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De Rossi inspired for electric Serie A race

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When we last spoke with Daniele De Rossi, he was cautiously optimistic that his club — and we very much mean his club — AS Roma was charting a path toward greatness.

The one-club man, 34, captained La Lupa to its first UEFA Champions League semifinal berth in three decades, and also led Roma to third place in Serie A.

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This summer, De Rossi remains cautious about over-promising anything, but the band has mostly stayed together. Alisson and Radja Nainngolan have left, but anyone else who played 1000-plus minutes is still there and the club also bought Justin Kluivert (Ajax) and Javier Pastore (PSG).

Now seven games from 600 appearances with Roma, De Rossi renewed acquaintances with PST ahead of the club’s International Champions Cup matches talking about the season that was, Juventus adding Ronaldo, and missing out the World Cup.

Roma plays Tottenham in San Diego on Wednesday before traveling to Arlington for a July 31 date with Barcelona. I Lupi then meet Real Madrid on Aug. 7 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

ProSoccerTalk: Daniele, when we spoke last year you were hesitant to declare AS Roma a contender given all the new pieces but had a good feeling about the club. Given how it came together, is that hope tank a bit fuller?

Daniele De Rossi: “I’m pretty confident with this team, with the coach, because it’s his second year and everything will probably easier because he is not starting from the beginning. He can count on a base of team, players who already know what he wants. It’s going to be easier to insert young players in the team.”

PST: What struck us about the manager (Eusebio Di Francesco) is how he was very calculated with how to respond to your side whether you had won 3-0 over Barcelona or fallen to Shakhtar in the first leg of a Champions League tie. It seems he carries some of the same characteristics as a coach that you do as a player. Did he impress you as a manager?

DDR: “Yes, and I’ve known him for a long time. I met him when I was 18 and he’s always been like this. Even as a player, he wanted everything. He wanted to do better as a player, and now as a coach. The job is different, full of pressure, but he’s a winner in his mentality and he’s trying to get it to the team as well.”

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PST: You’ve spoken of Roma as a club and Rome as a city as classics, and that the team can reflect that. It seemed last year’s UCL run had the area buzzing.

DDR: “Last year we showed all the world what a city and a team like ours can do. We did something incredible and probably because of our talent, because of our organization, and even because it’s a club that the fans trusted us. Everything went very good. Even the relationship between us and the fans was something that we talked about last year. It’s something we found during the season at every step, much more than before.”

PST: Has that raised expectations for you?

DDR: (laughing) “Eighteen years that I’m hoping and trying to bring something to Rome. Very easy to say but very hard to get. We will try to do something unbelievable because the teams that reached the first and second position are even better than last year.

“Juventus bought one of the best players in football history and this is a sign. They are trying to make their team better but we are trying to do the same. Nothing in football is written. Even the last World Cup showed that things can go in different ways than you thought before a match, league, or tournament begins. That’s what we think, we hope.

“We are a good team. We are close to them. They are trying to win Champions League and make a big hole between them and the other teams, but we’re trying to fill it up.”

PST: Last year you showed the capability to beat teams like Barcelona and Liverpool by multiple goals, but also to find a way to win 1-0 when needed. Roma conceded just 28 times in the league, and that was in Di Francesco’s first season. Does this mean we may see even more variety in terms of tactics and approaches?

DDR: “The time can help the team to understand better, not just our coach but every coach needs time. We hope that what happened last year, so many matches where we scored a lot of goals but sometimes conceded as well. We tried to become a more balanced team, and it’s something you can achieve with more experience. It’s going to be better from this side, but it’s never written. We’re not gonna start from the semifinal of the Champions League, or third place in Serie A. We start on zero points, the same as Cagliari or Juventus.”

Daniele De Rossi of AS Roma celebrates his sides victory with Alessandro Florenzi (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

PST: You mentioned the World Cup earlier. Watching the tournament from home was something new for both you and Italy. What did you make of it?

DDR: “It’s been a weird tournament because a lot of teams we thought could reach the semifinals did not. Not because of them, but because the whole world is improving, the way to play football, the way to look and study football. Even the smallest team in the world, it’s not as 15-20 years ago where you can play against Panama and Costa Rica, and score 10 goals every match. Teams are going to be smarter than before because everybody sees a lot of football, with software and the Internet. Even the coaches are smarter than before. That’s some of the problems like Argentina or Brazil found in the last World Cup. At the end a big, big team still won the World Cup. It’s not so easy for every team.”

PST: So there’s hope for United States?

DDR: (laughing) “It’s not so easy for them as well, but I can’t talk because I’m on the same side as the U.S., the other side of the TV I’m watching the World Cup and it’s so sad.”

Roma at the ICC

Wednesday: vs. Tottenham Hotspur (San Diego)

July 31: vs. Barcelona (Arlington)

Aug. 7: vs. Real Madrid (East Rutherford)

Chairman Mubarak: Other clubs are ‘jealous’ of Man City’s success

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Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak believes that other clubs — namely those who have fallen miles back of the back-to-back Premier League champions — are “jealous” of the club’s success.

[ MORE: Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante to miss Europa League final with new injury ]

The root of the perceived jealousy is, of course, Man City’s seemingly unlimited spending power which dwarves that of just about — if not — every other club in the PL. There’s a growing sense around the league — and around the world — that clubs like City, just to name one, are doing the game a disservice by distorting the transfer market and building an infallible super-team with the aid of unprecedented financial resources.

Mubarak believes that these feelings also stem from other clubs’ failed dealings in the transfer market: spending comparable — if not more — money on players who don’t justify that price tag the same way some of City’s big-money buys have done — quotes from the BBC:

“With success, there is a certain level of jealousy, envy, whatever you call it. That’s part of the game.

