No moral victories as Napoli loses at Inter Milan

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If Roberto Mancini was indignant after his team’s loss to Manchester United, Walter Mazzarri had reason to be irate. Manchester City’s boss spent his post-match interviews insisting his team was the better side in Sunday’s Manchester Derby, but his team’s perceived dominance was nothing compared to the pressure Napoli maintained on Inter Milan throughout Sunday’s match at the San Siro.

Unfortunately, just like City, Napoli came up short, dropping the 2-1 result and a place in the table to Internazionale. The Nerazzurri now sit second in Serie A, four points behind Juventus. Napoli, the other main threat to Juve;s defense, trail by five.

The Azzurri controlled play from the opening kickoff only to see Inter stop prove feisty every time their visitors tried to initiate an attacking move. Napoli’s early energy was defused by a well-timed challenges, clearing balls into the combative midfield before Napoli’s Gokhan Inler and Valon Behrami regained possession and cycled Napoli into a new attack.

That dynamic changed in the eighth minute when Inter’s Fredy Guarin latched onto a corner from the left, perfectly hitting a ball inside Morgan De Sanctis’s left post for the opener. On a restart from Antonio Cassano lofted well beyond the middle of the area, Guarin connected with the ball just before it hit the ground, an attempt we normally see end up in the stands. This time, Guarin drove the ball on goal while De Sanctis stopped short of the near post to try to maintain position for a cross-goal shot. The gap gave Gaurin enough room for the opener.

After the score, Inter’s combativeness went away. Starting both Javier Zanetti and Walter Gargano in the midfield of their 3-5-2 formation, the Nerazzurri stopped challenging and started parrying Napoli’s attacks, a stance that persisted through the end of the match. The posture allowed Mazzarri’s team to complete 83 percent of their passes while holding 63 percent of the ball, outshooting Inter 21 to 8 (total shots). Under siege in the second half, Inter leveraged a late first half goal from Diego Milito to hold out for a 2-1 win. Napoli’s only goal came from Edinson Cavani in the 54th minute.

It was Inter’s first big win since beating Juventus on Nov. 3, a victory that announced Andrea Strammacioni’s team as potential title contenders. Unfortunately, Inter regressed in the wake of that win, earning only one point in their next three matches. With a trip to Lazio on Saturday, Strammacioni can not afford to let his team fall into a similar lapse.

But given the way the game played out, Sunday’s result will be seen as more of a road bump for Napoli than a pedestal for Inter. The Nerazzurri merely illustrated their capacity, whereas Napoli, in the third year of their run as one of the better teams in Serie A, are looking for more than mere good performances.

After losing Ezequiel Lavezzi to Paris Saint-Germain this summer, there is a lingering feeling that the window for this team may be closing. Whether that end point is the sale of Cavani or the loss of more supporting parts, Napoli’s time is now. As such, games like Sunday’s at the San Siro – in front of a surprisingly supportive crowd, against a team that’s there to be beaten – are discouraging.

Napoli (and the rest of Italy) can take solace in the fact that Juventus doesn’t appear ready to pull away. While the gap to the holders may be five points, the Partenopei have every reason to believe they are just as capable as the leaders.

Going forward, they’ll need to convert strong performances like Sunday’s into full points if they’re to unseat the champions.

Mbappe in frame for monster contract offers from PSG, Real

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Kylian Mbappe is one of the most dynamic players in the world and doesn’t even turn 21 until late December.

Paris Saint-Germain has locked the youngster up through 2022, but that hasn’t stopped the biggest names in football from being linked with massive bids for his services.

[ MORE: Pogba, De Gea out ]

Dueling reports out of French outlet Le10 Sport claim that Mbappe is set to be offered a monster new $55 million annual contract from Les Parisiens, with Real Madrid ready to offer the big man almost $40 million per year.

The new PSG figure would give Mbappe the richest deal in football, while Real’s offer would sit below only Lionel Messi (at least until the Barcelona legend gets his new deal this winter).

We’ve argued that, given his age and acumen, Mbappe is the one player in world football worth the outlandish numbers it would take to land his services.

At age 20, he’s already a World Cup winner with 13 goals in 33 caps, and his club numbers are eye-popping: 89 goals and 51 assists in 154 matches between Monaco and PSG. Absurd.

Everton’s Gbamin undergoes surgery, out 3 months

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Everton’s lack of scoring prowess has stolen the headlines as Marco Silva‘s men have wasted a wonderful opportunity to start the season off in style.

But it’s been easy to forget that the Toffees have been without the man they bought to help offset the loss of Idrissa Gana Gueye, perhaps their best player two years running, in the form of Jean-Philippe Gbamin.

