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5 teams in tight race for Serie A trophy

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MILAN (AP) In one of the tightest Serie A title races of recent seasons, there is one noticeable absentee.

AC Milan was expected to be back at the top after spending more than 200 million euros (nearly $250 million) on new players in the offseason.

[ MORE: Man City survives late scare from Newcastle ]

However, it approaches the halfway stage a lowly 11th in the standings, and there have been claims over the financial stability of the Chinese-led consortium that purchased the club from Silvio Berlusconi for $800 million in April.

Milan fired coach Vincenzo Montella in November and replaced him with former player Gennaro Gattuso but there has been little change in fortunes.

Gattuso’s first match in charge was a draw against Benevento, which had not picked up a single point until that moment, and he has lost two of his three league matches since then.

To make matters worse for the Rossoneri, they have been forced to watch as bitter neighbor Inter Milan has proved itself a surprise contender for the Serie A title.

Champions League qualification was seen as the minimum requirement for Milan this season, especially with Italy sending four teams to Europe’s premier club competition next year, but it is 14 points off the final berth.

Indeed, Milan is closer to the relegation zone than the top four as only nine points separates it from the bottom three of Crotone, Hellas Verona and Benevento – which still has just that point it earned against the Rossoneri.

After 18 of 38 rounds, a closer look at the first half of the season:

TITLE RACE

This could be the season that Juve’s stranglehold on the Serie A title is ended.

Juventus has won the Italian league in each of the last six seasons but there are several challengers to its crown this year, and just nine points between the top five sides.

Napoli leads the pack, with 45 points, one ahead of Juventus and five above Inter. Roma has 38 points, two more than Lazio, but both the capital sides have played a match less than the top three.

However, while Juventus undoubtedly has the experience and capability of withstanding a tough title battle, there are question marks over its rivals.

Napoli, whose only league defeat was against Juventus, does not have much strength in depth and has already had several players ruled out with long-term injuries.

Inter’s problem is its staying power: it was in a similar position last season but collapsed and eventually finished seventh. There are signs a repeat could be on the cards as Inter, which was the last unbeaten team in the league, has lost its past two matches.

PICK OF THE PLAYERS

Lorenzo Insigne wasn’t even born when Napoli last won the Serie A title. He could now fire his hometown club to its next league trophy.

Insigne has been at the heart of most of Napoli’s goals this season and coach Maurizio Sarri believes the 26-year-old is as important to the team as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar are for Barcelona, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain, respectively.

Insigne made 60 consecutive starts for Napoli in all competitions before his injury against Juventus and it was no coincidence the team struggled to create goals while he was on the sidelines.

The Italy forward has scored two goals in three matches since his return and Sarri will be hoping he stays injury-free if Napoli is going to win its first Serie A title since Diego Maradona led the club to its only two championships in 1987 and 1990.

EMERGING TALENT

Lucas Torreira, a 21-year-old defensive midfielder for Sampdoria, leads the league in balls won and is also the most fouled player in Serie A – not to mention he scored the second goal in a 3-2 win over Juventus in November.

Winger Federico Chiesa and striker Giovanni Simeone have shown second-generation talent for Fiorentina. Chiesa’s father, Enrico, was a prolific scorer, while Simeone’s dad, Diego, was a standout Serie A player and is the current coach of Atletico Madrid.

Vanja Milinkovic-Savic, Torino’s 20-year-old goalkeeper, pushed a 30-yard free kick off the crossbar in the Italian Cup last month then saved a penalty from Edin Dzeko in a 2-1 win over Roma to reach the quarterfinals.

Also, Lazio midfielder Luis Alberto has shown himself to be a capable assist man, and Udinese midfielder Antonin Barak has scored four goals in his last three matches.

SURPRISE TEAM

Lazio would not have been on many people’s lists for title contenders.

However, an impressive start to the season has left it in fifth place. Indeed, if it wins its match in hand, Lazio could move to within a point of third-place Inter and six below leader Napoli.

Lazio has already beaten Juventus twice this season, in the Italian Super Cup in August and in the league in October.

Leading goalscorer Ciro Immobile netted four goals in those two matches. The Italy forward has scored 16 in as many league matches so far this season.

Young coach Simone Inzaghi has the team playing attractive football and the capital side is challenging on three fronts this season. It is also in the semifinals of the Italian Cup and in the knockout stages of the Europa League.

POINT TO PROVE

There was much fanfare when Leonardo Bonucci joined Milan in July and he was immediately handed the Rossoneri captaincy.

The fee for Bonucci’s surprise move from Juventus topped 40 million euros (nearly $50 million), and he signed a five-year contract worth up to 10 million euros (nearly $12 million) per season – making the 30-year-old the highest-paid player in Italy.

