Time for half-measures is over for Italian soccer

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Juventus’ Leonardo Bonucci controls the ball during the Italian Serie A football match between Lazio and Juventus at the Olympic stadium in Rome on November 26, 2011. Bonucci is currently being invested in Italy’s Calcioscommesse scandal and faces a three-and-a-half season ban from Italian soccer. (Photo credit: GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)

The early winner for “story I should have been tracking better for you”: Calcioscommesse. Without a doubt. This is my first post on the latest cheating scandal in Italy, one which is about to land long suspensions for multiple members of last year’s champions. Juventus head coach Antonio Conte had been attempting to negotiate a plea bargain that will mitigate his sentence for failing to report match-fixing during his tenure at Siena. Simone Pepe’s looking at a year off for his involvement while at Udinese, and defender Leonardo Bonucci could miss over three years for his part at Bari. Seems like something I could have brought up earlier.

Let’s be clear about what we’re talking about here, because it defines the context of those potential sentences. These three, along with many others throughout Italian soccer (or no longer in Italian soccer, like Marco Di Vaio), helped undermine the basic purpose of the competition. League soccer, at its core, depends on being able to wage credible matches where two teams are assumed to be competing in good faith. Once that assumption is gone, the matches are no more than cloaked friendlies. Put enough of those into a season, and your competition is useless, particularly if you can’t seem to control when the matches are real and when they’re fake.

(MORE: Marco Di Vaio in Italy dealing with match-fixing probe.)

Match-fixing is such a terrible euphemism for this compromise, and not because it’s an inaccurate description. The term does a good job of describing the control influenced on matches which may only be fixed at its edges (manipulating a margin of victory). But even the tacit acknowledgement of that control distracts from the venom we should have for this problem. These are acts that bloody the lips of everybody who devotes their time, money, and spirit to Calcio. They act like an infection persistent in the league’s blood, one which can cripple or kill unless treated brutally, without compromise.

A fine, suspension, demotion may work, but if it doesn’t, the infection will come back more resilient than before, humiliating those who tried to treat it. It will be immune to the old solutions, ready to withstand them, knowing its capable of returning. And so it is that just as Italy was recovering from Calciopoli – from having its most decorated team sent does to Serie B (among other punishments) – another attack of a corrupt, seemingly irreparable culture insults those of us who bought into Serie A’s recovery.

If that sounds like I’m taking this story personally, good. I am. Over the last two years, as Italy’s place in the European pecking order has been debated and denigrated (with the fourth of their Champions League spots handed to Germany), I’ve continued to invest in the league. I’d write pieces defending the league’s quality, purporting a resurgence people were missing for having written the league off. Now, Calcioscommesse makes me the fool, if an insignificant one. Having defended a league I didn’t know was still rigged, I feel like an idiot.

Serie A still gave me a lot of highlights in 2011-12. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani were two of my favorite players. I loved watching Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo’s contributions for Juventus. When Inter surged under Andrea Stramaccioni, I actually became nostalgic for the Nerazzurri’s string of five straight titles. Not that any of that matters, now.

Italy’s league is inherently compromised. I see that, now. I see that any time I devote to it going forward risks being wasted. Yes, I know I won’t be able to resist watching. There is too much talent, history there not to. But I won’t meaningfully invest until something meaningfully changes. I won’t ignore that illness, let it sit on my bones until I have no choice but to let it ravage my fandom.

When, here in the States, Major League Baseball had this problem, they brought in somebody to amputate. Kenesaw Mountain Landis was hired to clean up a game that had lost credibility. As baseball’s first commissioner, he demanded absolute power over the game. He used it brutally.

In dealing with a scandal that could have forever scared the sport, Landis instated a no tolerance policy that would cost the American League two of its biggest stars. After the 1919 Chicago White Sox threw the World Series, eight players were banned for life. The influence of gamblers had become so pervasive, Landis needed to make a few examples. Stars like Joe Jackson and Eddie Cicotte were never allowed to play again. Though the unprecedented move sparked a 100-year debate as to the unlikely innocence of Shoeless Joe, it also solved baseball’s credibility problem.

Italy has a credibility problem. No club, player, executive, or agent can be bigger than the league. Not a league-winning coach. Not a 28-time champion club. Nobody. With another debilitating scandal having cropped up five years after what should have been a “never again” incident, Italy’s lost the benefit of the doubt. It’s not a clean league, we should assume. Italy must act to prove itself to its fans.

This morning on social media, some very smart people were questioning the justice of Bonucci’s potential ban. I question the justice of Pepe’s. I question the justice of Conte’s. I question whether Marco Di Vaio will have to pay for his part in the scandal.

