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Joint celebration shows growing Ronaldo, Dybala rapport

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MILAN (AP) The flourishing partnership between Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala has led to a joint celebration.

Dybala scored his first league goal since Nov. 3 in Juventus’ 3-0 Serie A win over Frosinone last Friday and celebrated by merging Ronaldo’s distinctive celebration – of jumping and turning in the air while letting out a yell – with his own mask gesture.

Ronaldo had combined their celebrations after scoring in the previous match.

Dybala later posted several pictures on social media of the two of them celebrating, with the caption: “Give a title to this album… (hashtag)dybalamask (hashtag)siuuuuuuu or …. (hashtag)siuuumask.”

Ronaldo, who had set up Dybala’s goal, performed their combined celebration again when he scored the third goal against Frosinone, following a pass by Mario Mandzukic.

The former Real Madrid forward has already developed a good partnership with Mandzukic and it now appears as though his understanding with Dybala is developing swiftly, too.

That is causing Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri a selection headache for Wednesday’s Champions League round of 16 game at Atletico Madrid. All three forwards could play, with Dybala dropping deeper, as has happened on a number of occasions this season.

“We’re going to Madrid to score,” Allegri said. “Obviously it will be a different game, but we are fine.

“I still have some doubts on the formation – the important thing is that the challenge is approached with the right focus.”

Juventus has scored three goals and conceded none in each of its previous two matches. Moreover, Ronaldo has scored 22 times in 31 matches against Atletico.

WAYWARD NAPOLI

Napoli slipped to its second successive 0-0 draw in Serie A and 13 points behind Juventus.

Carlo Ancelotti’s lineup had 26 shots against Torino on Sunday and hit the post but couldn’t find the back of the net, and its wayward finishing has let it down this season.

“It’s an unfavorable period for us in which the ball doesn’t want to go in despite the numerous chances we’re creating,” midfielder Piotr Zielinski said.

“Today as well we had so many chances to score but we can’t manage to finish them off. Certainly it’s our fault but it’s also true that we’re not lucky. We deserved more not only today but also in other matches.”

RADJA’S BACK

Radja Nainggolan is back to his best and demonstrating the scintillating talent he displayed so often at Roma.

Nainggolan scored for the first time since Nov. 3 on Sunday, netting the winning goal to help Inter Milan to a 2-1 victory over Sampdoria.

The Belgian midfielder also made some incisive runs with the quick bursts Roma and Serie A fans had become used to in previous seasons.

He had already shown hints of that in the previous match, where he set up the goal for Inter’s 1-0 win at Parma.

“I had problems in the past, now I’m thinking only of playing and of giving my best for Inter,” Nainggolan said.

Nainggolan has struggled since joining from Roma in the offseason in a deal which valued him at more than $40 million. The 30-year-old had injury problems but was then banned for a match in December after repeatedly turning up late for training.

Since then he has knuckled down. He also underwent a strict training regime at the start of the year to lose weight and regain full fitness.

Nainggolan could perhaps give some advice to Mauro Icardi, who was watching from the stands at San Siro with wife and agent Wanda Nara after a difficult week for the club and its star forward.

Icardi was stripped of his captaincy on Wednesday amid protracted contract negotiations and the Argentina international then pulled out of Inter’s squad for the Europa League trip to Rapid Vienna and the Sampdoria match, officially with a knee injury.

“I hope the matters off the pitch will be resolved,” Nainggolan said. “The team is united and we want to win.

“I think Icardi has always given his all. I hope for him and for us that he comes back as soon as possible.”

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

Serie A roundup: Lazio hand 10-man Juventus first loss (video)

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Lazio’s triumphant victory over league favorites Juventus highlights Saturday’s Serie A action.

 [ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule ]

Lazio 3-1 Juventus

Juventus are no longer unbeaten in Serie A play under Maurizio Sarri, losing 3-1 to Simone Inzaghi’s inspired Lazio.

Luiz Felipe, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Felipe Caicedo scored for the home side, who are now three points behind second-place Juventus and five behind top-of-the-table Inter Milan.

Scoreless from open play since October, Cristiano Ronaldo found the back of the net in the 25th minute to put the Old Lady in front after tapping in Federico Bernardeschi’s well-placed pass inside the box.

It was Juventus’ game to lose, which they went on to do after a series of defensive and cognitive mishaps.

Tied after Felipe’s goal right before the break, Milinkovic-Savic scored in the 74th minute. The Serbian’s goal came after Juan Cuadrado was sent off for his reckless tackle on last-man Manuel Lazzari in the 69th. Milinkovic-Savic was set up by Luis Alberto‘s assist over the Juventus defense and scored with a low shot past goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.

Ciro Immobile had a clear-cut chance to widen his red-hot goalscoring form, but the striker was denied by Szczesny from the spot. Juventus’ goalkeeper saved Immobile’s initial blistering strike, and his following second chance.

In stoppage time, however, Felipe Caicedo’s second-chance strike was too much for the Polish ‘keeper.

Juventus will have to quickly turn the page as they face Bayer Leverkusen midweek in their final match of the Champions League group stage, while Lazio travel to France to take on Rennes in their Europa League group stage finale.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Atalanta 3-2 Hellas Verona

Udinese 1-1 Napoli

La Liga roundup: Barcelona, Real Madrid remain level on points after wins (video)

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Routine wins from league favorites Barcelona and Real Madrid, highlight La Liga’s Saturday action.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Barcelona 5-2 RCD Mallorca

It was a special night at Barcelona’s Camp Nou.

