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Italy’s plan for Sweden in WCup playoff: ‘Play like Italy’

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ROME (AP) Italy has a straightforward plan to avoid missing its first World Cup in six decades – just play its usual game in the playoff against Sweden.

After all, Italy has gone unbeaten against Sweden in their last five meetings and won four of the encounters, including 1-0 last year at the European Championship.

[ MORE: Spurs duo Kane, Winks out for England’s friendlies ]

Perhaps making matters less complicated, standout striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic retired from Sweden duty after Euro 2016.

“They’re four-fifths the same squad. They play the same. They’re physical and well organized. It’s part of their DNA,” Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura said on Monday.

“But the real problem isn’t what Sweden does. It’s what we do. Italy has to play like Italy. We’ve always been there when there’s something important to play for.”

A four-time champion, Italy has participated in every World Cup since failing to qualify for the 1958 tournament, which coincidentally was held in Sweden.

The last major competitions Italy missed were the 1984 and 1992 European Championships.

“Nobody has even considered not going,” Ventura said at the Azzurri’s Coverciano training complex in Florence.

But Italy has showed poor form recently, ever since a 3-0 loss to Spain in September that virtually sealed its fate as the second-place finisher in its qualifying group.

After the Spain match, Italy narrowly edged Israel 1-0 at home, drew with Macedonia 1-1 at home, and won in Albania 1-0.

With his job on the line, though, Ventura would gladly accept two more narrow wins.

“In Spain or England when you win playing poorly they fire the coach. In Italy, results count more than anything,” said the 69-year-old journeyman coach, who never managed a major club before being called in as a replacement when Antonio Conte left the national team for Chelsea after Euro 2016.

“It’s a big moment for me but also for the players,” Ventura added. “Going or not going to a World Cup means something. For some it’s the beginning of a cycle, for others it’s a matter of finishing in a certain manner.”

Captain Gianluigi Buffon made his first appearance for Italy in a World Cup playoff against Russia on a snowy pitch in 1997. Having announced he plans to retire from the national team, the playoff could mark his final international matches.

In one of the four European playoffs, Italy travels to Stockholm for the opening leg on Friday. The return match will be at Milan’s San Siro Stadium three days later.

In qualifying, Ventura relied on Andrea Belotti and Ciro Immobile – two players he previously coached at Torino – for goals. But there are questions over their fitness.

Belotti, who scored 26 goals with Torino in Serie A last season, appears to be at only 60-70 percent capacity as he works his way back from a right knee injury. Immobile leads the Italian league with 14 goals in 11 matches this season but recently strained a leg muscle.

On the positive side, Simone Zaza was recalled after scoring eight goals in his last seven league games for Valencia; wingers Antonio Candreva, Lorenzo Insigne and Stephan El Shaarawy are also in top form; and key midfielders Marco Verratti and Daniele De Rossi return after missing the final two qualifiers through injury.

[ MORE: Slaven Bilic fired at West Ham ]

Mario Balotelli, meanwhile, hasn’t played for Italy since the Azzurri’s first-round elimination from the 2014 World Cup. He remains out of the squad.

While Sweden didn’t qualify for the last two World Cups, it impressed in qualifying with a win over France and finished ahead of the Netherlands in its group.

“We are winners just by being here,” Sweden coach Janne Andersson said.

Sweden went unbeaten at home in qualifying at Friends Arena and striker Marcus Berg scored eight times in nine matches

“If we can play at that level, we can beat any team in the world – including Italy,” Andersson added.

Ventura called up an expanded 27-man squad to allow room for injuries and suspensions in the 72 hours between the two games. Four players – Giorgio Chiellini, Marco Parolo, Verratti and Immobile – are in danger of missing the second leg if they pick up another yellow card.

More than 65,000 tickets have been sold for the game at the San Siro.

“We can’t disappoint them,” Ventura said of the fans. “And we can’t disappoint Italy.”

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf

Schedule for Premier League giants on U.S. tours

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Four Premier League giants are heading to the USA and it all kicks off this week.

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Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur are all heading Stateside to prepare for the upcoming 2018/19 PL campaign, with Liverpool clashing with both Manchester City and Manchester United over the next 10 days.

We will keep you up to date right here at Pro Soccer Talk as to how their preparations are going in the USA.

