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La Liga & Serie A: Real Madrid cruises, Napoli nets six

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A roundup of Sunday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

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Real Sociedad 1-3 Real Madrid

No Ronaldo. No problem for Real. Despite facing a stiff test from Sociedad on Sunday, Los Blancos used its depth to replace its Portuguese star. Borja Mayoral scored the game’s first goal for Real, ironically the 20-year-old’s first La Liga goal, before the home side equalized nine minutes later. The lead was restored in the 36th minute off of a Kevin Rodrigues own goal, while Gareth Bale tacked on the third for Real after the hour mark. Sociedad remains ahead of Madrid in the La Liga table, but the gap is now just one point between the two sides.

Girona 0-1 Sevilla

Sevilla remained unbeaten through the opening four rounds of play on Sunday after facing a difficult road trip to Girona. The hosts had several opportunities throughout the match, but failed to notch a shot on target, which helped Sevilla make them pay. Luis Muriel scored the game’s lone goal in the 69th minute after the forward finished off the Franco Vázquez cross.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Alaves 0-3 Villareal
Las Palmas 1-0 Athletic Bilbao

 


Napoli 6-0 Benevento

When Napoli is clicking, they are a really difficult team to beat. The Serie A leaders remained unbeaten on Sunday after comfortably handling upstarts Benevento behind a Dries Mertens hat-trick. The hosts found the back of the net just three minutes into the match through Allan, before Lorenzo Insigne, Jose Callejon and Mertens each scored before halftime. Napoli now boasts an impressive +13 goal differential after only four matches in domestic play.

Sassuolo 1-3 Juventus

Paulo Dybala’s hat-trick helped give Juventus its fourth win of the new Serie A season to remain level on points with Napoli. For Dybala, the Argentine surpassed the 50-goal mark with the Bianconeri with his first finish, before adding two more goals in the second stanza. Meanwhile, the home side scored almost immediately after Dybala’s second to make the match close, but Sassuolo couldn’t find a second.

Elsewhere in Serie A

AC Milan 2-1 Udinese
SPAL 0-2 Cagliari
Torino 2-2 Sampdoria
Chievo Verona 1-1 Atalanta
Genoa 2-2 Lazio

Serie A: Inter Milan run away late to stay perfect

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Inter Milan stayed perfect in Serie A with a hard-fought 2-0 win at Crotone, which remained on Saturday the only team yet to score a goal in the league.

Inter won its previous three matches comfortably but found it harder than expected at Crotone until eight minutes from time when defender Milan Skriniar broke the deadlock.

Ivan Perisic sealed the result in stoppage time.

“Crotone made it difficult for us … we’ll see how many teams manage to win here,” Inter coach Luciano Spalletti said. “We faced two situations where (Inter goalkeeper Samir) Handanovic did well but they shouldn’t have happened … we’re not a great team yet, but we played with character which is important.”

Opportunities were few and far between at Stadio Scida and it was Crotone which had the best chances, with Handanovic pulling off two fine second-half saves to deny Aleksandar Tonev and Marcus Rohden.

However, Inter took the lead when a free kick ricocheted around the area before Skriniar bundled in the ball with his third attempt for his first Serie A goal.

Perisic was left unmarked to gather Joao Mario’s pass, cut inside, and fire into the bottom right corner.

Federico Chiesa scored a goal his father would have been proud of to set Fiorentina on its way to beating Bologna 2-1.

“He’s a good lad who should not listen much to what is being said around him and instead center himself a lot on his work: He can still improve, together with the team,” Fiorentina coach Stefano Pioli said. “I never doubted he would stay here: He is only at the start of his journey.”

Little of note happened before Chiesa – the son of prolific former goalscorer Enrico – cut inside the left of the area, beat a defender, and curled a fantastic strike into the far side of the net in the 51st minute.

However, Bologna was back level a minute later when Rodrigo Palacio finished off a rapid counterattack with a half-volley.

German Pezzella scored what was to prove the winner in the 69th with a looping header from a corner.

Palacio almost equalized but his header came off the left post.

It was Fiorentina’s second successive victory after losing its first two matches.

Serie A: Icardi, Perisic keep Inter Milan perfect; AC Milan trounced

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ROME (AP) The dynamic duo of Mauro Icardi and Ivan Perisic are proving unstoppable in Serie A and Inter Milan is quickly moving on from last season’s failures and upheaval.

Icardi scored his fifth goal in three matches and Perisic added another as Inter beat Serie B champion Spal 2-0 Sunday to extend its perfect start in the Italian league.

Each of Inter’s eight goals this season have involved either Icardi or Perisic, with goals or assists.

