinia.

As with last weekend’s showdown in Turin, there’s a danger here of confounding goals with beautiful soccer, though the link is more than coincidental with Italy’s leaders. Throw in Mazzarri’s Nerazzurri (in action Monday against Chievo) and Vincenzo Montella’s Fiorentina (held 0-0 by Torino without Rossi, Gomez), and you have a collection of teams committed to transcending their league’s lingering misconceptions.

Last weekend, Juventus may have reverted for one day, but you can blame Roma’s threat for that. Besides, after Sunday’s explosion at Stadio Is Arenas, the Old Lady leads the league in goals. And how conservative can a team be if they’re scoring 2.4 goals a pop?

Elsewhere

  • Livorno 0, Parma 3 – Two late goals from Amauri made a game that sat 1-0 for 84 minutes into a lopsided result, Parma jumping to eighth after building on Raffaele Paladino’s second minute opener.
  • Bologna 0, Lazio 0 – Edy Reja’s second game back in charge ended with his team failing to put a shot on Gianluca Cerci, Bologna held to a draw despite outshooting their guests 12-2 (overall shots).
  • Atalanta 2, Catania 1 – Maxi Moralez’s 86th minute goal gave the hosts a 2-0 lead, the insurance turning into a game winner when Sebastián Leto pulled Catania within one just before full time. Unable to find an equalizer, the Elephants stay bottom of the table, three points and a tiebreaker away from safety.
  • Sassuolo 4, Milan 3 – Goals in the 15th, 28th, 41st, and 47th minutes from Juventus loanee Domenico Barardi pushed the 19-year-old to 11 for the season and his team out of the drop, Milan failing to protect a two-goal lead in their first loss of the new year.

Others

Cagliari 1, Juventus 4
Roma 4, Genoa 0
Verona 0, Napoli 3
Torino 0, Fiorentina 0

Monday

Sampdoria vs. Udinese
Inter vs. Chievo

Standings

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Juventus 19 17 1 1 46 12 34 9-0-0 8-1-1 52
Roma 19 13 5 1 39 10 29 8-2-0 5-3-1 44
Napoli 19 13 3 3 41 20 21 7-2-1 6-1-2 42
Fiorentina 19 11 4 4 34 20 14 6-2-1 5-2-3 37
Verona 19 10 2 7 34 30 4 8-0-2 2-2-5 32
Inter Milan 18 8 7 3 37 22 15 5-3-1 3-4-2 31
Torino 19 6 8 5 31 27 4 4-5-1 2-3-4 26
Parma 19 6 8 5 29 26 3 4-4-2 2-4-3 26
Lazio 19 6 6 7 23 26 -3 6-1-2 0-5-5 24
Genoa 19 6 5 8 19 24 -5 4-3-2 2-2-6 23
AC Milan 19 5 7 7 31 30 1 4-3-2 1-4-5 22
Atalanta 19 6 3 10 20 29 -9 5-2-2 1-1-8 21
Cagliari 19 4 9 6 19 28 -9 4-4-2 0-5-4 21
Udinese 18 6 2 10 18 25 -7 4-1-4 2-1-6 20
Sampdoria 18 4 6 8 19 27 -8 2-3-4 2-3-4 18
Sassuolo 19 4 5 10 21 41 -20 3-1-5 1-4-5 17
Chievo 18 4 4 10 13 23 -10 2-2-5 2-2-5 16
Bologna 19 3 7 9 17 33 -16 2-5-3 1-2-6 16
Livorno 19 3 4 12 16 33 -17 2-3-5 1-1-7 13
Catania 19 3 4 12 13 34 -21 3-4-2 0-0-10 13

Watch Live: Chelsea vs Manchester United (Lineups & Live Stream)

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 02:  Louis van Gaal of Manchester United waves to the crowd before the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Stoke City at Old Trafford on February 2, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Louis Van Gaal takes on the squad his potential successor built as Manchester United travels to Stamford Bridge to take on Chelsea, live on NBCSN at 11:00 a.m. ET or live online at NBC Sports Live Extra.

Should they fall, the Red Devils would be stuck on 40 points, their lowest-ever point total at this point in any Premier League season.

[ WATCH LIVE: Chelsea vs Manchester United live online at NBC Sports Live Extra ]

Nothing is new on the injury front for either team. Chelsea’s striker problem remains as Loic Remy, Pedro, and Radamel Falcao are all out, leaving young Bertrand Traore on the bench backing up Diego Costa. For Manchester United, Marcos Rojo, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Antonio Valencia, Phil Jones and Luke Shaw are all out injured and not available for some time.

Chelsea will be looking to maintain a nine-match unbeaten streak alive against Manchester United across all competitions, having won five and drawn four against the Red Devils in that span.

