What went wrong for Allegri at AC Milan?

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With so many big name players, a mammoth stadium often full of adoring fans and a history that dazzles amongst the leading lights of European soccer, surely it’s easy to manage a club like AC Milan.

Think again.

So often the biggest jobs in European soccer become a poisoned chalice and after Massimiliano Allegri was sacked on Monday, following a 4-3 defeat to his former club Sassuolo, the soccer elite have yet another victim.

The dismissal brings an end to his time in charge at Milan, as Allegri was given a fair crack of the whip with four seasons in charge but in the end a lack of investment and not culling some of his aging squad proved to be his downfall. Right now AC sit 11th in Serie A and only six points clear of the relegation zone however they are still in the UEFA Champions League and face Atletico Madrid in the last 16 next month.

(MORE: Latest Serie A Standings)

Allegri had often struggled in the UCL compared to the Italian top-flight, as he won the Scuddeto in his first season in charge but that seems like a distant memory now as the Rossoneri stormed to the title back  in 2010-11 and came second in 2011-12. One other trophy, the Italian Suppercoppa, followed but that has been it for one of European soccer’s most successful clubs.

One other thing that spelled the end for the 46-year-old was the return of long-time AC Milan President and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who once again became the sole club President in 2012. Since 1986 Berlusconi has been juggling his leadership of Milan and the Italian nation and in that time he’s now had 17 managers in charge at the San Siro, with only Carlo Ancelotti lasting longer than five years when he took charge between 2001-2009.

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An aging squad plus a lack of investment means Allegri’s time at AC was riddled with change and turmoil.

In that respect Allegri is the third longest-serving boss under the Berlusconi era, but of late the league form has been atrocious and something needed to be done to rectify that. Stars players such as Kaka, Robinho, Mario Balotelli and Stephen El Shaarway should not have steered Milan into mid-table obscurity in Serie A. But they have. Some of the big names haven’t stood up to be counted with the side struggling and that confounded Allegri’s worst fears, as even the likes of Kaka looks a shade of his former self after Milan brought him back to the San Siro on a free transfer. With only two league wins in their last 11 games since October 27, the writing has been on the wall for Allegri.

This season defending has been the main problem for AC as they’ve let in 30 goals in 19 games, which may not sound like that many but when you’re used to staunch defensive displays and you play in Serie A… that’s a lot of goals being leaked.

However Milan struggling to perform in Serie A isn’t something new as last season they had a terrible start to the campaign and had just eight points form their first seven games. But Allegri turned that around and guided Milan to third place and a Champions League berth after AC had been languishing towards the relegation zone during the first half of the 2012-13 season.

(MORE: Clarence Seedorf to become AC Milan’s new manager)

He wasn’t given time to do that this season, and before Christmas he’d already signified his intent to move on from the San Siro after this campaign and his contract was up, stating “this will be my last Christmas at AC Milan.” Turns out the end came sooner than Allegri thought it would, but it needed to happen after his early promise as head coach declined rapidly. Strange comments in 2012 also marred Allegri’s future as when he signed a new deal in January of that year, as the former Cagliari boss declared that he would only by a manager for another 10 seasons as the stress was too much to handle.

Now Milan have appointed former legend Clarence Seedorf as their new manager, it seems as though Berlusconi will be more involved than ever to help the young coach succeed and turns things around. Allegri got that help last season, but he wasn’t going to get it again this year.

Many weren’t surprised he was shown the door, but will he get another chance to manage on the biggest stage? With a top three finish in every single full season as AC Milan manager, he didn’t do any awful job but progress wasn’t being made as fast as Berlusconi and the other executives would’ve liked. Allegri finishes his time in charge at Milan with 91 wins from 178 games, with a win percentage of 51.12 percent.

Not bad for someone who’s been under pressure since the very start. Even if he didn’t quite live up to expectations, Allegri should get a crack at another top job in Italy relatively soon.

Timbers sign Peruvian winger Andy Polo from Liga MX’s Morelia

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) The Portland Timbers have acquired winger Andy Polo on loan from Liga MX club Monarcas Morelia for the upcoming season.

The 23-year-old native of Peru played in 25 matches last year for Morelia and made six starts with two goals.

He’s also World Cup-bound, having appeared in Peru’s two-legged playoff against New Zealand in November. Peru won 2-0 on aggregate. Overall, he’s appeared with the Peruvian national team 15 times since his senior debut in 2016.

“Andy is a versatile, young player who will add another element to our attack, and we believe that he has further upside to his development,” Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said in a statement.

The Timbers used targeted allocation money and have a purchase option. Polo’s arrival is pending a physical and receipt of a visa.

He will occupy an international roster spot.

Can Man United still sign Sanchez without Mkhitaryan swap?

