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Serie A: Inter goes top, Napoli falls again

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It’s Lautaro Martinez’s world and we’re all just living in it.

The white-hot Argentine scored a brace as Inter beat SPAL 2-1 to go top of the Serie A table, taking advantage of a Juventus slip at home.

Martinez continues to develop a deadly partnership with Romelu Lukaku, and the big Belgian’s presence was felt on the opener 16 minutes in. Lautaro dribbled down the center of the pitch with Lukaku cutting in front of the move, dragging both defenders off the ball enough for the Argentine to bury a scuffed shot in the bottom-left corner of the net.

Lukaku was again involved on the second just before halftime, holding the ball up at the top of the box and feeding it to the right wing where Antonio Candreva delivered a fabulous cross to Lautaro’s head at the far post. That put Inter 2-0 up, and they skirted around a 50th minute Mattia Valoti consolation.

The win moved them top of the table on 37 points thanks to a 2-2 draw for Juventus at home against Sassuolo, in which a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty was required to secure the comeback. Juve opened the scoring 20 minutes in off a pinpoint shot from Leonardo Bonucci, but Sassuolo soon matched that just minutes later via a delicious Jeremie Boga chip from a tight angle.

The visitors moved in front on an ugly goal for Juventus to concede, started thanks to a bad giveaway by Matthijs de Ligt at the back and finished by a miserable effort from Gianluigi Buffon as the ball trickled over the line. Ronaldo won the penalty and finished it off in the 68th minute to level the score, but Juve could not muster a winner despite a whopping 29 efforts on net. Ronaldo struggled for much of the game, not fed his usual quota of service down the left. Gonzalo Higuain wasn’t any more involved, as Miralem Pjanic was the only attacking threat up front for the defending champions.

Juve now sits second on 36 points, six ahead of Lazio who remained in the hunt with a 3-0 thumping of Udinese. Ciro Immobile bagged a brace in the first half while Luis Alberto hit from the spot before halftime to ensure the scoreline was comfortable.

AC Milan required an 88th minute winner from Theo Hernandez to secure a 1-0 victory at Parma, keeping them afloat in the crowded middle of the table. The goal was a dogged effort from Hernandez who followed up a saved Giacomo Bonaventura shot, stealing the ball off a miserable Matteo Darmian clearance and thrusting it into the back of the net. The match saw 28 shots from AC Milan, but just eight on target. They managed to hold Parma without an effort on frame, however, as the defense was never truly tested.

Napoli slumped to yet another poor result, falling 2-1 at home to Bologna on an 80th minute Nicola Sansone winner that puts Carlo Ancelotti’s position under even more pressure. Fernando Llorente opened the scoring just before halftime, following up a Lorenzo Insigne effort at the far post. That was all they had in front of net, however, as Napoli manage to put just six of its 30 shots on target. They were punished after the break as Andreas Skov Olsen struck just before the hour mark and Sansone cropped up 10 minutes before full-time. The loss leaves Napoli on a six-game Serie A winless run and sees them fall to seventh in the league table, 17 points back of leaders Inter.

Roma moved into a Champions League spot with a 3-1 win over Hellas Verona on the road. Justin Kluivert and Davide Faraoni cancelled each other out in the first half but Diego Perotti put Roma up on the stroke of halftime with a penalty to send Roma through. Henrikh Mkhitaryan added the third in stoppage time to seal things off. The victory moved them into fourth in the Serie A table on 28 points, three ahead of Cagliari.

Christian Pulisic named USMNT Player of the Year

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Who else could it be? Christian Pulisic has been named the USMNT player of the year for 2019.

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The Chelsea star, 21, excelled for club and country over the past 12 months and after taking a few months to settle into life in England, he’s now taking the Premier League by storm on a weekly basis.

Pulisic has now won this award for a second time after first winning it in 2017 and he becomes the youngest player in U.S. men’s national team history to win the award twice.

His achievements over the last 12 months are numerous, as he dragged a struggling USMNT to the 2019 Gold Cup final and also became the youngest player to reach double figures in goals for the USMNT.

MLS veteran Sacha Kljestan signs with hometown LA Galaxy

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Carson, Calif. (AP) Veteran midfielder Sacha Kljestan has signed with the LA Galaxy as a free agent.