At this point, if a player is shown to be connected with this type of cheating, he should be banned for life. The perception the league may not be handling the affair with the necessary seriousness – that it is not willing to do whatever it takes to clean up the game – has the potential to be as damaging as the match-fixing itself. Having handed out suspensions, demoted teams, and stripped titles in the previous scandal, Italy knows what doesn’t solve the problem.

There’s only so much time you can sit and watch something rot before you know the half-measures aren’t working. At some point the problem becomes so pervasive, carries such a threat to your future health, that only the most aggressive measures will give you piece of mind. For Italy, it’s time to start amputating anything that may compromise their game, because their game has already been compromised enough.

Brentford vs Southampton, live! Score, updates, how to watch, stream, videos

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Brentford will try to extend their unbeaten run, which began all the way back in October, when they host bottom-of-the-table Southampton at Gtech Community Stadium on Saturday (watch live, 10 am ET on Peacock Premium). 

STREAM LIVE BRENTFORD vs SOUTHAMPTON

The Bees’ (30 points) eight-game unbeaten run (4W-4D-0L) has taken them up to 8th in the Premier League table, now closer to the top-four (nine points) than the relegation zone (13 points) in their second-ever season in the PL. Saints (15 points), meanwhile, are living dangerously at the bottom, though the gap between themselves and safety in 17th place is just two points.

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Brentford vs Southampton

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]


How to watch Brentford vs Southampton live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 10 am ET, Saturday
Online: Stream via Peacock Premium

GOALLL! 2-0 to Brentford. Mbuemo slots home. The Bees are buzzing and catch Saints on the counter. Two goals in three minutes for the hosts. Saints look stunned.

GOALLL! Right before half time Brentford take the lead. Ben Mee bravely heads home a brilliant cross from Mbuemo. 1-0 to the Bees.

Not much going on in west London. Saints happy to sit back and Brentford struggling to create chances on the counter.

An even game so far with Saints having a few chances early on and Brentford have caused problems with crosses into the box.


Key storylines & star players

Last time out, Brentford settled for a frustrating 0-0 draw with Leeds, but before that they rattled off successive wins over West Ham, Liverpool and Bournemouth with just one goal conceded in three games. Ivan Toney is 3rd in the Premier League with 13 goals, trailing only Harry Kane (16) and Erling Haaland (an absurd 25). After initially struggling to replace the creativity of Christian Eriksen (4 assists in 11 appearances last season), Thomas Frank’s side is firing once again thanks to Mathias Jensen (4 in 20), Toney (3) and Josh Dasilva (2) picking up the slack.

After losing 3-1 to Newcastle over two legs in the League Cup semifinals, Southampton return their attention to the ongoing relegation battle. Having won just one of their last nine Premier League fixtures (1W-1D-7L), Saints made four first-team signings to strengthen the midfield and attack. They brought in some experience (30-year-old midfielder Mislav Orsic from Dinamo Zagreb and 28-year-old forward Paul Onuachu from Genk) along with some youth and potential (a pair of 20-year-olds, midfielder Carlos Alcaraz from Racing Club and winger Kamadeen Selumana from Rennes).


Brentford team news, injuries, lineup

OUT: Pontus Jansson (thigh), Frank Onyeka (hamstring), Shandon Baptiste (adductor)

Southampton team news, injuries, lineup

OUT: Valentino Livramento (knee), Kyle Walker-Peters (hamstring), Juan Larios (adductor), Alex McCarthy (ankle)

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Wolves vs Liverpool, live! Score, updates, stream link, video highlights

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Liverpool hopes it can boost its top-four hopes by hurting Wolves’ plans for Premier League safety when the duo meet Saturday at the Molineux (watch live, 10am ET Saturday online via Peacock Premium).

It’s the third meeting since early January between the sides following a 2-2 draw in the FA Cup and a 1-0 Liverpool win in the replay.

STREAM LIVE WOLVES vs LIVERPOOL

Wolves sit 17th with 17 points, only outside of the bottom three due to Bournemouth’s poor goal differential. Last place is just two points away, as there are seven teams within three points between 14th and 20th.

Liverpool, meanwhile, is 10 points off the top four but has played at least one fewer match than all but two of the eight teams ahead of them (Sixth-place Brighton and leaders Arsenal).

