Italy roundup: Roma refuses to go away; Immobile continues to make Azzurri case

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Italy not only doesn’t have a title race, nor does it have a race for second. Or third. Or fourth. At least five points separates each spot from its nearest competition, challenging our imaginations to see anything but inevitability from the season’s final five rounds. Juventus seems destined for a third straight title, Roma and Napoli are on track to secure places in Champions League, while Fiorentina will head to Europa.

To its stubborn, belligerent credit, however, Roma continues to trick us into thinking it may challenge for Juve’s scudetto. In fact, it you look at the standings, below, we see a mere five points separating the Giallorossi from the holders, and forget Juventus has yet to play its round 33 match, you could be tricked into thinking there’s life in this race. With Juventus having fallen to Napoli two weeks ago, is there a chance the Old Lady could come back to the pack?

To do so, games like Monday’s in Udine will need to become unexpected banana skins. In the meantime, Roma is doing its best to be in position to pounce, with this weekend’s 3-1 win against visiting Atalanta giving Rudi Garcia’s team seven wins in a row.

Saturday’s performance would be vintage Roma if this team had been together long enough to have a vintage, yet with a three-goal lead, an array of different scorers, and 65 percent of the match’s possession, the hallmarks of this year’s team were all there. Eight different players have scored at least five goals this season, with Gervinho’s eighth of the season giving the Ivorian a chance at a 10-goal, 10-assist campaign (he’s already hit the latter mark). It was dominant, well-rounded, and convince – vintage 2013-14 Roma.

With upcoming matches against Fiorentina and a suddenly awakened Milan, the Giallorossi will be hard pressed to maintain its faint challenge, but with performances like Saturday’s, they’re giving us something to watch. In a season where the top of the table is sorted by mid-April, Roma is ready should Juve’s opponents shake things up.

source:  Immobile: Scoring himself into Azzurri contention

At this point, Ciro Immobile, capped only once by the Italian national team, has a strong claim to be in the Azzurri’s squad for Brazil 2014, but just in case there’s any doubt in Cesare Prandelli’s mind, the former Juventus prospect continues piling on goals. On Sunday, Immobile’s league-leading 19th goal of the season pulled Torino even with Genoa in the 92nd minute, a tie Alessio Cerci broke a minute later to give i Granata full points, 2-1.

The dramatics may go a long way toward securing a Europa League spot for Giampiero Ventura’s men, who sit seventh after Sunday’s result. In the bigger picture, though, the story continues to be Immobile, who may be playing his way into more than a mere World Cup spot.

With Giuseppe Rossi still returning from January’s knee injury, forward depth is a concern for the Azzurri. Should Rossi fail to recover his form before mid-June, Prandelli will be looking for another forward to step into his place, with the likes of Pablo Osvaldo and Mattia Destro competing to be among Italy’s non-Mario Balotelli options.

With only 21 minutes of international experience, Immobile still needs to impress Prandelli, but claiming Italy’s capocannoniere would help. Having nearly quadrupled his Serie A career goal total, Immobile has put together an irresistible season.

Elsewhere

  • Sassuolo 1, Cagliari 1 – Agim Ibraimi conversion after Luca Antei’s early second half penalty allowed Cagliari to equalize Simone Zaza’s first half opener, leaving the Neroverdi mired in the drop.
  • Bologna 1, Parma 1 – Raffaele Palladino’s 79th minute goal brought Parma even, but unable to take advantage of one of the league’s relegation-threatened squads, Roberto Donadoni’s team failed to build on last week’s upset of Napoli, leaving them two points behind Inter.
  • Livorno 2, Chievo 4 – Alberto Paloschi’s 11th, 12th and 13th goals of the season had Chievo up 4-2 before the hour, breaking open a shootout that left the sides tied at two after 34 minutes.
  • Verona 3, Fiorentina 5 – Five different goalscorers delivered full points for Vincenzo Montello, who saw his team concede twice late despite playing 11-on-10.
  • Sampdoria 0, Inter 4 – Éder’s 20th minute dismissal saw the Nerazzurri to blow the game open, with three second half goals allowing the Milanese to reclaim sole possession of fifth place.
  • Napoli 4, Lazio 2 – Lorik Cana’s 48th minute dismissal cleared the way for the weekend’ second hat trick, with Gonzalo Higuaín running his season total to 17 after a trio of second half scores.
  • AC Milan 1, Catania 0 – An early Riccardo Montolivo goal held up for a Rossoneri team that had a difficult time with last place Catania, a struggle rewarded with a spot in Italy’s top half. Milan has now won four in a row.

