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Sarri meets with Ronaldo about center forward role at Juve

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In theory, Maurizio Sarri won’t have to do much work to convince Cristiano Ronaldo to buy into his tactical plan.

“Cristiano, buddy, wanna lead a third league in scoring?”

We’re guessing he’ll sign up.

[ REPORT: De Ligt chooses Juve ]

Sarri reportedly has flown to meet with his new player, hoping to convince him to play as a center forward and take a run at the Serie A Capocannoniere. Ronaldo has played the role sparingly over the year, but operated on the left side for most of 2018-19.

Ronaldo finished five goals shy of the league lead last season playing his most league games since 2015-16. He’s led La Liga in scoring and the Premier League. From Football-Italia:

“Multiple sources including La Stampa, Corriere della Sera, Gazzetta dello Sport and more all state that Sarri and director of sport Fabio Paratici flew out to the Cote d’Azur on Friday for a face-to-face meeting with Ronaldo on his yacht. … He intends to speak to the players and adapt his tactics to fit their characteristics, starting with the MVP Ronaldo.”

The goal besides a good relationship was to convince Ronaldo to score all the goals, more or less.

Of course it’s a little less straight-forward than that. Sarri wants to win a scudetto, sure, but that’s the second target right now at Juve. We’re guessing if most fans would welcome Sarri saying the goal is the UEFA Champions League, and we know Ronaldo loves that competition.

There’s no guarantee CR7 will be able to reach the heights of 30 goals as a 35-year-old when the season ends, nor that he’ll play enough minutes in Serie A to tempt any sort of records, but most would expect him to rival anyone in the league should he play a central role in the attack.

Reports: Rabiot picks Juventus, will sign five-year contract

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According to a report by Football Italia which corroborates an earlier report by Sky Italia, former Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Adrien Rabiot has decided to sign with Juventus and will sign a five-year contract with the Italian champions.

The decision means Manchester United will miss out on the free agent midfielder, having reportedly submitted an offer. Rabiot had previously admitted his final decision was between those two teams.

The reports say that his deal with Juventus will be worth $7.9 million per year plus an $11.3 million signing bonus. According to a report by Goal.com’s Romeo Agresti, Juve sporting director Fabio Paratici has led the charge for the club and has worked heavily to convince Rabiot’s mother and agent Veronique of the agreement.

Rabiot becomes the second high-profile free-agent midfielder to sign with Juventus, following Aaron Ramsey. He will have heavy competition in the Juventus midfield with Ramsey, Blaise Matuidi, Sami Khedira, Miralem Pjanic, Rodrigo Betancur, and Emre Can all vying for time in the center of the pitch. It is worth noting that Matuidi and Khedira are both 32 years old, and the latter has suffered through numerous injury troubles over the last few years.

The 24-year-old French midfielder is a highly regarded talent, but has been plagued by off-field troubles at both the club and national team levels. Veronique has also been criticized for her outspoken attack of PSG’s handling of contract extension negotiations. Rabiot was a regular in the PSG lineup until he was frozen out for refusing a contract extension, not appearing for the club after early December.

Virgil van Dijk should be serious contender for Ballon d’Or

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The game was boring, they’ll say. The game was dull. The game was putrid. The game was sloppy.

Boring is just the way Virgil Van Dijk likes it.

The Dutch defender was named Man of the Match as he led the back line for Liverpool in a 2-0 win over Tottenham in the Champions League final to secure the club’s sixth European crown. The game was punctuated by bad passing, poor build-up play, and a general lack of attacking quality, but van Dijk was at the thick of all that, locking down the Tottenham attack and leaving Christian Eriksen, Heung-Min Son, and Harry Kane firmly in his pocket.

Van Dijk donned the Champions League winner’s medal having led the Liverpool defense in one of the most spectacular individual defensive seasons you’ll see. Liverpool conceded just 27 goals across the 38 Premier League matches – not only the best in the English top flight, but the best domestic defensive record in Europe’s top five leagues. The Reds conceded just five goals in the Champions League knockout stages against the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Porto, and Tottenham Hotspur, with three of those coming in the first-leg defeat at the Camp Nou.

Through it all, van Dijk was a model of consistency and durability, accumulating an enormous 4,465 minutes across all competitions. He missed just three matches all year, sitting out the first leg against Bayern Munich due to yellow card accumulation and resting for the pair of domestic Cup losses to Wolves and Chelsea. Otherwise, van Dijk played every single minute of every single match throughout the entire season, racking up 26 clean sheets in his 50 appearances on the pitch – over half the games he played Liverpool did not concede.

