Conte turns back the clock as Juventus down Palermo

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Juventus coach Antonio Conte may have returned from his four-month suspension to a slightly better team than the one he left in May, but for 90 minutes in Palermo, the Old Lady reclaimed their 2011-12 form. That’s not a good thing. Although Juventus was undefeated en route to their 28th Serie A title, they drew 15 times, often relying on opportunism and game management in place of control. In a year in which Fiorentina, Inter, Milan, Napoli, and Roma all took steps backs (or outright struggled), a draw-heavy season was enough to take the league.

That form returned today as Juventus played out a lackluster 1-0 win in Sicily. Stephan Lichtsteiner broke through for the league leaders in the 50th minute, with Juve having their win assured when Palermo went down a man in the 75th minute. Though Juventus dominated the match, they were unable to capitalize on the number of chances they created, a problem that lingers from last year.

Conte’s striking tandem perfectly exemplify Juve’s problems. Mirko Vucinic has the talent to be an automatic selection, but during his year-plus in Turin, the former Roma attacker never been able to replicate the numbers he put up in the capital. Vucinic came into today’s match with only two goals, which (unfortunately for Juve fans) were one more than his strike partner. Alessandro Matri’s inclusion continues to confuse supporters, particularly when a player like Fabio Quagliarella and his team-leading six goals may be looking for a new home in January if scoring goals can’t win more playing time.

Despite the lack of production from their strikers, Juventus had looked better this year. Though they’d already lost twice (vs. Inter Milan, at Milan) they were scoring more goals, winning more games, and were leaving fewer matches vulnerable to the type of bounces that cost them points last season. Carrying their form over into Champions League (where they won a group that featured Shakhtar Donetsk and Chelsea), Juventus looked more like a continental power than a mere domestic one. They’d taken a step forward.

In recent weeks, though, Juve’s quality had become more inconsistent. A 3-0 win over Chelsea two weeks ago was a high point, but since, they’ve only scored multiple goals in one of four games: a Dec. 1 home game against Torino were they played most of the match against 10 men. Combined with today’s performance against Palermo, the run provides more evidence that Juventus may be slipping back into their old ways.

It’s worth asking if that’s a bad thing. They did, after all, win the league playing things close to the vest. But there is the feeling that such performance is unsustainable. When Juventus lost the Coppa Italia final to Napoli last year (their only loss of the season), nobody was shocked. The feeling was more “at last” than surprise. If Juventus were to carry that same form (or, approach) into the 2012-13 season, Napoli and Inter might like their chances of taking the scudetto.

That’s why, despite Juve fans’ relief at Conte’s return, Sunday’s result might be of some concern. This was last year’s Juve, not the only that confidently played their way to an early gap atop Serie A. If that time without Conte on the sidelines proves to an an exception to the Old Lady’s danger-tempting rule, Juventus’s competitors may not be so concerned with Conte’s return.

Josef Martinez scores 2 more in win, including sensational solo work

AP Photo/John Minchillo
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Josef Martinez scored his 25th and 26th goals of the MLS season, and if he challenges his MLS record of 31, he may also stare down soccer royalty.

The Venezuelan striker scored two more on Wednesday in a 2-0 defeat of FC Cincinnati in Ohio to give him goals in 15-straight league contests.

He now has 76 goals in 80 MLS games, which is good.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

On the season, he’s six goals shy of matching the Major League Soccer record he set with last season’s 31 regular season goals.

According to MLSSoccer.com, he’s six games shy of tying Lionel Messi’s world record for consecutive league matches with a goal.

Even that’s a little tricky: Messi scored in 21-straight games in which he was eligible for selection, but 19-straight before missing two matches for injury. In that remarkable run of 21, he also had a run of six-straight braces.

It’s not really worth it to attempt to compare the two streaks: If Martinez gets to 21 (or even 19), it’s amazing stuff and worth celebrating on a worldwide level. Everyone has a bad game every now and again, but Martinez still finds the score sheet in ’em.

Look at the magician’s tricks he used for this one, including a back heel first touch and two freeze-frame cut moves. That’s not even mentioning the finish.

USWNT announces final matches of World Cup-winning year

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CHICAGO (AP) The Women’s World Cup champion U.S. team will wrap up 2019 with matches against Sweden and Costa Rica.

U.S. Soccer announced Wednesday that the U.S. will face Sweden in Columbus, Ohio, on Nov. 7 and Costa Rica in Jacksonville, Florida, on Nov. 10.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

The team is wrapping up its World Cup victory tour next month with matches against South Korea on Oct. 3 in Charlotte, North Carolina, and on Oct. 6 in Chicago.