Others

Roma 3, Atalanta 1
Torino 2, Genoa 1

Monday

Udinese vs. Juventus

Standings

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Juventus 32 27 3 2 69 22 47 16-0-0 11-3-2 84
Roma 33 24 7 2 68 19 49 14-3-0 10-4-2 79
Napoli 33 20 7 6 63 35 28 11-4-2 9-3-4 67
Fiorentina 33 17 7 9 56 37 19 9-3-4 8-4-5 58
Inter Milan 33 13 14 6 55 35 20 7-8-2 6-6-4 53
Parma 33 13 12 8 53 42 11 7-7-2 6-5-6 51
Torino 33 13 9 11 49 42 7 8-5-4 5-4-7 48
AC Milan 33 13 9 11 50 44 6 8-4-4 5-5-7 48
Lazio 33 13 9 11 44 44 0 9-4-3 4-5-8 48
Atalanta 33 14 4 15 38 44 -6 10-2-4 4-2-11 46
Verona 33 14 4 15 50 57 -7 9-2-6 5-2-9 46
Sampdoria 33 11 8 14 40 49 -9 6-5-6 5-3-8 41
Genoa 33 10 9 14 36 43 -7 7-4-5 3-5-9 39
Udinese 32 11 5 16 35 44 -9 8-2-5 3-3-11 38
Cagliari 33 7 12 14 31 45 -14 7-4-6 0-8-8 33
Chievo 33 8 6 19 30 49 -19 5-2-9 3-4-10 30
Bologna 33 5 13 15 27 51 -24 3-8-6 2-5-9 28
Livorno 33 6 7 20 36 64 -28 4-5-8 2-2-12 25
Sassuolo 33 6 7 20 32 62 -30 4-2-11 2-5-9 25
Catania 33 4 8 21 24 58 -34 4-6-6 0-2-15 20

Sebastian Berhalter signs Homegrown deal with Columbus Crew

Columbus Crew signs Sebastian Berhalter
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The Columbus Crew have signed Sebastian Berhalter to a Homegrown Player deal.

The 19-year-old midfielder is the son of former Crew and current USMNT manager Gregg Berhalter.

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Sebastian played 17 times for the University of North Carolina as a freshman, starting nine of those games. He went 210 minutes in twin extra time matches to close UNC’s season.

Here’s Crew general manager Tim Bezbatchenko, via a team release:

“As a longtime member of the Crew SC Academy, Sebastian is someone who understands the values and ideology of our Club. We are happy to see him join the professional ranks after a successful year at the college level and look forward to his continued development with the Crew.”

Sebastian praised the role of his parents in his development in a video interview. Gregg was a UNC star in his college days before moving to Europe to play for PEC Zwolle, Crystal Palace, and Energie Cottbus amongst others.

“My parents have been very influential on my career,” said the player. “They’ve helped me so much. They’ve always stayed positive to me, but also pushed me in a good way and I cannot thank them enough.”

Sebastian repped the U.S. at the U-16 level. Could dad and he one day join Bob and Michael Bradley as father-son USMNT combos? That’s a long way off and presumes dad turns around the national team, but would be a remarkable achievement.

Manchester United triggers Bailly contract extension

Manchester United triggers Bailly contract extension
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Manchester United has picked up a two-year option on Eric Bailly‘s contract, according to Sky Sports.

The Red Devils now have the giant 25-year-old center back under wraps through the 2021/22 season.

