Italy roundup: Roma refuses to go away; Immobile continues to make Azzurri case

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Italy not only doesn’t have a title race, nor does it have a race for second. Or third. Or fourth. At least five points separates each spot from its nearest competition, challenging our imaginations to see anything but inevitability from the season’s final five rounds. Juventus seems destined for a third straight title, Roma and Napoli are on track to secure places in Champions League, while Fiorentina will head to Europa.

To its stubborn, belligerent credit, however, Roma continues to trick us into thinking it may challenge for Juve’s scudetto. In fact, it you look at the standings, below, we see a mere five points separating the Giallorossi from the holders, and forget Juventus has yet to play its round 33 match, you could be tricked into thinking there’s life in this race. With Juventus having fallen to Napoli two weeks ago, is there a chance the Old Lady could come back to the pack?

To do so, games like Monday’s in Udine will need to become unexpected banana skins. In the meantime, Roma is doing its best to be in position to pounce, with this weekend’s 3-1 win against visiting Atalanta giving Rudi Garcia’s team seven wins in a row.

Saturday’s performance would be vintage Roma if this team had been together long enough to have a vintage, yet with a three-goal lead, an array of different scorers, and 65 percent of the match’s possession, the hallmarks of this year’s team were all there. Eight different players have scored at least five goals this season, with Gervinho’s eighth of the season giving the Ivorian a chance at a 10-goal, 10-assist campaign (he’s already hit the latter mark). It was dominant, well-rounded, and convince – vintage 2013-14 Roma.

With upcoming matches against Fiorentina and a suddenly awakened Milan, the Giallorossi will be hard pressed to maintain its faint challenge, but with performances like Saturday’s, they’re giving us something to watch. In a season where the top of the table is sorted by mid-April, Roma is ready should Juve’s opponents shake things up.

source:  Immobile: Scoring himself into Azzurri contention

At this point, Ciro Immobile, capped only once by the Italian national team, has a strong claim to be in the Azzurri’s squad for Brazil 2014, but just in case there’s any doubt in Cesare Prandelli’s mind, the former Juventus prospect continues piling on goals. On Sunday, Immobile’s league-leading 19th goal of the season pulled Torino even with Genoa in the 92nd minute, a tie Alessio Cerci broke a minute later to give i Granata full points, 2-1.

The dramatics may go a long way toward securing a Europa League spot for Giampiero Ventura’s men, who sit seventh after Sunday’s result. In the bigger picture, though, the story continues to be Immobile, who may be playing his way into more than a mere World Cup spot.

With Giuseppe Rossi still returning from January’s knee injury, forward depth is a concern for the Azzurri. Should Rossi fail to recover his form before mid-June, Prandelli will be looking for another forward to step into his place, with the likes of Pablo Osvaldo and Mattia Destro competing to be among Italy’s non-Mario Balotelli options.

With only 21 minutes of international experience, Immobile still needs to impress Prandelli, but claiming Italy’s capocannoniere would help. Having nearly quadrupled his Serie A career goal total, Immobile has put together an irresistible season.


  • Sassuolo 1, Cagliari 1 – Agim Ibraimi conversion after Luca Antei’s early second half penalty allowed Cagliari to equalize Simone Zaza’s first half opener, leaving the Neroverdi mired in the drop.
  • Bologna 1, Parma 1 – Raffaele Palladino’s 79th minute goal brought Parma even, but unable to take advantage of one of the league’s relegation-threatened squads, Roberto Donadoni’s team failed to build on last week’s upset of Napoli, leaving them two points behind Inter.
  • Livorno 2, Chievo 4 – Alberto Paloschi’s 11th, 12th and 13th goals of the season had Chievo up 4-2 before the hour, breaking open a shootout that left the sides tied at two after 34 minutes.
  • Verona 3, Fiorentina 5 – Five different goalscorers delivered full points for Vincenzo Montello, who saw his team concede twice late despite playing 11-on-10.
  • Sampdoria 0, Inter 4 – Éder’s 20th minute dismissal saw the Nerazzurri to blow the game open, with three second half goals allowing the Milanese to reclaim sole possession of fifth place.
  • Napoli 4, Lazio 2 – Lorik Cana’s 48th minute dismissal cleared the way for the weekend’ second hat trick, with Gonzalo Higuaín running his season total to 17 after a trio of second half scores.
  • AC Milan 1, Catania 0 – An early Riccardo Montolivo goal held up for a Rossoneri team that had a difficult time with last place Catania, a struggle rewarded with a spot in Italy’s top half. Milan has now won four in a row.


