Italy: Napoli, Roma stay perfect as top five pulls clear

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Rafa Benítez’s hot start to his Serie A return had failed to draw huge trumpets through three rounds, mostly because an easy slate of opening fixtures gave the new Napoli boss little chance to impress. This week, however, that changed drastically, with a Champions League visit from Borussia Dortmund and a trip to AC Milan guaranteed to test one of Italy’s last two perfect sides. If Napoli won both those games, there’d be no denying their place amongst the best clubs in Europe, right?

As it turns out, not all wins are created equal, and while the Neopolitans deserve credit for posting successive 2-1 wins, each require some more context. On Wednesday, a first half red card left visiting Dortmund with 10 for the second half, and while Napoli were already up by the time Roman Weidenfeller handled outside his area, the sending off amounted to a huge what if. What if last year’s Champions League finalists had got to halftime at full strength? Would some of the push we saw at match’s end have been better-rewarded?

Sunday’s caveats were different, but there were still caveats. Napoli went up early on a set piece through Miguel Britos, controlled much of the first half, and saw a Gonzalo Higuaín blast through Christian Abbiati give them a two-goal lead early in the second half. But somewhere along the way, Milan had gained control, with Mario Balotelli becoming game’s focal point. Stressing a defense that was thought to be Napoli’s weak spot before the season, the Milan attacker slowly made the game into a question of whether (and how often) he’d break through.

But a penalty stop by Pepe Reina, the first miss in 22 career tries by Balotelli, hinted there’d be no breakthrough. Another blast off the woodwork midway through the second provided confirmation, as did a penalty appeal denied by Luca Banti. Despite 12 shots on goal and a late consolation tally (a nice finish by the Italian international), Balotelli was unable to dent Napoli’s perfect start, eventually earning a second yellow card for a post-whistle altercation with Valon Behrami.

Milan would end up with big advantages in all the main indicators — shots (22-9), shots on goal (8-3), and possession (56-44) — but most of that was due to Napoli’s early lead. On the road against one of Italy’s most talented (if injury-riddled) sides, the partenopei’s win was a strong one, even if Batoletti seemed determined to take it from them. On another day — if the penalty goes in, if Balotelli’s a little more precise earlier in the match, if Abbiati doesn’t concede a soft one to Higuaín — Napoli’s willingness to give Milan so many cracks many have bitten them. On Sunday, it served as confirmation their defense could hold out.

In that sense, it wasn’t the most resounding of victories, but it was still a good one. And with Rafa Benítez on the sidelines, Napoli fans are going to have to get used to this type of game management. But given the team’s won five in a row and sit near the top of the league, it’s hard to nit-pick too much. If Rafa’s style continues to produce these results, we’ll soon hear those trumpets

Highlights:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ovErYfcPVsY]

source: Getty Images
Francesco Totti, who signed a contract extension through 2017 mid-week, assisted on Sunday’s first goal as Roma win this year’s first Rome Derby. (Photo: Getty Images.)

ROMA KEEP PACE AT TOP

If you do want to nit-pick, Napoli’s not actually at the top of the league. At best they’re joint top, but if one team were to be singled out, that honor would belong to Roma, whose 2-0 victory over rival Lazio moves them first on goal difference. Along with Napoli, Barcelona, and Atlético Madrid, they are one of four perfect teams remaining in Europe’s top five leagues.

Like Napoli, part of their climb has been fueled by a kind fixture list, one that should have become decidedly more difficult with today’s Rome Derby. Yet to a Roma defense that had only allowed one goal all year, the Aquile offense never presented a problem. Morgan De Sanctis went untested in the Giallorossi goal, leaving the match to be decided by Rudi Garcia’s attack.

For one half, Roma were no more effective than their rivals, but when Francisco Totti set up Federico Balzaretti’s left-footed volley just past the hour, the game was all but decided.

Highlights:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=av7ZiHFdeKU]

Between their decisive round two loss to Juventus and today’s underwhelming derby performance, Lazio looks like they’ve taken a step back from the team that won last year’s Coppa Italia. It may be too early to write them off, but it’s not too early to note something’s wrong. Through four rounds they’ve collected six points, but they were a combined -5 against Juve and Roma.

The Giallorossi, on the other hand, have claimed 12 and are part of a quintet that look poised to pull away from the league. In a season they were expected to compete for Europe and little more, Rudi Garcia may be slotting his team along side Inter as surprise competition for the league’s three favorites. A controlling win over their fiercest rivals hints Roma may be destined for greater things.