“It’s not easy for our competition, we know that. But the reality is, we didn’t buy the most expensive player in the Premier League [Paul Pogba], we didn’t buy the most expensive goalkeeper [Kepa Arrizabalaga], we didn’t buy the most expensive midfielder, we didn’t buy the most expensive striker [Romelu Lukaku].

“People make decisions, they’ve got to live by them. This is a well-run club.”

City’s financial dealings have regularly been in the headlines of late, as they are believed to have circumvented FFP rules by lying about sponsorship deals so as to balance a larger expenditure on transfer fees and player wages with revenue generated by the club.

Valverde under pressure after dismal end to Barcelona’s season

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MADRID (AP) A couple of weeks ago, few questioned Ernesto Valverde as Barcelona coach.

The team had just won a second straight Spanish league title under his command and was close to making it to the Champions League final after beating Liverpool 3-0 in the first leg of the semifinals.

The team was also through to the Copa del Rey final, where it would try to win an unprecedented fifth straight title in the competition.

Valverde seemed to be comfortably in control as the club moved closer to winning the treble.

Things quickly took a turn for the worse, though, and Valverde woke up on Sunday under added pressure and facing increased criticism.

Barcelona lost 2-1 to Valencia in the Copa del Rey final on Saturday, a result that followed the disastrous elimination against Liverpool in the Champions League and added to the team’s woeful end to what had been a great season.

“A month ago we were celebrating the league title. Fifteen days ago we were thinking we had a chance at a treble,” Valverde said. “And we came up short in the decisive moments in both the Champions League and the Copa del Rey.”

The disappointing ending brought out a wave of criticism of Valverde, who last year also finished the season under a cloud after another humiliating Champions League elimination – that time it squandered a big first-leg lead against Roma in the tournament’s quarterfinals.

The criticism seems more pronounced this time, with some fans and local media calling for a change at the helm.

It didn’t take long after Barcelona’s loss to Valencia in Seville for club President Josep Bartomeu to come out and defend the coach.

“Ernesto has a contract and he remains the team’s coach,” Bartomeu said. “This loss was not the coach’s fault. The team created a lot of scoring chances but the ball didn’t go in, and what counts is how many times you score.”

Bartomeu had already defended Valverde after the demoralizing 4-0 loss to Liverpool in the Champions League, saying the club was not considering a change in command for next season.

Valverde said he was not worried and felt supported by the club despite the disappointing ending.

“It’s a bad feeling, we won’t deny it, but we have to stay strong,” he said. “What we want as coaches is to have a chance to come back. It’s tough to lose, it means something went wrong. We have to take the responsibility for it.”

Even if Valverde stays as expected, it doesn’t mean there won’t be changes for Barcelona.

Several players played below expectations this season, especially former Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho, who was regularly jeered by fans and whose place with the club remains uncertain.

Bartomeu will likely have to go shopping in the offseason to try to improve the supporting cast for Lionel Messi, who had a fantastic year but wasn’t able to save the season by himself. When Messi looked ordinary, no one was able to take over his role as protagonist, and it proved costly in the decisive moments.

Young midfielder Frenkie de Jong is joining from Ajax and he should significantly boost the midfield, but Barcelona will definitely need to add to its attack, as Luis Suarez was the only true striker who performed consistently well. He couldn’t play in the Copa final after undergoing knee surgery and his absence was felt as the team struggled to capitalize on its scoring chances.

Veteran Gerard Pique is set to return for another season in defense, but there are still doubts about the fitness of Samuel Umtiti, who missed several matches this season because of injuries.

“We’ve been thinking about next season for a while, but it’s not the time to discuss the future,” Bartomeu said. “We ended with the Spanish league title, it was important. We couldn’t win the Copa, but we’ll just move on.”

Suarez defends surgery decision after Barca lose Copa del Rey final

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Luis Suarez has defended himself from criticism for undergoing knee surgery that prevented him from playing for Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final.

The Uruguayan released a statement Sunday saying he had no option despite the timing of the final, which Barcelona lost 2-1 to Valencia on Saturday.

Suarez said he had to undergo surgery “against my will” after rupturing his meniscus against Liverpool in the Champions League semifinals.

He said the surgery earlier this month had nothing to do with a cartilage issue that he had been nursing since the beginning of the season.

Barcelona won the Spanish league but finished the season on a low after being eliminated by Liverpool in the Champions League and losing the Copa final to Valencia.

Suarez scored 25 goals in 49 matches this season, second only to Lionel Messi on the scoring charts for Barcelona.

U-20 WC roundup: Mexico hammered by Japan; Italy top Ecuador

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action at the U-20 World Cup in Poland…

[ MORE: USWNT wins final match before World Cup (video) ]

Mexico 0-3 Japan

Mexico’s heavy defeat at the hands of Japan means El Tri‘s stars of tomorrow, who have zero points from their first two games, cannot finish top-two in Group B and can only advance to the knockout rounds as one of four third-place teams.

Taisei Miyashiro (21st and 77th minutes) and Kyosuke Tagawa (52nd) bagged the goals on Sunday, as Japan picked up its first victory and set up an all-important finale with Italy to decide who finishes top of the group on Wednesday.

Ecuador 0-1 Italy

Andrea Pinamonti scored the only goal in Italy’s 1-0 victory over 10-man Ecuador to reach the six-point mark and guarantee themselves a top-two finish and a place in the round of 16.

Elsewhere in the U-20 World Cup

Senegal 2-0 Colombia [ HIGHLIGHTS ]
Poland 5-0 Tahiti [ HIGHLIGHTS ]

Monday’s U-20 World Cup schedule

Honduras v. Uruguay — 12 p.m. ET
Qatar v. Ukraine — 12 p.m. ET
USA v. Nigeria — 2:30 p.m. ET
Norway v. New Zealand — 2:30 p.m. ET