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Serie A: Napoli win to stay top of the table ahead of winter break

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Napoli will go into the delayed winter break top of Serie A after beating relegation-threatened Hellas Verona 2-0 on Saturday.

Kalidou Koulibaly and Jose Callejon scored as Napoli stayed one point clear of second-place Juventus, which won 1-0 at Cagliari in the late game.

Juventus has won the title in each of the last six seasons, while Napoli is bidding for its first since 1990.

“We know that Juve has years of experience,” Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri said. “We know they can easily surpass the 90-point mark, while we can’t say the same thing about us.

“But we also have players who can make the difference in matches, such as Callejon and (Lorenzo) Insigne … our job is only to put them in the best conditions to express themselves.”

Roma could have moved level with third-place Inter Milan, which is nine points below Napoli, but lost 2-1 at home to Atalanta and is fifth.

After playing over the festive period for the first time, Serie A will resume on Jan. 21.

Napoli had ended 2017 and the first half of the season as winter champions, but was eliminated from the Italian Cup on Tuesday following a surprise quarterfinal defeat to Atalanta.

Sarri’s team dominated from the start against Verona and had several chances, with Dries Mertens and Insigne hitting the woodwork.

Mertens also had a goal ruled out for offside before Napoli finally broke the deadlock in the 65th minute, when Koulibaly headed in Mario Rui’s cross.

The goal was awarded after checking with the video assistant referee but Verona coach – and former Napoli player and assistant – Fabio Pecchia was dismissed for his protests.

Napoli all but sealed the match 12 minutes from time when Callejon rushed in at the far post to volley in Insigne’s cross from the left.

Verona remained two points from safety.

Ciro Immobile netted four goals and moved top of the scoring charts as Lazio won 5-2 at struggling Spal to move fourth.

Mirco Antenucci had converted a penalty for Spal to cancel out Luis Alberto‘s opener before Immobile’s first-half hat trick.

Immobile got his first in the 19th, running onto Luis Alberto’s flicked pass over the defense and lifting the ball over Alfred Gomis.

The Italy forward doubled his tally seven minutes later, firing home Sergej Milinkovic-Savic’s through-ball, but Spal reduced the deficit almost immediately, with Antenucci grabbing his second of the match.

However, Immobile headed in Dusan Basta’s cross four minutes before the break to complete his hat trick.

The Spal defense left Immobile completely unmarked six minutes after halftime and he drilled in a corner for his 20th league goal of the season, two more than Inter Milan forward Mauro Icardi.

Spal hit the post, had the follow-up cleared off the line and also had a goal ruled out.

AC Milan defender Leonardo Bonucci scored his first goal for the club in a 1-0 win over Crotone – although the Italy international knew little about it.

Milan broke the deadlock nine minutes into the second half when Crotone goalkeeper Alex Cordaz flapped at a corner, sending it onto Bonucci’s back and the ball rebounded into the back of the net.

“2018 couldn’t have started better,” Bonucci said. “People had been asking me for a while when I would score and the goal finally arrived.

“But what matters is the spirit we showed in the first half and the willingness to all suffer together at the end.”

Bonucci joined Milan from Juventus in the offseason for a fee of more than 40 million euros ($45 million).

Franck Kessie thought he had doubled Milan’s lead but it was ruled out on video review as he had fouled Rolando Mandragora.

Milan had also hit the woodwork in the first half as Cordaz fingertipped Suso’s effort onto the post.

Ten-man Atalanta beat Roma 2-1 after first-half goals from Andreas Cornelius and Marten De Roon, who was sent off in the 45th for a second yellow card.

Edin Dzeko grabbed one back for the hosts 10 minutes after the break.

Juventus kept the pressure on leader Napoli after finally breaking through Cagliari’s defense with a 74th-minute goal from Federico Bernardeschi. Juve dominated the game with 14 shots to Cagliari’s five attempts.

After waiting 19 rounds for a first Serie A victory, Benevento made it two in two matches as it came from behind to beat Sampdoria 3-2.

It remained bottom of Serie A, eight points from safety.

Elsewhere, Walter Mazzarri got off to a winning start in charge of Torino as he steered his new side to a 3-0 win over Bologna.

Genoa beat Sassuolo 1-0.

Vancouver adds versatile Juarez, formerly of Monterrey, Celtic

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Efrain Juarez is bringing his game to Major League Soccer.

[ MLS: 2018 Mock SuperDraft ]

The 39-times capped Mexico veteran has inked a deal with the Vancouver Whitecaps, joining a strengthened unit which came within a point of winning the West last season.

Juarez, 29, was unveiled as a midfielder by the ‘Caps, though he’s primarily played right back in his club career. He’s played at Celtic, Real Zaragoza, Club America, Monterrey, and Pumas.

Last capped by¬†El Tri in 2012, Juarez has played every position except goal, center attacking mid, and center forward in his career (picture a ‘U’ on the pitch).

