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

Report: Kylian Mbappe to Real Madrid for $208 million

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Reports in Spain say Real Madrid have agreed a fee of $200 million for Monaco teenager Kylian Mbappe.

[ MORE: Chicharito to Hammers ]

Marca claims that the two-time reigning European champions have agreed the fee with Monaco just days after the French champs made a formal complaint to FIFA about illegal approaches towards Mbappe and his representatives.

Per the report Mbappe will sign a six-year deal and earn $8.1 million net per year at the Santiago Bernabeu.

If it went through the transfer would be a clear world-record by almost doubling the fee Manchester United paid Juventus for Paul Pogba last summer, however via Sky Sports in the UK, Monaco have denied any deal has been agreed for Mbappe.

Mbappe, 18, burst onto the scene last season, scoring 26 goals as Monaco won Ligue 1 and reached the UEFA Champions League semifinals.

After selling Bernardo Silva and Benajamin Mendy to Manchester City for a combined total of $123 million, plus Tiemoue Bakayoko to Chelsea for another $55 million, Leonardo Jardim is seeing his talented squad ripped apart.

That said, the likes of Fabinho, Thomas Lemar and until this point Mbappe are still around at the Stade Louis II.

Mbappe has been chased by Manchester City, Arsenal, Paris Saint-Germain and Real all summer long with the powerful, pacey French international able to lead the line and finish clinically when given the chance.

He is mature beyond his years but this bid from Real seems outrageous after just one season in the spotlight for Mbappe.

That said, Zidane’s men have offloaded plenty of talent this summer with Danilo and Alvaro Morata sold, plus James Rodriguez sent on loan to Bayern Munich for two years. The departures of Morata and Rodriguez suggest space has been opened up for Mbappe’s arrival.

Given his form last season he would certainly flourish at Real and with Cristiano Ronaldo now 32 and Karim Benzema 29, the Spanish champs have to start planning for the future.

Lukaku rejects big comparisons: “I can’t say I’m in my prime”

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Romelu Lukaku has bagged a bunch of goals and played on three Premier League teams, but knows there’s another level to his game as he opens up life at Manchester United.

Rejecting comparisons to big strikers like Didier Drogba (because they’re different style players) and Robert Lewandowski (because he’s not yet at that level), Lukaku gave his thoughts about his career’s next steps.

[ MORE: Q&A with Edin Dzeko ]

Lukaku didn’t score in the PL for Chelsea, but has a 17-goal campaign on loan to West Bromwich Albion as well as 15-, 10-, 18-, and 25-goal seasons for Everton.

From Sky Sports:

“I’m 24 years of age, I cannot say I am the complete package, I can’t say I’m in my prime.

“There is still a lot of work to be done and I am delighted there is still a lot of work to be done. That means I can become even better than I am now.”

Lukaku most needs consistency in his game. Even in his massive campaign last season, he twice went four matches without a goal. While it’s possible to have fine performances but not find finish, Everton went 1W-3D-4L in those combined stretches and five of those matches were against bottom half sides.

Something tells us having Paul Pogba, Juan Mata, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Marcus Rashford setting him up could help, too.

Q&A: Edin Dzeko on Roma, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Champions League

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PST spoke to a quartet of AS Roma players this week as the club contends the 2017 International Champions Cup in the United States with the aim of a profile piece on i Lupi captain Daniele De Rossi’s quest for an elusive scudetto.

That piece came out well, but the conversations with some of his teammates were just as fun. While Kevin Strootman’s resilience and Hector Moreno’s Mexican ambassador status neatly fit into individual posts, our talk with ex-Man City striker and reigning Capocannoniere winner Edin Dzeko works better in Q&A form.

[ MORE: How will Chicharito slot in at West Ham? ]

Plenty has changed since Dzeko scored in Man City’s wild title-clinching finish against QPR. Dzeko talked about his surprising and explosive 29-goal Serie A season, his interest in a UEFA Champions League return to the Etihad Stadium, and a love for representing his home nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Enjoy.

PST: Obviously we know your quality from having scored 25-plus goals three times in seasons at Wolfsburg and Manchester City, but what was it like going from 10 goals to 39 in your second season at Roma?