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The 34-year-old U.S. national team contributor officially returned to his native Southern California on Wednesday.

Kljestan has scored 49 goals over 10 MLS seasons in a career that began as the fifth overall pick by defunct Chivas USA, the Galaxy’s former stadium partners. After a successful five-year stint with Belgium’s Anderlecht, he spent the past five seasons with New York Red Bulls and Orlando City.

The Huntington Beach native also has made 51 appearances for the U.S. team, playing in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Kljestan will provide veteran leadership for a Galaxy roster in transition after the departures of its top two goal-scorers: Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Uriel Antuna.

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

Liverpool in talks to activate Minamino’s release clause

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On the face of it, this move makes perfect sense for everyone concerned. Especially Liverpool, who get a bargain.

Multiple reports state that the Premier League leaders are in advanced talks to sign Japanese winger Takumi Minamino from RB Salzburg.

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Minamino, 24, has a release clause of just $9.5 million and it has been reported that he will move to Liverpool in January with talks going well over a five-year contract.

RB Salzburg sporting director Christoph Freund confirmed talks are ongoing about the transfer, with Bayern Munich and Marseille also said to be interested in signing the tricky winger.

“I can confirm that there are talks with Liverpool at the moment. It is an honor [for us] to see the caliber of clubs who are interested in our players.”

Minamino’s goals, pace and trickery pushed Salzburg to within one game of reaching the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds and he impressed against Liverpool in both games in the UCL group stage as he scored at Anfield and gave their defense plenty of problems in the return game. His skillset would perfectly suit the way Liverpool play with his direct running, pace and nose for goal seemingly perfect for Jurgen Klopp‘s side.

With Klopp and his RB Salzburg counterpart Jesse Marsch hugging on the sidelines after Liverpool’s win in Austria on Tuesday, plus Klopp’s kind words on the job the American coach is doing at Salzburg, it’s safe to say there’s a strong connection between the two teams and their styles of play are very similar.

That’s an even better reason for Minamino to head to Liverpool as the Japanese star would slot in seamlessly and he would become the third former RB Salzburg player at the Reds alongside Naby Keita and Sadio Mane.

From the style of play of both player and the club, to the small transfer fee, this works out very well for everyone involved. Even Salzburg will be happy to become known as a feeder club to Liverpool and Europe’s other big boys as that will help them with their future recruitment.

Raul Jimenez’s future at Wolves uncertain

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Raul Jimenez has been talking about playing for one of Spain’s big boys.

That sound you can hear is Wolves fans everywhere sobbing.

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The Mexican striker was quoted by Spanish outlet Marca saying that he would one day like to return to Spain and play for one of the La Liga giants.

“I would never rule out returning to Spain. I have good memories, and I would like to go back at some point,” Jimenez said. “I want to try out LaLiga once more, as I didn’t get to play much the previous time. Returning is not off the agenda. I have played at the Nou Camp and the Bernabeu.”

Jimenez, 28, previously played for Atletico Madrid before moving to Benfica who loaned him to Wolves in the summer of 2018, and he has since made the switch to the West Midlands permanent for $40 million.

However, his manager Nuno Espirito Santo has moved to calm down fears the El Tri star will move at the end of this season.

“What he is doing is amazing – every day of his life is dedicated to Wolves so we are delighted with it,” Santo said. “Being ambitious and dreaming is something all of us have. But our present is very good with Raul here.”

The powerful Mexican striker has been superb over the past two seasons and has proved to be a phenomenal target man in the Premier League. He’s scored 32 goals in 71 appearances in all competitions for Wolves, leading them to an FA Cup semifinal appearance and seventh-place PL finish last season and his goals this campaign (15 in 27 appearances in total) have catapulted them into the top six and the last 32 of the UEFA Europa League. Aside from his goals Jimenez’s hold-up play has been vital to Wolves’ success.

It is worth pointing out that Jimenez revealed he is very happy at Wolves but the fact he is so ambitious and fancies moving on to either Real Madrid and Barcelona is a good thing for the club. This means Jimenez is striving to improve and do all he can to take his game to the next level.

Yes, Wolves will be desperate to keep hold of the Mexican star who is a fans favorite at Molineux. But if he continues to score goals and one of Spain’s big boys, or a title-chasing team in the PL, were to come calling, can they stand in his way?