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AC Milan’s masterplan: Spend their way back to relevance

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ROME (AP) It’s the type of freewheeling spending spree that has been the domain of Middle East sheikhs and Russian oligarchs in recent years.

Only this time it’s the new Chinese owners of AC Milan who have been dominating football’s transfer market.

The signing of prized Italy defender Leonardo Bonucci from six-time defending Serie A champion Juventus on Friday boosted Milan’s offseason spending to 211 million euros (nearly $250 million) – easily the most in Europe.

Other recent signings by the Rossoneri have included forward Andre Silva from FC Porto; midfielders Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg), Franck Kessie and Andrea Conti (Atalanta), Hakan Calhanoglu (Bayer Leverkusen) and Lucas Biglia (Lazio), and defender Mateo Musacchio (Villarreal).

With teenage goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma having agreed to extend his contract until 2021 and another big forward signing expected, Milan could be in position to challenge for its first Serie A title since 2011.

It’s the type of outlay made by the likes of Roman Abramovich when he took over Chelsea in 2003, Sheikh Mansour at Manchester City in 2008 and the Qatari investors in Paris Saint-Germain in 2011.

The overhaul reminds former Milan coach Arrigo Sacchi of when Silvio Berlusconi took control of the club three decades ago and quickly acquired the likes of Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten, Carlo Ancelotti and Frank Rijkaard.

The important thing, Sacchi said in an editorial in the Gazzetta dello Sport on Saturday, will be for the new owners to give Milan coach Vincenzo Montella the time to mold a proper squad.

“Berlusconi and (former Milan vice president Adriano) Galliani were extraordinary and determined with me, showing confidence and respect for me even though we were far from the top by Christmas,” Sacchi wrote.

“Montella’s job won’t be easy,” Sacchi added. “He’s going to have to create the right chemistry and find a system of playing that makes all of these players thrive.”

Milan went on to win two European Cups under Sacchi and ushered in a period of dominance by Italian clubs.

With seven European and Champions League titles in all, Milan sits second only to Real Madrid’s 12.

But after three years without any appearances at all in Europe, Milan is looking to regain its place among football’s elite.

The Chinese-led consortium that purchased Milan from Berlusconi for $800 million in April has infused the club with cash.

By the time Serie A starts in mid-August, Milan’s starting 11 could consist of nine new players.

While Bonucci is considered Italy’s top defender – which is saying something in a nation that prides itself on its defending – the last piece of Milan’s transfer puzzle could be the one that alters the balance of power in Serie A.

If Bonucci, as he has intimated, is able to convince former Juventus teammate and current Real Madrid forward Alvaro Morata to join him at Milan, the Rossoneri might just have enough firepower to end Juve’s stranglehold on the “scudetto” (title).

The other forwards Milan is considering signing include: Andrea Belotti, who scored 26 goals for Torino last season; Nikola Kalinic, the scrappy Fiorentina striker; or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the still-improving Borussia Dortmund marksman who ended his youth career with Milan.

Whoever Milan chooses, he will pair in attack with the 21-year-old Silva, Cristiano Ronaldo’s wingman with Portugal, whose transfer cost 38 million euros ($42.5 million).

Bonucci’s transfer fee topped the 40 million euro ($45 million) mark, and the center back was signed to a five-year contract worth up to 10 million euros ($11 million) per season, including bonuses – making him the highest-paid player in Italy.

In an unusual move, Milan will also make Bonucci the club’s captain before he even plays a match for the team.

“The truth is they’ve gone beyond expectations,” former Milan stalwart Demetrio Albertini said of the new owners. “But if amount of money invested were the only measure that counted, Paris Saint-Germain should have won at least a couple Champions League titles by now.”

Gio Reyna: “A dream came true”

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Gio Reyna, 17, became the youngest American to play in the Bundesliga as the central midfielder, son of USMNT legend Claudio, made his debut for Borussia Dortmund in their 5-3 win at Augsburg on Saturday.

Reyna came on as a sub after a fellow sub making his Dortmund debut, Erling Haaland, had scored a 20-minute hat trick to turn the game on its head as the German giants ended up winning after trailing 3-1.

