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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

City Council approves plans for new Los Angeles soccer venue

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LOS ANGELES (AP) The City Council has approved plans to build a $250 million stadium for Major League Soccer’s expansion Los Angeles Football Club.

[ MORE: Can MLS teams begin to create separation in Week 10? ]

The council voted 12-0 Friday to move forward with a 22,000-seat stadium on the site of the old Sports Arena next to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and USC.

The 15-acre complex is also slated to include a conference center, restaurants, 140,000 square feet of plazas and streetscapes, and a soccer museum.

At its center would be the home to the new MLS team when it makes its debut in 2018.

LAFC is owned by Malaysian billionaire Vincent Tan, American venture capitalist Henry Nguyen and a celebrity-studded list of investors including Magic Johnson, Tony Robbins, Mia Hamm and Nomar Garciaparra.

Barcelona reportedly seeking out Nice winger Hatem Ben Afra

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Lost in the 2015-16 campaign has been Nice attacker Hatem Ben Afra.

[ MORE: Leicester can provide more magic at home vs. Everton ]

While Paris Saint-Germain has stolen the spotlight in France for much of this season, the former Newcastle midfielder has been nothing short of special for Les Aiglons.

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s PL picks are in for Week 37 ]

That has left La Liga giant Barcelona contacting the 29-year old Frenchman over his services, according to Nice president Jean Pierre Rivere.

Rivere told France 3 he wouldn’t mind Ben Afra exiting the club:

“I would be very happy for him and for Nice if this move comes off,” Rivère said. “You do not reject Barcelona, but it is up to him to decide. If I was a player and Barcelona was offered to me I would not ask questions, I would go! But it is not yet done according to what I am told.”

In 32 appearances this season for Nice, Ben Afra has notched 17 goals and added five assists. He ranks third in goals, only behind PSG’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alexandre Lacazette of Lyon.

Barcelona could very well be the frontrunners to acquire the talented attacker, but several European sides have also expressed interest in Ben Afra. Premier League clubs Chelsea and Liverpool, as well as AC Milan have also been named as potential suitors.

[ MORE: What do other PL teams have to say about Leicester? ]

Ben Afra’s age may be a bit of a concern for the Blaugrana though, in addition to the fact that this current season is the only time in his career that he has tallied double-digit goals. The Lyon academy product could provide solid depth to Barcelona’s attack should a deal get finalized.

Follow @MattReedFutbol

Premier League Preview: Leicester City vs. Everton

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  • Leicester simply playing for home pride
  • Everton seek top-10 finish

Leicester City host Everton on Saturday from the King Power Stadium (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra) in hopes of providing its fans with a season-capping victory, after winning the Premier League title on Monday.

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By now everyone has seen Christian Fuchs‘ video of the Leicester players in celebration mode, but there are still two games left to play. The match against Everton may be more about pride than anything else, but it can still represent an important feat for the club and serve as a true celebration in front of their home supporters.

Jamie Vardy‘s return will provide the fans with yet another moment to applaud and you’d expect the Leicester forward to want to add to his 22 PL goals.

[ MORE: Norwich in desperate need of three points vs. Manchester United ]

The Foxes will be met by an Everton side that don’t really have anything to play for either. Toffees manager Roberto Martinez will surely be looking for a win with his job on the line, however, it’s left to be seen whether or not he can actually maintain his position. Everton has finished in the PL top 10 each of the last eight seasons, and a finish outside of that mark would be a huge setback for the club.

What they’re saying…

Ranieri on his team competing: “Inside me there are two people. One is a very aggressive, I want to win, I won the Premier League but now I want to win on Saturday.”

Martinez on Leicester not letting up: “I’m sure any sort of celebration could affect you in the long term if you had to face a difficult month. In a 90-minute game where the stadium is going to be an historic environment, I’m sure that can only be positive for the home team.”

Prediction

The title is already theirs but why wouldn’t Leicester win this match? The KP Stadium will be rocking into the night and the Foxes will come away with a convincing 3-0 win against Everton.

Follow @MattReedFutbol

Premier League Preview: Norwich City vs. Manchester United

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  • Norwich sit two points out of 17th place
  • United in battle with West Ham for Europe
  • Canaries are losers of three straight

Norwich City host Manchester United from Carrow Road on Saturday (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) as the Canaries seek Premier League safety with two weeks remaining.

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With their season on the line, Norwich is facing desperation as they meet Manchester United. The Canaries posted just one win in four matches in April, leaving them 19th in the PL. While neither Newcastle nor Sunderland were able to create separation between themselves and Norwich, a win against United is a necessity with three games left to play.

Goals have come at a minimum this season for the Canaries, leaving Nathan Redmond and Dieumerci Mbokani in need of a big game. Each player has notched five goals this season for the side.

[ MORE: Ranieri’s on-field changes as manager have propelled Leicester ]

Disappointment has surrounded United for much of the 2015-16 season, however, the Red Devils still have important matches to play down the stretch. That starts with Norwich. Sitting four points behind fourth place Manchester City and holding a game in hand, Louis Van Gaal‘s club can close the gap on the Citizens with a strong performance on Saturday.

What they’re saying…

Neil on match’s importance: “Everybody knows the situation, so I don’t think it is going to have massive difference in terms of how we would approach the game or they (relegation rivals) would approach the game. What it does do is apply pressure to their game, but there will be pressure on that anyway. They will recognise and we recognise that all the teams need to win games to stay in the division.”

Van Gaal on injury struggles: “I always talk about facts, not about hypothetical circumstance and activities. I can only say that in the end of November we had first position, after that we had a big decline.”

Prediction

Despite playing in front of a feisty home crowd at Carrow Road and picking up a 2-1 victory early this season against United, the Canaries chances aren’t too optimistic. Norwich hasn’t scored in three straight matches, all of which were losses. With United still playing for something I don’t expect the Red Devils to drop this match. Give United the points on the road, 3-1, leaving Norwich to rely on Aston Villa and Chelsea to pick up wins.

Follow @MattReedFutbol

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