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.


  • 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.


Juventus 4, Sampdoria 2
Milan 1, Verona 0


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

Serie A: Napoli go top for first time in 25 years; Inter a close 2nd

Gonzalo Higuain, SSC Napoli
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A quick roundup of Monday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

Napoli 2-1 Inter Milan

For the first time since the final day of the 1989-90 season, Napoli are top of Serie A all by themselves after a top-of-the-table clash with previous leaders Inter Milan.

Gonzalo Higuain bagged both goals for the Azzurri, the first of which came after just 65 seconds. His tally on 62 minutes held up as the game-winner after Adem Ljajic pulled one back for Roberto Mancini’s side in the 67 minute. The opener (below video) was a powerful finish from inside the penalty area which served as a strong reminder as to why a club like Arsenal is consistently linked to the Argentine striker.

Sassuolo 1-1 Fiorentina

Fiorentina, who had a chance to stake their own claim to the top spot, dropped two points away to seventh-place Sassuolo earlier in the day, opening the door for Napoli to go top with their victory. After shooting out of the gates red hot (6 wins in their first 7 games), the Viola have now drawn back to back games — to Empoli and Sassuolo — and find themselves third, two points behind Napoli.

Borja Valero put Fiorentina ahead after five minutes on Monday, but Sassuolo equalized through Sergio Floccari just before halftime to keep their own dreams of European qualification alive.

Serie A table

Matchup by matchup: Picking a favorite for MLS Cup 2015

Portland Timbers FC
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We’re T-minus 137 hours to the kickoff of MLS Cup 2015, between Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

When the two sides meet at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday (4 p.m. ET), the general public will have picked a slight favorite to hoist MLS Cup, just like any other game. Only, this one’s a bit tougher to call — there’s no clear-cut favorite as is usually the case in MLS Cup, so we’ll do our best to explore a few key matchups that might slant Sunday’s title tilt in one direction or the other…

Crew SC width (Waylon Francis, Harrison Afful, Justin Meram, Ethan Finlay) vs. Timbers width (Jorge Villafana, Alvas Powell, Rodney Wallace, Dairon Asprilla)

  • Pinning the wingers back — There’s two ways to beat Crew SC: 1) sit with eight or nine men behind the ball and frustrate them through a lack of space to attack; or, 2) pin Finlay and Meram deep inside their own half, defensively, by getting your full backs forward and forcing them to defend. It’s doable, but it’s not easy. On the other side, best of luck to Wallace and Asprilla with the tracking back they’ll be forced into with perhaps the best attacking right back in MLS, Afful, and Francis overlapping on either side. Fanendo Adi could find himself on an island very quickly if the Crew SC full backs get forward as often as they’d like.
  • Where the help comes from — That’s the biggest issue for Portland, who ever since dropping Darlington Nagbe into midfield, play with a lone defensive midfielder, Diego Chara. He’s great at covering the entire field and providing help to blow up an opposing attack, but he can only be on one side of the field at a time. This means Borchers and Ridgewell will be stretched wider and forced to defend Finlay and Meram in space, where they’re oh so deadly.
  • Advantage: Crew SC

[ MORE: Crew SC announce MLS Cup sold out 15 hours after qualifying ]

Kei Kamara vs. Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell

  • All it takes is one chance — Neither one of Borchers or Ridgewell can physically compete with Kamara’s rare combination of speed and athleticism — to be fair, few center backs this side of the world can. Therefore, 90 percent of “defending” Kamara will be staying tight to the 22-goalscorer during the regular season and, with any luck, not losing track of him once the ball gets out to the wings. Once Kamara gets that yard of space in any direction and the ball goes up on the cross, the center backs’ chances of winning the next ball are much, much lower. That said, Kamara will find far less space against Borchers and Ridgewell (and Diego Chara) than he enjoyed against Montreal and New York thus far in the playoffs. There’s very few center back duos with the experience and nous of the Timbers’ backbone.
  • Advantage: Timbers

[ MORE: Beckham group abandons yet another stadium plan, site in Miami ]

Timbers midfield three (Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri) vs. Crew SC midfield three (Tony Tchani, Wil Trapp, Federico Higuain)

