Italy: Roma still perfect, Napoli stumbles, Juve fights back at Chievo (Video)

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Europe came into its midweek matches with four perfect teams across its top five domestic competitions. On Tuesday, Spain’s pair of perfectionists emerged unscathed, with Barcelona posting a 4-1 win over scuffling Real Sociedad while Atlético Madrid moved to 6-0-0 with 2-1 win over Osasuna.

On Wednesday, it was time to test Italy’s perfect duo, Napoli and Roma, who each entered the mid-week round not only perfect in four matches but also having cleared significant weekend hurdles.  Compared with this weekend’s trip to Milan, a visit from newly-promoted Sassuolo should have been a breeze for the Neopolitans, considering Inter had just run out 7-0 winners at Sassuolo this weekend. Roma has just downed rival Lazio but were in greater danger of losing their perfect start, with a Sampdoria playing at the Luigi Ferraris theoretically more capable of derailing the Giallorossi.

[MORE: Wrapping up last weekend’s action in Serie A.] 

But for the second game in a row, Roma responded to a scoreless second half with a 2-0 win, particularly interesting considering Rudi Garcia made five chances the team to that won this weekend’s Rome Derby. Like that team, today’s was better throughout, finally breaking through via a piece of Mehdi Benatia brilliance in the 65th minute (that’s a defender doing that, below). Arsenal refugee Gervinho doubled his team’s lead two minutes from time, keeping Roma at the top of the league.

Highlights:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Cue6Oj4ISE]

The 5-0-0 record is the best start in Roma’s history; or, put more precisely, the longest into a new season they’ve maintained a perfect start. That they’ve done so while operating under a new coach after selling one of their best attackers (Erik Lamela) and best defender (Marquinhos) explains while most are surprised. Having yet to face another of Serie A’s emerging top five, there are still questions, but with 15 points from five games, Garcia and Roma are certainly building  a margin for error.

“I’m really happy with the five consecutive wins, but I’m more interested in making history at the end of the season,” Garcia told the assembled media after the match.

“It’s too early to start assessing things, but I’m happy for the team.”

That happiness was not replicated in Naples, however, as Napoli suffered their first stumble of the season, drawing a game many saw as their easiest to date. And when Blerim Dzemaili cleaned up a poor, 15th minute clearance to give the partenopei and early lead, the result did seem a foregone conclusion.

That all changed five minutes later, with Pepe Reina allowing a shot form a sharp angle from Simone Zaza to go high an under the cross-bar for an unlikely equalizer (insert credit to Zaza here, because it was a surprisingly great shot). The Spanish international would make up it in the second half, but the fact he was needed only spoke to the extent to which Napoli were off their game. The 1-1 result was a reflection of a patient, dangerous performance from Sassuolo as well as Napoli’s inability to forge a winner.

Highlights:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cuWs1UcfRsc]

It was only a draw — in the big picture, not a huge deal — but it’s a result that leaves Napoli two points behind Roma. And now, only three teams in Europe’s big five remains perfect in their league campaigns.

JUVENTUS FIGHT BACK TO CLAIM FULL POINTS AT CHIEVO

When Chievo went up 1-0 in the 27th minute through Cyril Théréau, you knew what was going to happen. We’ve seen this performance before. Whether through skill or brute force, execution or fortune, Juventus was going to come back. And by the 65th minute, they had. Juve went on to beat the Flying Donkeys, 2-1.

But today’s performance, as controlling as it was after Juventus ceded the lead, still required more fortune than they would have liked. The 48th minute equalizer from Fabio Quagliarella wasn’t part of that, though, as Juve practically brute-forced the goal past Christian Puggioni. Besides, Quadliarella and Andrea Pirlo nearly had that equalizer just before halftime, going tantalizingly close on a sequence that ended when Pirlo went over the crossbar.

The winner, however, came via an Alessandro Bernardini own goal, a score that doubled-down on Chievo frustrations after their own go-ahead tally had been waved off. Earlier in the second half, the Donkeys, seemingly taking advantage of another disappointing performance from Gianluigi Buffon, had buried a ball spilt in front of goal only to see the assistant referee’s flag lifted overhead.

