Italy roundup: Milan meets angry fans, Juve wins again and there’s a drop zone shuffle

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Juventus left it late, but pushed its Serie A lead to 17 points with Nos. 2 and 3 Roma and Napoli playing on Monday.

Andrea Pirlo scored in the 89th minute as The Old Lady won 1-0 at mid-table Genoa. Juve was outshot 14-6 and needed four saves from Gianluigi Buffon, but carried more than half of possession.

Meanwhile, AC Milan’s miserable season continued with a 4-2 home defeat to Parma that had the ultras fuming (and their chief executive rather humbled). Christian Abbiati took a red card in the fifth minute 11-man Parma took advantage. After the match, Milan boss Clarence Seedorf and a number of players including Kaka and Mario Balotelli met with the fans to discuss the hard times.

From The Guardian:

“It was a very peaceful meeting, nothing in particular,” the Dutchman told Sky Sport Italia. “After two years of suffering they wanted to express their feelings.

“I just went to watch. There is great respect for the Milan shirt on the part of everyone. Sometimes it helps just to listen and give the fans a voice, so they know we hear them.

“I experienced something similar when I was at Botafogo [in Brazil]. If they feel the fans are helping, the team will react.”

The team’s in a bad spot. Twelfth place is bad enough, but it’s reasonable to envision a scenario where Milan could fall as far as 15th. The meeting was a nice touch from the players, who need to step their games up dramatically, especially at San Siro.

There was a big shakeup at the bottom of the table. Sassuolo climbed off the bottom of the table by sending Catania to the basement with a 3-1 win and Livorno left the drop zone behind for a day with a 2-1 win over Bologna.

It looked business as usual for Sassuolo when Gonzalo Bergessio scored in the 30th minute, but three different Black and Greens scored to give the team hope of survival. Catania remains winless on the road and are now four points from safety, while Sassuolo is a point higher and three points back of Chievo and Livorno.

That’s because Livorno got two goals in the first eight minutes of the second half before taking two red cards and still holding on to beat Bologna, pushing its opponents into the last relegation slot. It’s going to be a maddening couple months in Italy, as five teams are within four points of each other in slots No. 15-20.

Elsewhere

  • Verona 0-2 Inter Milan — Inter still harbors Top Three hopes after Rodrigo Palacio and Jonathan score for a road win.
  • Atalanta 3-0 Sampdoria —Nerazzurri, winners of three straight, move into the top half of the table with two goals before half and another on the other side.
  • Cagliari 0-2 Lazio — Lazio responded to a fan protest last week with a comfortable win on the road, with Senad Lulic and Keith scoring. They out-attempted Cagliari 17-8 after the hosts saw a red card to Daniele Conti in the 77th minute.
  • Fiorentina 3-1 Chievo — Goals from Mario Gomez, Alessandro Matri and Juan Guillermo Cuadrado helped the home side keep its faint Top Three hopes alive.
  • Torino vs. Napoli — Monday
  • Roma vs. Udinese — Monday

Standings

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Juventus 28 24 3 1 64 19 45 14-0-0 10-3-1 75
Roma 26 17 7 2 49 12 37 10-3-0 7-4-2 58
Napoli 27 16 7 4 52 29 23 9-4-1 7-3-3 55
Fiorentina 28 14 6 8 48 31 17 8-3-3 6-3-5 48
Inter Milan 28 12 11 5 46 29 17 7-6-1 5-5-4 47
Parma 27 12 10 5 45 31 14 6-6-2 6-4-3 46
Lazio 28 11 8 9 36 35 1 7-3-3 4-5-6 41
Verona 28 12 4 12 43 46 -3 8-2-5 4-2-7 40
Atalanta 28 11 4 13 31 38 -7 9-2-3 2-2-10 37
Torino 27 9 9 9 39 35 4 5-5-3 4-4-6 36
AC Milan 28 9 8 11 41 42 -1 6-4-4 3-4-7 35
Genoa 28 9 8 11 31 35 -4 6-4-4 3-4-7 35
Sampdoria 28 9 7 12 33 42 -9 5-4-5 4-3-7 34
Udinese 27 9 4 14 30 39 -9 6-2-5 3-2-9 31
Cagliari 28 6 11 11 27 38 -11 6-4-5 0-7-6 29
Chievo 28 6 6 16 23 41 -18 4-2-7 2-4-9 24
Livorno 28 6 6 16 31 51 -20 4-4-7 2-2-9 24
Bologna 28 4 11 13 23 43 -20 2-7-5 2-4-8 23
Sassuolo 28 5 6 17 28 56 -28 4-1-9 1-5-8 21
Catania 28 4 8 16 21 49 -28 4-6-3 0-2-13 20

Timbers sign Peruvian winger Andy Polo from Liga MX’s Morelia

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) The Portland Timbers have acquired winger Andy Polo on loan from Liga MX club Monarcas Morelia for the upcoming season.

The 23-year-old native of Peru played in 25 matches last year for Morelia and made six starts with two goals.

He’s also World Cup-bound, having appeared in Peru’s two-legged playoff against New Zealand in November. Peru won 2-0 on aggregate. Overall, he’s appeared with the Peruvian national team 15 times since his senior debut in 2016.

