Italy: Roma unable to close gap after Juventus draw

Leave a comment

Two Derby della Capitali and Lazio couldn’t muster a single shot on goal, but look carefully at the differences between Saturday’s 0-0 draw at the Stadio Olimpico and Roma’s 2-0 win in September and you’ll see a microcosm of Giallorossi’s regression – small changes that have seen the team lose track of Juventus at the top of the table.

In early fall, Roma established a pattern of dominating first halves before breaking through in the second. Against Lazio, those goals from Federico Balzaretti and Adem Ljajic, Lazio conceding the second from the spot just before full-time. Hogging 64 percent of the ball, Roma held their chief rivals to eight shots, none of which tested Morgan De Sanctis. Claiming the fourth of what would become 10 straight wins to start the season, Rudi Garcia’s team provided the first major warning that they could be Champions League contenders.

On Saturday, there was no second half breakthrough. There were no fullbacks stepping up to get unexpected goals. There were no red cards, late penalties, or any of the other breaks that helped Roma to their one hundred percent start. Instead, the constant pressure that used to wilt opponents never found a way to beat Lazio goalkeeper Etrit Berisha. Despite only three shots and 34 percent of the ball (both worse than the season’s first Derby), Lazio held on for a 0-0 draw.

It’s not that Roma’s any worse. For the most part they’re not. It’s that they’re no longer getting the kind of breaks every team needs to claim 30 of 30 points. They’re no longer the surprise team, the unknown commodity. Unwilling to bet Roma will revert to last year’s Giallorossi, opponents are paying them the honor of conceding as few openings as possible.

As Gervinho had a goal waved off, Miralem Pjanic pushed for an opener, and newly arrived Michel Bastos tried to steal the match late, Lazio lived off the counter. Having lost their leader (Hernanes) to Inter just over a week ago, Edy Reja’s side did well to keep their rivals of the board.

Ultimately, they never got a shot on De Sanctis. They didn’t have a real chance at three points, but by accepting the underdogs’ mantle, Lazio played a game they exemplified why Roma’s come back to earth. With luck evening out and opponents discarding their naiveté, Roma sit nine back of Juventus, unable to take advantage of a rare Bianconeri misstep.

[MORE: Juventus drop points at the death in draw with Verona]

The race for third

source:  The title race may be over, but with Fiorentina on third place Napoli’s heals, Serie A has a race that appears destined to last through May. On Saturday, both teams responded to Round 22 losses with multi-goal wins, giving the faint impression  Roma can still be pulled into a battle for the league’s last two Champions League spots.

Fiorentina’s meeting with visiting Atalanta was one of two matches to kick off the weekend, allowing Josip Ilicic to become the round’s first goalscorer when his curling free kick from 26 yards out put La Viola up in the 20th minute. Still without Mario Gomez, still without Giuseppe Rossi, Vincenzo Montella’s side were given a man advantage in the 81st minute when Luca Cigarini saw a second yellow card. With his team up a man, substitute Rafal Wolski secured the 2-0 win that temporarily pulled Fiorentina even with the Neopolitans.

Coming off last weekend’s 3-0 loss to Atalanta, the Partenopei were looking to rebound against visiting Milan, an outcome that was cast in doubt when Adel Taarabt scored eight minutes into his Rossoneri loan. Napoli’s response was quick, however, getting an 11th minute goal from Gohkan Inler’s deflected shot. A second half brace from Gonzalo Higuaín capped what ultimately became a one-sided game, with Christian Abbiati forced to into 11 saves to limit Milan to a 3-1 loss.

[MORE: Taarabt scores eight minutes into his Serie A debut]

If there were any doubts about Napoli after last week’s disappointment, a convincing performance against Milan assuaged them. The Rossoneri still aren’t clicking under Clarence Seedorf, but they still possess enough talent to challenge. That Napoli was able to absorb Taarabt’s early blow and still claim a comfortable win speaks to their staying power.

But whether they can hold off Fiorentina may depend as much on health as form. Gomez has resumed training. Rossi will come back this spring. If a limited Fiorentina can stay without three while their scorers recover, a full strength team may be able to bridge the gap over the seasons’ final months.