Still, as they have when they’ve converted other sub-par performances into results, Juventus deserve credit. As we see with Napoli’s result, it’s not uncommon for a good team to struggle and drop points against inferior competition. But Juventus avoided that fate today. By whatever means necessary, skill or fortune, they got three, not one. As a result, they’ll pulled even with Napoli on 13 points, just behind Roma.

Highlights:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VhHWjgpOz0]

ELSEWHERE IN SERIE A

  • Bologna 3-3 AC Milan: The Rossoneri again are left to fight back late, with 26-year-old Ignazio Abate’s first goal for Milan (149 appearances) giving Max Allegri’s team a stoppage time equalizer.
  • Lazio 3-1 Catania: The Aquile bounce back from derby disappointment through Ederson and Senad Lucic before Hernanes added late insurance against the 10-man Elephants.
  • Livorno 1-1 Calgliari: Andrea Luci and Victor Ibarbo trade goals as Livorno get their eighth point of the season (2-1-2).
  • Torino 2-2 Hellas Verona: Alessio Cerci’s up to three goals in two games for Torino after today’s brace, but Jorginho Frello’s second half penalty conversion allows Verona to escape with a point.
  • Parma 4-3 Atalanta: Thanks in part to a first half double from Marco Parolo, Parma went into half up 4-2 but came out of intermission made to hold on. Amauri’s straight red in the 52nd minute allowed Atalanta to control the rest of the game, but only a 79th minute goal from Marko Livaja saw the visitors make any progress.
  • Udinese 1-0 Genoa (Tuesday): Antonio Di Natale’s late restart went off Emanuele Calaio and into his own net, the own goal deciding an otherwise mundane affair 11 minutes about time.
  • Inter Milan – Fiorentina (Thursday):  Coming off their 7-0 win, Inter gets their second match of the young season against one of the league’s big five. Thankfully for them, both this and Sept. 14’s meeting with Inter take/took place at the San Siro.

Petr Cech earns win with 2 penalty saves in hockey debut

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Former Chelsea and Arsenal goalkeeper joined English fourth-division hockey team Guildford Phoenix four days ago and made his debut on Sunday.

He did not disappoint.

The 37-year-old saved two penalties in the shootout, earning Man of the Match honors.

Cech is reportedly a fan of the Guilford Flames, the first-division side who use the Phoenix as their developmental side. He was signed to be the team’s third-choice goalkeeper, just a chance for him to get in on the action before his body gives way for good, but he was given a chance to play right away. He wore number 39, a nod to famous Czech goaltender Dominik Hasek. His custom helmet was adorned with Arsenal and Chelsea colors. Regulation finished level at 2-2 before Cech’s shootout heroics.

“I wanted to win, that was the main thing, and I’m glad we did,” Cech said after the match. “I was surprised that I wasn’t more nervous. I didn’t know what to expect so it was nice how quickly my body switched into matchday mode.”

Giroud upset with reserve role at Chelsea

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Olivier Giroud does not look back on his transfer to Chelsea and wish he had done things differently, but that doesn’t mean things are all sunshine and roses for the 33-year-old.

Giroud, who moved to Chelsea from Arsenal in the winter of 2018 after six years with the Gunners, has played just 43 times in the Premier League, averaging just 35 minutes per appearance. That has him frustrated, hoping to prove his loyalty to the club and work harder than the other options up front.

“I had competitors in attack – [Alvaro] Morata, [Gonzalo] Higuain, who ended up leaving,” Giroud said. “I won at the end: I played the final of the FA Cup in 2018 and the [Europa League] final in 2019. Once again, I’m starting the year in a difficult situation. But as my brother says, I have always built myself in the face of adversity.”

Giroud is trying to be smart about how he approaches the competition for time with the likes of Tammy Abraham and Michy Batshuayi, but he says it is emotionally taxing.

“You do not have to be fatalistic in certain situations,” Giroud says about keeping a level head. “I have always been respectful and humble. Even if I do not agree with the coach, I do not criticize him. But in myself, I cannot accept it because I know what I’m worth on a pitch.”

The French international has made just three league appearances this season, mostly thanks to Abraham’s scalding form. Abraham, still just 22 years old, has snatched his opportunity for first-team minutes with eight goals in eight games to start the campaign. That has left Giroud on the sidelines for each of the last five league games, missing out on a spot in the matchday squad altogether for the last three.

