Italy Roundup: Milan look set to sneak into Europe

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Italy still being the good Catholic nation that it is, on Easter weekend, all Serie A matches take place on Saturday. That means we here at Pro Soccer Talk have an early round-up of how clubs on the peninsula fared:

Saturday’s Results

AC Milan 3-0 Livorno
Quite possibly the biggest result in Serie A this weekend. Mario Balotelli, Adel Taarabt and Giampaolo Pazzini all scored to give the hosts all three points. Milan’s win, combined with results from Lazio, Torino and Parma, puts the rossoneri close to Clarence Seedorf’s dream of edging into Europa League. As for Livorno, well, they remain second from bottom, three points from safety. That’s what happens when you pick up just one point from six matches.

Atalanta 1-2 Verona
Verona, after experiencing a dramatic dip in form in the second half of the season, are suddenly back in the race for Italy’s final European place. Much of that’s due to Luca Toni, with the veteran scoring Verona’s second today, bringing his season total to 18 goals. Massimo Donati scored the visitors’ first, but thanks to Toni’s second, the late goal from Germán Denis was nothing more than a consolation for Atalanta.

Catania 2-1 Sampdoria
Ever since Siniša Mihajlović got himself thrown out in Sampdoria’s draw with Fiorentina, his side have been doomed to failure. Today they even lost to bottom side Catania. Sebastián Leto put in the first for the hosts, but Samp were able to equalize by the 61st minute through a goal from Stefano Okaka. The elefanti, however, were determined to get one last chance at staying in Serie A. Gonzalo Bergessio put in the winner just two minutes later, grabbing all three points for Catania…and keeping them five points back of safety.

Chievo 0-1 Sassuolo
This game had a much greater effect on the battle for safety. While many tables might currently show Sassuolo still in the bottom three, in Serie A, the tie-breaker is based on head-to-head record – and Sassuolo have taken four points off Bologna, with whom they’re even on points. Domenico Berardi, who hadn’t scored since putting four past Milan back in December, may have just saved his side from slipping right back down to Serie B. Which, actually, is where Chievo might wind up, as they’re just two points over the line.

Genoa 1-2 Cagliari
Cagliari were likely never going to be relegated, but with this win giving them an eight-point cushion, new head coach Ivo Pulga is likely to sleep better at night. It was actually the hosts that took the early lead, with Sebastien De Maio putting Genoa up inside five minutes. But the defender was at fault for the equalizer, falling asleep to allow an unmarked Marco Sau inside the area to grab the equalizer. Victor Ibarbo sealed the first isolani road win with his 82nd minute goal – and handed Genoa their fourth straight defeat.

Juventus 1-0 Bologna
It looked like Bologna were going to be able to hold on for a point, thus keeping the tiniest bit of distance between themselves and Sassuolo in the final relegation spot. But the rossoblu just weren’t up to the challenge of keeping out Serie A’s top side. Paul Pogba got on the end of a ball from Mauricio Isla, burying his shot in the 64th minute – and that’s all Juventus needed.

Lazio 3-3 Torino
Lazio and Torino combined well to make sure to blaze a clear path for Milan’s Europa League adventure. With both sides aiming for the three points that could’ve meant finishing the weekend in fifth, this match featured plenty of drama. Stefano Mauri opened the scoring late in the second half, but Jasmin Kurtić restored equality early in the second. A Lazio penalty, converted by Antonio Candreva, put the hosts back in front, but Panagiotis Tachtsidis equalized for Torino once more. It looked like the granata would come out on top after Diego Novaretti was sent off with ten minutes remaining – and, sure enough, Ciro Immobile put the visitors ahead in the last minute of normal time. But, amazingly, Candreva found yet another equalizer in the 93rd minute, leaving both sides with a lone point.

Parma 0-2 Internazionale
Parma’s quest for European football took a sad turn against Inter on Saturday. It all started when Antonio Cassano failed to convert a penalty against his former side. Thus, the two teams went into the break scoreless, but when Gabriel Paletta was sent off with a second yellow just after the restart, a nerazzurri win seemed inevitable. Sure enough, it took less than five minutes for Rolando’s header to put the visitors ahead, and Fredy Guarín’s late strike turned out to be unnecessary insurance.

