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Serie A: Napoli, Juve surge ahead in title race

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Medhi Benatia scored against his old club to help Juventus beat title rival Roma 1-0 on Saturday and move to within a point of leader Napoli in one of the tightest Serie A races in years.

Earlier, Napoli fought back to beat Sampdoria 3-2 in a match in which Marek Hamsik became the club’s all-time leading scorer with his 116th.

Juventus moved four points above Inter Milan, which had a penalty saved in a 1-0 loss at Sassuolo.

Roma remained fourth, seven points behind Napoli but with a game in hand.

Benatia, who spent a season at Roma before leaving for Bayern Munich in 2014, almost did his old club a favor deep in stoppage time with a poor backpass which sent Patrik Schick clear on goal, but goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny rushed out to parry with his legs.

“I’m pleased because Roma is a rival for the title,” Benatia said. “Having won with my goal is an added joy … although of course I have friends there.

“We could have finished it off but we made a couple of mistakes in attack. Then we risked a lot with my mistake, but luckily Szczesny was phenomenal. It … could have cost us a lot. We are still the team to beat.”

Juventus broke the deadlock in chaotic fashion following a 19th-minute corner. Roma goalkeeper Alisson did brilliantly to keep out Giorgio Chiellini’s header and turned Benatia’s attempt from the rebound onto the bar but couldn’t keep out the Morocco defender’s follow-up.

Another former Roma player was in goal for Juventus, with Szczesny standing in for the injured Gianluigi Buffon. He did well to deny Stephan El Shaarawy from close range.

Roma’s night was almost made worse by another ex-fan favorite, but Miralem Pjanic’s shot came off the crossbar.

Alessandro Florenzi also hit the bar for the capital club.

Napoli was behind twice before Hamsik surpassed Argentina great Diego Maradona’s tally with the winner shortly before halftime.

Sampdoria got off to a perfect start in Naples as Gaston Ramirez curled a free kick into the top left corner with less than two minutes on the clock.

Napoli leveled when Emiliano Viviano could only parry Jose Callejon’s volley and Allan fired home the rebound.

Fabio Quagliarella restored Sampdoria’s lead with a penalty after Elseid Hysaj brought down Ramirez.

It was Quagliarella’s first time back at Napoli since he revealed a stalker nightmare forced him to leave his hometown club in 2010.

Lorenzo Insigne marked his return from injury with an equalizer, volleying Dries Mertens’ chipped pass into the bottom left corner.

Hamsik made history six minutes later, still in the first half.

Allan dribbled past three players in the area before picking out Mertens, who rolled the ball across for Hamsik to tap in from close range.

The only negative note for Napoli was the dismissal of defender Mario Rui 13 minutes from time following a second yellow card.

Little more than a week ago, Inter was on top of the table and the only unbeaten team in the league.

It is now five points off the pace following a second successive defeat.

Diego Falcinelli scored the only goal 11 minutes from halftime, heading in a cross from Matteo Politano, who ran almost the entire length of the right flank.

Falcinelli needed several minutes of treatment afterward as he clattered into the post as he scored.

Icardi, who earlier missed a sitter and saw an effort cleared off the line, should have leveled five minutes after the break but Andrea Consigli saved his penalty after Francesco Acerbi’s handball.

It was a third successive win for Sassuolo, which moved five points clear of the relegation zone.

AC Milan was booed off the pitch after falling to a second successive defeat, 2-0 at home to Atalanta.

Gennaro Gattuso has just one win from his four league matches since replacing Vincenzo Montella as coach.

Rapids hire Patel as director; Highest ranking female exec in MLS

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The Colorado Rapids have hired Ena Patel as their new director of player personnel. She becomes Major League Soccer highest ranking female executive, according to the Denver Post.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s MLS coverage ]

According to the Rapids, she’ll report to club GM Padraig Smith and “oversee player contracts, salary budget, regulatory compliance, and soccer operations protocols.”

The move comes about a month-and-a-half after Sporting KC hired Megan Cameron as an assistant director of player personnel, the first woman hired to an MLS team’s technical staff.

Patel’s resume is outlandishly strong, though this is her first foray into the sports world. Here are some words from Smith, from ColoradoRapids.com:

“Ena’s hiring is the final piece of the puzzle for us on the front office side,” Smith, the Rapids executive vice president and general manager, said in a statement released by the club. “Bringing in a sharp, legal mind who can oversee our contractual processes and complex league mechanisms is a really important part of ensuring that we’re fielding the best possible team. We can’t wait for her to get started.”

