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.

How will Liverpool, Real Madrid line up for UCL final?

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With just over 24 hours to go until the UEFA Champions League final in Kiev, Ukraine, excitement is building as Liverpool and Real Madrid lock horns in the battle to become Champions of Europe.

[ LIVE: Champions League final ]

Jurgen Klopp and Zinedine Zidane both possess an embarrassment of riches in attack but both coaches know they have weaknesses in defense.

With that in mind, we are expecting attack-minded starting lineups from both coaches. But who will get the nod for the XI?

Below is a look at my projected starting lineups for the final in Kiev, as well as analysis on the gameplan for both teams.


LIVERPOOL

—– Karius —–

— Alexander-Arnold — Lovren — Van Dijk — Robertson —

—- Milner —- Henderson —- Wijnaldum —-

—- Salah —- Firmino —- Mane —-

Analysis: At this point, there are no real surprises in Liverpool’s squad as Klopp is without the likes of Joe Gomez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain through injury and the back five pick themselves. The only real dilemma will be in midfield but even then the duo of Emre Can and Adam Lallana have been out injured and aren’t fully fit, so James Milner and Georginio Wijnaldum are likely to start alongside Jordan Henderson in a midfield three. Then, up top, well, Salah, Firmino and Mane will start with Danny Ings and Dominic Solanke on the bench.


REAL MADRID

—– Navas —–

— Carvajal — Ramos — Varane — Marcelo —

—– Kroos —– Casemiro —- Modric —–

—- Isco —–

 —- Benzema —- Ronaldo —-

Analysis: Like Liverpool, the back five pretty much select themselves for Zidane with Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane a talented central defensive duo but marauding full backs Dani Carvajal and Marcelo will leave plenty of gaps for Salah, Mane and Firmino to expose. In midfield the silky duo of Toni Kroos and Luka Modric will pull the strings, while the robust Casemiro will look to stop and Salah and Co. from getting at Ramos and Varane. The forward three is the biggest dilemma for Zidane with Cristiano Ronaldo certain to start centrally, but the likes of Marco Asensio and Gareth Bale could well find themselves on the bench with Isco and Karim Benzema likely to get the nod, plus Lucas Vazquez pushing hard for a starting spot. Having Bale (in fine form with four goals in his past three games) fresh to bring on from the bench may well just prove to be the difference if the game becomes tight and tense in the second half.

Tottenham target trio in summer overhaul

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Fresh from Mauricio Pochettino and his staff signing new five-year deals at Tottenham Hotspur, multiple reports claim the Argentine coach has lined up a trio of new signings to focus on this summer.

According to the Daily Mirror, Pochettino wants to bring in Anthony Martial from Manchester United’s, Fulham’s young star Ryan Sessegnon and Ajax’s teenage defender Matthijs de Ligt this summer.

This incomings would be part of a big summer overhaul as Toby Alderweireld could join Man United, while Danny Rose, Mousa Dembele and Fernando Llorente are all said to be available for transfer this summer as Spurs prepare to arrive in their new White Hart Lane stadium.

Poch released a statement after he signed his new deal stating that he and chairman Daniel Levy “have spoken at length about our aspirations for this football club. We both share the same philosophies to achieve long-term, sustainable success.”

Previously the Argentine had expressed his belief that Spurs will need to spend more money if they’re going to achieve their long-term goals of challenging for the Premier League trophy and European glory.

With Poch signing a new deal (said to be worth over $60 million over five years) he has obviously gained assurances from Levy that money will be spent on new signings and in Martial, Sessegnon and de Ligt.

Martial, 22, is clearly looking for a way out of Old Trafford with Jose Mourinho making it abundantly clear the French forward doesn’t have a future under him. Martial missed out on making France’s World Cup squad and despite having a long-term deal at United the striker needs regular minutes to get his career back on track.

Spurs’ other forward options, aside from Harry Kane, are Llorente (his arrival as a back-up to Kane just didn’t work out last season), Heung-Min Son and that’s about it. Pochettino could certainly use some firepower and Martial may well be used as a makeweight in a deal for Alderweireld.

Working with Pochettino would also be a very attractive proposition for Sessegnon and de Ligt, as the duo know they will get chances to play at Spurs and the way in which Dele Alli, Kane and others have developed proves that Poch can help them kick on to the next level.