  • Nagbe the key to balance — Darlington Nagbe will, one day, be an MLS Best XI central midfielder. Today is not that day, though. He’s still a work in progress, and probably the most exploitable individual on the field in Crew SC’s eyes. Tchani and Trapp are, in my opinion, the best deep-sitting midfield duo in the league, and they’ll press, harry and harass Nagbe for 90 (0r 120) minutes, probably starting a fair few of those deadly counter-attacks in the middle third of the field.
  • Advantage: Crew SC

[ MORE: Timbers reach first MLS Cup | Crew SC to host MLS Cup 2015 ]

Gregg Berhalter vs. Caleb Porter

  • Lineups set themselves — Neither coach is likely to throw out a huge surprise before kickoff — dance with one that brought you, or something like that. Up until recently, I was completely convinced that Porter was vastly overrated and didn’t understand the constant adoration that surrounded the man his first two or three years in charge. Everything was a bit stale and rigid, organized, but lacking flair. Then he moved Nagbe into midfield to allow his biggest game-changer more opportunities on the ball to affect the game much more. This leads me to believe Porter is a bit more flexible in seeing his team and system operate in slightly different ways, but only barely.
  • Advantage: Timbers

Crew SC announce MLS Cup 2015 sold out 15 hours after qualifying

Wil Trapp, Columbus Crew SC
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The building formerly known as Crew Stadium has hosted its fair share of famous soccer games since it opened in 1999 — dos a cero, anyone? — and Sunday’s MLS Cup 2015 looks set to rank right up there among them.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Roughly 15 hours after advancing to this year’s MLS Cup, which they will host this Sunday (4 p.m. ET), Columbus Crew SC announced on Monday that MAPFRE Stadium is officially sold out.

Crew SC president of business operations Andy Loughnane addressed the fanbase in a blog post on the club’s official site Monday afternoon and said, “As of late this morning we are sold out of the extra capacity seating that was created for MLS Cup at MAPFRE Stadium. While there is a small chance that additional seats could be released for purchase as a result of MLS holds being returned, we are sold out of all known available seats.”

[ MORE: Beckham group abandons yet another stadium plan, site in Miami ]

Crew SC, making their second MLS Cup appearance in club history (2008 champions), will host first-time MLS Cup contestants, the Portland Timbers, on Sunday.

PL clubs combined to pay out $200 million in agent fees in 2015

Liverpool Unveil New Signing Christian Benteke
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What a time to be an agent in the footballing world, eh? The rich just keep getting richer and richer and richer.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

The steady increase in transfer fees being paid for players — bad, good, great and amazing alike — has made quite a few “selling” clubs rich reach over the last decade or two, to be sure, but it’s also made another group of people obscenely rich: player agents.

As the soccer world has gone crazy with its “now, now, now” approach — managers must win now, or they’re fired; new signings must become stars now, or they’ll be sold; etc. — agents are the ones making out like bandits — no losses to be sustained on players who turn out to be flops; no future loss of wages due to taking “too long” to settle in and being labeled a flop — at the expense of clubs and, most cruelly, the players.

More than $195 million was paid out agents by Premier League clubs across the January and summer transfer windows, with Liverpool — ever the club in constant change — paying out $21.5 million in agents fees to remain top of the table for a second straight year. Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal were the four other clubs to top $15 million.

[ MORE: Premier League Payback — The Diego Costa era over at Chelsea? ]

Agents not only receive a fee when players change clubs through transfers, but can only be compensated again and again when one of their clients signs a new contract with their current club.

For instance, Wayne Rooney has signed at least four new contracts since joining Manchester United in 2004, the latest of which came barely three years after he was given a new five-year deal in Oct. 2010 upon handing in a transfer request in an attempt to force a move to Manchester City. Rooney’s current weekly wage is reported to be in the neighborhood of $450,000. His agent, Paul Stretford, will have received a sizable payday upon negotiating the deal in Feb. 2014.

At the end of the day, sports are little more than a business, and it’s the ones who play the game — the political game, that is — the best, and most ruthlessly, who are making out like bandits.