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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.

Elsewhere

  • 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.

Others

Roma 3, Atalanta 1
Torino 2, Genoa 1

Monday

Udinese vs. Juventus

Standings

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

3 things we learned from the USMNT win over Canada

PORT OF SPAIN, TRINIDAD & TOBAGO - NOVEMBER 17: Jermaine Jones #13 keeps the ball in play during a World Cup Qualifier between Trinidad and Tobago and USA as part of the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers for Russia 2018 at Hasely Crawford Stadium on November 17, 2015 in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago. (Photo by Ashley Allen Getty Images)
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The United States played to a disjointed and sloppy win over Canada to wrap up January camp. It was promising at times, but mostly a cringe-worth display by both sides. Here are the key notes from the 90 minutes at StubHub Center in California.

1) Jermaine Jones should never play CB again

Look, this probably wasn’t ever the plan, and it probably never is. It’s the “break glass in case of emergency” option. With Matt Miazga likely supposed to start one or both these games before he left for Chelsea, and the departure of Michael Orozco and Brad Evans, the U.S. was thin at the back.

Still. Yikes…

Jones was flat out awful. Just days after he played well in a midfield distribution position against Iceland, he was a total mess at the back. Jones was miserable on the ball, giving it away with ugly touches, he lunged in on challenges including one on Cyle Larin early that very well could have resulted in a Canadian penalty. And he charged forward – something a central defender can never do – leaving his teammates caught out at the back. This ended with Matt Besler getting a yellow card:

Please, Jurgen. Never again.

2) Jordan Morris is developing into a useful player

In his first cap since signing a professional contract with the Seattle Sounders, Morris gave his critics much to think on. Many said the 21-year-old would come and go without much staying power, but he partnered well with Jozy Altidore. There wasn’t much service up front during his time on the field, but when there was, Morris drew defenders off Altidore, and he provided a solid foil to his bigger partner with his speed and precision. He didn’t have many opportunities, but when he did, he made his presence known.

3) Playing players out of position very rarely bears fruit

Soccer coaches often have two choices at their disposal when building a lineup: either pick the best 11 players and position them into a formation that fits their skills best, or pick a formation and then select the 11 players that fit that formation the best. Klinsmann prefers neither. Instead, recently he’s been picking 11 players he wishes to play, choose a formation he feels will fit the opponent, and then tries to force the players he chose into the formation he selected.

It hasn’t worked, especially not today. He tried to force 3 center-backs onto the back line. He tried to force three central midfielders (and Zardes) into a flat four midfield that occasionally looked like a flat diamond. Neither worked. It’s an experimental environment, sure, but the benefits of his choices aren’t entirely clear.

We know what doesn’t work, but we still don’t really know what works, and isn’t the latter what January camp was for?

4) Jozy Altidore needs to work on his heading…oh

Bonus! So, as the game wound down, I had written that Jozy needed to work on his heading in front of net. The 26-year-old had a few headed opportunities in the box throughout the game, and he failed to capitalize. He looked to drill it into the ground on multiple occasions, but from the distance most of his efforts came from, he likely should have looked to aim his headed shots rather than use the ground pound technique.

Then, you know, he scored the late winner on a header. So, yeah. Never mind. But still. Yeah. Whatever.

United States 1-0 Canada: Altidore snatches late winner in sloppy meeting

CARSON, CA - FEBRUARY 5: Jozy Altidore #17 of the United States battles with Steven Vitoria #15 of Canada during the first half of their international friendly soccer match at StubHub Center February 5, 2016 in Carson, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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It was sloppy. It was sleepy. It was cringe-worthy at times. By the final whistle, Jozy Altidore refused to let it end goalless.

January USMNT camp wrapped up with an erratic, disjointed but successful 1-0 win over their northern neighbors as Jozy Altidore bagged a headed winner in the 89th minute.

U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann chose to start a number of players out of position, including a trio of central defenders along the back line and an odd midfield combination that sat back for much of the game. Jozy Altidore and Jordan Morris partnered up front, and worked well with the sparse service they received.

Both back lines looked relatively shaky to start, and each midfield was sloppy under heavy pressure from the opposition. The first true chance came on 15 minutes as a beautiful touch with the outside of Gyasi Zardes’s foot found a cutting Jozy Altidore, and the forward’s shot beat Maxime Crepeau but crashed into the post. The ball then rebounded into the back of Crepeau and back off the post a second time before the Canadian goalkeeper finally collected.

Four minutes later, Canada had a penalty shout as Jermaine Jones lunged into the back of Cyle Larin who was attempting a volley from the top edge of the box, but the referee waved it off.

As those chances faded, the game became a snoozer and the U.S. attack devolved into long balls lumped forward. Jones was miserable at the back, looking completely out of position. Both Michael Bradley and Mix Diskerud sat back in possession, leaving Lee Nguyen and Gyasi Zardes isolated up front with no wide threat.

