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

Wolfsburg holds off Braunschweig with Vieirinha blast (video)

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Outworked and outperformed in the first half of their playoff second leg at Eintracht Braunschweig, Wolfsburg needed a wake-up call to steady its hopes of staying in the Bundesliga.

That came off the boot of longtime right back Vieirinha, as the Portuguese veteran ran onto a rebound and fired a 17-yard arrow into the goal to boost Wolfsburg aggregate lead to 2-0.

[ MORE: Barcelona names new manager ]

That would mean the 2.Bundesliga hosts would need three goals to give the second tier a third promotion this season. An 82nd minute red card to Braunschweig’s Maximilian Sauer effectively ended those far-off dreams.

Ingolstadt and Darmstadt were relegated in the season, and Stuttgart and Hannover were promoted from 2.Bundesliga.

Barcelona announces Valverde as next manager

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Six days after leaving his post at Athletic Bilbao, another dream job has been signed, sealed, and delivered to Ernesto Valverde.

The ex-Barcelona striker is joining the Blaugranas as the replacement for accolade-winning coach Luis Enrique, who stepped away from the position after Saturday’s Copa del Rey victory.

[ JPW: Huddersfield completes the dream ]

Valverde, 53, played two seasons with Barca in the late 1980s, and previously coached Espanyol, Olympiakos, Villarreal and Valencia. His spent most of his playing career at Athletic and began as their manager in 2013.

Here’s what Barca president Josep Maria Bartomeu said about Valverde:

“Valverde has the ability, the knowledge and the experience. He promotes players from the youth teams and he has a style and a way of working like ours. He has a philosophy of the game that is very Barça and he is a hard worker. Also, he is passionate about applying technology to both training and matches.”

Valverde becomes the fourth manager to take charge of Barcelona since Pep Guardiola left in 2012 (Tito Vilanova, Gerardo Martino, and Enrique are the others).

Huddersfield seal fairytale promotion to Premier League

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LONDON — Huddersfield Town have been promoted to the Premier League.

Let that sink in.

[ MORE: Wagner reacts to “fairytale” ]

The Terriers, for the first time in their history, will play in the PL and for the first time since 1972 they will be in the top-flight of English soccer.

German-American manager David Wagner has worked a miracle to turnaround a team who finished in 19th place in the Championship last season. They beat Reading 4-3 on penalty kicks on Monday after a tight, tense 120 minutes of action at Wembley Stadium, holding their nerve to seal an estimated windfall of $218 million next season and up to $372 million if they survive in the PL for another season.

All day long, and perhaps all season long, it has felt like Huddersfield were destined for promotion.

Huddersfield sold out their full allocation of tickets, 39,150, and their fans made the most noise all day long. There was no contest.

In central London Huddersfield’s fans piled on to the tube heading to Wembley for their day of reckoning.

“It’s his first full season as a fan!” said a proud mother decked out in a Huddersfield shirt as she hugged her five-year-old son proudly. “What a time to start!” replied a stranger, also a Huddersfield fan.

Excited chatter filled the 15 minute tube ride from Baker Street to Wembley Park as fans “I can’t believe it,” said one fan to another, quietly. “It will hit home when we get into the stadium,” his friend replied.

Steven Sunderland stood outside Wembley with his wife Melanie and their daughter Megan.

He summed up the surprise that Huddersfield were even one game away from the Premier League to start with.

“It would be amazing to play all of the big clubs, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, clubs like that,” Sunderland said. “I never thought we would make it. No chance. I just thought if we make midtable, it would be an improvement on last season because we’ve been struggling with relegation the last few seasons. This season, David Wagner has got the team playing really well, best team spirit I’ve ever seen for a long, long time. The fans are really connected. It shows today, there are nearly 40,000 Huddersfield fans here today and they are up for it.”

Oh yes. Yes they were.

Amid dissecting the struggles of Yorkshire rivals Leeds United, talk of just going up to the PL for one year and then enjoying it “no matter how we do” was rife among the Huddersfield fans. One Terriers supporter puffed out his cheeks, gripping his can of cider nervously as he walked up Wembley Way.

Tense was the word of the day.

