Andy Edwards

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Mourinho: Beating Liverpool the least important of 3 games this week

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Jose Mourinho is happy to have this week’s easy game out of the way, thus his Manchester United side can fully focus on the Champions League round of 16 and FA Cup quarterfinals.

[ MORE: Spurs win to go 3rd, but lose Kane | Chelsea chasing 5 points back ]

No, why would you even ask me if Mourinho is needling anyone associated with Liverpool? Look, he’s not that kind of manager, he’d never do that, OK?

Saturday’s clash at Old Trafford, which Man United won 2-1, was merely the least important of United’s three fixtures this week. Given that Tuesday’s Champions League round-of-16 second leg against Sevilla (0-0 after the first leg) will determine whether or not the Red Devils advance to the quarterfinals, and Saturday’s clash with Brighton & Hove Albion could see United through to a Wembley semifinal, he’s not wrong.

It’s just that, when Mourinho says something like that, it’s going to be interpreted as having a deeper meaning. No one is more aware of this than him, and he says it anyway — quotes from the Guardian:

“Seville and Brighton are more important games than Liverpool. Liverpool is Liverpool, it is a big match, it is a match against a direct competition for the top four. But nothing is decided yet.

“We have eight more games and 24 points to play for. But Seville and Brighton are die or live games so the next two are much more important than this one.”

Next Mourinho’s going to tell us he’d be fine losing twice each to Liverpool and Manchester City and go on to win the Premier League title. While technically true, the ulterior motive is clear as day in both instances.

Serie A: Napoli drop points again, send Juve top with game in hand

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Barcelona win without Messi | Atletico 8 points back ]

Juventus 2-0 Udinese

Paulo Dybala appears destined for the riches of Barcelona, or Manchester City, or perhaps Paris Saint-Germain in the not-so-distant future — maybe even this summer, though someone should probably pull the trigger for $200 million before the World Cup, after which the price will likely inflate to $250 million.

The 24-year-old Argentine superstar has 17 Serie A goals for Juventus this season, including a brace in Sunday’s 2-0 victory over Udinese to send the Bianconeri top of the league table, and will probably win the league’s player of the season award going away.

The victory sent Juve, who have a game in hand, one point ahead of Napoli.

Inter Milan 0-0 Napoli

Juve’s rise to the Serie A summit was made possible by yet another slip-up by Napoli, who dropped points for the second straight game, in a scoreless draw with Inter Milan. Having lost to Roma in spectacular fashion last week, Juve already controlled their own destiny when they trailed by just one point with a game in hand.

Sunday’s draw at the San Siro leaves Maurizio Sarri’s side as serious outsiders in their bid to deny Juve a seventh straight Serie A title.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Roma 3-0 Torino (Friday)
Cagliari 2-2 Lazio
Genoa 0-1 AC Milan
Fiorentina 1-0 Benevento — MORE
Crotone 4-1 Sampdoria
Bologna 0-1 Atalanta
Hellas Verona 1-0 Chievo (Saturday)
Sassuolo 1-1 SPAL 2013

Three things: NYCFC flying with Villa, Medina at the helm

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Week 2 of the 2018 MLS season is in the books, and New York City are one of just four teams with six points following Sunday’s 2-1 victory over the LA Galaxy.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Earlier today, I advocated against making any judgments whatsoever about the MLS season before the calendar reads May or June. Barely two hours later, I’m ready to ignore my own advice and tell you that NYCFC are very, very good — largely based upon the entirety of 2017, but also the way they’ve kicked off the 2018 season…

[ MORE: MLS 2018 season previews ]

Medina lessens the blow of losing Harrison

Jack Harrison was, in so many ways, a perfect complement to David Villa, in that he was only slightly less aggressive and quick to transition than the legendary Spaniard. He was an abundant source of secondary goals — a must-have for every team, even ones with a Villa-caliber spearhead.

Everyone was, understandably, unsure how NYCFC would replace Harrison’s final-third production following his transfer to Manchester City. It was a big ask for 20-year-old Paraguayan attacker Jesus Medina to walk straight into an established squad and immediately shoulder the load as Villa’s primary running mate. Through two games, Medina has surpassed expectations by miles and miles.

He scored a goal against Sporting Kansas City last week, and was instrumental in setting up both goals against LA. On the first, it was Medina who got the ball wide right, held up play ever so slightly to allow Villa to move ahead of him, and finally slotted the perfectly timed and weighted through ball to the top of the six-yard box. Villa’s shot was saved, but the rebound came to Anton Tinnerholm, who smashed his left-footed shot off the underside of the crossbar and in.

On the second, it was Medina, alongside Ben Sweat, who chased a bouncing ball deep inside NYCFC’s half and eventually won possession, then turned on the jets as he glided around one defender before playing the pass to present itself, a simple square ball to Sweat at the top of the box. Again, Sweat’s shot was saved, but the rebound fell to Villa with an empty net to mark his 100th MLS appearance with a game-winner.

Medina will probably come up short of Harrison’s numbers in the goals column — maybe even for assists, too — but it’s already very clear that he’s got a brilliant soccer mind when it comes to so many of the little things: his movement off the ball, how to time his runs to maximize the space he creates for others, and a willingness to play within the confines of his own strengths and weakness. For a 20-year-old player of any age, he’s been off-the-charts impressive.

Injuries, ineffectiveness, indifference

We’re only two weeks into the season, and LA have already lost superstar attacker Romain Alessandrini to a hamstring injury last week, starting center back Michael Ciani to an injury of his own on Sunday, and supposed-to-be-star Giovani dos Santos to a complete loss of form and ability, and/or an overwhelming sense of indifference. Dos Santos was subbed off at halftime of Sunday’s game, replaced by Servando Carrasco, a defensive midfielder.