Speaking about his debut in the professional game, the U.S. U20 captain was utterly delighted and summed it up quite simply.

“A dream came true,” Reyna said. “It was a great game for us. When the coach called my name I was so excited. I was nervous but the guys made me feel comfortable.”

The talented central midfielder was promoted to Dortmund’s first team earlier this month after impressing in training during the winter break and he’s only been at the club since last summer.

“What a night! Extremely happy to make my debut but even happier for the win,” Reyna added on social media.

Safe to say USMNT fans are delighted with the rise of Reyna, while other youngsters Tyler Adams, Lynden Gooch and Josh Sargent all continue to shine in Europe with positive showings over the weekend.

Folks within the Bundesliga aren’t lowering the expectations on Reyna’s shoulders either, as an article on the website focuses on Reyna’s ‘eerily similar path’ to Dortmund as Christian Pulisic, while Dortmund’s assistant coach Jorg Heinrich believes that Reyna has more potential than Pulisic. Think about that. Stop drooling, USMNT fans.

“Gio is a fantastic talent. He has loads of potential along with plenty of confidence. I think his talent is similar to Christian Pulisic, or maybe a little bit better. But we want to keep him grounded because we’ve seen what happens to a lot of the young players,” Heinrich told Goal recently.

Setien rekindles Barcelona’s passing style in first game

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Coach Quique Setién only needed one match to leave his mark on Barcelona.

Barcelona set season highs for ball possession and passes in a 1-0 win over Granada on Sunday, Setién’s first match since replacing Ernesto Valverde six days earlier.

The defending champion’s level of 82% ball possession came close to reaching the all-time Spanish league record of 84% established by Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona in 2011, according to the club. The team’s 1,005 attempted passes smashed its previous season high of 788 passes against Real Betis.

One thing, however, remained the same after the coaching switch: Barcelona turned to Lionel Messi to find the winning goal. The club’s all-time leading scorer scored in the 76th minute after Granada had lost a defender for picking up a second yellow card for fouling Messi.

“You feel much better having Messi because he has been deciding these types of matches for more than a decade,” Setién said.

Setién, a former Atlético Madrid player and coach of several Spanish clubs, is a declared admirer of Barcelona’s passing style established by late Johan Cruyff.

The 61-year-old Spaniard divided fans at his previous two jobs with Las Palmas and Real Betis. He started well at both with supporters enjoying his insistence on imitating Barcelona’s style. But many fans then grew tired of seeing his teams dominate the ball while scoring few goals and proving brittle on defense.

Now with Messi and his talented teammates under his command, Setién’s has passed the first test at Camp Nou. His new side only conceded one shot on goal that, fortunately for Setién, hit the post minutes before Messi decided the game.

Setién did not touch Barcelona’s 4-3-3 formation or make any big changes in his first starting 11 compared to Valverde. Ansu Fati, the teenager who was discovered by Valverde, started for the injured Luis Suárez. Arturo Vidal, a key player for Valverde, took the place of the suspended Frenkie de Jong. Despite his reputation of not being a great passer, Vidal set up Messi’s goal with back-heel pass.

Setién insisted on the importance of his players pressing quickly to recover the ball after losing it. They responded and worked several incredibly long possessions, especially in the first half, that ended in attractive chances in the box.

“The fact that we made so many passes? The only thing I need is to have control,” he said. “We we had talked about being brave and going forward to recover the ball in their territory and that helped us to created danger after recovering the ball.”

Setién’s second-half substitution of Riqui Puig for Ivan Rakitic definitely bore his seal.

The 20-year-old Puig had earned his debut in 2018 from Valverde, but at the start of this season Valverde sent him back to the reserve team. Setién’s first move was to call Puig back up to train with the first squad.

Puig proved key to the victory when he stole the ball near Granada’s area. That led to the attack finished by Messi.

“(Puig) was very good,” Setién said. “He showed patience and he read the match well.”

TWO-TEAM RACE?

While Barcelona and Real Madrid won, most of their potential challengers lost ground just past the midpoint of the season.

Fourth-place Sevilla fell 2-1 at Madrid; sixth-place Real Sociedad lost 3-0 at Real Betis; Valencia fell into seventh place after being shocked 4-1 at lowly Mallorca this round.