With the future of both clubs on the line, the game itself didn’t deliver end-to-end excitement. With an estimated $218 million on the line for next season and $370 million if they manage to stay up one year in the PL, the economic benefit for Huddersfield the club, and the town, will be huge.

When Michael Hefele headed wide and Isaiah Brown missed a glorious chance early on, you began to wonder if it was Huddersfield’s day. In the end none of that mattered.

Christopher Schindler stepped up and slotted home the winning penalty kick after Danny Ward saved from Jordan Obita as Huddersfield had reached the promised land.

Huddersfield chairman Dean Hoyle summed up his emotions after taking over the club and putting in a prudent plan for promotion involving loan players and a budget less than $12 million this season.

“I’m so emotional. To say I’ve been supporting this club since 1969, to be a Premier League team now – dreams come true,” Hoyle said. “It’s huge what it means for Huddersfield, we’re on the big stage. It proves you don’t have to blow your brains to get promoted. We’ve done it the right way.”

What impact will this have on the Yorkshire town?

Sunderland and his family summed it up perfectly as yet another underdog, just like Bournemouth, Blackpool and Burnley before them, has risen to the promised land.

“It is massive. It is the land of milk and honey if you like, the place where everybody wants to be,” Sunderland said. “It will be brilliant, for the town. Just that little bit of success makes a big difference. We’ve been on TV this season more times than we have been the last 10 seasons. Next year it will be high profile very week. Match of the Day, on TV… Champions League the year after!? You never know.”

What did Wagner have to say? He told ProSoccerTalk he wants Huddersfield to keep the identity he has helped build and nurture.

“We have to be focused on ourselves and this football club has to be focused on themselves. This football club has created an identity and this was always our target, that we create an identity and a style of football where even if we wear neutral jerseys people from outside are able to say ‘okay, that could be Huddersfield.’ I think it makes no sense to compare ourselves with other small clubs. This football club has its own story and I think, we are on the way.”

They certainly are. Even if their fans can’t quite believe it.

As some posed for photos outside the electronic board at Wembley which said “congratulations Huddersfield!” others stood around in disbelief.

A group of three young Yorkshiremen sat on the tube back to Baker Street in stunned silence.

“We are going to be on Match of the Day!” said one fan, rubbing his hands in glee as he recites an intro to next years show which, of course, features Huddersfield top of the bill.

Discussion then switches to which games they’re most looking forward to. Arsenal, Liverpool and Man United away tops the list.

“We can’t believe it. It hasn’t sunk in yet,” said one fan as they looked at each other with dropped jaws.

Believe it, lads.

Watch out, Premier League. Huddersfield are on their way.

David Wagner reacts to Huddersfield’s promotion

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LONDON — There will be an American coach in the Premier League next season.

David Wagner, 45, led Huddersfield Town to its first-ever promotion to the Premier League as the Terriers beat Reading 4-3 on penalty kicks after a tense Championship Playoff Final at Wembley which ended 0-0 after 120 minutes.

Speaking after the nail-biting win, Wagner was delighted that his team proved everyone wrong and came from nowhere to reach the top-flight for the first time since 1972.

“A lot of the pundits wrote us off before the season,” Wagner told Sky Sports. “Over the season I thought we could do a little bit more, I thought around Christmas when we’d played everyone we had a chance. What happened is an unbelievable story – a fairytale.”

The former U.S. national team forward has galvanized the club, linking the team and fans together with passion and a plethora of loan players from the likes of Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea.

What he has achieved this season has left Huddersfield fans stunned as the former Borussia Dortmund II boss, who left the German giants in November 2015, has built a hardworking, organized team.

ProSoccerTalk asked Wagner if he will look at any of the smaller teams who have been recently promoted to the PL — the likes of Bournemouth, Burnley et al. — to follow a blueprint of how to plan ahead.

“We have to be focused on ourselves and this football club has to be focused on themselves,” Wagner said. “This football club has created an identity and this was always our target, that we create an identity and a style of football where even if we wear neutral jerseys people from outside are able to say ‘okay, that could be Huddersfield.’ I think it makes no sense to compare ourselves with other small clubs. This football club has its own story and I think, we are on the way.”

They are certainly on their way and we will be hearing a lot about the Terriers in the days and weeks to come.