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Wolves vs Liverpool.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]


Wolves vs Liverpool score: Wolves lead 2-0 on early o.g., Dawson debut goal


How to watch Wolves vs Liverpool live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 10am ET, Saturday
Online: Premier League on Peacock


Liverpool own goal video: Wolves 1-0 Liverpool

Craig Dawson goal video: Debutant makes it 2-0 to Wolves with rare goal

 


Key storylines & star players

Winning games is about scoring goals and only two Wolves players have more than one. Daniel Podence has collected five, while Ruben Neves has four. Even more surprising, Wolves are still waiting on a goal from Raul Jimenez, Diego Costa, or injured Pedro Neto. Perhaps Matheus Cunha or Pablo Sarabia will chip in soon.

Liverpool has one win from its last three Premier League outings, but there’s a heaping helping of bad luck to their struggles. The Reds have 24 goals from open play and 20 allowed in that same situation. Their expected goals in those spots is 34.6 – 24. Mohamed Salah and Darwin Nunez have been especially unlucky despite combining for 12 goals and six assists on the season.


Wolves team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Pedro Neto (ankle), Sasa Kalajdzic (torn ACL), Boubacar Traore (undisclosed), Chiquinho (knee)

Liverpool team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Virgil van Dijk (thigh), Roberto Firmino (calf), Ibrahima Konate (hamstring), Luis Diaz (knee), Diogo Jota (thigh), Arthur Melo (thigh)

Brighton vs Bournemouth, live! Score, updates, stream link, video highlights

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Brighton will continue their chase for European qualification, while Bournemouth try to climb out of the relegation zone, when the two sides meet at Amex Stadium on Saturday (watch live, 10 am ET on Peacock Premium). 

STREAM LIVE BRIGHTON vs BOURNEMOUTH

Graham Potter and Roberto De Zerbi have, between them, guided Brighton (31 points) all the way up to 6th place in the Premier League table. The gap to 5th-place Tottenham is five points; the gap to Manchester United in 4th in eight. Bournemouth, meanwhile, are in the bottom-three for the first time this season after picking up just one point from their last five PL games.

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Brighton vs Bournemouth

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]


Brighton vs Bournemouth score, video highlights: 0-0


How to watch Brighton vs Bournemouth live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 10 am ET, Saturday
Online: Stream via Peacock Premium


Brighton team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Alexis Mac Allister (suspension), Jakub Moder (knee), Adam Lallana (undisclosed), Levi Colwill (undisclosed), Evan Ferguson (ankle)

Bournemouth team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: David Brooks (thigh), Lewis Cook (knee), Neto (thigh), Dominic Solanke (knee), Marcus Tavernier (thigh), Ryan Fredericks (undisclosed), Junior Stanislas (undisclosed)

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Manchester United vs Crystal Palace, live! Score, updates, how to watch, stream, videos

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Manchester United looks to keep climbing up the Premier League table when its hosts improving Crystal Palace at Old Trafford on Saturday (watch live, 10am ET online via Premier League on Peacock).

United has won all three of its cup matches since a Jan. 22 setback at Premier League leaders Arsenal, and now face Palace before two matches with Leeds

STREAM LIVE MANCHESTER UNITED vs CRYSTAL PALACE

Palace hasn’t won in 2023, though the Eagles managed back-to-back draws with Manchester United and Newcastle in their past two matches. Both of those were at Selhurst Park.

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Manchester United vs Crystal Palace.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]


How to watch Manchester United vs Crystal Palace live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 10am ET, Saturday
Online: Premier League on Peacock


Key storylines & star players

Man United’s lost Christian Eriksen through April but acted quick and in impressive fashion with the loan addition of Marcel Sabitzer from Bayern Munich. Desperate for playing time and a more attacking role than what was asked of him by Bayern, the Austrian star may be just what the doctor ordered even before Eriksen went down. This is a hard-edged player with plenty of attcking firepower to boot.

Palace, of course, is still all about their creative players, as Wilfried Zaha, Michael Olise, Eberechi Eze, and Odsonne Edouard can deliver the goods with just a half-chance, but look out for Deadline Day adds Albert Sambi Lokonga, on loan from Patrick Vieira’s former team Arsenal, and Naouirou Ahamada, who they hope will add a needed ball progressor in the heart of the pitch.


Manchester United team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Christian Eriksen (ankle), Donny van de Beek (knee), Mason Greenwood (suspension – MORE) | QUESTIONABLE: Jadon Sancho (undisclosed), Anthony Martial (undisclosed), Diogo Dalot (thigh), Luke Shaw (illness), Scott McTominay (undisclosed)

Crystal Palace team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Wilfried Zaha (hamstring), Joachim Andersen (calf), Nathan Ferguson (undisclosed), James McArthur (groin)