Atlético Madrid, which finished the past two seasons as runners-up to champion Barcelona, had one of its poorest performances of the campaign in a 2-0 loss at Eibar. The defeat came following a loss in the Spanish Super Cup final in a penalty shootout to Madrid. Before the pair of losses, it had won three in a row in the league and had beaten Barcelona in the Super Cup semifinals- Valverde’s last match.

The defeat at Eibar left it eight points adrift in third place behind Barcelona and Madrid. Barcelona leads Madrid on goal difference.

ESPANYOL’S HOPE

Last-place Espanyol’s chances of staying in the topflight have been revived by a new coach and a new striker.

Espanyol has taken four points from the two league matches manager with Abelardo Fernández in charge. It drew with Barcelona 2-2 two weeks ago and won 2-1 at Villarreal on Sunday for its first win since Oct. 27.

Shopping for a scorer in the winter transfer market, Espanyol reportedly paid Benfica a club-record 20 million euros ($22 million) for Raúl de Tomás, who had joined Benfica during the summer.

De Tomás has made an immediate impact, scoring in his debut against a third-tier team in the Copa del Rey before taking the winner at Villarreal.

“We have been working on boosting our morale for the past two weeks, on recovering our self-confidence,” Abelardo said. “My players hadn’t forgotten how to play, as they showed (Sunday). You have to live the present instead of thinking about what can happen in two or three weeks. You have to play each match like a final.”

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

Americans Abroad: Chandler, Gooch score; Reyna, Vassilev debut

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The bar for the best weekend for Americans abroad in 2020 has been set.

After months with the under-19 side, 18-year-old Giovanni Reyna made his debut with Borussia Dortmund on Saturday. In England, Indiana Vassilev, 18, did exactly the same for Aston Villa, becoming the second youngest American to play in the Premier League.

Established Americans abroad like Timothy Chandler scored Eintracht Frankfurt’s match winner, while Lynden Gooch struck from distance for Sunderland in England’s League One.

Here is a list of several other USMNT affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) abroad this weekend.

Premier League

Christian Pulisic, Chelsea — The USMNT star continues to recover from an abductor injury.

DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle — Yedlin is also recovering from an injury, and did not dress for Newcastle on Saturday.

Indiana Vassilev, Aston Villa – The 18-year-old came off the bench and played 23 minutes in his Premier League debut for Aston Villa. Villa drew 1-1 with Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday.

EFL Championship

Duane Holmes, Derby County — Holmes played 90 minutes in Derby’s 1-0 win over Hull City on Saturday.

Antonee Robinson, Wigan Athletic — Robinson started and played 90 minutes in Wigan’s 2-1 loss to Swansea City on Saturday.

Matt Miazga, Reading (loan from Chelsea) — The 24-year-old dressed but didn’t feature in Reading’s 2-0 loss to Millwall.

Eric Lichaj, Hull City — The Tigers’ defender started and played for Hull.

Geoff Cameron, QPR — The 34-year-old defender played 90 minutes in QPR’s 1-0 victory ver Leeds United on Saturday.

Tim Ream, Fulham — Ream started and played 90 minutes in Fulham’s 1-0 win over Middlesbrough.

Ligue 1

Timothy Weah, Lille — Weah and Lille were inactive this weekend.

Theoson Jordan-Siebatcheu, Rennes — Jordon-Siebatcheu and Rennes were inactive this weekend. 

Eredivisie

Haji Wright, VVV-Venlo — Wright came off the bench and played five minutes in Venlo’s 1-1 draw with PSV.

Sergino Dest, Ajax — Dest dressed but didn’t feature for Ajax over the weekend. It’s been an on-and-off cycle for the fullback in Holland’s top-flight.

Desevio Payne, FC Emmen — The U-23 MNT fullback is injured and didn’t feature for FC Emmen.

Bundesliga

Timmy Chandler, Eintracht Frankfurt — The fullback played 90 minutes and scored Frankfurt’s match-winning goal on Saturday against Hoffenheim. 

Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig — Adams started and played 86 minutes in Leipzig’s 3-1 win over Union Berlin. The midfielder completed 84 percent of his passes.

