Italy: Roma unable to close gap after Juventus draw

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Two Derby della Capitali and Lazio couldn’t muster a single shot on goal, but look carefully at the differences between Saturday’s 0-0 draw at the Stadio Olimpico and Roma’s 2-0 win in September and you’ll see a microcosm of Giallorossi’s regression – small changes that have seen the team lose track of Juventus at the top of the table.

In early fall, Roma established a pattern of dominating first halves before breaking through in the second. Against Lazio, those goals from Federico Balzaretti and Adem Ljajic, Lazio conceding the second from the spot just before full-time. Hogging 64 percent of the ball, Roma held their chief rivals to eight shots, none of which tested Morgan De Sanctis. Claiming the fourth of what would become 10 straight wins to start the season, Rudi Garcia’s team provided the first major warning that they could be Champions League contenders.

On Saturday, there was no second half breakthrough. There were no fullbacks stepping up to get unexpected goals. There were no red cards, late penalties, or any of the other breaks that helped Roma to their one hundred percent start. Instead, the constant pressure that used to wilt opponents never found a way to beat Lazio goalkeeper Etrit Berisha. Despite only three shots and 34 percent of the ball (both worse than the season’s first Derby), Lazio held on for a 0-0 draw.

It’s not that Roma’s any worse. For the most part they’re not. It’s that they’re no longer getting the kind of breaks every team needs to claim 30 of 30 points. They’re no longer the surprise team, the unknown commodity. Unwilling to bet Roma will revert to last year’s Giallorossi, opponents are paying them the honor of conceding as few openings as possible.

As Gervinho had a goal waved off, Miralem Pjanic pushed for an opener, and newly arrived Michel Bastos tried to steal the match late, Lazio lived off the counter. Having lost their leader (Hernanes) to Inter just over a week ago, Edy Reja’s side did well to keep their rivals of the board.

Ultimately, they never got a shot on De Sanctis. They didn’t have a real chance at three points, but by accepting the underdogs’ mantle, Lazio played a game they exemplified why Roma’s come back to earth. With luck evening out and opponents discarding their naiveté, Roma sit nine back of Juventus, unable to take advantage of a rare Bianconeri misstep.

[MORE: Juventus drop points at the death in draw with Verona]

The race for third

source:  The title race may be over, but with Fiorentina on third place Napoli’s heals, Serie A has a race that appears destined to last through May. On Saturday, both teams responded to Round 22 losses with multi-goal wins, giving the faint impression  Roma can still be pulled into a battle for the league’s last two Champions League spots.

Fiorentina’s meeting with visiting Atalanta was one of two matches to kick off the weekend, allowing Josip Ilicic to become the round’s first goalscorer when his curling free kick from 26 yards out put La Viola up in the 20th minute. Still without Mario Gomez, still without Giuseppe Rossi, Vincenzo Montella’s side were given a man advantage in the 81st minute when Luca Cigarini saw a second yellow card. With his team up a man, substitute Rafal Wolski secured the 2-0 win that temporarily pulled Fiorentina even with the Neopolitans.

Coming off last weekend’s 3-0 loss to Atalanta, the Partenopei were looking to rebound against visiting Milan, an outcome that was cast in doubt when Adel Taarabt scored eight minutes into his Rossoneri loan. Napoli’s response was quick, however, getting an 11th minute goal from Gohkan Inler’s deflected shot. A second half brace from Gonzalo Higuaín capped what ultimately became a one-sided game, with Christian Abbiati forced to into 11 saves to limit Milan to a 3-1 loss.

[MORE: Taarabt scores eight minutes into his Serie A debut]

If there were any doubts about Napoli after last week’s disappointment, a convincing performance against Milan assuaged them. The Rossoneri still aren’t clicking under Clarence Seedorf, but they still possess enough talent to challenge. That Napoli was able to absorb Taarabt’s early blow and still claim a comfortable win speaks to their staying power.

But whether they can hold off Fiorentina may depend as much on health as form. Gomez has resumed training. Rossi will come back this spring. If a limited Fiorentina can stay without three while their scorers recover, a full strength team may be able to bridge the gap over the seasons’ final months.