Here’s where you can watch all of the Premier League teams in action Stateside this summer.


Liverpool
22 July v Borussia Dortmund (Bank of America Stadium, North Carolina)
25 July v Manchester City (MetLife Stadium, New Jersey)
28 July v Manchester United (Michigan Stadium)

Manchester City
20 July v Borussia Dortmund (Soldier Field Stadium, Chicago)
25 July v Liverpool (MetLife Stadium, New Jersey)
28 July v Bayern Munich (Hard Rock Stadium, Miami)

Manchester United
19 July v Club America (Phoenix University Stadium, Arizona)
22 July v San Jose Earthquakes (Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara)
25 July v AC Milan (Rose Bowl Stadium, LA)
28 July v Liverpool (Michigan Stadium)
31 July v Real Madrid (Hard Rock Stadium, Miami)

Tottenham Hotspur
25 July v Roma (SDCCU Stadium, San Diego)
28 July v Barcelona (Rose Bowl Stadium, LA)
31 July v AC Milan (US Bank Stadium, Minneapolis)

PHOTOS: 2018-19 Premier League jerseys

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There are just 24 days to go until the new Premier League season kicks off and 19 of the 20 teams have released at least one new jersey.

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With so many fresh kits out there, it’s tough to pick a favorite but take a good look through all of the new threads below.

These are all of the confirmed new Premier League jerseys for the 2018/19 campaign.


Arsenal


Bournemouth


Brighton & Hove Albion


Burnley


Chelsea


Cardiff City


Crystal Palace


Everton


Fulham


Huddersfield Town


Leicester City


Liverpool


Manchester City


Manchester United


Newcastle United


Southampton


Tottenham Hotspur

Not yet released


Watford


West Ham United


Wolverhampton Wanderers

How can Chelsea, Arsenal challenge for the title?

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There are just 24 days until the 2018/19 Premier League season kicks off.

So, now seems like a good time to continue to focus on what the big boys need to do in order to challenge for the title and the top four.

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We’ve already focused on the top two from last season and what each of Manchester City and Manchester United need to do to get better, and Tottenham and Liverpool’s quest to remain among the top four.

But what about London giants Chelsea and Arsenal? They both finished outside the top four last season and they both have new managers heading into the new campaign.

Will Maurizio Sarri and Unai Emery adapt quickly to life in England? Or will the London rivals struggle to rebuild and reach the top four as they’ll both play in the UEFA Europa League?

Below we analyze the situation for both Chelsea and Arsenal and their biggest needs for the season ahead.


Chelsea


Arsenal

Perisic, Rebic linked with moves to Man United

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Following their superb displays for Croatia at the 2018 World Cup, Ivan Perisic and Ante Rebic are being linked with moves to Manchester United via a report from the Sun.

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It’s no secret that Jose Mourinho is a big admirer of Perisic as he tried to buy the left winger from Inter Milan last summer but saw plenty of bids turned down as United missed out.

Perisic, 29, then went on to become one of Croatia’s star performers this summer as he scored three goals and grabbed two assists combined with tireless displays on the left flank. Perisic grabbed 11 goals and added nine assists last season as Inter qualified for the UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: Alisson to Liverpool back on?

Rebic, 24, also had a fine tournament with his powerful surges forward from the right flank as the Eintracht Frankfurt star scored in the win against Argentina and went close to scoring in the World Cup final but his drive was saved by Hugo Lloris. He also committed more fouls than any other player at the tournament as he tracked back and dug deep in Croatia’s best-ever finish at a World Cup.

Do United really need these two attacking wide men?

Mourinho loves to add pace and power to his teams and they certainly fit the bill in that regard, with the likes of Juan Mata, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and even Alexis Sanchez not out-and-out wingers. The transfer values of Perisic and Rebic will have soared due to Croatia finishing the tournament as runners up with Perisic valued at around $63 million and Rebic at $57 million.

Perisic only signed a new contract at Inter last season but given United’s long-time pursuit of him, he may feel like this could be his last chance to move to the Premier League, if that’s what his heart desires. While Rebic only just arrived at Frankfurt on a permanent deal after scoring twice in their German Cup final win last season, helping them win their first trophy since 1988.

If one or both of these players arrive at Old Trafford, serious doubt will be put on the future of Martial and Rashford as neither will seriously challenge Romelu Lukaku for the central strikers role.