Weston McKennie, Schalke — McKennie is still having some setbacks from his shoulder injury. The midfielder didn’t dress for Schalke due to fitness issues over the weekend.

Zack Steffen, Fortuna Dusseldorf — Steffen is inactive with an injury.

Alfredo Morales, Fortuna Dusseldorf Morales started and played 71 minutes in Fortuna’s 1-0 loss to Werder Bremen.

Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen  The 19-year-old started and played 86 minutes on Saturday. It’s refreshing to see Sargent back on the field, getting regular playing time after the injury.

Fabian Johnson, Borussia Mönchengladbach Johnson was on Mönchengladbach’s bench but didn’t play.

Honorable Mentions

Lynden Gooch, Sunderland — Gooch has been superlative for Sunderland lately, and on Saturday, he was rewarded with this match-deciding goal:

Ian Harkes, Dundee United — Harkes continues to grind it out in Scotland. On Sunday, he registered an assist in Dundee United’s 2-2 draw with Hibernian. 

Mexicans Abroad: Jimenez makes Wolves history; Guardado assists in Betis win

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On what was perhaps Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez’s last weekend in Europe, Raul Jimenez made it clear that he is ready to carry on the mantle as Mexico’s marquee striker in the old continent.

The 28-year-old’s double made him Wolverhampton Wanderer’s Premier League all-time leading goalscorer, surpassing Steven Fletcher‘s record of 22 goals in just 61 appearances.

Meanwhile in Spain, Andres Guardado continues to add remarkable chapters to his never-ending European photo book, recording an assist in Real Betis’ 3-0 thumping of Real Sociedad.

Here is a list of several other Mexico national team affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) outside of Mexico this weekend.


Premier League

Raul Jimenez, Wolverhampton Wanderers —  Not only did Jimenez boost his league goalscoring tally to the double digits on Saturday, but he also became Wolves’ Premier League all-time goalscorer. The Mexican is indispensable for the Midlands side – well worth the club-record $33-million investment.

La Liga

Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Sevilla — Chicharito did not make the trip with Sevilla to the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday. On Friday, Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl reported that Los Angeles Galaxy have signed the 31-year-old. An official announcement from the MLS side is expected in the coming days.

Hector Herrera, Atletico Madrid — Herrera started and played 43 minutes in Los Colchoneros’ rare, 2-0 loss to Eibar on Saturday. Atletico are now eight points behind leaders Barcelona and second-best Real Madrid.

Andres Guardado, Real Betis —  Guardado played all 90 minutes and recorded an assist in Betis’ trashing of Real Sociedad. The midfielder also earned a yellow card in the 23rd minute.

Diego Lainez, Real Betis — The 19-year-old dressed but remained on the bench for Betis. 

Nestor Araujo, Celta Vigo — Araujo started and played 90 minutes in Celta’s 1-1 draw with Athletic Bilbao. The defender recorded 11 clearances, two interceptions, and earned a yellow card.

Serie A

Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, Napoli —  As Napoli’s continues to suffer under Gennaro Gattuso, so does Chucky. The frenetic winger saw just 26 minutes of playing time in Napoli’s 2-0 loss to Fiorentina on Saturday. Gattuso, however, may be on his was out as reports indicated that he’s considering resigning after just 35 days at the helm.

Primeira Liga

Jesus “Tecatito” Corona, FC Porto — Tecatito started and played all 90 minutes in Porto’s 2-1 loss to Braga on Saturday. The Dragons trail league leaders Benfica by seven points.

Eredivisie

Erick Gutierrez, PSV Eindhoven —  Gutierrez dressed but remained on the bench for PSV on Saturday.

Edson Alvarez, Ajax — Alvarez dressed but remained on the bench for Ajax on Sunday.

Jupiler Pro League

Omar Govea, Zulte Waregem — Govea started and played 90 minutes in Zulte’s 3-0 loss to KRC Genk.

Elsewhere around the globe:

Pedro Arce, Panionios –  Panionios were inactive over the weekend.

Gerardo Ramirez Alonso, Roda JC – Ramirez Alonso and Roda JC take on Jong FC Utrecht on Monday.