Fresh from winning the Ballon d’Or for a record sixth time, Lionel Messi was greeted by his three children on the field, who handed him a shinny, golden ball – given yearly to the best player in the world – prior to the first whistle.

From that point on, it was evident that it would be all smiles for everyone tied to the defending champions at the stadium (and for those watching remotely) on Saturday.

 

That was the case.

Antoine Griezmann – a topic of conversation due to lack of productivity at Barcelona this season – kicked off the game with a solo run and subsequent goal in the seventh minute, opening the floodgates.

As a celebration of his latest, individual accomplishment, Messi showcased the power and precision of his left foot at the tune of a hat-trick. The Argentine ace scored twice in the first half and another in consolation time, putting his season total mark at a league-best 12 goals.

The moment and goal of the night (possibly of the season) didn’t directly involve Messi, however. With a daring, emphatic and genius back-heel strike, not only did Luis Suarez put the home side up 4-1, but cemented himself in the ballot for best goal of the season.

With 34 and a better goal differential than Real Madrid, Barcelona remain atop of La Liga ahead of their clash with Inter Milan on Tuesday, while Mallorca hope Ante Budimir can score another brace; this time against a struggling Celta Vigo next weekend.

Real Madrid 2-0 Espanyol

With goals from Karim Benzema and Raphael Varane, Real Madrid comfortably cruised past a struggling Espanyol.

With the majority of Real Madrid in Espanyol’s final third following a recovered free-kick attempt, Benzema charged his way into the box before laying off a ball to Varane, who not a proven goalscorer whatsoever, placed the ball into the back of the net with ease.

It was the 37th minute, and the home side were up 1-0 against a poor Espanyol.

With a notable superior style at hand, Los Blancos continued to surge forward. Opportunities at goal were generated but the ball wouldn’t go past ex-Real Madrid ‘keeper Diego Lopez.

Then, in the 79th minute, Benzema registered his 11th goal of the season, finishing an off-balance pass from Federico Valverde inside the box.

Winners in their last La Liga bouts, Real Madrid now prepare for their Champions League Group Stage finale against Club Brugge midweek. Espanyol, despite being in the drop zone, host CSKA Moscow in their Europa League Group Stage finale. The Catalonian club lead Group H with 11 points after five matches.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Granada 3-0 Alaves

Levante 2-4 Valencia

Ancelotti’s future uncertain after Napoli draws at Udinese

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ROME (AP) Carlo Ancelotti’s future as Napoli coach is uncertain after his team failed to beat Udinese on Saturday in Serie A.

The 1-1 draw extended Napoli’s winless run to nine matches in all competitions. Piotr Zelinski saved Napoli with a late goal that salvaged a point for the visitors.

Amid reports that Ancelotti could soon be fired, Napoli, which had won its last six league matches against Udinese, went a goal down after a counterattack which was finished by Kevin Lasagna in the 32nd minute.

Napoli improved after Fernando Llorente replaced an uninspired Lorenzo Insigne in the second half. It equalized after a good combination between Dries Mertens and Zielinski, who wrongfooted the Udinese ‘keeper with a shot into the bottom corner.

Also, Atalanta twice came from behind after Samuel Di Carmine’s two goals to beat Hellas Verona 3-2 with a late winner from Berat Djimsiti, who volleyed home from close range.

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

Kyle Walker: City catching up to Liverpool ‘difficult’ after derby loss to United

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After a crushing 2-1 loss to archrival Manchester United at home, 14 is the new magic number for Pep Guardiola and company.

14 is the number of points that Manchester City trail league leaders Liverpool by, an uphill battle that is influencing many people on the outside looking in to think that City’s chances of lifting the league’s silverware for a third straight season are officially done and dusted.

That’s not the narrative that is occupying Kyle Walker‘s train of thought, however. Speaking on behalf of his City teammates and himself, the defender is keen on fighting until they’re mathematically out of contention for the title, regardless if the standings show that Liverpool have yet to suffer a defeat this season after 16 matches.

“Can’t fault the manager,” Walker told Sky Sports following City’s second Premier League loss in five games. “He has won numerous trophies. I can’t put my finger on it. It is going to be difficult, Liverpool are on fire. They [Liverpool] are getting wins and we are not. It is a big gap but we will fight until the end.”

A consolation goal from Nicolas Otamendi in the 85th minutes wasn’t enough for the Cityzens, who endured a fourth league loss this season, matching last season’s number of losses throughout 38 games.

After the dispiriting derby day performance from City, the defending champions stand at 32 points after 16 bouts, the lowest point haul for Guardiola in his 11-year top-flight management career.

No team in league history has overcome a 14-point deficit. Since late October, City are yet to record a clean sheet, an apparent issue that Walker believes he and the rest of the team’s defenders need to address in order to return to old ways.

“Us as defenders need to hold our hands up,” he said. “We need to keep clean sheets and strikers maybe need to put more away. They had a game plan and it worked. They have quick players in quick areas and they are going to hurt you on the counter. Credit where credit is due, they stepped up today. Fair play.”