Bonucci started poorly and it was figured he just needed some time to adapt to his new surroundings at Milan after seven seasons at Juventus, most of which was spent alongside Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini for club and country.

However, there has been little improvement and Bonucci was even sent off in a 0-0 draw against Genoa for elbowing a defender in the head, causing him to miss two matches.

More AP Serie A coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/SerieA

AP Sports Writer Andrew Dampf in Rome contributed.

Crystal Palace – Everton: How to watch, start time, prediction, odds

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Crystal Palace – Everton: It’s a battle of perfect teams on Saturday when Everton visits Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park (Watch live at 10 am ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

The Eagles have knocked off Southampton and Manchester United to open their 2020-21 Premier League season while Everton has handled Tottenham Hotspur and West Bromwich Albion.

[ MORE: ProSoccerTalk unfiltered, Week 2 ]

Two legends of the game will be at the helm when Roy Hodgson and Carlo Ancelotti match wits on Saturday. Can the former continue to coax unexpected results of his Eagles against the strengthened and powerful Toffees?


Team news: Crystal Palace – Everton (INJURY REPORT)

James Tomkins (thigh), Nathan Ferguson (knee), Patrick van Aanholt (shoulder), Christian Benteke (ankle), Gary Cahill (thigh) and Jairo Riedewald (undisclosed) are all set to miss out for Roy Hodgson’s Eagles.

Fabian Delph returned for the midweek League Cup game but Everton won’t have Jarrad Branthwaite (ankle), Mason Holgate (ankle), Cenk Tosun (knee), and Jean-Philippe Gbamin (calf).


What they’re saying

Roy Hodgson on how the Eagles won (again) at Old Trafford: “We made certain and kept them playing in front of us and they could not profit from those spaces they are skillful enough to find. And when we had the ball I thought we looked very dangerous and threatening so I don’t think it was a big surprise that we scored three.”

Carlo Ancelotti after Jordan Pickford made a gaffe against Fleetwood Town: “I think the first goal was not an individual mistake because we passed the ball back to Jordan, it was a really difficult ball and we could behave differently. Of course you have to improve there. We want to build up from the back, but when there’s no risk. If it’s risky it’s no good because we can concede a goal like we did. It can be a good lesson for the future. I didn’t speak to him and, as I said, I have to speak with players that were involved when we build-up.Jordan was not the only one.”

Jordan Pickford
FLEETWOOD, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 23: Jordan Pickford of Everton is challenged by Josh Morris of Fleetwood Town (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images).

Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Palace is an underdog despite beating United and it’s perhaps a bit surprising to see them at +275 with a draw at +220. An Everton win delivers +110.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Crystal Palace – Everton prediction

Hodgson has coaxed some tremendous midfield performances out of James McArthur, James McCarthy, and Luka Milivojevic in his tenure at Palace but out-performing Abdoulaye Doucoure, Allan, and Andre Gomes is a big ask even for that steely crew. James Rodriguez is in incredible form but so is Wilfried Zaha. Couldn’t this one go either way? Yes, but if Everton’s moving in the direction many believe it will be able to take all three points in a composed 2-1 win.


How to watch Crystal Palace – Everton stream and start time

Kickoff: 10 am ET Saturday
TV Channel: NBCSN
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Brighton – Manchester United: How to watch, start time, odds, prediction

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Brighton – Manchester United: Impressive Brighton and Hove Albion hopes to continue Manchester United’s winless league season when the Red Devils visit the Amex Stadium on Saturday (Watch live at 7:30 am ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

It will be the first two meetings in several days, as Brighton’s win at Preston North End and United’s takedown of Luton Town set up a League Cup fourth round date at the Amex.

[ MORE: ProSoccerTalk unfiltered, Week 2 ]

United handled Brighton well last season, winning 3-1 and 3-0, so this will be a great test at the acumen of both managers: Graham Potter in his second full season with the Seagulls and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer attempting to prove his doubters wrong.


Team news: Brighton – Manchester United (INJURY REPORT)

The Seagulls will not have Yves Bissouma, who was suspended three matches for his no-look, studs-up kick into the face of Newcastle defender Jamal Lewis. Brighton manager Graham Potter revealed that the long-term recovery of Jose Izquierdo is about two weeks away from being complete.

Manchester United will be without Axel Tuanzebe and Phil Jones.


What they’re saying

Potter on the League Cup win setting up consecutive Man United tests: “It’s a big week for us with those two matches and then Everton before the international break. That’s what we wanted because we wanted to go through in this competition. Players always want to play and the best thing for them is to be out on the field on nights like tonight to keep everyone in the group ready for when they’re needed. You saw that today. There was a willingness to run and fight for the team and get the result and that’s why I’m very happy.”