[ MORE: Pogba, De Gea out ]

The Ivorian cost a reported $30 million this summer when he arrived from Mainz, and Everton won his only start before an injury sent him to the sidelines.

Gbamin has not suitably improved, and is now set for another three months on the sidelines thanks to surgery on his hamstring.

It’s a sock to the gut for a team already wallowing in misfortune. Now sitting 18th, as close to 20th as they are to 10th, it’s difficult to imagine things getting much worse for a team that held so much promise.

Everton hosts West Ham to kickoff the Premier League weekend at 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday.

Pogba, De Gea ruled out for Man United v. Liverpool

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According to our partners at Sky Sports, Manchester United’s David De Gea and Paul Pogba will not play against Liverpool this Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

This is far from ideal for a United side already low in confidence after a dreadful start to the season.

De Gea injured his groin while on international duty with Spain on Tuesday as he injured an abductor while kicking a ball against Sweden in a EURO 2020 qualifier. He is expected to have a full assessment in Manchester on Thursday but isn’t expected to be available to play against Liverpool.

As for Pogba, he suffered a reoccurrence of his foot injury before the international break and has been training in Dubai on his own during the past week to try and speed up his recovery.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has already been without Pogba, Luke Shaw, Anthony Martial and Aaron Wan-Bissaka for large chunks of the season so far, as Man United sit in 12th place in the Premier League table.

“No chance,” Solskjaer said of Pogba’s availability for the weekend. “Paul had an injury, then came back, worked really hard, played a couple of games. Maybe played through the pain barrier. We had a scan after the Arsenal game and he needed a few weeks rest in the boot. Hopefully he won’t be too long but he won’t make this game, no.”

Not having their star goalkeeper and central midfielder available for this clash with bitter rivals Liverpool is another huge setback for Solskjaer, as Sergio Romero and Fred will likely start in their place.

Martial, Shaw and Wan-Bissaka are all expected to miss the game against Liverpool too as Solskjaer will at least have a valid excuse if the Premier League leaders give United a hiding on Sunday.

Bulgaria’s coach apologizes to England; Popov slams racists

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Bulgaria’s coach Krasimir Balakov has apologized to the England national team after they were subjected to racist chants during their EURO 2020 qualifier in Sofia on Monday.

Balakov was previously bullish about racism in Bulgaria, stating before the game that England had a bigger problem with racism than Bulgaria.

Initially after the game he said he didn’t hear any racist abuse and during the match he got into a heated debate with Jordan Henderson about why the game was halted for a second time.

In a post on Facebook, Balakov apaolgized to the England players and offered his views on the racist incidents plaguing Bulgarian soccer as three of their EURO 2020 home qualifiers have now seen racist abuse from their home fans.

“I condemn unconditionally all forms of racism as unacceptable behavior that contradicts normal human relationships. I think that this form of prejudice should be buried deep in our past, and nobody should ever be subjected, Balakov said. “I trained many Bulgarian teams with players of different backgrounds and never judged anyone about the color of their skin. In addition, I have always actively participated in all initiatives involving unprivileged people or the needy.”

“My comments before the game against England that Bulgaria had no problems with racism are based on the fact that the local championship has not seen such a problem on a large scale. There may have been isolated cases, but it’s definitely not something you see in the stadium. The majority of football fans do not take part in such chants, and I believe that was also the case in the game against England. One thing I would like to say very clearly is that as the stadium in Sofia has reported cases of racial discrimination, I sincerely apologize to the English footballers and those who feel offended.”

That is what Balakov should have said right after the game.

The cynics out there may also say he is only issuing this apology now after Bulgaria’s prime minister, Boyko Borissov, asked for the president of the Bulgarian Football Union, Borislav Mihaylov, to resign.

Mihaylov, who had previously complained to UEFA England boss Gareth Southgate sharing his concerns over previous racist incidents in Bulgaria, resigned on Tuesday.

After Bulgaria’s goalkeeper said England’s players “overreacted” in regards to the racist abuse hurled their way, their captain, Ivelin Popov, handled himself remarkably well throughout this sorry situation for Bulgaria.

Popov was seen remonstrating with home fans at half time in order to get them to stop the abuse, and he was praised by Marcus Rashford and others for his reaction.

“Of course I feel embarrassed. We are 11 v 11, it doesn’t matter your color, it’s no problem, we are all the same, we are one very big family in football, everybody and only we, if we are together, can we stop these bad things,” Popov said. “It was important that I spoke like this because it’s a very big problem for everybody, for our federation, for England and if they said more bad words, even one more time, then maybe they would finish the game.

“We would have such a big punishment and this is no good for Bulgarian football because if some other players want to come here, they hear what is said and how they speak bad, then this is no good for everybody. But when you start to speak to them, afterwards they understand. I think in the second half was better.”