Elsewhere

  • Udinese 3, Chievo 0 – The Flying Donkeys took il Derby Del Nordest to halftime scoreless before Toto Di Natale, Bruno Fernandes, and Emmanuel Badu helped claim Udinese’s second straight win.
  • Torino 1, Bologna 2 – Three huge points pull the Rossoblu four clear of relegation, with Jonathan Cristaldo’s first half double overcoming Ciro Immobile’s 12th goal of the season.
  • Sampdoria 1,  Cagliari 0 – Daniele Gastaldello’s 11th minute goal proved all the home side would need, with Cagliari falling to their fourth loss in five.
  • Parma 0, Catania 0 – After seeing last week’s game in Roma rained out, Parma has their four-match winning streak snapped with Sunday’s scoreless draw. Roberto Donadoni’s team still hasn’t lost in league since Nov. 2.
  • Livorno 0, Genoa 1 – Luca Antonelli’s 10th minute goal held up despite Livorno outshooting their guests 19-6. Genoa jumps into the table’s top half.
  • Verona 2, Juventus 2 – Carlos Tévez’s double wasn’t enough as second half goals from Luca Toni and Juan Gomez Taleb allowed Hellas steal a point in stoppage time.
  • Inter 1, Sassuolo 0 – Bouncing back from last weekend’s Derby loss to Juve, Inter got an early second half goal from veteran Walter Samuel to push Sassuolo into 19th.

Others
Lazio 0, Roma 0
Fiorentina 2, Atalanta 0
Napoli 3, Milan 1

Standings

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Juventus 23 19 3 1 56 18 38 11-0-0 8-3-1 60
Roma 22 15 6 1 45 11 34 9-2-0 6-4-1 51
Napoli 23 14 5 4 47 27 20 8-3-1 6-2-3 47
Fiorentina 23 13 5 5 42 24 18 7-3-1 6-2-4 44
Inter Milan 23 9 9 5 40 27 13 6-5-1 3-4-4 36
Verona 23 11 3 9 39 37 2 8-1-3 3-2-6 36
Torino 23 8 9 6 36 30 6 5-5-2 3-4-4 33
Parma 22 8 9 5 32 27 5 5-5-2 3-4-3 33
Lazio 23 8 8 7 29 29 0 6-3-2 2-5-5 32
Genoa 23 8 6 9 24 28 -4 5-3-3 3-3-6 30
AC Milan 23 7 8 8 36 35 1 5-4-2 2-4-6 29
Sampdoria 23 7 7 9 27 32 -5 4-4-4 3-3-5 28
Atalanta 23 8 3 12 24 32 -8 7-2-2 1-1-10 27
Udinese 23 8 2 13 25 32 -7 5-1-5 3-1-8 26
Cagliari 23 5 9 9 21 32 -11 5-4-3 0-5-6 24
Bologna 23 4 9 10 22 39 -17 2-6-4 2-3-6 21
Chievo 23 4 6 13 16 32 -16 2-2-7 2-4-6 18
Livorno 23 4 5 14 22 41 -19 3-3-6 1-2-8 17
Sassuolo 23 4 5 14 23 49 -26 3-1-7 1-4-7 17
Catania 23 3 7 13 16 40 -24 3-5-3 0-2-10 16

VAR decisions at World Cup to be explained on giant screens

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FLORENCE, Italy (AP) Fans attending World Cup matches in Russia won’t be left wondering about the reasons behind decisions of the video assistant referee.

After the VAR’s decision is made, replays will be shown on giant screens inside the stadiums accompanied by a written explanation.

It’s all part of the VAR information system that FIFA unveiled Wednesday .

[ MORE: Man Utd makes historic hire ]

FIFA will place someone in the VOR (video operations room) who will listen in to the VAR’s decisions and communicate them to both TV commentators and stadium personnel operating the giant screens.

“So we will have graphics on the giant screens, we will have replays after the decision on the giant screens, and we will also inform the fans about the outcome of a VAR incident and review,” said Sebastian Runge, group leader of football innovation at FIFA.

With the VAR making its tournament debut during the June 14-July 15 World Cup, FIFA is holding its final training camp this month for the 99 match officials – 36 referees and 63 assistants – who have been selected to go to Russia.

Thirteen VARs have been pre-selected and are being trained at Italy’s Coverciano complex, and FIFA referees chief Pierluigi Collina said more VARs and VAR assistants will be chosen from the 99 match officials.