Nevertheless, those are team achievements. That’s where the most unbelievable stat comes into play, proof of van Dijk’s dominance on the season. The 27-year-old did has not been dribbled past in a staggering 64 straight matches, completing 52 straight tackles this season without fail, a perfect personal defensive record.

In fact, as Opta confirms, van Dijk has not been dribbled past since a 5-0 win over Porto in February of 2018, his first Champions League appearance for the club.

All these glittering facts and figures culminate together to make one glaringly blatant argument that might not seem so blatant after all: Virgil van Dijk should be a serious contender for the Ballon d’Or come December, with a real chance to be the first defender to win the award since Fabio Cannavaro in 2006 and only the fourth defender to win the award in its history.

Obviously there’s plenty of time to go. Van Dijk will likely be in the lineup for the Netherlands as they take on England in just five days in the Nations League semifinals, and should he lock it down in Portugal, a solid performance on a short turnaround would be yet another feather in his cap this season. If Liverpool starts next Premier League as expected title contenders, van Dijk could even be the frontrunner for the prestigious award headed into the fall.

Still, a modest van Dijk just minutes off winning the Champions League doesn’t think he is the best player in the world. “I think [Barcelona striker Lionel] Messi is the best player in the world,” van Dijk said in his post-match press conference. “I think he deserves [the Ballon d’Or] as long as he plays. The Ballon d’Or isn’t something I think about. But if it happens by any chance then obviously I will take it. I don’t think there is any case. I think he is still the best player in the world. Whether he’s in the final or not.”

Luka Modric won last year’s Ballon d’Or essentially on the back of a fabulous World Cup performance, despite the fact Real Madrid suffered through a dismal October of La Liga play, dropping to ninth in the table and falling out of the La Liga title race. Van Dijk may not have that much room for error in the calendar year, given his status as a defender always puts him behind the curve of the flashier goalscorers and even midfield maestros like Modric. Still, the Dutchman merits serious consideration and potentially even the trophy should he continue to plod along on this stellar pace.

When will Ed Woodward be held accountable for Man United failures?

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Six seasons, five managers, three Champions League qualifications, zero Premier League titles.

That is the Manchester United story since they last trimphed over the English top flight in Sir Alex Ferguson‘s final season as Red Devils boss.

The leadership has been chopped and changed many times over, but there is one constant: Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, who ascended to his current role in 2012 and was made top operational executive a year later after the departure of David Gill. Since Woodward took full control of the club, Manchester United has spiraled completely out of control, with the luster of 13 Premier League titles almost fully rusted away.

While Manchester United has collected three trophies under his watch, the two most coveted – the Premier League and Champions League titles – have eluded the storied club, instead settling for an FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League title (plus two Community Shields, as Jose Mourinho would tell you).

Still, Woodward has somehow escaped heavy criticism for his rocky tenure, with the first-team managers – far more publicly accountable figures than club executives – taking the brunt of the flak for losing streaks, negative tactics, mediocre youth development, and shambolic defending. Yet Woodward remains unscathed, free of full-scale scrutiny while everything he touches turns to ash.

Woodward’s history in the transfer market has been downright abysmal. Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, Angel Di Maria, Fred, Eric Bailly, and Luke Shaw have all been purchased for enormous sums of money during Woodward’s time in charge, yet none of them have lived up to their financial burdens. It is impossible to truly know what Woodward’s exact role is in the transfer dealings, but as the top operational executive at the club, he is responsible for the consistent failures whether he has taken a hands-on approach or has delegated most of the duties to others. It’s time the buck stops at the top.

Since the start of the 2013 summer transfer window, Manchester United has shelled out a gargantuan $712 million in transfer net spend and the Red Devils are no closer to challenging for the Premier League title than when they began their quest to replace Sir Alex Ferguson. After losing to relegated Cardiff City to close out the 2018/19 Premier League season with little more than a whimper, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said it would take “a long time” for Manchester United to be in a position to compete for the league title. The Notwegian boss even dared to warn supporters to temper their expectations; the Europa League would be a reasonable ambition for the time being. Those words from a Manchester United mouthpiece like Solskjaer are a brutal indictment of Woodward and his leadership of the club over the past few years.

When Sir Alex departed, the team admittedly needed an overhaul. The legendary boss somehow squeezed one last triumph out of an old and dilapidated squad, as if fans needed yet another reason to revere the greatest manager the game has ever seen. Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra, Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, and Dimitar Berbatov were all over 30 and on their way out of the club while David De Gea, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Rafael, Fabio, Jesse Lingard, Danny Welbeck, and Adnan Januzaj were all 22 years old or younger and looking for guidance and direction as they continued to develop.