Why would Sigi Schmid do that to his most expensive and centerpiece Designated Player, you ask?

Considering LA have considerably curtailed their free-spending tendencies in recent seasons, it’s not at all outside the realm of possibility that they could look to move on from Dos Santos’ contract, which pays him $5.5 million per year, should he continue in this vein of form.

Yes, we’re going to keep talking about VAR

… until MLS and the Professional Referee Organization gets its head on straight. If you missed it yesterday, I ranted at greater length about Baldomero Toledo and Co.’s refusal to even consult the video review available to him after Los Angeles FC scored what will likely be the most egregiously offside goal this season (since, you know, VAR is in place to correct these kind of mistakes).

On Sunday, barely a day later, another instance where VAR could have fixed a potentially “clear and obvious error” occurred in the 85th minute, with LA trailing 2-1 and threatening to equalize, when Ashley Cole was shown a second yellow card for tripping Villa as he prepared to run into 50 yards of open field.

First things first, yellow cards — not even a second yellow — aren’t reviewable within the guidelines set forth by MLS (goals, penalties, straight red cards and mistake identity). Considering a second yellow has the exact same impact as a straight red, which is to effectively end LA’s comeback bid when Cole appears to have made no contact with Villa, it should be reviewable all the same.

These are simple matters of common sense that, were MLS serious about using VAR as a tool to improve the level of refereeing, could be fixed overnight. They started using VAR roughly two-thirds of the way into the season last year, so what’s an amendment to the guidelines after fewer than two dozen game this year?

Fiorentina wins emotional first match since captain Astori’s death

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MILAN (AP) Fiorentina played its first match since the death of captain Davide Astori, beating last-place Benevento 1-0 on an emotional Sunday at the Stadio Artemio Franchi.

The 31-year-old Astori was found dead in his hotel room last Sunday after a suspected cardiac arrest before his team was due to play an Italian league match at Udinese.

“Davide was, and will always remain, our light,” said new Fiorentina captain Milan Badelj. “No one will ever forget this match, it will be difficult … Florence has shown us its soul, we are all united after a tragedy like this.”

The Fiorentina players and staff all came out for the warmup wearing Astori No. 13 shirts and lined up next to a giant poster of his shirt and the words “captain forever.” They also held up a banner with “Ciao Davide” before kickoff.

There were plenty more No. 13 shirts and banners in the stands, including in the visitors’ section, with one huge banner reading: “There are men who never die. There are stories that are passed on through eternity. Bon voyage, Captain.”

Purple and white balloons were released after an impeccably observed minute’s silence as part of a series of deeply moving scenes, which had many in tears.

The players also stopped to remember Astori after 13 minutes of the game and there was special choreography in the stands, with the fans turning one end purple with “Davide 13” while everyone chanted Astori’s name — as they did for most of the match.

Vitor Hugo, the player who replaced Astori in the starting lineup, scored the only goal of the match in the 25th minute, leaping high to head in Riccardo Saponara’s corner for midtable Fiorentina.

Hugo celebrated by running to the bench with a T-shirt bearing Astori’s face, giving it to a member of staff and saluting it.

Both teams hit the post in the final minutes, through Massimo Coda and Badelj.

Many of the players collapsed to the ground after the final whistle, with tears streaming down their faces.

“I hope that, from above, Davide is proud of us, I am convinced he gave a hand to Vitor Hugo to jump so high, he is always on the pitch with us,” said Fiorentina midfielder Marco Benassi.

“It has been a difficult day, like the whole week, we have felt a great emptiness.”

La Liga: Griezmann shines as Atleti win to stay 8 back of Barca

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MADRID (AP) Antoine Griezmann is keeping alive Atletico Madrid’s hopes of a Spanish league title challenge.

The France forward scored an impressive goal and helped set up two others as Atletico comfortably defeated Celta Vigo 3-0 on Sunday to keep pace with league leader Barcelona.

Victor “Vitolo” Machin and Angel Correa also scored for Atletico at Wanda Metropolitano Stadium in Madrid.

The team’s 10th win in 11 matches in all competitions kept second-place Atletico eight points behind Barcelona with 10 matches left. The Catalan club beat last-place Malaga 2-0 on Saturday despite playing without Lionel Messi because of the birth of his third son, Ciro.

Atletico’s only recent setback was a 1-0 loss at Barcelona in the previous round.

“There is still a lot of league left,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. “We are focusing on each match. I want to reach the final five rounds with chances. Then we will see what happens.”

Griezmann has been decisive for Atletico. He scored his eighth goal in five matches after a neat move inside the area just before halftime. The Frenchman cleared two Celta players by faking a shot near the goal, then sent the ball into the top far corner to open the scoring at the Metropolitano.

Griezmann, who has previously been linked with a move to Barcelona or Manchester United, then set up Vitolo’s goal with a well-placed throughball inside the area in the 56th, and he also started the play that led to Correa’s final goal a few minutes later.

“The reality is that today Griezmann is with us and he has been playing fantastically,” Simeone said. “Tomorrow is another day.”

Real Madrid stayed in third place by defeating Eibar 2-1 on Saturday with a pair of goals by Cristiano Ronaldo, while fourth-place Valencia remained a point behind Madrid by winning 2-0 at Sevilla with two goals by striker Rodrigo.

Sevilla stayed fifth but 11 points behind Valencia in the fight for a Champions League spot next season. Sevilla plays at Manchester United in the Champions League on Tuesday in the last-16 second leg. The teams drew 0-0 in Sevilla in the first leg.

Celta stayed ninth with the loss, its second in three matches.

Villarreal took a step toward securing a Europa League spot by defeating Las Palmas 2-0 with second-half goals by Carlos Bacca and Nicola Sansone.

The win moved Villarreal to sixth place, one point behind Sevilla and a point ahead of Girona.