Video replays were used to set up Icardi’s first-half penalty and Perisic sealed the result three minutes from time.

Inter drew level on points with six-time defending champion Juventus, which defeated Chievo Verona 3-0 on Saturday.

Later, Napoli also had a chance to extend its perfect start at Bologna.

Big-spending AC Milan dropped its first points in a 4-1 loss at Lazio, which got a hat trick from Ciro Immobile.

Including Roberto Mancini’s surprise resignation two weeks before the season began, Inter struggled through four managerial changes in the 2016-17 campaign and finished seventh to miss out on European competition.

But order appears to have been restored with the appointment of former Roma coach Luciano Spalletti in June.

“There are three big points, especially since Inter struggled against the smaller clubs last season,” said assistant coach Marco Domenichini, who handled the post-match interviews because Spalletti lost his voice during the game.

“It’s great to have nine points but we’ve still got to improve, especially in terms of ball control,” Domenichini added.

Leonardo Semplici, the coach of Ferrara-based Spal, believes Inter will challenge Juventus and Napoli.

“They’ve got a really good and experienced manager. They’re going to battle until the end for the title,” Semplici said.

At the San Siro, Inter was in control from the start and Icardi used a quick touch to set up Joao Mario at the edge of the area when the Portuguese international was tripped by a defender.

The referee immediately pulled out a yellow card for the defender, Francesco Vicari, and then a five-minute delay ensued as the referee sought video assistance to determine if the foul occurred inside or outside the area.

Eventually, the penalty was awarded and Icardi calmly slotted his spot kick in the left side of the goal as the `keeper went the other way.

It was Icardi’s 77th goal in Serie A for Inter, placing him joint 10th on the club’s all-time list with Attilio Demaria.

After Inter’s Milan Skriniar hit the crossbar, Perisic volleyed in a cross from Danilo D’Ambrosio for his second score of the season to go along with his four assists.

Fresh off his goal for Italy in a 1-0 win over Israel in World Cup qualifying, Lazio striker Immobile was in full control at the Stadio Olimpico against remodeled Milan, which spent more than 200 million euros (nearly $250 million) in the transfer market.

Late in the first half, Immobile converted a penalty and then scored again with an acrobatic volley.

After the break, Immobile slotted inside the near post following an expert setup from Marco Parolo then provided the assist when Luis Alberto finished off a swift counterattack.

Riccardo Montolivo pulled one back for Milan in a match in which kickoff was delayed for an hour due to severe rain.

After scoring only one goal in its opening two matches – both losses – Fiorentina routed promoted Hellas Verona 5-0.

Giovanni Simeone, Cyril Thereau, Davide Astori, Jordan Veretout and Gil Dias scored for the Tuscan club, which has had to overcome the sale of nearly all of its most prized players.

Fiorentina sold Nikola Kalinic to Milan, Borja Valero and Matias Vecino to Inter Milan and Federico Bernardeschi to Juventus.

Verona had never lost by four or more goals at home in Serie A.

Also, Atalanta beat Sassuolo 2-1; Cagliari celebrated the opening of its new stadium, the Sardegna Arena, with a 1-0 victory over Crotone; and Udinese defeated Genoa 1-0 as both teams finished with 10 men.

Serie A: Juventus rest stars ahead of Barca trip, rout Chievo

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TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus rested top players ahead of the Champions League and still eased to a 3-0 victory over Chievo Verona to maintain its perfect start to the Serie A on Saturday.

Second-half goals from substitute Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain sealed the win after an own goal by Chievo midfielder Perparim Hetemaj.

Juventus visits Barcelona in the Champions League group stage on Tuesday.

“The team was winning when I came on and there were spaces to play in,” Dybala said. “I got up to help Higuain but the team played well and deserved the win.

“We’ll go to Barcelona and give our all.”

Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny was handed his debut as Gianluigi Buffon was rested.

Dybala also started on the bench, as did Andrea Barzagli and Juan Cuadrado. Giorgio Chiellini, Sami Khedira, Claudio Marchisio and Alex Sandro were out injured.

Juventus took the lead in the 17th minute when Hetemaj headed Miralem Pjanic’s free kick past his own goalkeeper.

Szczesny did well to parry an Ivan Radovanovic effort but Higuain doubled Juve’s lead shortly before the hour, firing Pjanic’s through ball into the top left corner.

That move had been started by Dybala, who came on four minutes earlier, and the Argentina international had chances of his own before getting on the scoresheet seven minutes from time, wending his way through the penalty area before placing the ball into the bottom right corner.

It was Dybala’s seventh goal in four matches for Juventus, including the Super Cup defeat to Lazio.