Bailly is nearing full fitness after his latest injury setback, knee and ankle injuries costing him dozens of matches since arriving from Villarreal in 2016. He underwent knee surgery in late July.

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There’s little reason for United not to pick up the option, as Bailly could’ve left for free in the summer and the extension allows for a possible transfer fee.

That said, Bailly has been very good with healthy and in-form, especially in an exceptional debut season at Old Trafford. He has 34 caps for the Ivory Coast, and is nearing the prime age for a center back.

United visits Liverpool at 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday, and Bailly is not expected to play.

The center back may get a chance to get to know Bruno Fernandes, who is being tipped for a $77 million transfer. He likely won’t see Ashley Young, who’s arrived in Milan ahead of a transfer to Inter.

Report: Bruno Fernandes to Manchester United after Lisbon Derby

Manchester United lands Bruno Fernandes
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Bruno Fernandes may get his move.

The 25-year-old Sporting Lisbon midfielder wants a move to Manchester United, and Sky Sports is reporting that the two clubs are close to agreeing on a fee.

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The move will cost $56 million and could escalate to $77 million with incentives, and that it could happen as soon as the end of Friday’s derby between Sporting and Benfica.

From Sky Sports:

Part of the negotiations over a deal for Fernandes included Manchester United not wanting him to play in Friday’s game but the player and Sporting insist that he was going to play in order to say a proper goodbye to the club and the supporters.

United will be crossing its fingers over Fernandes’ health during the 4:15 p.m. ET kickoff is Lisbon.

Sporting is already 12 points off the Champions League places, and 16 off Benfica’s title pace.

Fernandes has been red hot for Sporting, notching 15 goals and 13 assists in 25 appearances, including five and three in five Europa League outings.

He scored 32 times with 18 assists in 2018/19, and could take United’s Top Four push to a whole new level.

Liverpool’s Klopp rips AFCON move, says FIFA needs to step in but won’t

Liverpool's Klopp rips AFCON move
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Jurgen Klopp is furious about Cameroon moving the Africa Cup of Nations to January 2021, something that would hinder the Reds’ likely title defense.

(No, Klopp is not counting his title chickens before they hatch, even if it’s a foregone conclusion).

Cameroon moved the tournament from summer to winter due to its climate, which seems like a decision that could’ve been made ages ago. The nation had hosting rights stripped away for the 2019 tournament, but will host in 2021.

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The Reds could be without Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Naby Keita for the better part of a month should Senegal, Guinea, and Egypt all qualify for the tournament. Joel Matip could be there with hosts Cameroon if the federation is successful in convincing him to return to the international fold.

Klopp went on a lengthy and mostly understandable diatribe against the move. We write mostly because there’s something lost in translation regarding the import of the tournament.

He’s upset at how it will tax his squad and how he keeps the players happy if he needs to add players just to deal with one month of the schedule.

“Do we really want to open this book? I couldn’t respect Africa Cup of Nations more than I do, I like it, I’ve watched it a lot. Difficult circumstances a lot of times,” Klopp said, via The Liverpool Echo. “It is another tournament, there are too many of them. Other thing is it doesn’t help African players. We won’t sell Naby, Mo or Sadio because of it but if we bring someone in, it affects the decision. Normal process. We have to think about that. Players aren’t asked. … FIFA, who should [step in] doesn’t look like being involved. It’s a strange situation. If we want lesser games they will say take less money. I will say, I am ready to do so. Yes.”

He continued.

“For us it’s a catastrophe, If we say (a player) can’t go, he’s suspended. How can the club who pay his salary not decide. If he’s injured and we say he cannot play for us, we have to send him to Africa so they can have a look. We don’t have any say. We just plan the route. These are all things that should not be like this. I speak about it now and no one will listen. The moaner from Liverpool again. It’s a complete waste of time. As long as nothing changes, I will keep saying it. It’s about the players, not me.”

Manchester City (Riyad Mahrez), Arsenal (Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang), and Leicester City (Wilfried Ndidi) are among the many clubs who could lose stars for a month.