“Andy is a versatile, young player who will add another element to our attack, and we believe that he has further upside to his development,” Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said in a statement.

The Timbers used targeted allocation money and have a purchase option. Polo’s arrival is pending a physical and receipt of a visa.

He will occupy an international roster spot.

Can Man United still sign Sanchez without Mkhitaryan swap?

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The answer to the (first) titled question is, undoubtedly, yes.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

The latter question — the “will they?” — remains a relative unknown at this point, but if reports out of the UK are to be believed, Manchester United are just as likely to send $40 million (or so) Arsenal’s way in exchange for Alexis Sanchez, should Henrikh Mkhitaryan refuse the move by declining any contract offers from the Gunners.

[ MORE: Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies ]

The thinking, at least for the last few days since Man United somewhat unexpectedly entered the Sanchez sweepstakes, was that swapping the Armenian for the Chilean was the obvious — and, perhaps only — way forward. Call it special circumstances or an obvious audible, but that’s not necessarily the case — from the Guardian:

“It is understood that if Mkhitaryan does not leave Mourinho believes that, given the club’s robust finances, [Man United executive vice-chairman] Ed Woodward could still sanction a move for a player who would potentially vastly improve United.”

By the time Sanchez is signed, sealed and delivered, United will have also paid Sanchez and his agent, Fernando Felicevich, massive signing-on fees that could total another $30 million. No matter the order in which the Sanchez-Mkhitaryan saga plays out, United will come out ahead with a superior player at a massively discounted price — should Sanchez ultimately move to Old Trafford, of course.

Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies

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If the FA, English football’s governing body, is insistent upon testing video-assistant refereeing (VAR) as they have done in recent FA Cup and League Cup fixtures, Antonio Conte believes they should darn well use it.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

Following his Chelsea side’s penalty-shootout victory over Norwich City in an FA Cup third-round replay on Wednesday, Conte was equal parts frustrated and confused by the fact that video-referee Mike Jones failed to prompt referee Graham Scott to consult the on-trial system on multiple occasions.

Most notably, Chelsea’s 92nd-minute (extra-time) penalty shout following Timm Klose‘s tackle on Willian. Scott, instead, booked the Brazilian for diving — one of three cards, all shown to Chelsea players, for simulation on the night — and that was that.

“If you watch the replay you see very clearly it is a penalty,” said Conte after the game — quotes from the BBC:

“I think that there was a penalty but not on [Alvaro] Morata — on Willian.

“With Willian, the referee heard what the other referee watched and decided to continue to play. If we want to try to use this new system, it is important for the referee to wait, especially in this incident that is not so clear.

“And then when the referee that is watching had a doubt, he has to call the referee to watch and he can make a decision. The referee on the pitch has to make the decision, not one off the pitch.

“We can improve it for sure but we need to try to take the best solution. The final decision is for the ref on the pitch. Otherwise, why is there this ref?

“The mistake wasn’t of the ref on the pitch but the person watching. When you see this, you have to call the referee.”

VAR was used in another third-round replay, on Tuesday, and helped to correctly rule Leicester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho as being in an onside position when he scored his side’s second goal. While offside/onside calls are much clearer, cut-and-dry decisions to make — and with the aid of a natural stoppage in play — clearly much work lies ahead with regard to the process of determining whether the referee has made a “clear and obvious error,” which remains the threshold for using VAR, in instances of fouls/diving.

Copa QF: Messi misses PK, Barca’s 29-game unbeaten run ends

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MADRID (AP) — Lionel Messi missed a penalty and Barcelona conceded late as its 29-match unbeaten streak ended in a 1-0 loss to city rival Espanyol in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal on Wednesday.

Messi failed from the spot in the 62nd minute, his shot brilliantly saved by goalkeeper Diego Lopez.

Youngster Oscar Melendo netted the winner for the hosts in the 88th with his first goal as a professional.

“I have no words, I was looking forward to this first goal,” said the 20-year-old Melendo, who had come on as a substitute in the second half.

It was Espanyol’s first win against Barcelona at its RCDE Stadium.

The second leg of the Catalan derby is next week at Camp Nou.

Barcelona hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat by Real Madrid in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Aug. 16. It had won 23 of its last 29 matches in all competitions.

“We knew we would lose one day,” Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets said. “The positive thing is that in a week we have a chance to rebound and advance.”

Messi had his chance from the spot after Sergi Roberto was fouled by Esteban Granero, but his low shot into the right corner was stopped as Diego Lopez dived to his left to tip the ball away.

It was a rare miss for Messi, who is having a stellar season and is the Spanish league’s top scorer with 17 goals.

“The penalty save gave us the boost that we needed,” Melendo said. “We were playing too defensively.”

Melendo netted the winner with a low shot from the middle of the area after a well-timed pass by Marc Navarro.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde did not use all of the team’s regular starters, leaving players such as Luis Suarez on the bench.

The match was interrupted for a few minutes in the 76th after Barcelona goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen was hit by an object thrown by fans behind his goal.

Barcelona midfielder Paulinho was replaced in the second half because of a foot injury.