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Juve slips to draw, Napoli wins ahead of scudetto-defining Sunday

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For Juventus supporters, let me start by coming clean: I’m not a hater, and what The Old Lady does on an annual basis is unbelievable.

But for once in this decade, it’d be kinda cool if at least we could get a Serie A scudetto race last into the final week of the season.

[MORE: Man Utd wins | Mou praises Pogba]

That’s still possible after Juve slumped to a 1-1 draw at Crotone on Wednesday and Napoli came back from an early deficit to beat Udinese 4-2.

The two sides square off in Turin on Sunday.

Here’s how the table looks with five matches to play in Italy. Juve also had a Coppa Italia Final to contend.

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Juventus 33 27 4 2 78 19 59 14-1-1 13-3-1 85
 Napoli 33 25 6 2 70 23 47 13-2-2 12-4-0 81

And here are the remaining fixtures:

Juve: vs. Napoli, at Inter, vs. Bologna, at Roma, vs. Verona

Napoli: at Juve, at Fiorentina, vs. Torino, at Sampdoria, vs. Crotone

Xabi Alonso: Liverpool-Real to be “such a special game”

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Xabi Alonso is part of a unique brand of footballer to have played with both Liverpool and Real Madrid.

The retired 36-year-old spent five seasons with each team, winning a UEFA Champions League with both, and now will watch his alma maters tangle for a UCL crown on Saturday.

[ MORE: Zidane praises Ronaldo ]

Alonso said he’s just rooting for “an unbelievable game to watch,” and seems like he’ll be happy either way.

“I have feelings for both clubs. I was lucky enough to win this trophy with both clubs so for me it’s difficult to pick one and I will be happy whatever happens, that’s for sure. For Liverpool, for Madrid [they are in] different circumstances, but it’s such a special game.”

The Spanish legend also seemed a bit torn as to whether Real’s experience or Liverpool’s newbie excitement could tilt the scales:

“For the Real Madrid guys, it’s the opposite. They have played so many finals in the last few years, so they can manage the situation better. Later it’s just 90 minutes for both sides, whatever happens. But the build-up is different.

“For sure it’s good to have that experience. But it’s good as well to have that excitement, that hunger, but you need to control as well the over-relaxation and the over-motivation.

“You need to find the right point of activation for the game. That’s not difficult because you know what it means to play in a Champions League final and you don’t have many chances during your whole career, and that’s one of the key psychological sides of this game. And the emotional side is almost as good as the football side.”

Maybe it’s simply playing both sides of the fence, and there’s no shame in that, but it does seem a hard match to choose. Both have been wildly inconsistent in league play as well as the group stage, but have been quite good in the knockout rounds.

It’s hard to pick against Real, but that’s why they play the games.

Zidane praises Ronaldo, says Real, Liverpool UCL experience “irrelevant”

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As Real Madrid prepares its bid to become the first three-peat winner of the European Cup since the mid-1970s, the Spanish giants still carrying the spirit of an outside, almost like an underdog.

[ MORE: Kane named England captain ]

You can hear it in Zinedine Zidane’s comments on himself, as he casually mentions that he’s not a great tactician.

There’s almost a feeling like he’s building up all of Madrid, including his players, to think of beating Liverpool in Saturday’s UEFA Champions League Final in Kiev like an upset.

And it comes off especially true when he discusses any criticism of his serial Ballon d’Or chaser, Cristiano Ronaldo:

“A player can go through some hard times, but when he does not score he does not get wound up. He knows that the next game he could maybe score two or three goals. That is what happened this year. That’s what makes him the best. There are players that do not thrive under pressure but some do thrive. He is one of those that does. The more you criticize him, the more you should beware. I am a quiet person and in the end, it is better to have Cristiano Ronaldo by your side because he shows year in year out that he is top dog. He will be vital, because he is the best there is.”

Zidane also said Real’s status as a two-time reigning champion, and Liverpool’s 11-year break between UCL finals, are “irrelevant.”

“We must prepare for the game, look at our opponent’s flaws and try to hurt them. It is one match and we are both playing away from home. We are ready and experience will not give us any edge at all. It’s a football match and we have to show that we want to win it.”

Transfer Gossip: Pep scouts de Ligt, Lewandowski to Chelsea?

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Just days after winning his first Premier League title, Pep Guardiola is already on the road, scouting for new signings.

One of these players that Manchester City is reportedly scouting – likely along with many European clubs – is Ajax’s young defensive wiz Matthijs de Ligt. Just 18-years old, de Ligt finished his second full season in the Ajax first team, playing 39 games across all competitions and scoring three goals.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

The youngster was even fast-tracked into the Netherlands National Team, starved of quality defenders as they are, but he made some crucial errors that led to the Oranje missing the World Cup and a second-straight tournament.

Guardiola is eying de Ligt as the eventual replacement for Vincent Kompany, but there’s a chance Guardiola could wait to sign him with Nicolas Otamendi, Aymeric Laporte and John Stones ahead of de Ligt in the pecking order. However, considering how well Davinson Sanchez has done in his time in England this season, de Ligt could in theory have a similar performance, assuming he adjusts physically.

Either way, should de Ligt join Man City, they’ll have two of the brightest young defenders in European football.

Here’s a look at some other transfer rumors across the Premier League and Europe:

(more…)

Sources: Patrick Vieira move to Nice finalized

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New York City FC’s fantastic start to 2018 will have to continue without its manager, as Patrick Vieira is set to move overseas.

Multiple sources have told Pro Soccer Talk that Vieira’s move to Ligue 1 side OGC Nice –which was reported by PST over the weekend — has been finalized.

The deal is for a two-year contract with the French club, who finished eighth place in Ligue 1 during the 2017/18 campaign.

French outlet L’Equipe has reported that NYCFC won’t receive a buyout for the remainder of Vieira’s contract, which was set to run through the conclusion of the 2018 MLS season in December.

Vieira was at NYCFC training on Tuesday, and is expected to be once again on Wednesday, per a source familiar with the situation.

Tomorrow’s training session will likely be Vieira’s last though, and he won’t travel to coach NYCFC for the team’s MLS match on Friday night against the Houston Dynamo.

There aren’t any indications to this point as to whether or not NYCFC has an interim manager in mind to replace the outgoing Vieira.

The 41-year-old manager has spent the last two-plus seasons in New York City, guiding NYCFC to back-to-back second-place finishes in the Eastern Conference. He took over at the team in 2016, following the firing of the team’s first-ever manager Jason Kreis (now at Orlando City).

Vieira will be replacing Lucien Favre at Nice, who recently left the club at the conclusion of the Ligue 1 season. Favre has since taken the vacant managerial position at Borussia Dortmund.

Over recent months, Vieira has been linked to several other European jobs, including Saint Etienne (Ligue 1) and Southampton (Premier League), neither of which escalated to a serious level of interest.