LINEUPS

Chelsea: Courtois; Ivanovic, Zouma, Terry, Azpi; Mikel, Matic; Willian, Fabregas, Oscar; Diego Costa.
Subs: Begovic, Baba Rahman, Cahill, Loftus-Cheek, Pedro, Traore, Hazard.

Manchester United: De Gea; Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Borthwick-Jackson; Fellaini, Carrick; Lingard, Mata, Martial; Rooney.
Subs: 
Romero, McNair, Varela, Schneiderlin, Herrera, Pereira, Memphis

Pato eager to make his mark with Chelsea

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Brazilian attacker Alexandre Pato has joined Chelsea on loan until the end of the season and the former AC Milan star is looking to make his mark in Europe once again.

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In an exclusive partnership with Chelsea Football Club, NBCSports.com provides even more access to life at Stamford Bridge.

Sign up to the Chelsea Fan Club Plus now to read the full edition of this month’s Chelsea magazine. Members also gain access to Chelsea TV featuring behind-the-scenes action from the Chelsea training ground and exclusive interviews with Guus Hiddink and his players.

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Below is the feature article on Pato from Chelsea’s magazine.


The chances are you will have known Pato’s name long before he signed for the Blues. After all, he was a teenage sensation for club and country, impressing in Serie A with

AC Milan and joining the long line of thrilling forwards to have graced the Brazilian national team.

There is also a chance that, until his arrival here, you hadn’t heard his name too much lately. That’s because Pato has been back in his homeland, playing for Corinthians and Sao Paulo, before making his return to Europe with a loan deal at Stamford Bridge until the end of this season.

Still only 26, he is visibly excited about the move and the prospect of playing Premier League football, and as we sit down to talk to him during his first week at Chelsea, his famous boyish grin is pretty much a permanent fixture.

“I am very eager to play,” he says enthusiastically. “I am eager to train with my team-mates and to incorporate myself into the group here. I know it’s a fight against time because there is not so long until the end of the season, but I am very keen to get started.

“The first few days have been very important. To be back in Europe again at a big club like Chelsea is a dream come true. I’m very happy to be here because I have worked very hard for the last three years in Brazil.”

He arrives with the team looking to push itself back to the more familiar upper echelons of the league table and with crunch FA Cup and Champions League fixtures against top opposition fast approaching. In short, it’s an exciting period and Pato knows he will have to hit the ground running.

“The season is not over,” he states. “There is a lot to play for and a lot of things Chelsea can achieve. This sequence of better results we are having now is just the beginning of something the team can continue to build on. Since I arrived I have been made to feel very welcome, not just by the Brazilian players but everyone. The coach met me here at Cobham and introduced me to all the staff from all the different departments. He has given me the support to have a great rest of the season at Chelsea.”

Pato is a versatile and mobile player. He is always on the lookout for gaps to exploit, holes in the defence or a swift change of direction which might open up the pitch. A great many of his goals involve a sudden burst from deep, his acceleration taking him away from defenders.

Then there is the footwork in tight spaces, the body swerves and the tricks that allow him to slalom in and out of players. The Brazilian domestic season finished in early December but Pato has been keeping himself fit in preparation for a possible move during the January transfer window, and believes he just needs to get himself up to speed.

“I feel very good physically,” he tells us. “Obviously as a player you need game-time to be at your best but I feel prepared, I have been training well, and hopefully with games and time I can adapt.
“I know I only have a few months until the end of the season but what I can promise is that I am prepared to play to the best of my ability to help during the few months left of the campaign.”

Alexandre Pato, Sao Paulo FC
Alexandre Pato at Sao Paulo FC

He adds that, after injuries hampered his last two seasons with Milan, he has changed a few thingscand learned “what to do before training, during training, after training, even after the match.

“I learned a lot about myself and how to look after myself, and now Chelsea have opened the doors to me for this opportunity I am very happy to be back in Europe.”

As for English football, Patois well aware of the different challenges the Premier League is likely to present to him, but more than anything he is excited to test himself here. He has experience of
playing English clubs in European competition and pre-season friendly tournaments, and in the dressing room here he has plenty of friends who have been filling him in on the intricacies.

“I already knew Willian, OscarKenedy and Diego Costa,” he says. “There are some players I know from friendship and others I have once played against. It’s a big thing that they can help me settle down at Chelsea. They will help me express myself with freedom and to be incorporated into the team. The players all helped me to settle in my first few days.

“I know how hard the Premier League is. Diego, Willian and the boys have been telling me that it is very hard here, but I feel I have to improvise so I can find the space on the pitch, get my timing right and get myself into spaces. I have heard a lot about the Premier League and I also had the chance to play against English opposition when I was at AC Milan. For example, I played against Chelsea in a friendly match in the USA. It’s a different league – very hard, very physical, with a lot of contact, and hopefully with my pace and ability I will be able to help the team. I’m hoping to contribute a lot and have a great time here.”