The only negative note for Juventus was an injury to Mario Mandzukic, who limped off late on and was a doubt for Tuesday’s match.

Roma’s match at Sampdoria was postponed because of bad weather.

2018 World Cup Power Rankings — 10 months B.W.C.

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Can Germany become the first nation since Brazil (1958 and 1962) to repeat as World Cup winners? Can the Brazilians exorcise their demons of 7-1? Has the next wave of Spanish brilliance/impending dominance arrived?

Will Italy contend again after failing to advance from the group stage two tournaments in a row? Can one of the up-and-comers — Belgium, Colombia, Portugal or England — make good on years (decades, in England’s case) of promise and potential? What are the U.S. national team’s chances, assuming they manage to qualify?

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s 2018 World Cup coverage | USMNT | Premier League ]

These are just a handful of the questions at the forefront of so many folks’ minds, as we now sit just over 10 months from the start of the 2018 World Cup. Beginning today (10 months B.W.C.), and following every international break leading up to next summer’s tournament in Russia, the PST staff will be keeping tabs on these stories, and more, in our World Cup Power Rankings.

According to our esteemed panelists — Joe Prince-Wright, Nicholas Mendola, Kyle Bonn, Matt Reed, Dan Karell and yours truly — there are five or six sides with a genuine shot at being crowned world champions in July. As always, if you disagree with the final results, feel free to shout at all of the above, except me, on Twitter (links above).

Team Points Best Worst
Germany 116 1 3
Brazil 115 1 2
France 106 2 4
Spain 105 1 5
Belgium 91 4 10
Colombia 84 6 9
Italy 75 5 16
Portugal 72 5 16
Uruguay 71 7 11
Switzerland 61 9 13
Mexico 54 10 16
England 52 9 15
Nigeria 33 12 NR
Chile 33 7 NR
Costa Rica 23 14 NR
Japan 20 9 NR
Ivory Coast 16 14 NR
Peru 16 13 NR
Poland 12 12 NR
South Korea 9 16 NR

As you’ve probably already noticed, the USMNT didn’t make the final top-20 list. Here’s everyone’s thoughts on the USMNT, and where they slot in among 2018 hopefuls:

JPW: USA rank — 30th. The last international break summed up just how much work needs to be done between now and next summer if the USMNT qualifies for the World Cup. Getting out of the group stage would seem like a big achievement as things stand.

NM: USA rank — 25th. The U.S. entered September ranked 30th in ELO, and 26th by FIFA, though not every team in front of them will be going to Russia, either. If I project a 32-team field, placing the U.S. with a seeded team, a European team, and probably an African side or South American side (The U.S. has been in a pot with Asian sides the last two draws). In most scenarios, barring hosts Russia being in the U.S. group, I’d expect this current bunch to fail to reach the group stage. Of the teams who may make the field, I’d put U.S. hopes ahead of most of the Asian sides, one or two European sides, and another couple of African qualifiers.

KB: The United States is currently ranked 26th in FIFA, and that’s with a Gold Cup win that included a number of B squads. I would not put this current US team anywhere near the Top 20 until it shows it can win consistently against even mid-level sides like Honduras or Panama.

AE: USA rank — 22nd. Once you move past the top five or so sides — you know, the ones that actually have a chance of winning the World Cup — everyone is fatally flawed in any number of ways. The USMNT is no different than the rest of these, but with one favorable exception: 14 of the 23 players on the most recent roster have World Cup experience, with the majority of those having been to multiple finals tournaments. If/when they qualify, they’ll leapfrog a half-dozen other sides without that experience, making them a fringe Round of 16 side, if they get there.

MR: USA rank — 25th. Let’s face it. It’s been a difficult week for the USMNT, and while the squad is still very much in the running for a trip to Russia next summer Bruce Arena and Co. are crawling into the World Cup at this point. Solely judging this team off of what I believe they can be versus what they are right now, I’d say the U.S. can and should be a top 20 team heading into 2018, however, watching these last two matches have reiterated several of my previous concerns, especially in the central midfield. I’d put the U.S. somewhere around 25 in the field of 32 World Cup teams, assuming a bid to Russia is in the cards.

DK: USA rank — 19th. I had the USA in No. 19 because I actually am taking a more positive look at the draw in Honduras. The USA lost this game in the last World Cup cycle under Klinsmann and coming back on the road in the Honduran heat in a World Cup qualifier with everything on the line takes guts and determination. Just as the fortunes turned with the famed “snow game” in Denver against Costa Rica, perhaps this could be a moment like that for this USMNT team that basically needs to win out to ensure safe passage to the World Cup