Roma 3, Atalanta 1
Torino 2, Genoa 1


Udinese vs. Juventus


Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Juventus 32 27 3 2 69 22 47 16-0-0 11-3-2 84
Roma 33 24 7 2 68 19 49 14-3-0 10-4-2 79
Napoli 33 20 7 6 63 35 28 11-4-2 9-3-4 67
Fiorentina 33 17 7 9 56 37 19 9-3-4 8-4-5 58
Inter Milan 33 13 14 6 55 35 20 7-8-2 6-6-4 53
Parma 33 13 12 8 53 42 11 7-7-2 6-5-6 51
Torino 33 13 9 11 49 42 7 8-5-4 5-4-7 48
AC Milan 33 13 9 11 50 44 6 8-4-4 5-5-7 48
Lazio 33 13 9 11 44 44 0 9-4-3 4-5-8 48
Atalanta 33 14 4 15 38 44 -6 10-2-4 4-2-11 46
Verona 33 14 4 15 50 57 -7 9-2-6 5-2-9 46
Sampdoria 33 11 8 14 40 49 -9 6-5-6 5-3-8 41
Genoa 33 10 9 14 36 43 -7 7-4-5 3-5-9 39
Udinese 32 11 5 16 35 44 -9 8-2-5 3-3-11 38
Cagliari 33 7 12 14 31 45 -14 7-4-6 0-8-8 33
Chievo 33 8 6 19 30 49 -19 5-2-9 3-4-10 30
Bologna 33 5 13 15 27 51 -24 3-8-6 2-5-9 28
Livorno 33 6 7 20 36 64 -28 4-5-8 2-2-12 25
Sassuolo 33 6 7 20 32 62 -30 4-2-11 2-5-9 25
Catania 33 4 8 21 24 58 -34 4-6-6 0-2-15 20

VIDEO: Gerrard returns to Liverpool for training in MLS offseason

Liverpool v Sunderland - Premier League
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Steven Gerrard is back at Liverpool.

[ MORE: Chelsea’s new stadium plans ]

The legendary midfielder, 35, has returned to the Reds just six months after leaving his hometown club for a new adventure in Major League Soccer with the LA Galaxy.

Gerrard spent a glittering 17-years at Anfield, guiding Liverpool to the UEFA Champions League title and winning every other major title except for the elusive Premier League crown.

[ MORE: Chelsea, United battle for Muller

After suffering an early exit from the 2015 MLS Cup playoffs with the Galaxy, Gerrard is now back in England and he’s using his time at home to train with Liverpool’s first-team and help out in any way he can as Jurgen Klopp has allowed him to come back into the dressing room he called home for nearly two decades.

“It’s a good situation,” Klopp said. “Everybody had a smile on their face when they saw Stevie. It’s good to have him here and we hope we can help him, and he can help us for sure with being in the dressing room. It’s cool.”

Below are photos and videos from Gerrard’s return as Klopp once again quashed any rumors regarding a loan move for the former Liverpool skipper who will enter his first full MLS season in 2016 with the Galaxy.

French PM says Benzema has no place on national team

Karim Benzema, France
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PARIS (AP) The French prime minister joined in the criticism of Karim Benzema on Tuesday, saying the Real Madrid striker “has no place” on the France team at the European Championship in the wake of a blackmail scandal.

[ MORE: Chelsea’s new stadium plans ]

Benzema is one of France’s key players as it gets ready to host the Euro 2016 tournament, but the forward faces charges of conspiracy to blackmail relating to an extortion scam over a sex tape. He is suspected of having played an active role in pressuring France teammate Mathieu Valbuena, a case that has badly damaged his reputation.

“A great athlete should be exemplary,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls told French radio Europe 1. “If he is not, he has no place within the France team.”

The investigation, centering on wiretap evidence, started when Valbuena took legal action after being contacted by a man claiming to possess an incriminating sex tape.

In a case that could drag on for months, Benzema’s involvement has not yet been fully determined. But investigators who charged him in October believe he was approached by a childhood friend to act as an intermediary and convince Valbuena to deal directly with the blackmailers.

“If a minister was handed preliminary charges, he would no longer be part of the government,” Valls said.

Benzema denies any wrongdoing but his arguments were undermined last week when Valbuena spoke directly about his attempts to pressure him in an interview with Le Monde newspaper.

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The French football federation has also joined the case as plaintiff.

“There are so many kids, so many youngsters in our suburbs that relate to great athletes,” Valls said. “They wear the blue jersey, the colors of France, which are so important in these moments.”

Preliminary charges under French law mean magistrates have strong reason to believe a crime was committed, and allow time for further investigation. The charges may later be dropped. In 2010, Benzema was handed preliminary charges for soliciting an underage prostitute but was acquitted in a case that lasted more than three years and tarnished his reputation.

