Three things we learned from Leicester vs. Man City

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Leicester City dug-in and battled out a scoreless draw against Manchester City on Tuesday, as the Foxes enter 2016 second on the Premier League table.

A favorite to get relegated when the season began, Leicester’s run has been one of the most amazing stories in Premier League history.

[ MORE: Premier League standings ]

On the other hand, Manchester City sit third on the table but will be disappointed with their play as of late, as it is title or bust for Manuel Pellegrini‘s men.

Here are three things we learned at the King Power Stadium.

LEICESTER EYEING TOP FOUR FINISH

Claudio Ranieri has been coy on his ambitions with Leicester City, consistently saying 40 points and Premier League survival was the goal. Now with 39 points at the midway point of the season, the Foxes have proven a top four finish is in their reach.

Ranieri decided to switch up his usual formation against Manchester City, opting to give Gokhan Inler his first start in more than three months. By putting the seasoned veteran in the middle of the pitch, Ranieri showed respect to City’s attack and understood a draw would be a good result, leaving Jamie Vardy as a lone striker. With the match still scoreless an hour in, Ranieri took off Inler and put on a striker in Leonardo Ulloa, going back to his preferred 4-4-2 formation as the Foxes pushed on for a win.

[ MORE: Three things we learned from Manchester United vs. Chelsea ]

If Ranieri wanted to, he could have gone for the win from the start, but he instead played for a result to stay tight towards the top of the table. Tonight’s performance showed Leicester can put in gritty performances against the best in the league.

MANCHESTER CITY’S POOR AWAY FORM MUST BE FIXED

Manchester City’s last win away from home came back on September 12 at Crystal Palace, and that match saw a stoppage time winner give City all three points. After Tuesday’s scoreless draw at Leicester, the Citizens’ record away from home is 3-3-3, tied for the worst away record of teams in the top half of the table.

City have scored just one goal in their last five away matches, and have only scored a total of eight goals on the road all season. The only teams to score fewer away goals than City are Newcastle, Swansea, and West Brom. If Manuel Pellegrini wants to win the Premier League title this year, which is the only option in the eyes of the City board and supporters, their away form must improve tenfold in the second half of the season.

AGUERO’S HEALTH KEY TO MAN CITY

Sergio Aguero is one of the elite strikers in Europe, and is the reigning Golden Boot winner in the Premier League. However, he has struggled throughout his career to stay fit, as he has missed nearly half of City’s matches this season.

[ MORE: Everton’s Steven Naismith set to join Norwich City in $12 million move ]

The Argentinian only managed 60 minutes against Leicester in just his second match back from a heel injury. It was clear Aguero is still trying to find his feet, as he was nowhere near top form on Tuesday. When Aguero is healthy, he causes all sorts of problems for an opposing defense. Not only is he a top goalscorer, but he also occupies the attention of the back-line, creating more space for the likes of Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne, and David Silva. With the recent struggles scoring away from home, a healthy Sergio Aguero could be a quick fix to those problems.

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Serie A roundup: Napoli falls to Parma in debut for Gattuso (video)

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Napoli’s last-minute loss to Parma in Gennaro Gattuso’s debut highlights Saturday’s Serie A action.

 [ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule ]

Napoli 1-2 Parma

Napoli remains in a dark place as Gennaro Gattuso debut with Gli Azzurri ended in a last-minute 2-1 loss to Parma.

The defeat marks eight consecutive games without a win in Serie A play for Napoli, who dismissed Carlo Ancelotti earlier this week despite punching a ticket in the last 16 of the Champions League after a win over Genk.

After their fifth loss of the season, Napoli are currently eighth on the table with 21 points, seven behind sixth-placed Atalanta and 17 behind league leaders Inter Milan.

 

 

In the third minute of stoppage time, Gervinho – experienced as anyone else in tightly-contested situations – received a simple pass from Dejan Kulusevski, carefully striking it into the back of the net inside the six-yard box. The 32-year-old Ivorian has five goals in Serie A this season, and Saturday’s was his most important yet. 

For Gattuso (and hopeful Napoli supporters), Saturday was the antithesis of dreamy start, but with time and a change of mentality the situation may change.

“I don’t believe in bad luck. Right now we’re not good mentally,” the 41-year-old manager said following the match. “The team is paying for the fact that it has not won (in the league) for 50 or more days.”

“The first 10 minutes also prove it,” he added. “It’s tough as are the whistles of the fans. There’s a lot of work to do.”

The home side recorded 33 shots throughout the night, but Parma proved to be more clinical, scoring at death and opening the scoresheet just four minutes in. In the 64th minute, Napoli were able to get one go their way, as Dreis Merten’s lofting cross with force was headed home by Arkadiusz Milik. 