If Rose leaves this summer, as expected, then Sessegnon would be the perfect replacement to battle it out with Ben Davies for the starting spot at left back. However, the 18-year-old left wing-back may well stay with his boyhood club Fulham if they’re promoted to the Premier League via the Championship playoff final against Aston Villa on Saturday at Wembley.

In the case of de Ligt, the Ajax youngster has been interesting Manchester City, among many other clubs across Europe, but the Dutch defender will surely see a brighter future at Spurs, especially if Alderweireld does move on as a spot will open up.

With Pochettino locked into a new deal, Spurs can continue to attract the top young talent across the planet such is his success at nurturing their skills and turning them into global stars.

Tottenham have the first building block in place to continue their charge as a top four club, now they need to add extra strength in-depth and then lock down the likes of Kane, Alli and Christian Eriksen to new long-term deals.

Liverpool fans stranded after flights to Kiev canceled

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Close to 1,000 Liverpool supporters have been stranded as they tried to get to Kiev, Ukraine for the UEFA Champions League final against Real Madrid on Saturday.

Travel operator Worldchoice Sports had three flights full of fans heading out to Kiev fully booked but just 24 hours before their departure, fans were told the flights had been canceled due to landing spots not being available in the Ukrainian capital on Friday and Saturday.

That issue led to the Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, reaching out to the Mayor of Kiev, former heavyweight boxer Vitali Klitschko, to try and sort out the problem between the specialist travel company and Kiev’s Boryspil airport. Anderson then claimed he and Klitschko agreed to two more landing spots being available.

However, only one extra replacement flight has since been arranged by Worldchoice Sports and that still leaves hundreds of Liverpool fans without a way to get to Kiev, even though many of the fans on the flight have tickets for the game.

Worldchoice Sports said the following in a statement, with the main issue said to be the size of the aircraft chartered by the company:

“We have exhausted all avenues to try and get landing slots. We have had them from Liverpool airport and Manchester airport and we have applied for slots in the correct manner and timeframe with the authorities. To reiterate this problem IS with Kiev. We have managed to get a three-night flight secured very late in the day. We are currently offering people booked on the two-night stay the opportunity to use this. Despite some reports in the media this afternoon this is the only flight we have been able to secure.”

Both the club and UEFA have tried to intervene and help out where they can but it appears that hundreds of Liverpool fans will miss out seeing their team in a European final due to a complication with landing slots.

Brazil tests Willian up front with Neymar and Jesus

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TERESOPOLIS, Brazil (AP) Brazil’s second pre-World Cup training featured Willian in the attack with Neymar and Gabriel Jesus on Thursday, a hint that coach Tite might change his starting lineup.

Willian played with the two star strikers for about one hour in the first training with footballs at the Granja Comary ground in Teresopolis, outside Rio de Janeiro.

[ MORE: Commisso “hopeful” of $500m USSF deal ]

Tite did not use his starting midfield to play with the trio. He also used defenders Marquinhos and Miranda during the entire hour, suggesting former captain Thiago Silva will be on the bench for the moment.

If Willian is brought on to the team, Tite could remove midfielder Renato Augusto from the starting lineup, put Philippe Coutinho in his place, and open a gap for Willian.

Since last year, Tite has said he needs a “pacemaker,” and considers Coutinho one of his main options for the role.

Beijing Guoan’s Augusto is under pressure after unconvincing performances in Brazil’s midfield.

Augusto’s spot is also eyed by Fred, one of the surprises of Tite’s squad.

The midfielder said he admired Brazil players who began a World Cup on the bench and later became starters, such as Mazinho (1994) and Kleberson (2002).

“We can get inspiration from them, these players worked very hard to get their spot,” Fred said. “But if I have to be out I will keep working hard.”

Fred also said he was torn between a transfer to Manchester United or Manchester City.

Fred said he had an offer from City in January, and both were now talking to his Shakhtar Donetsk club about a transfer.

“Maybe after the World Cup I will make the choice,” the midfielder said. “Now I am only thinking about the World Cup.”

Fred said he believes his future is outside Ukraine, and doing well in the English Premier League like other Brazilians such as Chelsea’s Willian.

Tite is counting on only 18 of the 23 players in his squad at training in Teresopolis.

Winger Douglas Costa and Fagner are still recovering from injury.

Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino and Real Madrid’s Casemiro and Marcelo will only join on Monday after the Champions League final.

Training on Thursday was attended by four-time World Cup winner Mario Zagallo.