Three of the 13 VARs come from Italy’s Serie A and two from Germany’s Bundesliga – elite competitions that already use video assistants.

The VAR can support the referee in four game-changing situations: goals and offenses leading up to a goal, penalty decisions and offenses leading up to a penalty, direct red card incidents and cases of mistaken identity.

Still, VARs in both Italy and Germany have received vehement criticism for long delays and bungled decisions this season.

On Monday, Mainz was awarded a penalty during halftime against a rival Freiburg side that had already left the pitch for the break – prompting the unusual scene of a team returning from the changing room to defend a penalty.

“Yesterday we had already discussed this incident here and gave match officials and VARs clear indication about what should be done if something similar in FIFA competition – specifically the World Cup – happens,” Collina said without providing further detail.

Collina added that the VAR should not be overused, adding that ideally it would intervene at all in a match.

“The goal of VAR is to avoid major mistakes,” Collina said. “The objective is not to have clear and obvious mistakes committed on the field of play. This is the target, the goal is not to re-referee the match using technology.

“There will continue to be incidents when a final answer will not be given and there will be different opinions,” Collina added.

Among other items involving the VAR:

MOSCOW CONTROL CENTER

FIFA will follow the Bundesliga model of a central control center for the VAR rather than using trucks outside stadiums.

“We will have all of the referees based in Moscow so there won’t be any stress in terms of travel,” Collina said.

For each match, Collina will select one VAR and three assistant VARs.

Training operation rooms presented to media included six monitors for the VARs and two more for technical assistants enabling the VARs to see requested replays.

There could be up to four technical assistants in the room for World Cup matches.

OFFSIDE CAMERAS

FIFA will install two extra cameras at matches to monitor offside decisions.

The cameras will be in addition to the 33 cameras used for broadcasters and they will be installed under stadium roofs.

Broadcasters will not have direct access to the cameras but if they are used by the VAR then broadcasters can show the video.

Runge added that three dimensional technology – considered the ultimate strategy for determining offside – is not ready for real-time access yet.

SWEAT AND STRESS

VARs will not officiate more than one match per day.

“It’s not like watching a match on the sofa sipping coffee,” Collina said.

Collina, who officiated Brazil’s 2-0 win over Germany in the 2002 World Cup final, explained why the VARs will wear track suits similar to referees’ on-pitch attire.

“The reason is at the end they sweat as much as someone on the field, because the tension is very high,” Collina said. “They can’t do two matches per day – it’s too stressful.”

COMMS AND HACKING

The Moscow control center will be connected to match officials via a fiber optic network.

If the network fails, the backup plan includes an old-fashioned land telephone line and a telephone stationed near the fourth referee for emergency use.

“Worst-case scenario includes a backup plan on site. That’s when the IBC is down – no power, no fiber network,” Runge said. “Then we have a plan in place where the fourth official would become the VAR and the fourth official would be replaced by the reserve referee.

“We have a cabin in the broadcast compound from where we send all of the feeds to the IBC anyway. That cabin can be turned into a smaller, light version of the VOR.”

Hacking has also been considered.

“We are aware that there might be something but our IT department put measurements in place that will protect us from that,” Runge said.

POST-MATCH BRIEFINGS

In extraordinary circumstances, FIFA will hold post-match briefings to explain decisions in greater detail.

“If something should happen that we think should properly and accurately be explained – and it doesn’t matter if it’s related to VAR or something different – if it is a matter to explain the background of a decision, as an exception certainly we will do it,” Collina said.

“But it won’t be a post-match press conference for every match, explaining every single decision taken during every single match.”

More AP soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Soccer

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf

Could PSG, Manchester United solve each other’s problems?

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It’s late on a Wednesday night without the UEFA Champions League, so let’s dance on a theoretical floor, shall we?

One of the more widely-praised transfers of the year came when Manchester United and Arsenal decided to swap problematic players with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alexis Sanchez.

While neither has been perfect in their new homes, both have had starring performances and could (should?) fit in neatly come a full offseason worth of preparation.

More swaps like these should happen more often given the glut of managerial changes across major European leagues, with square pegs sometimes finding round holes when the boss arrives in town.