Instead, they were met with chaos and instability, as David Moyes, Giggs, Louis Van Gaal, and Jose Mourinho all tried and failed to restore order to the club. None of the managers were given enough time to establish any sense of consistency, and it’s unclear whether any of them were good enough hires that things would have improved if given that luxury. Instead of embracing the period of transition, the club fell into a form of purgatory, hoping to maintain a steady ship while also understanding that things would not be the same. Woodward, a career accountant, may know what it takes to secure a lucrative sponsorship, but eventually they need the on-field results to match the claim of the world’s most popular club, or the financial leverage will wane.

While many players and managers have come and gone over the past few years, Woodward has remained the only constant figure, and the longer the club continues to rot, the more obvious his role in allowing the club to fester. Now, he wishes to bring on a technical director (see: Director of Football) to help with on-field decisions and player acquisitions, a smart choice in delegating the football responsibilities but also another hire to get right. And yet…he’s reportedly looking to hire Darren Fletcher, who literally retired as a player one week ago and has zero executive or managerial experience, in what feels like more of a PR move than anything of actual significance.

With this year’s sixth place finish – the club’s fourth finish outside the Premier League’s top four over the last six years – it is time fans direct their frustration and unhappiness further up the food chain. Ed Woodward must be held accountable for the failures of the club, or the glory days of (actually not that) long ago will become an even more distant memory with every passing year.

Serie A: Juventus secures Scudetto, AC Milan and Roma both slip

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A massive day in the jam packed Serie A Champions League race nearly saw AS Roma take over the fourth spot in the table from AC Milan, but Inter came to the rescue to save their rivals’ coveted spot.

AC Milan held the fourth and final Champions League spot coming into the day, but slipped with a 1-1 draw at 14th placed Parma, only able to put three of its 15 shots on target and conceding an 87th minute on a free-kick by Bruno Alves that left Gianluigi Donnarumma completely frozen, unable to reach his near post.

That cancelled out a 69th minute header by Samu Castillejo at the near post that perfectly deflected across the face of goal and under the crossbar into the back of the net. Otherwise, however, AC Milan was toothless in the attack. They completed just three of 11 attempted one-on-one take-ons and only seven of their 110 completed attacking-third passes were in the penalty area.

With the door open, Roma looked to have taken advantage with an early lead over third-placed Inter. Stephan El Shaarawy opened the scoring 14 minutes in, a beautiful curling right-footed effort from well outside the box that found the inside of the far post. It stayed that way past halftime but Inter struck back through a diving header by Ivan Perisic at the back post just past the hour mark. The scoreline remained 1-1 the rest of the way, leaving Roma still out of the top four, a single point back of AC Milan with Atalanta and Torino two behind Roma.

While a formality for some time now, Juventus took care of struggling Fiorentina 2-1 at home in comeback fashion thanks to an own-goal from German Pezzella. That confirmed their eighth straight Serie A title, leading by 20 points over Napoli with five matches to go. Juve fell behind in the ninth minute when a scrum in front of net saw the ball squirt out to Nikola Milenkovic for an easy finish into an open net. Juve weathered Fiorentina hitting the post before Alex Sandro leveled things up prior to halftime with a fabulous near-post header from an incredibly difficult angle.

Elsewhere, Lazio fell at home to Chievo Verona, effectively dropping them out of the crowded Champions League race. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic was sent off in the 34th minute for a moment of petulance, kicking out at Mariusz Stepinski. That left Lazio with a personnel disadvantage for nearly an hour, and they didn’t last long, conceding twice in quick succession after halftime to Emanuel Vignato and Perparim Hetemaj who put Chievo 2-0 up by the 51st minute. Vignato’s featured a silky move just outside the top of the box, while Hetemaj headed home the eventual winner when Adam Marusic horribly misjudged a Fabio Depaoli cross. The loss for Lazio leaves them in ninth place on 52 points, five points back of fourth.

Torino remained in the hunt for a European place after a 1-0 road win at Genoa, with Cristian Ansaldi finding the back of the net in the 58th minute thanks to a wonderful late run, found on a lay-off after great hold-up play from Alex Berenguer at the top of the box. Torino goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu also chipped in with four saves, including a big one just after the half-hour mark diving down to his right to stop a header.

Udinese picked up a valuable point in the relegation battle in a 1-1 draw with Sassuolo thanks to an 80th minute own-goal by Pol Lirola that leveled the score late. Still, after holding Sassuolo to just two shots on target, Udinese will be disappointed not to put more distance between them and 18th placed Empoli just four points back.

Empoli remained on 29 points after falling 4-2 to SPAL despite holding a 57%-43% possessional advantage throughout the match. They allowed seven shots on target by SPAL leading to a brace from Andrea Petagna plus goals from Sergio Floccari and Mirco Antenucci.