Despite his struggles at the club level, Giroud has maintained his place in the French national team, missing just five matches of France’s last 64 games, including 37 of the last 39.

James says he was not knocked unconscious in Wales draw

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Head injury awareness again rose to the forefront in the 1-1 draw between Wales and Croatia in Cardiff when Daniel James went down after colliding with a pair of opponents.

The Manchester United winger looked to almost sure have been knocked unconscious when Domagoj Vida’s knee appeared to tap the back of his head while challenging for a ball in the air. Vida went toppling over the back of teammate Borna Barisic who ducked out of the way, but it was James who many were concerned for as he lay motionless on his back with his eyes closed.

Yet James was allowed to come back onto the field and completed the full 90 minutes, sparking criticism from injury advocates and fans who were concerned for James’ safety on the field, at potential risk for even more serious consequences should he indeed have suffered a concussion.

After the game however, despite what fans saw as James lie on the turf, the 21-year-old insisted he was not knocked unconscious. “I’m fine,” James claimed after the match, speaking to Sky Sports. “I think he just caught me in the head but I didn’t get knocked out fortunately.”

Wales boss Ryan Giggs backed up the decision as well, calling James’ motionless display “a bit of acting.”

“The medical staff went over, he was compos mentis and we did all the checks at half-time and he was fine,” Giggs said, referring to the latin phrase for “of sound mind.”

If James was indeed faking unconsciousness, it’s natural to wonder if he should face a fine from UEFA for looking to con referees, and in the process possibly confusing the independent neurologists on site assigned to assess head injuries.

ESPN broadcaster Taylor Twellman, who has been outspoken over the past few years advocating for head injury awareness after his career was cut short by concussions, took to Twitter to criticize Wales for allowing James back into the game. Twellman, who was on the ESPN call of the broadcast with Ian Darke, said more needs to be done to prevent players from being able to force their way back onto the field, lest someone be killed by second impact syndrome.

Former Hull City player Ryan Mason, who was forced to retire after a serious skull fracture saw him fighting for his life, was also seriously concerned about the incident.

Interestingly enough, later in the match just seconds after the second half restart, young Wales midfielder Ethan Ampadu was whalloped from behind by Croatia’s Bruno Petkovic in a wild and reckless aerial challenge. Petkovic’s elbow went clattering into the back of Ampadu’s head, and the was left writhing on the ground holding his head. The Chelsea youngster was taken off the field and immediately replaced by Joe Morrell, while Petkovic was lucky to escape with just a yellow card.

Kane reflects on Tottenham, England struggles

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Harry Kane keeps finding the back of the net, but his teams keep losing.

The 26-year-old striker has bagged five Premier League goals in eight games for Spurs thus far, plus another seven goals for England in five Euro 2020 qualifiers this cycle. Yet Tottenham sits ninth in the table after three losses already this season, while England slumped to its first Euro defeat last time out, putting its seeding at the Euro finals next summer in jeopardy.

Kane is hoping to be a leader through the tough times for both club and country, wearing the armband for both as it currently stands.

“I think you need to lead by example,” Kane said ahead of England’s visit to Bulgaria on Monday. “Not getting too down when you lose a game, not getting too high when you win games. It is a long, old season for club and country ahead – a lot of games to be played so there are going to be tough periods.”

Kane has taken over the England captaincy on a permanent basis, and is filling in for the injured Hugo Lloris at Tottenham. “I am still the same person,” he said. “I still try and lead by example on and off the pitch and I will continue to do that. I have been in high pressure situations before in my career, whether that is going through goal droughts, playing in high-pressure games or not playing well as a team. It is something I will take in my stride and improve on.”

Leading by example includes finding the back of the net, while also supporting teammates both on and off the pitch. He knows even if he’s in good personal form on the stat sheet, there’s always ways to improve and help the squads through tough times.

“I am scoring goals but can I get more assists, create more chances? So yeah, I always look at little things I can get better at. Yes, the England form has been good but as ever, it can be better. We will see if I can continue scoring. It has been a good campaign but important I do not stop now.”