Italy roundup: Buffon dismissal sees Juventus’ win streak end at 12

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Three months later, Juventus has finally dropped points again in Serie A, with the method of their Saturday draw underscoring the remarkable nature of the 12-match run. After Gianluigi Buffon’s 24th minute dismissal at Lazio, however, the Bianconeri finally had a scenario they couldn’t overcome. The two-time defending champions, eight points up on second place going into the weekend, would be held to a 1-1 draw.

As mud as any of the win they’ve collected since losing at Fiorentina on Oct. 20, the disappointing result did the holders’ credit. Down a man for over an hour, Juventus faced circumstances that make most teams fold. They were on the road, down goal, and facing a team that had gathered momentum since head coach Edy Reja’s return. Lazio may not be a title contender, but with those advantages, Reja’s team should have been closed out the game.

Juventus, however, refused to play along. Controlling the ball while keeping the Aquile without an open play shot on goal for 76th minutes, the  Old Lady’s disadvantages disappeared for much of the match. Once Fernando Llorente equalized in the 60th minute, Juventus seemed destined to their streak, 10-men or no. If the final 30 minutes played out like the match’s middle third, Buffon’s dismissal would become a footnote on Juve’s quest to tie Inter’s all-time record (17 straight wins).

By match’s end, however, Lazio had woken up. After wasting their advantages for most of the day, the home side finally pushed, hoping to build on Candreva’s opener. Ultimately, and thanks to Marco Storari (Buffon’s replacement), there wasn’t enough time. Be it through Juve’s skill or Lazio’s desire to preserve their one-goal lead, the favorites salvaged a result, albeit one that ended their three-month run.

When Roma beat Verona on Sunday, reducing Juve’s lead to six, faint chatter about a possible title race began. Unfortunately for hopefuls, Buffon isn’t going to get sent off every weekend. And the one time he did, Juventus was still able to salvage a result.

Even when not winning, Juventus looks like a champion.

Elsewhere in Italy

  • Napoli 1, Chievo 1 – Head coach Rafa Benítez claimed Napoli were unlucky to be drawn in one of his team’s least convincing performances of the season. Were it not for defender Raul Albiol, they wouldn’t have gotten that much. The Spaniard converted a rebound from close range in the 88th minute to salvage a result at the San Paolo.
  • Verona 1, Roma 3 – Goals from Adem Ljajic, Gervinho, and Francesco Totti helped the Giallorossi post their third straight victory, allowing Rudi Garcia’s team to gain two points on the seemingly title-bound Bianconeri.
  • Livorno 3, Sassuolo 1 – A battle of two relegation-entangled squads saw Leandro Greco, Paulinho, and Marco Benassi put the home side up three by the 26th minute. With the loss, Sassuolo, drops to 18th.
  • Parma 1, Udinese 0 – The match featured only one goal, Amauri’s 35th minute winner, but the post-game was defined by the number four. Parma’s fourth straight victory pushes the club to seventh place, while Udinese’s only three points off the drop after their fourth straight loss.
  • Cagliari 1, AC Milan 2 – Approaching full-time, the process Milan had shown in Clarence Seedorf’s coaching debut had been fully blunted, near misses seeing the Rossoneri down 1-0 after losing mid-week to Udinese. In the last three minutes, though, goals by Mario Balotelli and Giampaolo Pazzini gave Seedorf his second victory in as many league games.
  • Torino 1, Atalanta 0 – After having a third minute goal waved off, Alessio Cerci converted from the spot on the hour, leaving Torino one point back of fifth place.
  • Sampdoria 1, Bologna 1 – A late penalty drawn by Lazaros Christodolopoulos was converted by Alessandro Diamanti, pulling back Manolo Gibbiadini’s 61st minute opener.
  • Inter Milan 0, Catania 0 – A listless match sees the Nerazzurri’s winless streak reach four, with an eight-point gab still separating Walter Mazzarri’s team from fourth place Fiorentina.
  • Fiorentina 3, Genoa 3 – Alberto Aquilani’s hat trick had la Viola up going into the match’s final quarter-hour, but Sebastian De Maio’s 77th minute equalizer salvaged a point for Gian Piero Gasperini’s men.

Others

Lazio 1, Juventus 1

Standings

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Juventus 21 18 2 1 51 15 36 10-0-0 8-2-1 56
Roma 21 15 5 1 45 11 34 9-2-0 6-3-1 50
Napoli 21 13 5 3 44 23 21 7-3-1 6-2-2 44
Fiorentina 21 12 5 4 40 23 17 6-3-1 6-2-3 41
Inter Milan 21 8 9 4 38 24 14 5-5-1 3-4-3 33
Torino 21 8 8 5 34 27 7 5-5-1 3-3-4 32
Parma 21 8 8 5 32 27 5 5-4-2 3-4-3 32
Verona 21 10 2 9 35 34 1 8-0-3 2-2-6 32
AC Milan 21 7 7 7 34 31 3 5-3-2 2-4-5 28
Lazio 21 7 7 7 27 29 -2 6-2-2 1-5-5 28
Genoa 21 7 6 8 23 27 -4 5-3-2 2-3-6 27
Atalanta 21 7 3 11 21 30 -9 6-2-2 1-1-9 24
Sampdoria 21 5 7 9 25 32 -7 3-4-4 2-3-5 22
Cagliari 21 4 9 8 20 31 -11 4-4-3 0-5-5 21
Udinese 21 6 2 13 20 32 -12 4-1-5 2-1-8 20
Chievo 21 4 6 11 16 27 -11 2-2-6 2-4-5 18
Bologna 21 3 9 9 20 36 -16 2-6-3 1-3-6 18
Sassuolo 21 4 5 12 22 46 -24 3-1-6 1-4-6 17
Livorno 21 4 4 13 19 37 -18 3-3-5 1-1-8 16
Catania 21 3 5 13 13 37 -24 3-4-3 0-1-10 14

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday