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.

Mane: Feud with Salah is over

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Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah are friends again.

Sort of.

Following Mane’s angry reaction to not being passed the ball by Salah in their win at Burnley before the international break, there were concerns that the relationship between the two star forwards would impact their play on the pitch.

But speaking to French outlet Canal+ after their 3-1 win against Newcastle United on Saturday, Mane put a lid on the matter.

“With Salah? It’s forgotten,” Mane said. “Sometimes you have to say things face to face. These are things that happen in football, sometimes it happens that I am not given the pass. But we have reconciled and become the good friends we were before.”

That’s that then.

Salah posted the following video ahead of the weekend, which says it all.

Mane scored twice on Saturday to continue his stunning start to the season, so it hasn’t impacted his form. But Salah, the Egyptian King and darling of Anfield, has come out of this worse.

Liverpool fans, generally, were on Mane’s side in this disagreement and the Senegalese attacker has been applauded for his response.

Will this impact Salah’s confidence and the fluidity of Liverpool front three? Probably not.

As Mane said, these things happen in football but it does prove that despite all of the success something has been brewing behind-the-scenes at Liverpool.

Arsenal “too scared” of Watford in collapse

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Arsenal captain Granit Xhaka admitted the Gunners were “too scared” of Watford as they collapsed in the second half.

Leading 2-0 at half time thanks to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Arsenal were totally outplayed in the second half as Watford roared back to draw 2-2 at Vicarage Road on Sunday.

Speaking after the game, Xhaka said the Arsenal players were not confident enough to see out the game.

“No-one wanted the ball. In the end we are happy to take a point,” Xhaka said. “We didn’t show our game in the second half, we were too scared… Every team in the Premier League is strong enough to score but you have to keep calm, to show good character, to be mentally strong. We weren’t today.”

If only this was a rare occurrence for Arsenal.

Under Unai Emery their defensive collapses have been frequent, and this issue even dates back to Arsene Wenger‘s final few seasons in charge.

Arsenal were their own worst enemies on Sunday.

Instead of playing the ball out of dangerous areas they tried to play short goal kicks time and time again and were caught in possession on several occasions. David Luiz gave away a penalty kick, Xhaka and Mateo Guendouzi were overrun in central midfield in the second half and in the end they were lucky to grab a point.

Trying the same things time and time again and expecting different results is just bonkers, and that is what this Arsenal squad is going.

Luiz, Bernd Leno, Sokratis and Xhaka are players Arsenal have built their defensive core around, and the same issues keep cropping up when they are in the team. Adding Luiz to the mix after losing Laurent Koscielny was a risk and it seems like a move which will backfire for the Gunners.

It is true that defenders Rob Holding, Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney are all close to returning from injury, so when that happens perhaps we will see a newfound defensive solidity and things will improve.

Then again, it’s likely neutral everywhere will be grabbing their popcorn whenever Arsenal play this season because you’re guaranteed entertainment at both ends of the pitch.

Galaxy hammer Sporting KC; Zlatan: “I’m the best ever in MLS”

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LA Galaxy smashed Sporting Kansas City 7-2 on Sunday, as Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored a hat trick then called himself the best player in MLS history.

Just a casual Sunday for Zlatan, then…

Ibrahimovic, 37, scored a hat trick as LA raced into a 7-1 lead after falling 1-0 behind early on as Felipe Gutierrez scored both of Sporting’s goals.

Speaking to reporters after the game, Ibrahimovic was typically humble after his hat trick which means he now holds the record for the highest scoring season in Galaxy history with 26 goals.

“I think I am the best ever to play in MLS. And that’s without joking,” Ibrahimovic said. “Scoring goals is easy, you just have to be like Zlatan and it’s coming.”

Zlatan is now two goals behind Carlos Vela in the race for the Golden Boot in MLS with four games remaining, and he’s now scored 48 goals in 52 games since arriving in MLS.

Joe Corona, Uriel Antuna and Sebastian Lletget grabbed the Galaxy’s other goals as they won for the first time in five MLS games to boost their chances of making the playoffs in the congested Western Conference.

