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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

Loss to Sevilla quickly puts Real Madrid’s Zidane on the defensive

SEVILLE, SPAIN - JANUARY 15:  Head Coach of Real Madrid CF Zinedine Zidane looks on prior to  the match against Real Madrid CF during the La Liga match between Sevilla FC and Real Madrid CF at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on January 15, 2017 in Seville, Spain.  (Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images)
Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images
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MADRID (AP) Real Madrid’s first loss after a 40-game unbeaten streak was enough to put coach Zinedine Zidane on the defensive.

Two days after Madrid’s unbeaten record was halted by a 2-1 defeat at Sevilla in the Spanish league, Zidane was forced to defend some of his players against criticism from fans and local media.

[ MORE: Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over absurd Matip situation ]

Most comments were aimed at goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who failed to stop Sevilla’s injury-time winner on Sunday. Navas got to Stevan Jovetic‘s long-range shot but was unable to keep the ball from going in.

“He’s having a really good season,” Zidane said on Tuesday. “You can always ask for more, but if up until now we had gone 40 games without losing, it’s for a reason, and he has been there all the way.”

There have been calls for Zidane to give reserve goalkeeper Kiko Casilla a chance, but the coach said there was “no need to go over this again.”

Zidane also dismissed talk about signing a new goalkeeper.

“These are rumors,” he said. “We are focused on what we are doing this year. Whatever happens next I’m not interested and it’s not the time to talk about it. The three goalkeepers we have are important, they’re doing well and I’m very happy with them. I don’t want to change anything we’re doing.”

[ MORE: How Sevilla hope to break up the Madrid-Barca duopoly ]

Zidane defended forward Karim Benzema, who lost possession near midfield in a mistake that led to host Sevilla’s winner on Sunday.

“Everyone can say and write what they want,” Zidane said. “On a field, playing 90 minutes, you can’t do everything right. There is talk of lack of concentration, but we only had five bad minutes and that happens in football.”

Benzema also missed a chance to score from close range in the game, but a few days earlier it was the French striker who netted in stoppage time in a Copa del Rey match against Sevilla to help Madrid set the Spanish unbeaten record.

Zidane downplayed the end of Madrid’s unbeaten streak. The club hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat at Wolfsburg in the Champions League in April.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

“These things happen,” he said. “Nothing is going to change in what I’m going to do. Those who are not Real Madrid fans will want us to lose, but we must be ready and think that what we’re doing is fine. We lost a game, something that happens, and now we have to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Madrid hosts Celta Vigo on Wednesday in a first-leg match in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey.

Celta has won all four matches this year.

“I am not surprised by Celta’s record because they’re a very good team, they fight and play very good football,” Zidane said. “It’ll be another complicated match for us.”

FA fines Man City’s Sagna over “10 against 12” Instagram message

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 02: Scott Arfield of Burnley (L) tackles Bacary Sagna of Manchester City (R) during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Burnley at Etihad Stadium on January 2, 2017 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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LONDON (AP) The English Football Association has fined Manchester City defender Bacary Sagna 40,000 pounds (around $50,000) for an Instagram post about a referee.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Sagna posted a photo with the caption “10 against 12.. but still fighting and winning as a team” on the social network site following City’s 2-1 win against Burnley on Jan. 2.

Sagna later amended the post to read “still fighting and winning as a team” after a match that saw referee Lee Mason send off midfielder Fernandinho.

[ MORE: Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over absurd Matip situation ]

The FA also warned Sagna about his future conduct.

Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over in-limbo Matip

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Joel Matip of Liverpool and Andre Ayew of West Ham United compete for the ball during the Premier League match between Liverpool and West Ham United at Anfield on December 11, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images
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Few footballing sagas will ever reach heights of absurdity comparable to that of the Joel Matip/Liverpool versus Cameroon/FIFA battle currently raging, as the Reds defender finds himself “ineligible” to play for his club due to an international call-up 18 months after announcing his international retirement.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

PST’s Joe Prince-Wright summed up the situation quite well, in full, right here. An excerpt:

Matip, 25, was called up by the Cameroon national team for the 2017 African Cup of Nations which is currently taking place in Gabon. However, the former Schalke defender has previously stated that he did not want to play for them and he had retired from international duty.

Cameroon called him into their initial 35-man squad for the competition anyway but did not include him in their final 23-man squad once it became clear Matip, along with six other players, had no interest in playing for them at AFCON.

FIFA has confirmed that Liverpool has been in touch regarding Matip’s status and it now appears that he will not be able to play in any other competition while Cameroon is still in AFCON action under Article 5 of FIFA’s rules.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Fast forward a few days, and Jurgen Klopp and Co. have no further clarity regarding the situation. It’s so unclear, in fact, that Klopp said on Tuesday he may select the 25-year-old during one of two remaining games this week, and hope for the best — quotes from the Guardian:

“As you can imagine, we are in a lot of talks. We’ve done transfers quicker than this. It’s already long term but now it’s getting really tense on our side. We’ve tried everything but at the end I have to make the decision. Of course I have to ask [Liverpool’s lawyers] but the decision is for me to make. I could put him in the lineup. I don’t think the referee is going to say: ‘Stop, stop, you cannot go on the pitch.’ But I will do it when it’s OK from our point of view. Of course I need advice — I’m not a lawyer.”

“Most of the time in life you know if you do this, then you get this. But it’s not 100 percent clear what happens [if Matip plays]. We try everything to win football games. If this can happen — out of the tournament or whatever — then we have to decide about the risk. He’s ready to play for us and that makes it difficult.”

What an utter disaster of a situation Cameroon have intentionally created here.

VIDEO: Jeison Murillo’s incredible bicycle from a corner kick

MILAN, ITALY - JANUARY 17:  (R-L) Jeison Murillo of FC Internazionale celebrates his first goal with Geoffrey Kondogbia during the TIM Cup match between FC Internazionale and Bologna FC at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on January 17, 2017 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Look away now, Andy Carroll. Take a bow, Jeison Murillo.

[ VIDEOS: All in a week’s work — Messi free kick no. 1 | Messi free kick no. 2 ]

Just three days after Carroll scored the bicycle-kick goal of the year (so we thought), here comes Murillo, Inter Milan’s 24-year-old Colombian striker, to steal his thunder (below video). The fact he did it directly from a corner kick, with the ball traveling roughly 40 yards before flinging his body into the air and striking the ball so cleanly, (somehow) trumps Carroll’s accomplishment from Saturday.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings — Tight at the top… and bottom ]

Sensational goals come in twos now, apparently, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Olivier Giroud scored stunning scorpion-kick goals (WATCH HERE and HERE) just days apart earlier in the season.