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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

UEL: Saint-Etienne hope Beric comes to the rescue vs. Man United

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 16:  Paul Pogba of Manchester United and Kevin Monnet-Paquet of Saint-Etienne in action during the UEFA Europa  League Round of 32 first leg match between Manchester United and AS Saint-Etienne at Old Trafford on February 16, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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PARIS (AP) While Zlatan Ibrahimovic was scoring a hat trick in Manchester United’s win over Saint-Etienne in the Europa League last week, Robert Beric’s 11-minute substitute appearance at Old Trafford was barely noticed.

Still reeling from a hamstring injury, Beric’s cameo had little impact as Ibrahimovic ended Saint-Etienne’s 10-game unbeaten run in Europe by 3-0.

[ MORE: Man City win in epic comeback vs. Monaco | Atleti blitz Bayer ]

Beric’s condition has improved since the heavy loss, and he featured in a French league game in Montpellier last weekend. The 1976 European Cup runner-up is hoping that’s enough for Beric to help it overturn their deficit against United on Wednesday in the last-32 return leg.

Beric, a versatile center-forward capable of playing with his back to goal and creating, joined Saint-Etienne last season. He’d scored 27 goals in 34 matches in his final season with Rapid Vienna, but was unable to replicate the feat in the French league because his progression was abruptly stopped by a serious right knee injury.

He is expected to start at Geoffroy Guichard Stadium after his teammates managed to force United goalkeeper Sergio Romero into only a single save from 14 shots last week.

“Beric is so skillful and astute in front of goal that we all want to give him a starting nod,” former Saint-Etienne striker Herve Revelli, now a club ambassador, told L’Equipe.

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

United was carved open at times, but the French club was made to pay for its blatant lack of efficiency. Revelli insisted Beric can make a difference.

“He is likely to put our chances into the back of the net,” Revelli said.

With an estimated budget of close to 70 million euros, Saint-Etienne simply can’t afford the services of a world-class striker. When he joined the 10-time French champion for a reported six million euros, Beric became the third most expensive player signed by the club.

A humble player and a man of few words, Beric is somewhat the opposite of the self-infatuated Ibrahimovic.

Unlike Ibrahimovic, who once said he will be “God of Manchester,” Beric rarely speaks about himself and his rare comments on social networks are limited to praise of his teammates and Saint-Etienne fans.

Beric, who scored the last of his three league goals this season back in September, is not yet fully fit and should not be able to last the whole match. But Revelli is counting on his instinct for goals.

[ MORE: Guardiola “so happy” to see Man City “achieve another step” ]

“With him in a finisher role, I firmly believe in our chances,” said Revelli, Saint-Etienne’s all-time best scorer.

Saint-Etienne needs to find a way to stop Ibrahimovic, but history does not favor the home side.

During his time in France with Paris Saint-Gernain, Ibrahimovic was the scourge of Saint-Etienne, scoring 14 goals in 13 games in all competitions. He now has 17, including three hat tricks.

“It’s difficult to neutralize him. There is a possibility that we will set up an anti-Ibra plan,” Saint-Etienne coach Chirstophe Galtier said. “I don’t know what’s inside Zlatan, but for sure he likes to play against us. It’s not easy to score a hat trick in a European Cup game.”

Champions League Wednesday: Leicester’s last stand; Porto-Juve

SEVILLE, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 21:  Claudio Ranieri, manager of Leicester City looks on during a press conference ahead of the UEFA Champions League round-of-16 first leg against Sevilla FC at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on February 21, 2017 in Seville, Spain.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
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Previewing Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League round-of-16 action…

[ MORE: Man City win in epic comeback vs. Monaco | Atleti blitz Bayer ]

Leicester City vs. Sevilla

There’s no two ways about it: Leicester’s season — and perhaps their status as a Premier League club — is quickly spiraling out of control. The Foxes, just nine months after winning the PL title, sit 17th in the league table, one point clear of relegation, with 13 games still to play. Chances are, they won’t be back in the Champions League anytime soon, making Wednesday’s round-of-16 first-leg clash away to Sevilla all the more a monumental moment in the club’s history.