Coach Jill Ellis is stepping down following the match in Chicago after leading the team to a pair of consecutive World Cup titles.

The United States is 15-1-2 this year and currently riding a 14-game winning streak.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Report: Mane to get big raise, Liverpool contract through 2025

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Liverpool’s Senegalese sensation looks set to stay at Anfield deep into his 30s.

Sadio Mane is in talks with the Reds hierarchy over a new deal that will run through 2024-25, and pay him more than $15 million per season.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

Mane, 27, currently has a deal through 2023, but surely wouldn’t mind a raise. And Liverpool will be happy to tie him down on Merseyside a bit longer.

He’s scored six times in seven matches this season, also grabbing an assist. That’s on a better pace than his 26 goals and five assists over 50 appearances in 2018/19.

Mane has 70 Premier League goals at the moment. Do you tip him to eclipse 100 while still at Anfield? 125?

Europa League preview: Man Utd, Wolves, Arsenal begin group stage

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The Europa League begins its group stage on Thursday, with the three Premier League combatants taking on clubs from Kazakhstan, Portugal and Germany.

Manchester United’s kids are gonna get some playing time when Astana visits Old Trafford on Wednesday.

Teenager Mason Greenwood and 21-year-old Axel Tuanzebe will start, and Sergio Romero will be between the sticks.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

And the Manchester Evening News notes that Tahith Chong and Angel Gomes could also start at Old Trafford, meaning the veterans in the fray will be quite important.

Enter Fred, the forgotten $68 million man from Shaktar Donetsk. The 23 minutes he played last week versus Leicester City account for his lone time on the pitch this season.

Here’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer:

“I’m sure we’ll see more and more of Fred. We spoke about it earlier, he’s had some great games in midfield with Scott against PSG and Arsenal, for example, and we’re just waiting for that to flourish.”

Fred had an odd record under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer last season, barely in the squad when the team started hot but trusted against PSG and Barcelona in the Champions League.

Speaking of little-used midfielders, Arsenal boss Unai Emery is getting a little grief for leaving Mesut Ozil behind for the Gunners’ trip to Germany for a big match with Eintracht Frankfurt.

Ozil made his first start of the season in Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with Watford at the weekend, playing 71 minutes and departing with the club up 2-1.

So why not even bring him abroad? Rest.

“Because we are going to play another match on Sunday,” Emery said, via The London Evening Standard. “My decision is because he played and also I’m thinking tomorrow the focus and the first 11 and after that I decided who are the players who can be the best for tomorrow and also the players not and that is Sokratis and Mesut.”

Sokrastis Papastathopoulos is also out, having played a big role in the embarrassing performance at Watford.

There have been tough times for Wolves as well, who sit in the relegation zone after five matches of the Premier League season.

They’ve been quite good in Europa League, though, dispatching a pair of minnows before winning both legs against Serie A side Torino.

Why the inconsistency? It’s not fixture congestion, according to Ruben Neves:

“I don’t think fatigue has anything to do with it, Neves said, via The Birmingham Mail. “We’re all top players, we’re used to it, we’re used to playing a lot of games in quick succession. I don’t think the Europa League has (anything) to do with our position in the Premier League. Obviously, we haven’t had the start that we’ve wanted, but it’s been a beautiful journey into the Europa League. This is a historic moment for Wolves and we’re going to do our best in this competition.”

Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men are in Portugal to meet Braga, one of three tricky opponents in Besiktas and Slovan Bratislava.

Full slate

12:55 p.m. ET
CFR Cluj v. Lazio
LASK v. Rosenborg
Getafe v. Trabzonspor
PSV Eindhoven v. Sporting Lisbon
Basel v. Krasnodar
APOEL Nicosia v. Dudelange
Copenhagen v. Lugano
Standard Liege v. Vitoria SC
Qarabag v. Sevilla
Eintracht Frankfurt v. Arsenal
Rennes v. Celtic
Dynamo Kiev v. Malmo

3 p.m. ET
Wolfsburg v. Oleksandriya
Espanyol v. Ferencvaros
Rangers v. Feyenoord
Porto v. Young Boys
Slovan Bratislava v. Besiktas
Borussia Monchengladbach v. Wolfsberg
Partizan v. AZ Alkmaar
AS Roma v. Istanbul Basaksehir
Gent v. Saint-Etienne
Manchester United v. Astana
Wolves v. Braga
Ludogorets Razgrad v. CSKA Moscow