Guardiola happy to reach final, knows Man City to be judged by hardware

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Bristol City made its interesting late with a pair of goals, but Manchester City’s League Cup destiny was never in jeopardy in a 3-2 second leg win at Ashton Gate Stadium on Tuesday.

[ RECAP: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

That sent the club into the Feb. 25 final with a 5-3 aggregate win, and it’s very difficult not to leap to the story line that is Pep Guardiola‘s chance at a first significant title in his reign at Man City.

The closest City came to hardware last season was being bounced by Arsenal in the FA Cup semifinal. This time, City is the favorite to win at least three of its four entered competitions: the Premier League, the League Cup, and the FA Cup.

But to hear Pep say it, for now the club is just happy to have earned one final berth. From the BBC:

“We are so happy to be there, to reach this final. We played an amazing game until 2-0 and then we lost control, these type of games never end until the end. This is a lesson for next weekend in Cardiff in the FA Cup and especially for the Champions League.

“It’s not for me, it’s for Manchester City, a club who are trying to reach another level. … I know that we will be judged by trophies we win but we are so happy. Nobody can take away what we have done, but Chelsea or Arsenal are strong teams.”

Guardiola was serious about not overlooking the Robins, as he rolled out a very similar lineup to the full-strength bunch that beat Newcastle United 3-1 at the weekend. That may have cost City late, but it had already built a 4-1 aggregate lead with two superior away goals.

Yes, Guardiola is a man who measures himself by the way his club plays but also by winning in that attractive fashion. Expect a determined club to stride into Wembley late next month.

Chelsea and Arsenal square off Wednesday at the Emirates Stadium for the right to match up with Man City, who won the tournament in 2014 and 2016. Even year dominance?

Man City into League Cup final (video)

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  • City outshoots Bristol 28-5
  • Sane, Aguero put MCFC up 2-0
  • Pack, Kent pulls two back for Bristol
  • De Bruyne answers in stoppage
  • City wins 5-3 on aggregate

A pair of late goals put a scare into Man City, but the Premier League leaders scored just before and right after halftime to insure its first leg lead en route to a 3-2 win over Bristol City at Ashton Gate Stadium on Tuesday.

City wins 5-3 on aggregate in the League Cup semifinal, with Sergio Aguero, Leroy Sane, and Kevin De Bruyne scoring in the second leg.

Pep Guardiola moves to within 90 minutes of his first significant title as Man City boss, and will face either Chelsea or Arsenal on Feb. 25 at Wembley Stadium.

Marlon Pack and Aden Flint scored for Bristol City.

[ MORE: Full stats, box score ]

Sane scored in the 43rd minute and Sergio Aguero struck less than four minutes after the teams returned from the halftime break.

An errant John Stones clearance helped Bristol to the scoreboard in the 64th minute, with Pack scoring the goal.

Flint then nodded home in stoppage time to give the Robins hope for a miracle win, but new contract hero De Bruyne scored within a minute to burn those hopes to the ground.

Bristol would be in the Football League Championship playoffs if the season ended now, sitting in fifth place.

Midfielder Lassana Diarra joins PSG on short-term deal

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PARIS (AP) Paris Saint-Germain has made its first signing of the winter transfer window by hiring midfielder Lassana Diarra on a short-term deal until June 2019.

The 32-year-old holding midfielder will once again try to revive his career in the French league after a successful stint at PSG’s bitter rival, Marseille, that ended last year.

The much-traveled Diarra, who was born in Paris, then played for a few months with United Arab Emirates club Al Jazira.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Diarra, a former Chelsea, Arsenal and Real Madrid player, won English and Spanish league titles in 2006 and 2012. He has 34 caps for France and featured at the European Championship in 2008.

His strong performances with Marseille earned him a recall from France, but he eventually pulled out of Didier Deschamps’ squad for Euro 2016 because of a left knee injury.

“I am very happy to have signed for my hometown club,” Diarra said. “Paris Saint-Germain represents a lot to me and, with the international dimension the club has taken in recent seasons, it is every player’s dream to play here. I am lucky enough to make this dream come true.”

Diarra joined on a free transfer and his signing won’t affect PSG’s bank accounts, which are under UEFA’s scrutiny.

PSG is under pressure to sell players to balance the books after splashing out 402 million euros ($473 million) on forwards Neymar and Kylian Mbappe last year. That led to Qatari-owned PSG being placed under investigation by UEFA for potential breaches of Financial Fair Play rules.