THE REST OF “THE FIVE”

After this weekend’s action, that quintet of Roma, Napoli, Inter Milan, Fiorentina and Juventus have pulled a full game clear of Livorno and Torino (sixth, seventh place). Inter did so with a 7-1 demolition of newly promoted Sassulo, giving them 13 goals through four games (with only one allowed). Fiorentina got another goal from Giuseppe Rossi in their 2-0 win at Atalanta, while Juventus had to come back from one down to take full points from Verona in Turin. Each team is 3-0-1, two points behind Roma and Napoli.

ELSEWHERE IN ITALY

Manolo Gabbiadini scored twice late at Calgiari, both equalizers sandwiched around Daniele Conti’s goal, as Sampdoria got a 2-2 result on the road … Serio Pellissier and Luca Rigoni had turned around a first-minute deficit by halftime as Chievo defeated visiting Udinese, 2-1 … Catania and Parma played to a 0-0 … A late first half red card to Bologna’s Cesare Natali proved decisive as Alessio Cerci’s penalty gave Torino the 2-1 lead they’d keep through full-time.

Crystal Palace vs Leeds: How to watch, live stream link, team news, lineups

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Crystal Palace and Leeds meet Sunday at Selhurst Park in a bid to snap twin four-match winless runs in Premier League play (watch live, 9am ET Sunday on USA Network and online via NBCSports.com).

Palace has won just once this season, drawing three times and sitting outside the relegation zone on goal differential.

STREAM LIVE CRYSTAL PALACE vs LEEDS

Leeds have three more points, good for 12th on the table.

Former Hudson River derby rival manager Jesse Marsch and Patrick Vieira will both look to kick their seasons forward with a much-needed win in South London.

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

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]


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

Kick off: 9am ET, Sunday
TV Channel: USA Network
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com


Key storylines & star players

Palace has given up 11 goals this season and expected goals say that perhaps it should be worse for the Eagles, who have received four of their seven goals from one man: Wilfried Zaha.

Leeds won’t have Luis Sinisterra, who was sent off last week, but Brenden Aaronson and Rodrigo have been producing plenty of attacking moments. Finish has to come next, although Leeds’ 10 goals puts it middle of the pack. Perhaps Patrick Bamford is ready to deliver the goods?


Crystal Palace team news, injuries, lineup options

QUESTIONABLE: Joachim Andersen (calf). OUT: Nathan Ferguson (ankle), Nathaniel Clyne (ankle), Jack Butland (wrist), James McArthur (groin).

Leeds team news, injuries, lineup options

QUESTIONABLE: Adam Forshaw (ankle). OUT: Stuart Dallas (thigh), Archie Gray (toe), Luis Sinisterra (suspension).

Newcastle vs Brentford: How to watch, live stream link, team news, lineups

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Newcastle looks to run its Premier League unbeaten run to five when it hosts Brentford at St. James’ Park on Saturday (watch live, 10am ET on USA Network and online via NBCSports.com).

The Magpies beat up 10-man Fulham last weekend to pick up their second win of the season. Eddie Howe’s team has only lost once, a controversial setback at Liverpool, and sits seventh with 11 points.

STREAM LIVE NEWCASTLE vs BRENTFORD

Brentford’s only collected one fewer point than their Saturday hosts, but the Bees have been blanked in consecutive outings and failed to find a way past Bournemouth in a scoreless draw on Oct. 1.

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

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]


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

Kick off: 10am ET, Saturday
TV Channel: USA Network
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com


Key storylines & star players

Exciting forward Allan Saint-Maximin could return for Newcastle, making an already cohesive unit more dangerous. The 25-year-old has a goal and two assists in four appearances this season and scored in this fixture, a 3-3 draw, last season.

Brentford has scored the fifth-most goals in the Premier League this season — quite good — but only six teams have conceded more than the Bees. Goalkeeper David Raya has made 30 saves, tied for third in the Premier League with… Nick Pope. So perhaps it’s time to expect fireworks.


Newcastle team news, injuries, lineup options

QUESTIONABLE: Allan Saint-Maximin (thigh). OUT: Karl Darlow (ankle), Alexander Isak (thigh), Jonjo Shelvey (thigh), Matt Ritchie (calf), Emil Krafth (knee).

Brentford team news, injuries, lineup options

QUESTIONABLE: Ethan Pinnock (knee). OUT: Keane Lewis-Potter (ankle), Pontus Jansson (thigh), Christian Norgaard (tendonitis)

Premier League top scorers: Who is leading 2022 Golden Boot race?

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For those tempted to write off Erling Haaland’s historically-hot start to life as a Premier League striker, we get it: There’s something rather dull about not wondering the identity of the 2022 Golden Boot winner, but just the number of his final tally.

Haaland’s Premier League-leading 14 goals from eight games has him seven goals clear of the next closest challenger: Tottenham’s Harry Kane.