Bournemouth 0-2 Arsenal: Ozil, Ox strike quick for Gunners win

BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 07:  Mesut Oezil of Arsenal celebrates as he scores their first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between A.F.C. Bournemouth and Arsenal at the Vitality Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Bournemouth, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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Mesut Ozil and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain hit goals just 88 seconds apart, enough to knock Bournemouth off its feat and give Arsenal a 2-0 win at Vitality Stadium.

The Cherries seemed up to the task, challenging Arsenal in every facet of the game except finishing, where the Gunners proved far superior.

The first big moment of the game came in the middle of the pitch eight minutes in. Mathieu Flamini slid through the feet of Dan Gosling on a challenge just into the Arsenal defensive half, a foul which referee Kevin Friend deemed fit for a yellow card, although it certainly looked dangerous enough for worse.

As the two battled ferociously back and forth, there were thumping challenges that kept the quality of the game down early. It wouldn’t stay that way for long. On 23 minutes, Aaron Ramsey floated a pinpoint ball to the back post. It met the head of Olivier Grioud who sent it back in front of net where Ozil roofed it on the volley, breaking a streak of 328 minutes without a league goal for Arsenal.

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The Gunners continue to charge forward, and they bagged another just a minute later. Ramsey again outside the top of the box found Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain streaking down the right, and the England international beat Charlie Daniels at full speed, firing low to the far post where it struck the woodwork and pinged in for a 2-0 lead. The goal is Oxlade-Chamberlain’s first ever league goal away from home, ending a streak of 37 Premier League games for the 22-year-old without scoring.

Bournemouth wouldn’t capitulate immediately. Harry Arter struck a powerful left-footed shot from the left corner of the penalty area on 27 minutes, but Petr Cech matched it by acrobatically tipping the weaving shot over the bar.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

That was all the major action for the first half, but the second half started with a flurry of moments around each goal. Ozil sent in a cross for Ramsey just three minutes after the break that sailed just over the Welshman’s head, and down the other end Matt Richie skied one just over the Gunners’ goal.

Bournemouth brought on Junior Stanislas and Josh King, and they maintained an attacking intent throughout much of the second half, but it wasn’t enough to break down the Gunners defense that was comfortable absorbing pressure as the game went on. Every time the hosts moved into a dangerous position, the ball would end up miles over the bar.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

The Cherries had one last opportunity to get on the board early in added time as a brilliant chance fell to Steve Cook right on the penalty spot but Petr Cech made an outstanding save down to his left before also keeping out the rebound.

Arsenal’s win moves the Gunners into third position, even with Tottenham on 28 points, which puts them five back of the leaders Leicester City. Bournemouth remains six points above the relegation zone, and also sit that distance off the top half of the table.

Barcelona tops Levante, ties club record with 28 unbeaten

VALENCIA, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 07:  Jordi Alba of Barcelona celebrates scoring his team's first goal with his teammate Andres Iniesta during the La Liga match between Levante UD and FC Barcelona at Ciutat de Valencia on February 07, 2016 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)
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Sir Alex Ferguson described the 2010/11 Barcelona team as the best team he ever faced.

This year’s Barcelona side has matched them.

With a 2-0 victory over La Liga basement-dwellers Levante on an own-goal forced by Jordi Alba plus a late score from Luis Suarez, Barcelona has gone 28 matches unbeaten in all competitions, without a loss since a 2-1 defeat to Sevilla on October 28.

Manager Luis Enrique, though, is unmoved. “What matters to me are the team’s objectives,” said Enrique after the win. “These are nice numbers, if they help us win titles at the end of the season, fantastic. We are in good position, but there is still a lot left.”

The Levante victory marked Luis Enrique’s 100th game in charge of Barcelona.

That 2010/11 season, led by Pep Guardiola, Barcelona came a Copa del Rey finals loss to Real Madrid from a quadruple, winning the league, Champions League, and Supercopa de Espana. This time around, they’ve already secured the Supercopa, sit atop the league table by three points over Atletico Madrid and seven above Real Madrid, have yet to lose a game in the Champions League, and the second leg of their Copa del Rey semifinal against Valencia is a complete formality. What’s more, the numbers from this streak are eerily similar to that wildly successful squad five years ago.

That campaign, Lionel Messi scored 31 league goals and 53 overall. An injury sapped him of time in this go around, but Suarez and Neymar have picked up the slack. There has been just one league game in which all three of Messi, Neymar, and Suarez has been held scoreless this season, and to find it you have to travel all the way back to the second game of the year, a 1-0 win over Malaga that saw Thomas Vermaelen score the winner. Those three have combined for 48 league goals this year, more than every team in the Spanish top flight save Real Madrid.

Paris Saint-Germain has a similar streak going at the moment, currently unbeaten in league play throughout the entire season, but their 1-0 loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League on November 3 means their streak across all competitions sits at 19 games.