Elsewhere

  • Udinese 3, Chievo 0 – The Flying Donkeys took il Derby Del Nordest to halftime scoreless before Toto Di Natale, Bruno Fernandes, and Emmanuel Badu helped claim Udinese’s second straight win.
  • Torino 1, Bologna 2 – Three huge points pull the Rossoblu four clear of relegation, with Jonathan Cristaldo’s first half double overcoming Ciro Immobile’s 12th goal of the season.
  • Sampdoria 1,  Cagliari 0 – Daniele Gastaldello’s 11th minute goal proved all the home side would need, with Cagliari falling to their fourth loss in five.
  • Parma 0, Catania 0 – After seeing last week’s game in Roma rained out, Parma has their four-match winning streak snapped with Sunday’s scoreless draw. Roberto Donadoni’s team still hasn’t lost in league since Nov. 2.
  • Livorno 0, Genoa 1 – Luca Antonelli’s 10th minute goal held up despite Livorno outshooting their guests 19-6. Genoa jumps into the table’s top half.
  • Verona 2, Juventus 2 – Carlos Tévez’s double wasn’t enough as second half goals from Luca Toni and Juan Gomez Taleb allowed Hellas steal a point in stoppage time.
  • Inter 1, Sassuolo 0 – Bouncing back from last weekend’s Derby loss to Juve, Inter got an early second half goal from veteran Walter Samuel to push Sassuolo into 19th.

Others
Lazio 0, Roma 0
Fiorentina 2, Atalanta 0
Napoli 3, Milan 1

Standings

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Juventus 23 19 3 1 56 18 38 11-0-0 8-3-1 60
Roma 22 15 6 1 45 11 34 9-2-0 6-4-1 51
Napoli 23 14 5 4 47 27 20 8-3-1 6-2-3 47
Fiorentina 23 13 5 5 42 24 18 7-3-1 6-2-4 44
Inter Milan 23 9 9 5 40 27 13 6-5-1 3-4-4 36
Verona 23 11 3 9 39 37 2 8-1-3 3-2-6 36
Torino 23 8 9 6 36 30 6 5-5-2 3-4-4 33
Parma 22 8 9 5 32 27 5 5-5-2 3-4-3 33
Lazio 23 8 8 7 29 29 0 6-3-2 2-5-5 32
Genoa 23 8 6 9 24 28 -4 5-3-3 3-3-6 30
AC Milan 23 7 8 8 36 35 1 5-4-2 2-4-6 29
Sampdoria 23 7 7 9 27 32 -5 4-4-4 3-3-5 28
Atalanta 23 8 3 12 24 32 -8 7-2-2 1-1-10 27
Udinese 23 8 2 13 25 32 -7 5-1-5 3-1-8 26
Cagliari 23 5 9 9 21 32 -11 5-4-3 0-5-6 24
Bologna 23 4 9 10 22 39 -17 2-6-4 2-3-6 21
Chievo 23 4 6 13 16 32 -16 2-2-7 2-4-6 18
Livorno 23 4 5 14 22 41 -19 3-3-6 1-2-8 17
Sassuolo 23 4 5 14 23 49 -26 3-1-7 1-4-7 17
Catania 23 3 7 13 16 40 -24 3-5-3 0-2-10 16

Report: Six Barcelona board members quit, recommend new election

Barcelona
Photo by Xavier Bonilla/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Barcelona might be atop La Liga, but the behind the scenes atmosphere is ugly.

A day after reports that president Josep Maria Bartomeu asked four board members to leave the club, the quartet and two others have resigned and called for new leadership.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Marca translated the letter signed by Emili Rousaud, Enrique Tombas, Silvio Elias, Josep Pont, Maria Teixidor and Jordi Calsamiglia (Spanish report here). The first four were asked to leave, with Teixidor and Calsamiglia joining them.

That leaves the board at 13 members.

“We ask that once the results of the audit entrusted to PWC are presented, all responsible to be swept away with the eventual corresponding compensation.

“As a last service to our club, we recommend that as soon as circumstances allow it to call new elections to allow to direct the club, with all the ‘authority’ and in the best possible way in the face of the important challenges of the most immediate future.”

It’s been a terrible season for Barca off-the-field, and Bartomeu’s leadership simply must be questioned given the actions of him and some of the people under his watch. Former players and legends have spoken out against the club’s hierarchy, including Pep Guardiola.

The ouster of Ernesto Valverde was handled without much class, and director Eric Abidal threw the players under the bus for the managerial change. The club has also dealt with “Barcagate,” in which a contracted social media company was fired for posting Tweets against Barca’s players.

Both drew the ire of Lionel Messi, who can exercise a clause to leave the club this summer (though that seems unlikely). Messi also admitted he “sees weird things happening” after Bartomeu spoke to the players after “Barcagate.”

Messi also refuted Thursday rumors of a move to Inter Milan in a since-deleted IG post.

Bartomeu has been Barca’s president since January 2014, and the club has won the 2014/15 Champions League and four of five La Liga crowns during his full seasons in charge. There have, however, been a lot of misses in the transfer market.

It might get uglier before it gets better, but there isn’t too much room for worse.