Udinese 1-1 Napoli
Pepe Reina may have found himself out of a job thanks to this one, with the Napoli goalkeeper’s miserable pass allowing Giampiero Pinzi the chance to steal the ball, threading it through to Bruno Fernandes. The Portuguese had no trouble scoring, canceling out José Callejón’s first-half opener.

Still to come…

Fiorentina vs. Roma
This should be the most exciting game of the weekend – key word, “should.” Both sides love to attack, and both have plenty to fight for. Yes, Juventus have almost surely won the scudetto, but Roma still want to keep things tight and make things interesting. But Fiorentina will be well aware of the fact that Napoli dropped points at Udinese, and know that they could close the gap on third place – and the final Champions League spot – to just eight points if they manage to get a win at the Artemio Franchi.

Bolt unlikely to agree to terms with Australian club

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Usain Bolt’s search for a professional contract may go on a bit longer.

According to the Central Coast Mariners, the Australian club he’s been training with, they have extended Bolt a contract, but conceded a deal is “unlikely” “without the financial contribution of an external third-party,”

Reports across Europe state that Bolt is looking for a $3 million contract from any team he signs with, and the Mariners appear unable to meet those demands. “We are looking at ways to do this as the club does not have the luxury to be able to do this in the Hyundai A-League,” the club said in a statement. According to a report by the Guardian, the Australian football governing body has contributed $100,000 from its marketing fund for the contract, but would add no more than that.

Bolt scored twice in a friendly last week, and he’s been training with the club for the past few weeks, but the club announced that while talks are ongoing, Bolt will not travel with the team or attend training “to ensure that there is no distraction to the Hyundai A-League squad in preparing for this weekend’s match versus Melbourne City.”

The A-League side said in the statement that while Bolt is improving, the former sprinter requires further training to become a viable professional player. “Usain has made great progression during his time on the Central Coast and we feel that he will improve further with more individual intensive training and competitive game time.”

However, the club’s head coach wasn’t so complimentary. “Do you think he’ll get in our front three? We’ve got a very good front third,” Mike Mulvey said. Central Coast sports former Leeds United, Fulham, and Aston Villa striker Ross McCormack up front, alongside 26-year-old Australian international Tommy Oar and 24-year-old Connor Pain who has one cap for the international side.

Bolt doesn’t exactly have a ton of time to improve his game, already at 32 years of age and with a full Olympic-medal-winning professional sprinting career on his legs.

Man United hosts Juventus to headline Champions League Tuesday

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The stars align at Old Trafford on Tuesday as Manchester United hosts Juventus at the forefront of the Champions League slate.

Cristiano Ronaldo returns to face his old club and his old manager, while Paul Pogba also takes on his former team as the top spot in Group H is on the line. Ronaldo is back in Champions League action since September 19 when he was controversially sent off, earning a one-match suspension he served in a 3-0 win over Young Boys.

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho told the players after throwing away a late lead against Chelsea to “use the anger to motivate ourselves to play a big match.” They’ll take on a Juventus team that’s slightly banged up, missing Mario Mandzukic, Emre Can and Sami Khedira all out injured. Manchester United also has its own issues, with Alexis Sanchez unavailable with Mourinho confirming he’s “not fit” although no other injury information was given.

Elsewhere on Tuesday, Manchester City travels east to take on Ukranian club Shakhtar Donetsk. Group F is crowded through two matches, with City in second a point behind Olympique Lyon at the top. Kevin De Bruyne is in the squad after returning from injury over the weekend, coming off the bench for 32 minutes of Premier League play against Burnley. They’ll look to attack a Shakhtar defense that choked away a 2-0 lead against Lyon last time out. City has Kyle Walker available as well, announced as part of the matchday squad.

Bayern Munich visits AEK Athens having returned to winning ways over the weekend with a 3-1 victory over Wolfsburg. It’s a welcome sight for Niko Kovac, who was under fire for a terrible stretch of games, but now the Bavarians have a positive result to take with them on the road. Robert Lewandowski and James Rodriguez were both on the scoresheet, with the Polish international grabbing a brace.

