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Italy roundup: Seedorf wins coaching debut, records lining up for Juventus

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As managerial debuts go, it could have been worse. Four days into his coaching career, Clarence Seedorf already seemed to be having an impact on Milan, who controlled their Sunday game against Hellas Verona. Keeping 70 percent of the ball while recording seven shots on target, the Rossoneri left last week’s embarrassment at Sassuolo in the past, a 1-0 result giving Milan a win in its first game since firing Massimiliano Allegri on Monday.

A cynic would note Milan failed to score from open play, Mario Balotelli’s second half goal from the spot all that separated them from sixth place Verona. The underlying numbers, however, hint goals will come. It wasn’t just the seven shots on target or the 25 overall shots toward goal. Seedorf’s team dominated their opponents in those categories, their 620 passes marking the fifth time this season Milan’s eclipsed the 600-mark (they’re 2-1-2 in those games).  From a team that had only won once in their five previous league outings — one that hadn’t hit that 600-mark since Dec. 1 — this was progress.

The way Seedorf set his team up also gave Milan fans reason to hope. Kaká played as a No. 10 behind Balotelli, with Robinho (left) and Keisuke Honda coming in from their respective flanks. The two-man shield of Nigel de Jong and Ricardo Montolivo allowed right back Mattia Di Sciglio and, to a lesser extent, left back Urby Emanuelson to burst forward. Daniele Bonera and Cristian Zapata, problems in central defense, were protected in part by formation, in part by possession.

Given the flaws in Milan’s squad, it’s pretty much the only way you can imagine them playing, though it’s unfair to compare this set up to the ones Allegri used. The former boss never had a fully integrated Honda. He also didn’t have the luxury of being able to discard promises and allegiances in the face of a failed fall. Seedorf gets the benefit of a clean slate.

Through one match, he’s put that clean slate to good use. Though the team didn’t convert his plans into goals, there’s every reason to think they can, going forward. At least, the underlying numbers say they will. It’s just a matter of continuing this level of performance next week at Cagliari.

source: Getty ImagesGoals keep pouring in for unbeatable Juventus

Juventus came into this weekend having scored at least three goals in four straight games, the latest victories in club record-tying 11-match winning streak that stretches back to Oct. 20. Although few thought visiting Sampdoria would hand the defending champions their second loss of the season, there was a chance Sinisa Mihajlovic’s team could slow the Bianconeri down.  Before Saturday’s trip to Turin, it’d been over two months since Samp had given up more than two goals.

But we’re long beyond comparing Juventus to the rest of Serie A. As they showed again this weekend, any reference to what the rest of their league is doing is meaningless. Led by two goals from Arturo Vidal (bringing the Chilean to 10 in Serie A this season), Juventus posted a 4-2 win over Mihajlovic’s team, bringing their season goal total to 50 goals through 20 rounds. Still eight clear of Roma at the top of the table, the question is less whether Antonio Conte’s team will win the title than what records will they set along the way.

The club record for goals is 103, with Juventus currently on pace to score 95 times this season. With their recent uptick in scoring, however, that 63-year-old mark becomes a distant yet possible goal. While Juve would need to average 2.94 goals per game over the rest of the season to tie the mark, they’re averaged over three per game since Dec. 1. Maintain that pace, and Conte’s crew will have another club record.

The other milestone to shoot for is the team’s points record. In 2005-06, their last season before being relegated during calciopoli, Juve accrued 91 points. This season, they’re on pace for 104.

One way or another, this looks to be a record-setting year for Juventus, with their 12th consecutive win already earning this team a place in the club’s record books. Should they continue to approach Inter’s league mark of 17 wins in a row, other records will surely fall.

Elsewhere

  • Roma 3, Livorno 0 – First half goals from Mattia Destro and Kevin Strootman allowed Rudi Garcia’s team to cruise, with Adem Ljajic’s late insurance proving unnecessary in the Giallorossi’s second straight victory.
  • Udinese 2, Lazio 3 – Down a man and a goal after an hour, Lazio came back through Antonio Candreva, Andrea Lazzari (own goal) and Hernanes, the Brazilan midfielder’s 90th minute winner giving Edy Reja his second win in since returning to the Aquile.
  • Genoa 1, Inter 0 – The Nerazzurri wasted their chance to put some room between themselves and Verona, with Luca Antonelli’s 83rd minute winner giving the Rossoblu their second win in three games.
  • Bologna 2, Napoli 2 – Down a man approaching full-time, Bologna got a second goal from veteran forward Rolando Bianchi, their draw leaving Napoli four points behind second place Roma.
  • Sassuolo 0, Torino 2 – After scoring four times last week against Milan, Domenico Berardi was kept off the scoresheet, with Ciro Immobile and Matteo Brighi giving Torino valuable points in their quest for Europe.
  • Atalanta 1, Cagliari 0 – Giacomo Bonaventura’s 68th minute was enough to hold off Cagliari, who hit the woodwork three times while being kept off the scoresheet.
  • Chievo 1, Parma 2 – Alessandro Lucarelli’s 93rd minute winner decided a match that’d gone over an hour without a score, with Alberto Paloschi and Antonio Cassano’s early goals leaving the match deadlocked into stoppage time.
  • Catania 0, Fiorentina 3 – Alessandro Matri is paying early dividends for the Viola, with the Milan loanee’s first half double leading Sunday’s outburst.

Others

Juventus 4, Sampdoria 2
Milan 1, Verona 0

Standings

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Juventus 20 18 1 1 50 14 36 10-0-0 8-1-1 55
Roma 20 14 5 1 42 10 32 9-2-0 5-3-1 47
Napoli 20 13 4 3 43 22 21 7-2-1 6-2-2 43
Fiorentina 20 12 4 4 37 20 17 6-2-1 6-2-3 40
Inter Milan 20 8 8 4 38 24 14 5-4-1 3-4-3 32
Verona 20 10 2 8 34 31 3 8-0-2 2-2-6 32
Torino 20 7 8 5 33 27 6 4-5-1 3-3-4 29
Parma 20 7 8 5 31 27 4 4-4-2 3-4-3 29
Lazio 20 7 6 7 26 28 -2 6-1-2 1-5-5 27
Genoa 20 7 5 8 20 24 -4 5-3-2 2-2-6 26
AC Milan 20 6 7 7 32 30 2 5-3-2 1-4-5 25
Atalanta 20 7 3 10 21 29 -8 6-2-2 1-1-8 24
Sampdoria 20 5 6 9 24 31 -7 3-3-4 2-3-5 21
Cagliari 20 4 9 7 19 29 -10 4-4-2 0-5-5 21
Udinese 20 6 2 12 20 31 -11 4-1-5 2-1-7 20
Chievo 20 4 5 11 15 26 -11 2-2-6 2-3-5 17
Bologna 20 3 8 9 19 35 -16 2-6-3 1-2-6 17
Sassuolo 20 4 5 11 21 43 -22 3-1-6 1-4-5 17
Livorno 20 3 4 13 16 36 -20 2-3-5 1-1-8 13
Catania 20 3 4 13 13 37 -24 3-4-3 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.