The U.S. had another spell of attack before halftime. Altidore sprung Jordan Morris on the left edge of the box, but his chipped effort skittered just wide. Bradley tried a left-footed effort on net on 39 minutes, but his shot was easily saved low by Crepeau. Matt Besler earned a yellow card by clipping the heel of Larin just before the break, forced into the foul after Jones was caught out of position.

Thankfully, the first half ended. Klinsmann made one halftime change, bringing on Brandon Vincent for his first USMNT appearance in place of Kellyn Acosta, whom the manager said had a hamstring problem. The U.S. pushed forward early, and they had a 53rd minute chance when Diskerud lofted a ball to the far post where Altidore met it with his head, but he pushed an effort on goal just wide left, inches out of reach by Morris.

Things settled until the 66th minute, when substitute Jerome Kiesewetter found Altidore in the box, but he drove it into the ground meekly. In the 70th minute some U.S. pressure bought a shot for Vincent, but it was saved well by Crepeau’s feet. Altidore had another big chance with six minutes to go, and he went for the off-balance chip that aged as it traveled through the air, slow enough to allow Crepeau to recover and slap it out of danger.

Klinsmann brought Morris off with just three minutes to go in regulation, bringing on Steve Finlay, who had an instant impact. Finlay cut inside from the left and lofted a ball to the far post, one which Altidore lept to meet, finally finding the back of the net after having bungled a few earlier headed opportunities.

The win leaves the United States 2-0 in January camp, and despite a few clear deficiencies, the end results were there.

USMNT lineup vs Canada sees Jermaine Jones at CB, Morris and Altidore up front

at StubHub Center on January 31, 2016 in Carson, California.
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The United States takes on Canada for the second of two friendlies that test those involved in January camp. With Iceland already dispatched 3-2, Canada is next up, at 10:30 p.m. ET from the StubHub center in California.

Jurgen Klinsmann has chosen his lineup, and it’s not easily discernible.

[ MORE: Full preview United States vs Canada ]

The back line is the biggest head-scratcher, with three central defenders starting, and at least one of them out of position. Jermaine Jones, who performed well in a midfield distribution role against Iceland, has been moved back to the defensive line, partnering with Matt Besler. Steve Birnbaum, also a central defender who had ups and down against Iceland, is back in the lineup. There’s nowhere to fit a third central defender, so he will play out wide. Kellyn Acosta, a natural full-back, rounds out the back four.

In midfield, the personnel lends itself to a flat four, if only because there’s really no other way it can go. Again, a multitude of central defenders are deployed, with Michael Bradley, Lee Nguyen, and Mix Diskerud forming some kind of CM/CM/Winger combination (Nguyen is likely the odd man out wide), with Gyasi Zardes out wide on the other end.

[ MORE: 3 key battles for USMNT vs Canada ]

Jozy Altidore returns up front, this time to partner with Jordan Morris, who makes his first USMNT appearance as a professional player.

Finally, San Jose Earthquakes goalkeeper David Bingham makes his USMNT debut between the sticks.

Jurgen Klopp says Daniel Sturridge is focused on getting healthy, not leaving Liverpool

during the Capital One Cup quarter final match between Southampton and Liverpool at St Mary's Stadium on December 2, 2015 in Southampton, England.
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Jurgen Klopp has made his frustrations with Daniel Sturridge‘s injury history very clear, but he still knows the England international is a crucial part of his squad, and he will be patient, no matter how frustrating it is.

Sturridge has been out since early December, and has made just five appearances all season due to a number of recurring injuries that have sapped him of his consistency for the last two years.

But with the 26-year-old back in training the last two days, the English media has speculated that Sturridge is looking to leave Liverpool, and that the club is trying to rid themselves of him as well. Klopp does not see it that way.

[ RELATED: Daniel Sturridge says he’s “good to go” ]

“I have no feeling that Daniel is thinking like this so stop thinking about it,” Klopp said in his pre-match press conference, speaking ahead of the match Saturday against Sunderland. “I spoke to him but not about this. I didn’t ask: ‘do you want to leave?’ “Why should I? He’s been back in training for two days. I don’t go over and say: ‘Daniel, I hear you want to leave? Is there truth in it?’ I don’t believe that it is like this.”

Klopp called the rumors a “non-story” and believes as soon as Sturridge is out on the field, the rumors will stop. He just has to get out on the field first.

“Since I was here I’ve had a normal relationship with Daniel Sturridge,” Klopp said. “The only problem is I have only had him 10 or 12 times on the training pitch – that is the truth. Now he is back we hope he can stay in team training and everything will be good. If everything is normal from now on then he is in the race.”

The German said that just having returned to training, Sturridge won’t be ready for Saturday’s game, but he could potentially be back to action for the FA Cup match against West Ham on Tuesday.