“I’m so happy and excited for this new stage in my career,” Juarez said. “It’s an opportunity for me to keep growing in a new league and to be a part of an amazing club in Vancouver. From the moment they showed interest me, Carl Robinson and the Whitecaps staff have made me feel very important. I promise to put all my effort into this club and do my best to help us achieve our goals.”

VIDEO: Asensio goal ends Real Madrid’s winless run

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Marco Asensio’s eighth goal of the season and second of this Copa del Rey put an end to an unlikely Real Madrid winless run in a 1-0 victory at Leganes.

[ MLS: 2018 Mock SuperDraft ]

The 21-year-old darted in front of a defender to volley home from in-tight, giving Real Madrid a first leg lead in the tournament quarterfinals.

More importantly, perhaps, it gives struggling Real a boost in morale after draws with Celta Vigo and Numancia, and a loss to Villarreal.

Real is home to Deportivo de la Coruna in La Liga before hosting Leganes in the second leg.

Hopeful Newcastle buyer Staveley: Offer still on the table

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Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley is probably happy that his for-sale club is away this weekend, even though his side’s up against Manchester City.

[ MORE:¬†Top PL storylines ‚ÄĒ Week 24¬† ]

That’s because hopeful buyer Amanda Staveley has responded to claims that her hopeful takeover of the team won’t be happening any time soon.

Talks had stalled, said Tuesday reports, much to the chagrin of an #AshleyOut brigade that at times can make Arsenal’s #WengerOut brigade look like a yard full of happy puppies.

A “source” had said, “Attempts to reach a deal have proved to be exhaustive, frustrating and a complete waste of time,” but Staveley shot back on Thursday to reignite the fire. From the BBC, taken from The Times:

“Our bid remains on the table. This is an investment, but it has to be a long-term investment. Newcastle would be run as a business, but we want it to be a successful, thriving business that is an absolutely integral part of the city.”

She also said that popular manager Rafa Benitez is integral to her interest in the team, and that fact combined with her insistence that an offer remains on the table will have many Newcastle fans seething with current ownership (and there have been protests¬†for years). It’s Ashley’s move now.

2018 MLS Mock Draft: LAFC, Galaxy hold the keys

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Major League Soccer’s latest batch of hopeful rookies learn the next steps of their professional careers beginning Friday with the first two rounds of the MLS SuperDraft.

There are several intriguing prospects, including accomplished Stanford center back Tomas Hilliard-Arce and dangerous Michigan winger Francis Atuahene.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

An MLS mock draft is always tricky given the wildly varying opinions on players from the college game. This year, it’s even trickier as clubs without picks and some with multiple first round picks may be looking to move up and down even more than the norm.

Here’s how we think the draft could play out:

  1. LAFC –¬†Tomas Hilliard-Arce, CB, Stanford
  2. LA Galaxy – Jon Bakero, FW, Wake Forest
  3. DC United – Francis Atuahene, FW, Michigan
  4. Montreal – Joao Moutinho, LB, Akron
  5. Minnesota – Wyatt Omsberg, CB, Dartmouth
  6. Orlando City – Ema Twumasi, FW, Wake Forest
  7. Montreal – Chris Mueller, FW, Wisconsin
  8. New England – Mo Adams, MF, Syracuse
  9. New England – Chris Lema, MF, Georgetown
  10. Real Salt Lake – Justin Fiddes, LB, Washington
  11. FC Dallas – Marcelo Acuna, FW, Virginia Tech
  12. San Jose – Brandon Bye, RB, Western Michigan
  13. Sporting KC – Ed Opoku, FW, Virginia
  14. Atlanta –¬†Alex Roldan, MF, Seattle
  15. Chicago –¬†Mason Toye, FW, Indiana
  16. New York Red Bulls – Alan Winn, MF, North Carolina
  17. Vancouver – Tristan Blackmon, RB, Pacific
  18. Sporting KC –¬†Jon Gallagher, FW, Notre Dame
  19. New York City FC – Daniel Musovski, FW, UNLV
  20. Houston –¬†Mo Thiaw, FW, Louisville
  21. Columbus – Brian White, FW, Duke
  22. Seattle – Tim Kubel, MF, Louisville
  23. Toronto FC – Oliver Shannon, MF, Clemson

There are a few players to keep an eye on for the later rounds that I won’t project for the first round due almost exclusively to first person bias (Some I’ve seen play in college, others at other levels). Afonso Pinheiro from Albany produced like crazy until this season, and Bowling Green defender Alexis Souahy has a skill set that could really transmit to the MLS level.

Mac Steeves (Providence) is a prototypical big body scorer, while Evansville’s heady Ian McGrath has a flair for the absurd and can play almost every position up the center of the pitch. Charleston’s Thomas¬†Vancaeyezeele was a D-2 monster and is probably worth a shot earlier than people suspect.