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

Celtic’s dominance under Rodgers reaching new levels

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They’re unbeaten in 29 games, winning 27 of them. They hold a 25-point lead. They’re about to clinch a sixth straight league title this weekend and it’s still not even April.

Celtic’s players have taken their supremacy of Scottish soccer to a new level this season, putting the storied club from Glasgow in the conversation when discussing the most dominant sides in Europe’s domestic leagues in the 21st century.

Celtic will be the Scottish champion again as early as Friday if its closest rival, Aberdeen, loses to Dundee. If Aberdeen wins, Celtic will take an unassailable lead in the Scottish Premiership by beating Hearts on Sunday.

[ MORE: Lamela out for rest of season ]

There’s been a sense of inevitability about the whole thing since the turn of the year, by which time Celtic had jumped into a 19-point lead. It’s long stopped being called a “title race” in Scotland, more a procession.

Meanwhile, the team coached by former Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers won the Scottish League Cup in late November and is also through to the semifinals of the Scottish Cup.

With Celtic’s unbeaten run across three domestic competitions currently at 36 games, this might be the most dominant season by any club in the history of Scotland’s top flight.

A glance around Europe shows a few other examples of title monopolies.

Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia) and BATE Borisov (Belarus) are currently on a streak of 11 domestic leagues titles in a row since 2006. Olympiakos is on course for a seventh straight Greek league title, which would be its 12th in the last 13 years, and Sheriff Tiraspol has won the Moldovan league every year except one since 2000. Basel leads the Swiss league by 17 points and is about to seal a ninth title in 10 years.

[ MORE: Zlatan to stay at United?

In these lesser-profile leagues, teams can dominate because of the cash they receive from participating in UEFA competitions, which often allow them to outspend their domestic rivals.

Last week, UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin, attending a conference in Lisbon, spoke of the threats to European soccer in the coming years, including the “decrease in competitive balance within European club competitions and secondary effects affecting domestic competitions.”

There are examples of lopsided championships in Europe’s big leagues, too: Juventus is closing on an unprecedented sixth straight Serie A title in Italy and on course for a third straight Serie A-Coppa Italia double; Bayern Munich is on course for a fifth straight Bundesliga title in Germany, which included winning one championship after 27 matches of a 34-round league; Lyon won the French league title seven times in succession from 2002; and Ajax won four straight titles in the Netherlands from 2011-14.

Scotland is widely regarded as a backwater in European soccer these days, mainly because of the uncompetitive nature of its league and an increasing lack of exposure and coverage outside Britain.

What didn’t help was Rangers – Celtic’s fierce crosstown rival and winner of a record 54 league titles – getting demoted to the fourth tier of the Scottish game in 2012 because of financial irregularities.

This is Rangers’ first season back in the Premiership, but it hasn’t been able to challenge Celtic and currently sits 33 points behind in third place. There used to be constant talk of the two “Old Firm” clubs crossing the border to join the English league but that has cooled.

“I want to win (the league) by 50 points,” Rodgers, who is in his first season at Celtic, said last month.

[ MORE: RSL hires Petke ]

In any other league, that would be a preposterous comment, but perhaps no longer in Scotland.

The season started so embarrassingly for Celtic and Rodgers, a 1-0 loss to Gibraltarian part-timer Lincoln Red Imps in a Champions League qualifier in July described by some pundits as the club’s worst defeat in its 130-year history.

Now, they are about to lift the league title with eight matches to spare and potentially in the month of March for the second time in four years.

“We want to continue winning, continue the run that we’re on,” Celtic goalkeeper Craig Gordon said, “and make sure we do that for as long as we can.”

AP Sports Writers Graham Dunbar in Geneva and James Ellingworth in Moscow, and Associated Press writers Ciaran Fahey in Berlin, Daniella Matar in Milan, Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, and Raf Casert in Brussels, Belgium, contributed to this report.

Steve Douglas is at http://www.twitter.com/sdouglas80

Mourinho: Midseason international friendlies don’t make sense

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Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United has a big challenge thanks to injuries and a club with far more international participants than the weekend’s Premier League rival.

It has the manager asking, frankly, why the friendlies?

While Phil Jones and Chris Smalling were injured in England training, not the friendly against Germany nor the World Cup qualifier versus Lithuania, Mourinho wonders why the national teams need to play relatively meaningless matches in the middle of club season.

[ MORE: Lamela out for rest of season ]

Mourinho says he is being careful not to be too vocal about his disappointment given that he’ll probably one day need those friendlies as an international boss. From Sky Sports:

“A couple of weeks before the Euros or a couple of weeks before the World Cup makes sense. But mid-season friendly matches mixed with qualification matches, I don’t think that makes sense.

“On top of that the matches are not really big matches so I am not a big fan. But I think one day I will be there so I cannot be very critical.”

Mourinho will be without Jones, Smalling, and Paul Pogba this weekend. He also has several internationals who won’t arrive back at Old Trafford until Thursday. United hosts West Brom on Saturday.

Lamela needs hip surgery, out for rest of Spurs season

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Tottenham Hotspur won’t be getting an Erik Lamela boost any time soon.

The 25-year-old winger will undergo surgery on his ailing hip this Saturday, costing him availability for Spurs’ stretch run and Argentina duty.

[ MORE: RSL hires Petke ]

Lamela has been missing since Oct. 29, and left Spurs lineup with the team unbeaten in the Premier League (5W-4D).

He registered a goal and an assist in PL play, adding a goal and four helpers in the side’s first two rounds of the EFL Cup and two assists in three Champions League matches.

Real Salt Lake introduces Mike Petke as new head coach

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Mike Petke is getting a deserved next kick as an MLS coach.

The New York Red Bulls icon, 41, is taking over at Real Salt Lake, where he had been leading USL side Real Monarchs since December.

“They’re an animal waiting to be released from a cage,” Petke called RSL’s roster.

[ MORE: Zlatan to stay at United?

Petke won better than 41 percent of his matches as RBNY boss, leading the club to the 2013 Supporters’ Shield. This came after 351 matches between Colorado, the Red Bulls/MetroStars, and DC United.

He leaves Real Monarchs with a perfect 1-0 record. Unbeaten!

“The vision that he laid out, along with Craig and Rob, was music to my ears,” Petek said. “They really showed me what was ahead for the RSL organization, and it was an easy thing to be a part of.”

Petke thanked the Monarchs for restoring some of his love for managing, something he said was “kicked out of me”. The Red Bulls shockingly parted ways with Petke in January 2015, moving onto Jesse Marsch.

This is a low risk hire for Real, who gains a respected coach and soccer mind. The optics aren’t great coming so early into the season and so soon after his hiring at Monarchs raised eyebrows.

The hiring comes four days after RSL drew the Red Bulls 0-0 at Red Bull Arena, which is the only disappointment of this whole ordeal: Not getting to see the response at his old home.