His third hat trick of the season, joined by three Phil Foden goals in Man City’s 6-3 derby win over United, keeps him on pace for more than 60 goals this season, a mark that would

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ] 

And even though Haaland is currently overperforming his expected goals total, it’s already becoming clear that projecting him for the Premier League record is not farfetched at all.

Take a look at these digits. Haaland isn’t just punching in goals; He’s made an almost seamless transition to Pep Guardiola’s system, producing chances for others in addition to his powerful self-positioning.

Erling Haaland
fotmob.com

Haaland is unlikely to hit even 50 goals given the schedule congestion to come for Man City, but the Premier League record is very well under assault

Mohamed Salah holds the 38-game season record with his 32 goals scored for Liverpool during the 2017-18 season, while Newcastle’s Andy Cole and Blackburn’s Alan Shearer bagged 34 during 42-game seasons in the 20th century’s final decade.

Haaland also could topple the record for goal involvements (goals plus assists) in a single season, including beating the 42-game record. Alan Shearer put up 47 over 42, while Thierry Henry holds the 38-game record with 44.

Other records that Haaland could legitimately tie or topple:

  • 30 goals in a first Premier League season (Kevin Phillips, Sunderland, 1999-2000)
  • Goals in 24 different Premier League matches (Salah, Liverpool, 2017-18)
  • Most goals in a Premier League match (Five tied with five)
  • 11-straight Premier League games with a goal (Jamie Vardy, Leicester, 2014-15)

Read on to see the latest Premier League goal totals for the 2022-23 season, as Haaland looks to claim a Golden Boot in his first PL season.

Premier League 2022-23 Golden Boot race

  1. Erling Haaland, Man City — 14
  2. Harry Kane, Tottenham — 7
  3. Aleksandar Mitrovic, Fulham — 6
  4. Phil Foden, Man City — 5
  5. Ivan Toney, Brentford — 5
  6. James Maddison, Leicester City — 5
  7. Roberto Firmino, Liverpool — 5
  8. Gabriel Jesus, Arsenal — 5
  9. Leandro Trossard — Brighton — 5
  10. Three tied with four. (Alexis Mac Allister, Rodrigo, Wilfried Zaha)

Premier League assist leaders: Who will win Playmaker of the Season?

Premier League assist leaders
(Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)
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Kevin De Bruyne’s gaudy assist numbers give rise to any number of considerations, and we have to wonder if the Manchester City star has ever wondered if the Premier League record would be his in a world in which Jose Mourinho found better use for him at Chelsea.

De Bruyne’s eight assists this Premier League season are double his closest competitors — teammate Bernardo Silva and Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka — to give him 94 for his career. That’s tied for fifth all-time with Dennis Bergkamp, 72 behind record holder Ryan Giggs.

The Belgian star, 31, arrived at Chelsea from Werder Bremen at the age of 22 and managed only 425 in a half-season before being offloaded to Wolfsburg. Back in the Bundesliga, De Bruyne got six assists the rest of the way before setting up 21 goals the next season to set up a move to Man City.

[ MORE: Premier League Golden Boot race ]

He’s since won the nascent Premier League Playmaker of the Season Award twice, including a 20-assist 2019-20 season, and he’s on pace to make it three of six. Harry Kane, Mohamed Salah, and Eden Hazard have also won the award, which is only five years old.

De Bruyne also led the Premier League in assists in 2016-17, the year before the league but a name on the honor.

His stats hint that there’s more to come, as ‘KDB’ is creating a gaudy 3.95 chances per 90 minutes. After a season in which he scored 15 times with eight assists, De Bruyne is back taunting those who’d dare chase him in terms of setting up goals (Some guy named Erling Haaland is helping…).

Take a look at De Bruyne’s shining stats, and read on to see who’s chasing him in a list of the Premier League assist leaders for the 2022-23 season.

Kevin De Bruyne
fotmob.com

Premier League 2022-23 assist leaders

  1. Kevin De Bruyne, Man City — 8
  2. Bernardo Silva, Man City — 4
  3. Bukayo Saka, Arsenal — 4
  4. Mohamed Salah, Liverpool — 3
  5. Dejan Kulusevski, Tottenham Hotspur — 3
  6. Erling Haaland, Man City — 3
  7. Ivan Perisic, Tottenham Hotspur — 3
  8. Roberto Firmino, Liverpool — 3
  9. Jack Harrison, Leeds United — 3
  10. Granit Xhaka, Arsenal — 3
  11. Alex Iwobi, Everton — 3
  12. Gabriel Jesus, Arsenal — 3
  13. Kenny Tete, Fulham — 3
  14. Jamie Vardy, Leicester City — 3