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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

UEFA: Top four leagues guaranteed four teams in UCL from 2018

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 27:  UEFA  Champions League trophy is seen ahead of the UEFA Champions League semi final first leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Bayern Muenchen at Vincente Calderon on April 27, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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The UEFA Champions League will see a big change for three seasons from the 2018-19 campaign.

[ MORE: UCL group stage draw ]

On Friday it was announced by UEFA that several changes, most notably the way teams qualify for the UCL, had been approved and will take place in the next competition cycle.

The biggest change and the one everyone is talking about is that from 2018 the teams who finish in the top four of the four highest ranked UEFA nations will automatically qualify for the UCL group stage.

[ MORE: Analyzing UCL draw for PL teams ]

That means no more UCL play-off for teams who finish fourth in the Premier League.

In a statement on their website, UEFA’s General Secretary ad interim Theodore Theodoridis revealed everyone is happy with the changes.

“The amendments made will continue to ensure qualification based on sporting merit, and the right of all associations and their clubs to compete in Europe’s elite club competitions. We are happy that European football remains united behind the concepts of solidarity, fair competition, fair distribution and good governance.”

Some argue that having 16 places guaranteed to teams from the top four nations in Europe — currently Spain, Germany, England and Italy — is a monopoly and limits the chances of smaller clubs from smaller nations from qualifying.

UEFA also revealed a new coefficient system with clubs no longer having a country share tacked on to their coefficient under most circumstances, plus historical success will be weighted in the coefficient rankings to take into account past UCL and Europa League titles won.

For example, Liverpool’s coefficient will likely increase despite not playing in Europe this season as instead of the coefficient being solely made up of how they and other English teams have performed in Europe over the past few years, now their five previous UCL titles will be weighted and their coefficient will improve due to past success.

Blatter says he will accept verdict as CAS appeal begins

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JULY 25:  FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter speaks during the Preliminary Draw of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia at The Konstantin Palace on July 25, 2015 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.  (Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images)
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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter arrived for his appeal hearing against a six-year ban from football on Thursday, pledging to accept the verdict of the Court of Arbitration for Sport

“I do hope it will be positive for me,” Blatter, sporting a light gray beard, told reporters at around 8 a.m. (0600 GMT) ahead of a hearing expected to last several hours.

The court’s verdict is expected within several weeks, and could be challenged in a further appeal to Switzerland’s supreme court.

The 80-year-old Blatter denies wrongdoing in authorizing a $2 million payment to former FIFA vice president Michel Platini in 2011. They claimed it was for backdated and uncontracted salary for work Platini did in advising Blatter from 1999 to 2002.

[ MORE: Ranking Champions League groups ]

The so-called “disloyal payment” led Blatter to be put under investigation for criminal mismanagement by Swiss federal prosecutors last September. That investigation is ongoing.

FIFA’s ethics committee judged the $2 million deal was a conflict of interest and initially banned Blatter and Platini for eight years last December. FIFA’s appeal committee cut both bans to six years.

Platini’s appeal to CAS was already judged in May, when Blatter appeared in person as a witness. Platini promised a further appeal to the Swiss Federal Tribunal after his ban was only cut from six to four years.

Platini arrived at the hearing around midday local time to be a witness. Both men have denied any wrongdoing.

Blatter’s comments Thursday suggest he would not pursue a federal case. Federal judges can intervene only if legal process is abused.

“We are football players, we learned to win but also we learned to lose and it will not be the end of the world,” Blatter said outside CAS.

The three-member panel for Blatter’s case is expected to respect the verdict of a separate panel which judged Platini.

A failure to overturn the ban for Blatter would likely end his hope to one day be named FIFA honorary president by its 211 member federations.

[ MORE: Ranking Champions League groups ]

The case already ended Platini’s chance to replace Blatter as FIFA president, and also forced him out of European governing body UEFA.

On Sept. 14, UEFA members will elect a successor to replace Platini who had a mandate through March 2019. By imposing a four-year ban, the CAS panel ensured UEFA had to replace Platini, rather than wait for him to return.

The “disloyal payment” emerged last year when Platini was strongly favored to win the election to replace Blatter, who had announced his departure plans after 17 years as president amid pressure from American and Swiss federal investigations of corruption implicating senior FIFA officials.

[ MORE: Bundesliga season primer ]

Both men were questioned at FIFA headquarters last September by Swiss investigators who were waiting for them outside an executive committee meeting.

During the turmoil in world football, Platini’s right-hand man at UEFA, Gianni Infantino, submitted an election candidacy on the entry deadline day and won the vote in February.

Arriving at the hearing with his Zurich-based lawyer Lorenz Erni, Blatter said he hoped the CAS panel “will understand that the payment made to Platini was really a debt that we had against him.”

“This is a principle, if you have debts you pay them,” Blatter said.

NASL weekend preview: Miami, Minnesota meet playoff fortunes head on

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There are still two full months of soccer to go in the NASL’s Fall Season, but this weekend could be a major day for the title fortunes of one squad in particular.

Miami FC and Minnesota United are level on points with 15 heading into Saturday’s match at FIU Stadium.

[ MORE: MLS Weekend Preview ]

If you’re unfamiliar, the NASL Playoffs involve four teams: the Spring champion (Indy Eleven), the Fall champion, and two other teams with the best combined record between seasons.

Miami’s played one fewer game, and both it and Minnesota — fresh off the news it’s headed to MLS in 2017 — are seven points shy of first-place FC Edmonton.

But Minnesota is on pace to make the playoffs through combined schedule, while Miami had a poor first half and would be better served to win the Fall Season if it wants a shot at the NASL Soccer Bowl Trophy.

Saturday
Carolina Railhawks at New York Cosmos
Rayo OKC at Tampa Bay Rowdies
Minnesota United at Miami FC

Sunday
Indy Eleven at Ottawa Fury
Puerto Rico at FC Edmonton

Arsenal reportedly set for $69 million double Friday buy

MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 14:  Lucas Perez of RC Deportivo la Coruna reacts during the La Liga match between Rayo Vallecano and RC Deportivo La Coruna at Estadio Teresa Rivero on September 14, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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Arsene Wenger‘s much-maligned transfer business is about to take the “much” off the verb.

Lucas Perez of Deportiva de la Coruna is reportedly going to be joining Arsenal on Friday, and the Gunners are also close to finally landing Valencia center back Shkodran Mustafi.

[ MORE: Bundesliga season primer ]

Perez, 27, broke out for a career-best 17 goals last season, and scored on debut last weekend. He’s set to cost $22.5 million, while Mustafi makes up the other $46.5 million.

The 12-times capped German center back stands 6-foot, and would bring stability to a Gunners unit which has (again) been beset by injuries.

From the BBC:

Spaniard Lucas, 27, scored 17 goals in 37 games last season and Arsenal will meet a 20m euro (£17.1m) buyout clause.

Germany international Mustafi, 24, is set to join for a fee in excess of £35m.

Is this, coupled with the Granit Xhaka buy, enough to help Wenger right the ship? Mustafi, especially, would be a key piece. Perez is a bit of a lesser-known quality.