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

Report: Arsenal interested in Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel

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According to a report by The Sun, Arsenal is monitoring the progress of Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.

The rumor does make sense. With Petr Cech at 34 years old and having a poor season in front of net and backup David Ospina failing to challenge him for the starting job, the Gunners are looking elsewhere to bring in a potential future starter.

Schmeichel has been one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League the past two seasons. Last season he led the Foxes to the Premier League title, organizing a stunningly good defensive line of patchwork players. This season, the defense has largely regressed and let Schmeichel down, but he has still performed well and has the metrics to remain one of the league’s top shot-stoppers.

The Danish keeper is 30 years old himself, but that puts him in his prime for a goalkeeper. He has been with Leicester City since 2011, and he will tick 250 appearances for the club with his next match. Schmeichel was rumored to be a member of the secret player delegation that worked hard to see Claudio Ranieri pushed out of the club, a sentiment which he and the other players have strongly denied.

Still, with an improbable Premier League title in hand and an appearance in the Champions League quarterfinals now on the cards, there probably isn’t much else for him at Leicester City. It’s possible Schmeichel could look to bank on his past performances and secure a move to a bigger club this summer.

Should Arsene Wenger stay with Arsenal past this season, a possibility that looks more and more likely, he could look to move on from Cech despite signing the former Chelsea goalkeeper just two summers ago.

Diego Costa injured, but will stay with Spain squad for friendly

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Chelsea striker Diego Costa pulled up in Spain training on Sunday, and with the Blues in first in the Premier League and Costa in great form, there were obvious concerns.

With Costa struggling with leg and ankle injuries, the RFEF informed Chelsea that there was an issue, and Costa was pulled from training and sent for tests. X-Rays at the local hospital in Madrid were negative, and he’s rejoined the squad.

According to the RFEF, doctors will continue to monitor the 28-year-old and he will continue with the national team for the rest of the international break. With a World Cup qualification win over Israel already in the books and just a friendly against France to go on Tuesday, it’s odd that Spain would risk Costa moving forward, but they will continue to keep him around.

Costa has scored 18 goals this season to lead the Blues, and he scored in the win over Israel. Spain takes on France in Saint-Denis on Tuesday, with both teams leading their World Cup qualification groups. Spain has a goal-differential lead on Italy with both teams miles above the rest of the Group G, and France is ahead of Sweden by three points in Group A, with the Netherlands back in fourth.

Foul or flop? Player “headbutts” referee, is sent off

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Well, there must be something in the water down in Brasilia, because things got a little weird this evening.

Flamengo drew with Vasco da Gama 2-2, but that was just the start.

In the 54th minute, with Vasco da Gama leading 1-0 at Estadio Nacional Mané Garrincha, 36-year-old Luis Fabiano was sent off for “headbutting” the referee. Headbutting is in quotes because looking at the video, it certainly appears there was little to no contact, and the referee flops.

Yes, the referee flopped. Take a look:

To be fair, Fabiano was already on a yellow, so getting in the referee’s face even without the headbutt/pelvic thrust would likely still have seen him sent to an early shower.

So the former Porto and Sevilla man was sent off, and Vasco da Gama was down to 10 men. Immediately after the red card, Flamengo took advantage, powering in a pair of goals via Willian Arao and Orlando Berrio to take the lead 2-1. But Vasco wouldn’t quit, and they earned a penalty five minutes into stoppage time, which Nene buried for the 2-2 draw.

To top things off, a player named Yago Pikachu scored the opener for Vasco da Gama, which was followed by a delay in the game seven minutes later after a power surge in the stadium. Go figure.

Lletget diagnosed with foot sprain, escaping further damage

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Word has arrived from the LA Galaxy camp that will see USMNT fans feel relieved as Sebastian Lletget has escaped the news many feared.

The young attacker was impressive in the first 18 minutes of the United States’ 6-0 win over Honduras, but was injured minutes after scoring the opening goal and could not continue. Replays showed that Lletget got his foot caught underneath a defender in the process of a hard challenge on the right wing.

There was concern that Lletget would be out for a significant amount of time, but the Galaxy announced that after testing over the weekend, Lletget did not suffer any structural damage and was diagnosed with a left foot sprain.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Paul Arreola to roster, drops Lletget, Brooks, Morris ]

Lletget will visit a specialist on Monday to determine a plan for recovery, and it’s possible that he will still have to miss some time in the near future. The Galaxy visit Vancouver on Saturday, and his status for that match has to be considered up in the air. They then host Montreal on April 7.

While Lletget obviously misses out on the next USMNT game at Panama on Tuesday having already been dumped from the roster, he will most definitely be available for the June games against Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico, and will likely be an option for Bruce Arena given the manager’s history with Lletget at Los Angeles.

The United States have been struck with a collection of injuries that all occurred just before the international break, hampering the squad significantly. Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris, and Fabian Johnson all went down in the days before reporting for international duty, and the team lost Lletget and John Brooks in the Honduras win. Lletget’s departure could see Alejandro Bedoya into the starting lineup on Tuesday, with the Union midfielder having replaced Lletget in the Honduras match. Also in contention is Jermaine Jones, who could come in after his suspension and push Darlington Nagbe onto the wing.