Benzema’s image was further dented last month when he spat on the pitch after the national anthem was played at Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium in a tribute to the 130 fatalities of the Paris attacks ahead of a match against Barcelona.

Benzema’s action ignited a wave of criticism on social media, prompting his lawyers to issue a statement in which they condemned “the scandalous interpretation” of the incident. Benzema, who has 27 international goals, had posted several messages in support of the victims in the days that followed the attacks.

League Cup preview: Man City, Liverpool, Everton look to make semis

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The Capital One Cup quarterfinals take place on Tuesday and Wednesday with five Premier League left among the last eight.

[ MORE: Follow League Cup scores live

Only one all-Premier League tie is set up with Southampton hosting Liverpool as Ronald Koeman pits his wits against Jurgen Klopp at St Mary’s in the tie of the round. Saints will be without captain Jose Fonte through injury, while Liverpool have Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge available but both may be used from the bench as they build up their match sharpness. Saints and Liverpool drew 1-1 at Anfield last month so expect another tight encounter down on the South Coast.

PL leaders Man City welcome Championship side Hull City to the Etihad Stadium with Manuel Pellegrini aiming to win the League Cup for the second time in three years. David Silva could make his first start in over two months for City, but Joe Hart remains out injured as Steve Bruce‘s Tigers come to town.

Everton also face second-tier opposition in Middlesbrough with a tricky trip to the Riverside awaiting the Toffees. Roberto Martinez’s team have to shore up at the back after drawing 3-3 at Bournemouth in the league last weekend, as they face Aitor Karanka’s flying-high Boro who are pushing for promotion from the Championship. This one seems like the biggest banana skin for PL clubs.

Talking of banana skins, Stoke City host Sheffield Wednesday at the Britannia and although the Potters will fancy their chances of making the final four after they knocked out Chelsea in the last round, Wednesday comprehensively beat Arsenal last time out and the Owls will provide a stern test for Geoff Cameron and Co.

Below are the fixtures for the next few days, while you can click on the link above to follow all the last-eight games live.

League Cup quarterfinals


Manchester City vs. Hull City – 2:45 p.m. ET
Middlesbrough vs. Everton – 2:45 p.m. ET
Stoke City vs. Sheffield Wednesday – 2:45 p.m. ET


Southampton vs. Liverpool – 2:45 p.m. ET

Arsenal still waiting on severity of Alexis Sanchez’s injury

NORWICH, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 29:  An injured Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal (17) is given assistance during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Arsenal at Carrow Road on November 29, 2015 in Norwich, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Arsenal’s fans are sweating on news regarding Alexis Sanchez’s left hamstring injury and it seems as though the wait for a diagnosis will go on.

[ MORE: Chelsea’s new stadium plans ]

Arsene Wenger has come under plenty of criticism for playing Sanchez, 26, despite the Chilean star complaining of a hamstring injury before the Norwich game on Sunday, and when he pulled up clutching his left hamstring in the second half Wenger’s face was one of anger and disappointment.

Multiple reports claim that Sanchez’s injury is still being assessed by Arsenal’s medical staff as Wenger faces an anxious wait to see how long his star forward is out for.

Here’s what Wenger had to say directly after Arsenal’s draw at Norwich, as the media questioned why he would play Sanchez if he was already struggling with a hamstring complaint.

“Nobody is scientifically developed enough, not even the press, to predict exactly when a guy will be injured,” Wenger said. “I would have rested him but he felt perfectly alright before the game. We declared that he had no problem. Despite all the tests he looked alright. The players are there to play football not to be rested when the press decides that they need to be rested. He [Alexis] says it is a kick on his hamstring but I believe that is not really the reality.”

The reality is that Sanchez — who has scored nine times in 20 appearances this season — could miss some crucial games for the Gunners, including their UEFA Champions League Group F showdown with Olympiakos next Wednesday in Greece. Arsenal need a win by a two-goal margin or any win by scoring three or more goals to advance to the last 16 of the UCL, but with Sanchez out and plenty of others struggling, the dreaded injury plague struck the North London club in November, a month they always seem to falter in, once again.

[ MORE: City now valued at $3 billion ]

Santi Cazorla suffered a knee injury against Norwich and like Sanchez it’s unclear how long the Spanish midfielder will be out for. The only piece of good news to come from Sunday’s draw in Norfolk is that Laurent Koscielny should be available to play against Sunderland on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra) after overcoming a hip injury which forced him off early last weekend.

However, with Francis Coquelin out long-term, plus Theo Walcott and Kieran Gibbs making their way back slowly and long-term absentees Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck and Tomas Rosicky out until January, Wenger’s squad is being stretched to the limit.