Ajax takes on Benfica in Amsterdam as the Dutch side looks to extend its lead at the top of Group E. They’re tied with Bayern on points, but hold a slightly superior goal differential. Since falling to PSV Eindhoven in Eredivisie play, they have blown out Fortuna Sittard, AZ Alkmaar, and Heerenveen 11-0 over their last three games. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar already has 10 goals this season across all competitions, and former Southampton attacker Dusan Tadic is right behind him with 9.

Real Madrid has its best chance to turn around the poor run of play as they host Czech club Viktoria Plzen. Madrid has not won since September 22, a run of five matches that consists of four defeats. The club broke a scoreless streak of over 450 minutes last time out in a 2-1 loss to Levante, but the pressure has only increased on head coach Julen Lopetegui.

Other matches

Young Boys vs Valencia
AS Roma vs CSKA Moscow
Hoffenheim vs Lyon

Puel, Schmeichel fume at referee after Leicester loss to Arsenal

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While the world looked on at the performance by Mesut Ozil in awe, Leicester City manager Claude Puel and Foxes goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel were left stewing after the match at a first-half decision which they believed changed the game completely.

Had the referee awarded a penalty for a Rob Holding handball in the first half with Leicester City up 1-0, the game would likely have turned out very differently. Holding, already on a yellow card, would have likely been sent off and Leicester City would have a chance from the spot to go up 2-0.

“I think [the first half was] our best half since the beginning of the season,” Puel said after the match. “We deserved to score more goals and make the difference in the first half. I didn’t understand why the referee didn’t whistle for the penalty, because in this moment it was a penalty, it was a second yellow card and so a sending off for the Arsenal player. This situation can change the finality of the game.”

Puel said that once the call was not made, and Arsenal was able to equalize before the break, Leicester City’s level of play dropped enough for the Gunners to pounce.

“I regret a little our beginning of the second half. We lost a lot of balls and we gave them the ball too easily to put us under pressure, but we have had the chances to score and to be leading in the game with the header from Ndidi. A lot of regret in this game because we showed a lot of quality and we were not lucky with the refereeing decision.”

Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel was in agreement with his manager about the key first-half decision. “We got no help from the official,” Schmeichel said. “I’ve never seen a clearer penalty. It’s tough to take because we were so good in the first half but in the second we’ve got to do a lot better than we did.”

At halftime, the replay showed the ball clearly hitting Holding’s forearm while above his head. However, the NBC studio crew argued that the penalty was not called because Holding’s arm was hit into the ball by the Leicester City attacker who attempted a header, and that although his arm was above his head, it was not in an unnatural position due to the natural human instinct to balance the body while jumping into the air.

Emery still searching for improvement after Arsenal win

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Arsenal won its 10th match in a row across all competitions with a 3-1 victory over Leicester City, with Mesut Ozil playing the starring role.

Still, Unai Emery isn’t fully pleased with the performance.

[ WATCH: Ozil sets up 2 beautiful goals in Arsenal win over Leicester City ]

Arsenal fell behind 1-0 thanks to a Hector Bellerin own-goal, and the Gunners boss is concerned about his assessment of the 90 minute performance. “Different halves, every match is difficult,” Emery said after the match. “First half we didn’t control the match with possession and positioning.”

Ben Chillwell got behind Bellerin and sent in a cross to the middle of the box, to which goalkeeper Bernd Leno reacted, but the cross clipped off Bellerin’s foot and past the wrong-footed goalkeeper. Arsenal responded with a 3-goal wave, as Ozil scored the first and set the next two up in brilliant fashion.

“We are happy because we are progressing. We need to play with organization but also with heart. We are beginning to play with heart. When you continue to improve your demands are very high. We need to control the matches more than we are doing now.”

The win pushed the Gunners to fourth in the Premier League table, above rivals Tottenham on goal differential. Emery said in order to have success long-term and maintain their Champions League positioning, the players need to be flexible.

“First half we didn’t play well but then we played with quality and heart. This feeling together is very good. We need the number 10 position sometimes with Mesut Ozil and sometimes with Aaron Ramsey. We can’t play with both sometimes. Last match was away and we played it with two strikers. Today Mesut was very good but I believe in every player and different positions for the players.”