Gattuso and his men will be tested once as they travel to Sassuolo in a weeks time, while Parma look to trim their four-point gap with Atalanta when they host Brescia.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Brescia 3-0 Lecce

Genoa 0-1 Sampdoria

Hertha’s under-16s stop playing after alleged racist abuse

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BERLIN (AP) Hertha Berlin’s under-16 team stopped playing a game at regional rival Auerbach after its players were allegedly subjected to racist abuse from their opponents on Saturday.

The Bundesliga club says in a statement on its website that “several players from our team were racially abused by their opposing players.”

Hertha officials informed the referee of the alleged abuse and decided to stop playing in the 68th minute while leading 2-0 “because we as Hertha BSC condemn racism and discrimination in every form,” the club said.

Hertha executive board member Paul Keuter called it “the only correct decision, not to continue with the game.”

On Twitter, the club said: “There are times when football doesn’t come first. Racism has no place in our society.”

Hertha under-23 player Jessic Ngankam said he was targeted with monkey chants and called an “ape” by an opposing player during his side’s fourth division game against Lokomotive Leipzig on Dec. 6.

“Insults are unfortunately an everyday occurrence in football, and I can put up with them. But racist abuse is a no-go,” the 19-year-old Ngankam told broadcaster MDR.

Both Hertha and Lokomotive condemned the alleged abuse.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Ciaran Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP

La Liga roundup: Sociedad hold leaders Barcelona to draw (video)

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A stunning draw from top-of-the-table Barcelona highlight La Liga’s Saturday action.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Real Sociedad 2-2 Barcelona

If Real Madrid manages to walk away from Mestalla with three points, they’ll dethrone nemesis Barcelona and become clear-cut leaders of La Liga.

Just days before El Clasico itself, a rare 2-2 draw from Barcelona against hosts Real Sociedad is the reason behind Los Blancos’ prime opportunity.

 

Former Borussia Dortmund starlet Alexander Isak tapped in his fourth goal of the season in the 62nd minute, leveling the score for Sociedad and sending the home fans into a frenzy.

In true Barcelona fashion, Real Sociedad, ironically hit the ground running first. 

After earning a foul inside the box from a corner kick set piece, Reala captain Mikel Oyarzabal converted from the spot, putting Sociedad, who have exceeded expectations this season under first-year manager Imanol Alguacil, up against the defending champions. 

It wouldn’t take long before the visitors responded, however.

A familiar face and experienced goalscorer at Anoeta, it was the ideal scenario for Antoine Griezmann to shake off some pressure that has been a key talking point surrounding the Frenchman lately. Darting inside the box with only Alex Remiro to beat, No. 17 – like in the old days – carefully chipped the ball over Remiro and into the back of the net the ball wandered. 

If the second half indicated anything early on it was that it was going to be difficult for Barcelona to drop points on Saturday. Unselfish as ever before, Lionel Messi laid off the ball to an unmarked Luis Suarez, who his team up 2-1 four minutes into the second half.

A lack of control of possession and, most notably, an unstable defensive line, would end up costing Barcelona two points.

Next for Barcelona is the game of the season: a league bout against Real Madrid on Wednesday, while Real Sociedad travel to Becerril in the second round of Copa del Rey. 

Elsewhere in La Liga

Atletico Madrid 2-0 Osasuna

Granada 1-2 Levante

Atheltic Bilbao 0-0 Eibar

South Florida officials seeking more international soccer

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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) More than two dozen political leaders in South Florida have written letters to the U.S. Soccer Federation’s board of directors, urging them to allow top-tier international matches to take place in the Miami region.

Relevent Sports, the soccer-promoting group owned by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, filed suit against the USSF earlier this year saying that the sport’s governing body in this country was helping to prevent them from hosting certain matches.

The letters were released Friday to media outlets, including The Associated Press.

The USSF did not respond to a request for comment.

Ross’ group and top Spanish league La Liga have been working for some time to bring a regular-season match to Hard Rock Stadium, the facility Ross owns and is the Dolphins’ home.

The politicians – ranging from city mayors, county mayors, county commissioners and one state Senator – all essentially said the same thing, that bringing major international soccer to South Florida only will help the region’s tourist-dependent economy.

“Doing so will demonstrate a genuine commitment to our communities and the growth of the game, which you, as the United States Soccer Federation, are charged with promoting,” wrote Dean Trantalis, the mayor of Fort Lauderdale. That’s the city where David Beckham’s new MLS team, Inter Miami, will begin play next March.