And have we got a sensational swap lined up for you. And no, it’s not Jose Mourinho for Unai Emery (though should it be? Nah, forget it).

If Paul Pogba is to leave Old Trafford this summer, there are scant few teams who could afford his transfer fee. Likewise, Paris Saint-Germain has Financial Fair Play all over its case and cannot simply make moves to better build its team for the Champions League by splashing cash all over the place.

PSG bought the two most expensive players of all-time last summer in Neymar ($281m) and Kylian Mbappe ($181m). The latter is going nowhere unless FIFA intervenes, 19 years old and becoming a more complete playmaker since heading to PSG from Monaco.

The former, well, that’s a bit trickier.

Neymar has been hurt, and while there’s no doubt his absence is the primary reason PSG was eliminated by Real Madrid, his time at the Parc Des Princes has hit more than a few speed bumps, with the Edinson Cavani PK drama and more.

So if Neymar is “worth” $281 million, could he head to United in exchange for a pair of Frenchmen in Pogba and Anthony Martial?

Areola

Alves — Silva– Marquinhos — Berchiche

Verratti — Rabiot

Pogba

Mbappe — Cavani — Martial

It’s imperfect given Alexis Sanchez’s preference to also play left wing, but going to a 4-3-3 like this for Jose Mourinho would allow a certain amount of freelancing for his trident.

De Gea

Valencia — Smalling — Bailly — Young/new LB

Matic — Herrera — McTominay

Sanchez — Lukaku — Neymar

Mixing in Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata off the bench and for Cup games is not a bad luxury, plus we know United is going to splash a lot more cash to improve the center midfield and fullback depth.

There could also be a 3-4-3 of excellent repute here:

De Gea

Smalling — Jones — Bailly

Valencia — Herrera — Matic — Lingard

Alexis — Lukaku — Neymar

Ronaldo scores late to lead Real Madrid draw (video)

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Cristiano Ronaldo’s done it again, because of course he did.

The Real Madrid megastar, 33, redirected a Luka Modric shot in the 87th minute to help Real to a 1-1 draw against Athletic Bilbao at the Bernabeu on Wednesday in the club’s last match before the UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg against Bayern Munich.

[ MORE: Man Utd makes historic hire ]

Real is three points behind Atletico Madrid, which visits Real Sociedad on Thursday, and 15 points behind still unbeaten Barcelona. The final Clasico of the season is May 6 at the Camp Nou.

Ronaldo continued his bounce back from a slow start to the La Liga season. After scoring only four times in his first 14 matches, CR7 has netted in eight-straight league matches and has 24 goals in total (Add in other competitions, and Ronaldo’s bagged 41 goals in 39 matches).

Premier League Preview: Leicester City vs. Southampton

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  • Foxes won 4-1 on Dec. 13 at St. Mary’s
  • Southampton five points back of 17th
  • Saints lead all-time 32W-27D-26L

Southampton is running out of time to save its Premier League status, and makes up its match-in-hand on several clubs with a visit to Leicester City at King Power Stadium on Wednesday (Watch live at 2:45 p.m. ET, online via NBC Sports Gold).

Saints are five points back of 17th place Swansea City, though the Welsh side has also played 33 matches. They are six points behind Crystal Palace and seven back of Huddersfield Town and West Ham United.

Leicester is eighth after losing to Burnley, its Europa League hopes dashed with Everton and Newcastle nipping at their heels.

What they’re saying

Leicester City’s Claude Puel on finishing strong: “The right way, it is important to keep this momentum until the end and we will see when the players start in the game. [They must] give their best and maintain a good level in the team. We keep a serious ambition and we need to secure our place in the top half of the table. A lot of teams are close behind us so we need to continue.”

Saints’ Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg on life in the relegation fight“The next few weeks is life-changing. Wherever our paths go, and wherever all our ways go, whether it’s short-term or long-term, this will all change our lives, this will all change our way of looking on football. I promise you, I promise to the fans, and I promise to the people standing outside, there is not one single person inside here who wants to be in this situation. There is not one person who actually thinks ‘Oh, this may be good for me in a way.’ Everyone is suffering.

Prediction

Claude Puel will be further motivated to get over on his old side, but Saints have a lot of firepower for what should be a wide-open game against sometimes-dicey back lines (often dicey in the case of Southampton). 2-2.