Edin Dzeko: “It was definitely one of the best in my career. When you get up in your years you are supposed to go down, but actually I’ve gone up. I felt good and from the beginning of preseason I trained hard and it was an important season after getting to know the qualities of the teams and players in the league after my first season in Italy. Last year was big proof of it and like it always is, it was harder than it looked.”

PST: You’ve won the Bundesliga and the Premier League, the latter twice. Last season you shaved Juventus’ table advantage to four points. Can this be the year?

Dzeko: “I have hope that I can do the same in Italy. It’s definitely not easy with Juventus having it the last few years and not selling, only buying new players. Last season was really good for us. We were very close but we still dropped some easy points against the small teams and that cost us at the end. Next year we play Champions League. We changed coaches and a few players left and others came so we have to gather up to the new style of the coach and the new players have to learn what it is to play in Italy. Hopefully this season can be better than last, but we have to go step-by-step.”

(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

PST: Wolfsburg had never won, and Man City hadn’t in 40-plus years. Can those experiences help in pushing Roma to its first scudetto since 2001?

Dzeko: “Hopefully. Also when I went to City and we won the first and second title, the team was probably was one of the best in England where it’s also not so easy to win the title. I have another three years contract in Rome and this town and these fans deserve a title. It’s such a shame, every year without a title for this club.”

PST: What would it mean?

Dzeko: “It would mean everything. Hopefully we will manage to do this in the next few years, but it would mean everything to them. I’d habe a lot of good feelings if Roma would manage to win the title. It would be amazing for all the players. They will love us and never forget. The people in Rome, they live for football. They live for us.”

PST: Hector Moreno mentioned that hunger in training was evident in just the few days he’s been there.

Dzeko: “You have to be hungry for good things because it’s a new young team, a new coach, and the team is step-by-step building itself in new directions. We lost four, five players from last seasons so it’s never easy to bring seven, eight new players and immediately work it out. So this preseason is important.”

(Photo by Marco Rosi/Getty Images)

PST: You’re Bosnia and Herzegovina’s all-time leading scorer, and you seem to relish international breaks and pulling on the shirt. 

Dzeko: “I’m proud of myself for what I’ve achieved because I remember when I was young and I was looking to the players, my idols, who were playing with Bosnia and Herzegovina. It’s something special, we can take it to heart and I’m proud that I can be the idol of some young boys in Bosnia that can still believe they can do some good things and positive stuff in the future. When someone from our small country goes out and plays in a league like Italy, it gives the confidence for the rest of the young people that they can know that everything is possible.”

PST: You’re also pretty active in causes around Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Dzeko: “It’s important for me because it’s my country, it’s the country that gave me everything, where I grew up for 18 years before I left for Czech Republic first and then Germany, England, Italy. I want to help the people who need help because I have the possibility to do it. I will always be there for them and I’m also the UNICEF ambassador that makes me even more proud because I love kids.”

PST: Finally, Roma is in a different pot than Manchester City for this year’s UEFA Champions League. Would you like to be drawn with your old team, or prefer the clubs stay separate?

Dzeko: “I would love it, to be fair. I would love to go back there and even against City I bring so many good memories from the beautiful days and my connection with the fans and club. I would definitely look forward to it.”

Reports: Swans rebuff Everton bid for Sigurdsson; want $65M

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What’s $7-13 million amongst peers?

Swansea City has reportedly shot down either a $52 and/or a $58 million Everton bid for Gylfi Sigurdsson, offers that falls shy of Swans’ $65 million asking price.

$65 million? Why that’s almost Benjamin Mendy money.

Either way, with Sigurdsson absent from Swansea’s U.S. tour, a move seems predetermined.

[ SERIE A: Can De Rossi help Roma catch Juve? ]

The BBC says Monday’s offer was the $52m price, and that it was Everton’s first offer, though The Guardian says it’s a second $58m bid from Everton for the Icelandic playmaker who almost single-handedly ensured the Welsh side’s Premier League status last season.

Reports of an initial $52 million bid also came earlier this month.

Sigurdsson, 27, scored nine goals last season and teamed with Fernando Llorente to form a potent duo. He first made his PL impression with seven goals during a half-season loan from Hoffenheim, and moved to Spurs for a tumultuous two seasons.

He’s since recorded seven-, 11-, and 9-goal seasons for Swans.

Everton has spent big this summer and look set to have the depth to compete in both the Premier League and UEFA Europa League.