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The answer to the (first) titled question is, undoubtedly, yes.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

The latter question — the “will they?” — remains a relative unknown at this point, but if reports out of the UK are to be believed, Manchester United are just as likely to send $40 million (or so) Arsenal’s way in exchange for Alexis Sanchez, should Henrikh Mkhitaryan refuse the move by declining any contract offers from the Gunners.

[ MORE: Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies ]

The thinking, at least for the last few days since Man United somewhat unexpectedly entered the Sanchez sweepstakes, was that swapping the Armenian for the Chilean was the obvious — and, perhaps only — way forward. Call it special circumstances or an obvious audible, but that’s not necessarily the case — from the Guardian:

“It is understood that if Mkhitaryan does not leave Mourinho believes that, given the club’s robust finances, [Man United executive vice-chairman] Ed Woodward could still sanction a move for a player who would potentially vastly improve United.”

By the time Sanchez is signed, sealed and delivered, United will have also paid Sanchez and his agent, Fernando Felicevich, massive signing-on fees that could total another $30 million. No matter the order in which the Sanchez-Mkhitaryan saga plays out, United will come out ahead with a superior player at a massively discounted price — should Sanchez ultimately move to Old Trafford, of course.

Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies

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If the FA, English football’s governing body, is insistent upon testing video-assistant refereeing (VAR) as they have done in recent FA Cup and League Cup fixtures, Antonio Conte believes they should darn well use it.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

Following his Chelsea side’s penalty-shootout victory over Norwich City in an FA Cup third-round replay on Wednesday, Conte was equal parts frustrated and confused by the fact that video-referee Mike Jones failed to prompt referee Graham Scott to consult the on-trial system on multiple occasions.

Most notably, Chelsea’s 92nd-minute (extra-time) penalty shout following Timm Klose‘s tackle on Willian. Scott, instead, booked the Brazilian for diving — one of three cards, all shown to Chelsea players, for simulation on the night — and that was that.

“If you watch the replay you see very clearly it is a penalty,” said Conte after the game — quotes from the BBC:

“I think that there was a penalty but not on [Alvaro] Morata — on Willian.

“With Willian, the referee heard what the other referee watched and decided to continue to play. If we want to try to use this new system, it is important for the referee to wait, especially in this incident that is not so clear.

“And then when the referee that is watching had a doubt, he has to call the referee to watch and he can make a decision. The referee on the pitch has to make the decision, not one off the pitch.

“We can improve it for sure but we need to try to take the best solution. The final decision is for the ref on the pitch. Otherwise, why is there this ref?

“The mistake wasn’t of the ref on the pitch but the person watching. When you see this, you have to call the referee.”

VAR was used in another third-round replay, on Tuesday, and helped to correctly rule Leicester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho as being in an onside position when he scored his side’s second goal. While offside/onside calls are much clearer, cut-and-dry decisions to make — and with the aid of a natural stoppage in play — clearly much work lies ahead with regard to the process of determining whether the referee has made a “clear and obvious error,” which remains the threshold for using VAR, in instances of fouls/diving.

Copa QF: Messi misses PK, Barca’s 29-game unbeaten run ends

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MADRID (AP) — Lionel Messi missed a penalty and Barcelona conceded late as its 29-match unbeaten streak ended in a 1-0 loss to city rival Espanyol in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal on Wednesday.

Messi failed from the spot in the 62nd minute, his shot brilliantly saved by goalkeeper Diego Lopez.

Youngster Oscar Melendo netted the winner for the hosts in the 88th with his first goal as a professional.

“I have no words, I was looking forward to this first goal,” said the 20-year-old Melendo, who had come on as a substitute in the second half.

It was Espanyol’s first win against Barcelona at its RCDE Stadium.

The second leg of the Catalan derby is next week at Camp Nou.

Barcelona hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat by Real Madrid in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Aug. 16. It had won 23 of its last 29 matches in all competitions.

“We knew we would lose one day,” Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets said. “The positive thing is that in a week we have a chance to rebound and advance.”

Messi had his chance from the spot after Sergi Roberto was fouled by Esteban Granero, but his low shot into the right corner was stopped as Diego Lopez dived to his left to tip the ball away.

It was a rare miss for Messi, who is having a stellar season and is the Spanish league’s top scorer with 17 goals.

“The penalty save gave us the boost that we needed,” Melendo said. “We were playing too defensively.”

Melendo netted the winner with a low shot from the middle of the area after a well-timed pass by Marc Navarro.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde did not use all of the team’s regular starters, leaving players such as Luis Suarez on the bench.

The match was interrupted for a few minutes in the 76th after Barcelona goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen was hit by an object thrown by fans behind his goal.

Barcelona midfielder Paulinho was replaced in the second half because of a foot injury.