With the defeat Sporting KC’s hopes of reaching the playoffs is all but over.

Check out the highlights in full below. It will take quite a while to sort through the nine goals, so set down and soak in Zlatan’s brilliance.

Mexicans Abroad: Weekend Roundup

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Taking the field in the 70th minute, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez made his debut with Sevilla, who became La Liga’s leaders following Sunday’s result.

In Portugal, despite transitioning to right back at the start of the season, Jesus “Tecatito” Corona continues flourish with Porto. The 26-year-old has two assists after five league games.

Elsewhere, Carlos Vela, who returned from injury, is on the cusp of trying MLS’ all-time single-season scoring record. To be exact, the 30-year-old needs three goals to tie the record, four to surpass Josef Martinez. LAFC has four regular-season games still to play.

Here is a list of several other Mexico national team affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) outside of Mexico this weekend.

Serie A

Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, Napoli — Lozano’s second appearance for Napoli wasn’t as captivating as his first, but he did have his positive moments. On Saturday, Chucky started and played 65 minutes, recording a shot off target, 23 touches, and earning two fouls along the way.

Premier League

Raul Jimenez, Wolverhampton Wanderers — Jimenez started and played 70 minutes in Wolves’ 5-2 loss to Chelsea. Will Nuno Espirito Santos side’s  struggles start to affect Jimenez productivity?

La Liga

Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Sevilla — Chicharito is officially a Sevillista. The 31-year-old replaced Luuk De Jong in 70th minute in Sevilla’s 1-0 over Alaves on Sunday.

Hector Herrera, Atletico Madrid — For a fourth consecutive league game, Herrera was left on the bench. At this rate, it’s difficult to say when the 29-year-old will make his debut with Los Colchoneros, who lost 2-0 to Real Sociedad on Saturday.

Andres Guardado, Real Betis —  Guardado, who recently became a father for a second time, didn’t feature in Betis’ 1-1 draw against Getafe on Saturday.

Diego Lainez, Real Betis — The 19-year-old make the 18, but didn’t take the field against Getafe.

Nestor Araujo, Celta Vigo — Araujo took the field in the 15th minute following Jorge Saenz’s red-card challenge. Celta ended up losing 2-0 against Granda.

Eredivisie

Erick Gutierrez, PSV Eindhoven — Gutierrez is out with a hand injury suffered with the national team. A return date is unknown.

Edson Alvarez, Ajax — Alvarez started and played 80 minutes in Ajax’s 4-1 drilling of Heerenveen. The 21-year-old is, slowly but surely, becoming a fixture for  Erik ten Hag.

Primeira Liga

Jesus “Tecatito” Corona, FC Porto — Things are going great for Tecatito. The right back (yes, you read that right) played 90 minutes and recorded an assist in Porto’s 3-2 win over Portimonense. It’s been a good transition for the 26-year-old, to say the least.

Jupiler Pro League

Omar Govea, Zulte Waregem — Govea started, but came off at halftime in Zulte’s 1-1 draw with KAS Eupen on Saturday.

Elsewhere around the globe:

Hector Moreno, Al Gharafa   On Saturday, Moreno started and played all 90 minutes in Al Gharafa’s 3-1 win against Qatar SC.

Juan Gerardo Ramirez Alosno, Roda JC — The 21-year-old fullback was left on the bench in Roda’s 1-1 draw on Friday.

Carlos Fierro, San Jose Earthquakes – Dressed but didn’t play in the Quakes’ 2-1 loss to NYCFC.

Carlos Vela, LAFC – In his return from injury, Vela started and scored in LAFC’s 1-1 . draw against the Philadelphia Union. The Mexican is three goals from tying Josef Martinez’s single-season goal record.

Jonathan Dos Santos, LA Galaxy – Dos Santos started in Galaxy’s game against Sporting Kansan City on Sunday.

Uriel Antuna, LA Galaxy – Antuna started in Galaxy’s game against Sporting Kansan City on Sunday.