United’s Solskjaer after goalkeeper Dean Henderson starred on his senior debut: “The goalkeeping department and training level has been really high, of course, you can see driven and dedicated people and I’ve enjoyed watching them. Dean in goal, good save, you can see he’s having to concentrate and it’s a different job to what he’s done a few times last season and he came up with the save when he had to.”

League Cup results
LUTON, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 22: Dean Henderson of Manchester United saves a shot at Kenilworth Road (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Brighton is +375 to win at home, while a draw nets the wagerer +260. Manchester United is expected to win and thusly -130 to take all three points.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Brighton – Manchester United prediction

The only thing keeping us from pegging a very impressive Brighton team to collect another win is the shadow cast by Manchester United’s 2019-20 season (and long tradition of winning). United was rusty in its loss to Crystal Palace and had to work hard to defeat Luton Town in the League Cup. If that rust was there last week, how do the legs feel after a week? Anyway, the Red Devils still have Bruno Fernandes and it just doesn’t seem like this team starts 0-2 (or even 0-1-1). I grimace as I write 2-1 to Manchester United.


How to watch Brighton – Manchester United stream and start time

Kickoff: 7:30 am ET Saturday
TV Channel: NBCSN
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Lampard gushes after Thiago Silva debut, Havertz hat trick

Frank Lampard reaction
Photo by ALASTAIR GRANT/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
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Chelsea rebounded from its weekend loss to Liverpool by getting the good vibes going through a number of new faces Wednesday in a League Cup blowout of Barnsley.

Kai Havertz scored three times, Ben Chilwell came off the bench to chip in an assist on debut, and Thiago Silva went 60 minutes in his first match in a Chelsea shirt as the Blues pounded the Championship side 6-0.

[ MORE: ProSoccerTalk unfiltered, Week 2 ]

We’ll start with the longtime PSG defender, who had four clearances, an interception, and a tackle while winning both of his duels.

He passed at 94 percent including six-of-seven long balls. Even accounting for the competition, that’s solid.

Lampard called Silva’s outing “a perfect 60 minutes” via Football.London:

“He also gave us something for me on the night in the dressing room and on the pitch of a leader with authority in terms of his demands on others,” Lampard said. “He can’t speak the language but at the minute that’s not even a problem because his presence and the way he commands people around him is already showing that to me in training and in our game tonight. Yes, I am very very pleased with Thiago. It is what I expected of a player of his level but it is very refreshing to have him here at the club.”

ProSoccerTalk talked about Chelsea’s need for a leader at the back during this week’s “Unfiltered,” and Lampard has clearly been waiting for someone like Silva.

As for Havertz, you only needed the box score to see his influence on the game.

Two of Havertz’s three goals were assisted by Tammy Abraham and a third from Mason Mount.

The German phenom also racked up five tackles and two key passes against Barnsley.

“He makes the recovery tackle for Ross (Barkley)’s goal, but then to also just have some freedom on the ball in central areas roaming behind Tammy,” Lampard said. “The combinations he had with Tammy, the way he grew into the game and had confidence and the three goals. It was a great night for Kai and the first of many for him.”

Havertz scored seven braces for Bayer Leverkusen, but this was his first hat trick. Barnsley may play in the second tier, but they had allowed three goals in their last four games.

Whoops.

Actors Reynolds, McElhenney bid to invest in Wrexham AFC

Wrexham AFC
Photos by Amy Sussman/Getty Images and Jim Spellman/WireImage
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“The Gang Buys a Football Team?”

“It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” actor Rob McElhenney and “Deadpool” star Ryan Reynolds are said to be in talks to buy National League side Wrexham AFC, reports The Guardian.

[ MORE: ProSoccerTalk unfiltered, Week 2 ]

The Welsh club, nicknamed the Red Dragons, was founded in 1864 and made it to the European Cup Winners’ Cup eight times between 1972-96.

They’ve since been relegated out of the Football League, dipping out of League Two in 2008.

McElhenney and Reynolds have bid to take over the club, and the Wrexham Supporters Trust says 97.5 percent of their members voted to allow the actors to propose their vision for the club before a second vote.

From wst.org.uk:

As a result, talks with the proposed bidders will now continue and we are in a position to confirm the two people interested in investing in Wrexham AFC.

Rob McElhenney is an American actor, director, producer and screenwriter, best known as the creator of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

Ryan Reynolds is an award-winning Canadian actor, writer, producer and business entrepreneur whose credits include Marvel’s Deadpool.

It’s gotta get McElhenney’s goat that Reynolds gets the “award-winning” adjective added to his name.

Either way, this is definitely an intriguing club for investment and the potential addition of Reynolds and McElhenney to the fray would only increase the interest in Wrexham AFC.

Deadpool and Mac would be quite a combo in the transfer market.