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

Leave a comment

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

Reports: Mourinho to leave Paul Pogba out of Champions League lineup

Getty Images
Leave a comment

According to multiple reports across England, including the BBC, Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho is ready to leave Paul Pogba out of his starting lineup for Wednesday’s Champions League match against Sevilla despite utilizing a 4-3-3 formation with three central midfielders.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

The reports state that Pogba will be left on the bench in favor of youngster Scott McTominay, who will start alongside Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic. Mourinho has spoken highly of McTominay recently, saying three days ago, “I think Scott deserves more than what he is getting.”

“Maybe it’s because he’s this kind of kid profile: a normal haircut, no tattoos, no big cars, no big watches, humble kid, arrive in the club when he was nine or 10,” Mourinho said in what many perceived to be a thinly veiled slap at Pogba.

Mourinho has held back from publicly criticizing his $125 million midfielder in the media, but his actions on the field suggest otherwise. The 24-year-old has failed to record 90 minutes in three straight Premier League matches, seeing his manager yank him before the full-time whistle in two and failing to make the starting lineup in the other, leaving many to speculate a rift between the two.

The decision is especially surprising given Juan Mata‘s comments earlier Wednesday that suggested Manchester United is prioritizing the Champions League, given their 16-point deficit to Manchester City in the Premier League table.

Pogba missed the 2-0 FA Cup win over Huddersfield on Saturday due to illness, but it’s hard to imagine that four days later that keeps the French superstar on the bench, especially given his ability to make the trip to Sevilla with the matchday squad.

Leicester City settles Financial Fair Play dispute with Football League

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Leicester City will owe the Football League a reduced fine after coming to an agreement with the English lower-league governing body over a dispute regarding the 2013/14 season.

The Foxes, who won the Championship that season and were promoted to the Premier League, were handed an official breach of Financial Fair Play rules after accruing a loss exceeding the allowed $11 million amount. However, Leicester City argued that the deficit was due to “allowable” amounts regarding promotion and academy costs.

After talks between the two parties, the EFL announced Leicester City will owe a reduced amount of $4.33 million. They could have owed up to $18 million, the differential between the allowed amount and their actual posted loss of $20.8 million.

In an official release, the EFL announced, “The EFL acknowledges that [Leicester City] did not make any deliberate attempt to infringe the Rules or to deceive and that the dispute arose out of genuine differences of interpretation of the Rules between the parties.”

After initially receiving word of the notice back in 2014, the Foxes had legally challenged the fine, but that had been put on hold after litigation began in 2015 between the EFL and Queens Park Rangers for a similar dispute. Bournemouth was also fined after incurring a significant loss in their 2014/15 promotion season. Teams that breach rules but are not promoted face transfer bans, such as Fulham, Bolton, and Nottingham Forest received through the 2014/15 season.

Who’s to blame? A closer look at Chelsea’s blunder late vs. Barcelona

Getty Images
Leave a comment

As our very own Joe Prince-Wright explained yesterday in the aftermath of Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Barcelona in the Champions League Round of 16, Antonio Conte could not have set his team up better for success at Stamford Bridge.

And yet, they walked away from the first leg with a disappointing result, one that could set up Barcelona with the advantage as they head to the Camp Nou in two weeks time.

So where did it all go wrong? That pass from Andreas Christensen, obviously – the one that gifted Lionel Messi a late goal. But is Christensen to blame? Or were there other culprits?

Clearly, the pass was ill-advised. Christensen sends the ball across his own box parallel to the goal mouth, which Andreas Iniesta easily pilfers and sends to Messi for his first goal against Chelsea. It was a pass they teach 7-year-olds not to make, one that even the youngest of dedicated soccer players knows to avoid.

Christensen makes an easy target, given that he is just 21 years old, has only just recently earned his way into the Blues starting lineup, and was the most obvious culprit having made the fateful pass.

However, upon closer inspection, it may not have even been meant to reach the far side of the field.

Christensen’s exasperated reaction suggests the pass was likely intended for Cesc Fabregas who sat at the top of the box under little pressure. Christensen was closed down on the far touchline with little room to operate, and his outlet to Fabregas in the middle of the field was a good option, even if the general idea of a pass in that direction is usually frowned upon. However, Christensen’s pass was just slightly behind Fabregas, and the Spaniard ultimately decided to let the ball go instead of chasing it down, leaving it for a less populated area of the field.

Unfortunately, with his back turned to the eventual destination of the pass, Fabregas was unaware that Iniesta had anticipated its flight path and was already making a run to steal the ball. When the veteran Barcelona midfielder reached the ball, he was challenged by a sliding Cesar Azpilicueta, who completely whiffed. While Christensen and Fabregas were culpable of putting the team in a dangerous situation, Azpilicueta’s tackle was an abomination. Azpilicueta actually reached the ball first, but inexplicably failed to make contact with the ball, allowing Iniesta to easily evade the slide and still take charge of the ball.

Andreas Christensen is the clear perpetrator, but Fabregas and Azpilicueta both contributed negatively to the situation, leaving Chelsea at a slight disadvantage heading into a hostile environment despite Antonio Conte’s best efforts. Sadly, Conte will be the one to shoulder the accountability at the end of the season if Chelsea goes out of the Champions League, even though he received top marks for the match, and his players let him down.

Mata seems to confirm Champions League is Man United’s priority

Getty Images
Leave a comment

With the Premier League title all but wrapped up, English top flight teams are beginning to put their true focus onto competitions they still have a realistic shot of winning.

Manchester United sits in second place in the Premier League table, but they are a full 18 points back of rivals Manchester City, as so with a Champions League match against Sevilla on Wednesday afternoon, Juan Mata all but confirmed that the Red Devils are putting their main efforts into Europe’s largest competition.

[ MORE: Messi pegs back Chelsea despite winning tactics ]

“If we had less of a gap with respect to the Premier League leaders and we had a chance to fight for it, it wouldn’t be so tough to be eliminated from the Champions League, but now our aim is to progress from every round,” Mata said to Spanish radio station Cadena Ser. “It would be a big blow to be eliminated in the last 16.”

Last season, a similar story played out. Manchester United was out of reach of a top four finish in the league, so manager Jose Mourinho publicly admitted they were putting their main focus on the Europa League due to the automatic berth the competition’s winner received into next year’s Champions League. The gamble paid off, as Manchester United won the competition and earned their spot in the Champions League this season.

Sevilla has not progressed past the Round of 16 since 1958. Manchester United, meanwhile, has not made it past the Champions League quarterfinals since their runners-up finish in 2011, when they lost to Barcelona in the finals at Wembley Stadium.