Where has hasn’t it gone wrong for Claudio Ranieri‘s side this season? If you’re of the mind that one player — N'Golo Kante in Leicester’s case — doesn’t make a team himself, then we’ll have to go one step further in diagnosing the stunning regression seen at the King Power Stadium this season: Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, who combined to score 41 goals in the PL last season, have managed all of eight together in 2016-17. It’s the loss of Kante, though, that has left the defense forever exposed (43 goals conceded in 25 PL games, after conceding 36 in 38 all of last season), and the goal-getters forever feeding on scraps (24 goals scored, compared to 68 last season).

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


Porto vs. Juventusfrom the AP

Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci will be left in the stands for Wednesday’s Champions League match against Porto as punishment for his outburst aimed at coach Massimiliano Allegri.

Allegri announced the move on Tuesday at the pre-match news conference, saying he had agreed it with club officials as “a fair decision, out of respect for the squad, the fans and the club.”

Bonucci became embroiled in a heated argument over substitutions with Allegri after a 4-1 win over Palermo on Friday.

Allegri also will punish himself for his angry reaction to Bonucci, announcing a donation to charity.

U.S. U-20s awaken in 2nd half vs. Haiti, keep WCQ hopes alive

USMNT U-20 team (Photo credit: U.S. Soccer)
Photo credit: U.S. Soccer
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With many thanks to the hat trick scored by Brooks Lennon (Real Salt Lake, on loan from Liverpool), the U.S. U-20 national team’s hopes of qualifying for the 2017 U-20 World Cup remain intact.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]

After dropping all three points in their opening group-stage game against Panama on Saturday, Tab Ramos’ young Yanks faced elimination from CONCACAF’s U-20 Championship in Costa Rica with a defeat to Haiti on Tuesday. After 15 minutes, the Americans found themselves a goal down, the prospect of winning zero points from their first two games a terrifying possibility.

Then, Lennon struck from the penalty spot. A draw wouldn’t be enough, realistically, though, as they’d still trail Haiti by three points ahead of the final group game, against Saint Kitts and Nevis, with the top two sides from each team advancing to the classification stage.

The score remained 1-1 until halftime, after which point the Yanks roared to life with three goals in a seven-minute span. Luca de la Torre (Fulham) scored the first of the bunch, an empty-net finish after a failed punch by the goalkeeper. Lennon quickly followed suit with two more to make it 4-1.

With three points from two games and a goal differential that now sits at +2, the Yanks are second in Group B, just ahead of Haiti on goal differential (+1). Panama sit atop the group with six points and a +5 goal differential. A U.S. victory over Saint Kitts and Nevis, to go with a Haitian upset of Panama, would see the Americans finish top of the group go into Group E in the classification stage, which would see them accompanied by a pair of second-place sides. The first-place side in each classification group qualifies for May’s tournament in South Korea.

Guradiola “so happy” to see Man City “achieve another step” as a club

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Josep Guardiola manager of Manchester City reacts as Leonardo Jardim head coach of AS Monaco looks on 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)
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
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In the past, when faced with adversity in the UEFA Champions League, Manchester City could do little more than wilt and crumble as their European dreams when up in smoke year after year, typically in embarrassing and/or heartbreaking fashion.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

On Tuesday, when faced with 2-1 and 3-2 deficits late into the second half of their round-of-16 first leg against Monaco, deja vu was quickly setting in for anyone who’s followed Man City’s rise from middling afterthought to mega-rich conglomerate with aspirations of world domination. Then, something strange (based on years of recent history) happened: Sergio Aguero fired City back to level at 2-2 in the 58th minute. Sure, more shocking defending saw the deficit restored three minutes later, but again, Aguero dissented.

For this reason, and perhaps this reason alone considering the putrid defensively display over the course of 90 minutes, first-year City manager Pep Guardiola should be heartened by Tuesday’s events at the Etihad Stadium. In his mind, it was a massive step forward in the club’s psyche — quotes from the BBC:

“I am so happy for the result, we are still alive. These kind of things help this club to achieve another step. We attacked in small spaces. That’s why they wanted me to come here. Everybody has to be congratulated.

“We are going to fly to Monaco to score as many goals as possible. If we don’t score in Monaco we will be eliminated.”