Premier League March Madness: Handicapping the Final

Premier League March Madness
Photo by Emma Simpson/Everton FC via Getty Images
Leave a comment

There was a thriller when Wolves and Everton met at Goodison Park on Sept. 1, and we’re hoping for the online poll equivalent when our Premier League March Madness concludes on Friday.

Wolves already gave us one on Thursday, blowing a lead they held for most of the day to see a 50-50-to-the-vote deadlock before a sizeable win in extra time (30 minutes of added voting).

Everton had an interesting win of its own, destroying Merseyside Derby rivals Liverpool with more than 80 percent of the vote.

[ LIVE: March Madness PL hub ] 

Before we go any further, if you’re unfamiliar: To make sure you’re not missing out on either March Madness or the business end of the PL season, we’ve gone ahead and merged the two competitions. The March Madness Final Four and Championship game were due to take place this weekend in Atlanta but now you will be voting on Tottenham v. Arsenal instead of Duke v. Kansas.

Teams are seeded from 1-16 based on their current spot in the table, with Aston Villa winning the relegation playoffs on Monday to remain in the Premier League.

Road to the Final

Monday: Relegation semifinals, final – Aston Villa prevailed, Norwich, Bournemouth, Watford relegated
TuesdaySweet 16 results
WednesdayElite Eight
Thursday: Final Four
Friday: Championship game

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

The Toffees are the favorites here, having knocked off Manchester United, Chelsea, and Liverpool.

But this will be the first time in the tournament where Everton won’t have the benefit of a club many other teams hate as the opposition.

Wolves’ extra time win over Sheffield United was a first real scare of the tournament, and the Molineux set will hope its extra time performance was a showing of what it will do when faced with elimination.

It’s difficult to choose against Everton here, even if the Anfield faithful will move to the side of the Wolves. We’ll call it 54-46 to the blue side of Liverpool.

RESULTS: Premier League March Madness Final Four

Premier League
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Everton has its first Merseyside Derby since 2010 thanks to the voters of ProSoccerTalk.

The Toffees’ 21-match run without a win over Liverpool “ended” Thursday in Premier League March Madness, the fusion of two of our favorite sporting competitions.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

We hinted at this win on Wednesday given the exits of all the Premier League giants besides Liverpool, as supporters of Manchester United, Man City, Arsenal, Spurs, and Chelsea might leap at the chance to take the Reds off any throne.

But to say we saw this margin? The Toffees didn’t just beat their rivals; Carlo Ancelotti’s men stomped the Reds into online oblivion.

So who will Everton meet in the final after knocking off Manchester United, Chelsea, and Liverpool?

The winner of Sheffield United and Wolves came in nail-biting fashion, the two sides nearly as evenly-matched as their 1-1 draw at the Molineux on Dec 1.

Wolves led for much of the day but saw their lead slip to 50.4-49.6 with minutes left in voting.

At 6:30 p.m. ET, it was dead-even. 50-50.

So we extended voting to extra time, and Nuno Espirito Santo must’ve deployed a ridiculous substitute because Wolves ran away with the thing to the tune of 59.6-40.4. #Swing.

[ LIVE: March Madness PL hub ]

If you want to see the full game schedule, seedings and bracket, here is the post you need as the tournament will run all week long:

Monday: Relegation semifinals, final – Aston Villa prevailed, Norwich, Bournemouth, Watford relegated
TuesdaySweet 16 results
WednesdayElite Eight
Thursday: Final Four
Friday: Championship game

Much-chased Havertz reportedly prefers Bayern move

Kai Havertz
Photo by Jörg Schüler/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The latest transfer gossip regarding rumor mill regular Kai Havertz pours a lot of cold water on the hopes of several Premier League giants.

Havertz, 20, has been linked with Liverpool, Manchester United, and Manchester City this season with his odds of leaving Bayer Leverkusen at an all-time high. He’s also been connected to Arsenal, Chelsea, and Tottenham to cover most of the Top Six bases.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

But Sky Sports says the German playmaker is keen to stay in his home country and make a move to Bayern Munich, who has been linked with Havertz, Leroy Sane, and Timo Werner in a bid to revolutionize its UEFA Champions League credentials.

Havertz has 10 goals and eight assists in 34 matches this season after exploding for 20 and seven in 42 last year. He doesn’t turn 21 until June.

The youngster provides little defensively but averages 2.3 key passes and 2.3 dribbles per match in Bundesliga play while passing at a tidy 87 percent despite living in the danger areas.

Whoever gets Havertz has a gem on its hands, but perhaps the Premier League will amp up their interest and recruiting efforts after these reports (if they haven’t already).