Henrikh Mkhitaryan

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Europa League: Wolves through to Round of 16, Portuguese sides stunned

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Arsenal and Manchester United are still set to take the field, but there was an early round of Europa League matches that saw nearly half the Round of 16 field set.

Wolverhampton Wanderers knew it had room to breathe, and they made use of that, advancing cooly to the Round of 16 despite a 3-2 loss at Espanyol that saw them advance 6-3 on aggregate. The 4-0 first-leg win set Wolves up nicely, and they held firm behind equalizers from red-hot winger Adama Traore and Matthew Doherty.

 

Jonathan Calleri picked up a hat-trick for the hosts, including the winner in the 91st minute, but it wasn’t nearly enough to see the Spanish side truly challenge the massive deficit.

Elsewhere, Justin Kluivert gave Roma a spot in the Round of 16 with his 29th minute goal that saw the Italian side through via a 2-1 aggregate win over KAA Gent. The 20-year-old got a sumptuous through ball from Henrikh Mkhitaryan who laid it on a platter for Kluivert’s calm finish. The goal answered Jonathan David’s opener four minutes prior and set Roma up for a 1-1 draw that followed their 1-0 home win in the first leg.

USMNT veteran John Brooks started and played the whole 90 minutes as Wolfsburg rode a 3-0 second leg win to a 5-1 aggregate victory over Norwegian side Malmo. 21-year-old Croatian youth international Josip Brekalo was the lone goalscorer in the second leg, finding the net just minutes before halftime to seal advancement to the next round. Yannick Gerhardt and Joao Victor added second-half cherries on top with his 65th minute to put Wolfsburg into the next stage.

Bayer Leverkusen passed a tough test with a 3-1 aggregate victory over Champions League dropouts FC Porto. After a 2-1 home win in the first leg, the German side got an early 10th minute goal from Argentine international Lucas Alario, initially flagged for offside but corrected by VAR. Porto was awful, managing just one shot through the entire first half and conceding twice more after halftime to Kai Havertz and Kerem Demirbay. Mali international Moussa Marega got 65th minute goal for Porto but it was little more than a consolation.

The other Portuguese club in the competition, Sporting CP, suffered an equally disappointing result as they coughed up a 3-1 first-leg lead and to Istanbul Basaksehir in Turkey, falling 4-1 in extra time to complete a 5-4 aggregate defeat. After the hosts brought the aggregate back level, it seemed Luciano Vietto had saved Sporting’s lives, but Edin Visca scored in the 92nd minute to send the match to extra time on a 4-4 aggregate draw. Visca then played hero as he blasted a wonderful penalty in the 119th minute to win the matchup.

Former Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel scored the opener just after the half-hour mark via a corner, nutmegging the goalkeeper with a header on the doorstep. Danijel Aleksic bagged Basaksehir’s second just before halftime with an absolutely incredible free-kick from miles away to put the hosts 2-0 up and level the aggregate at 3-3, with Basaksehir holding the away goal advantage from the first leg. Sporting CP was saved, however, by Vietto who scored with 22 minutes remaining 

Dutch side AZ Alkmaar slumped out of the competition to LASK, losing 2-0 in Austria which sealed a 3-1 aggregate defeat. 21-year-old Austrian youth international Marko Raguz hit for a quickfire double just before halftime, including one from the penalty spot, to send LASK through to the Round of 16.

Full Europa League results (bolded team advances)

Espanyol 3-2 Wolverhampton Wanderers
FC Porto 1-3 Bayer Leverkusen
KAA Gent 1-1 AS Roma
Malmo FF 0-3 Wolfsburg
LASK 2-0 AZ Alkmaar
Istanbul Basaksehir 4-1 Sporting CP (AET)
FC Basel 1-0 Apoel Nicosia

Serie A: Roma beaten 3-2 by Bologna as crisis deepens

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ROME — Musa Barrow scored twice to help Bologna win at Roma 3-2 in Serie A on Friday as the Giallorossi’s crisis worsened.

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Bologna moved up to sixth, one place below Roma, following a third successive win.

Roma was booed off the pitch. The Giallorossi have won only one of their past six league matches, losing four of them.

Roma was looking to bounce back from losing to Sassuolo 4-2 but gifted the opener to Bologna in the 16th minute as Chris Smalling inexplicably left Barrow’s cross, allowing Riccardo Orsolini to tap in at the far post.

Roma leveled in the 22nd when Bologna defender Stefano Denswil bundled Aleksandar Kolarov’s cross into his own net, but Barrow restored the visitors’ lead just four minutes later as his effort was deflected into the top corner.

[ MORE: Guardiola hopes, thinks Messi will finish career at Barcelona ]

It was Barrow’s first start since joining on loan from Atalanta and he doubled his tally six minutes into the second half when he raced from the halfway line before curling into the bottom right corner.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan headed in Bruno Peres’ cross to halve the deficit but Roma’s chance of leveling diminished 10 minutes from time when Bryan Cristante was shown a straight red card for his challenge on Orsolini.

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.

Lampard: Chelsea kids getting chance is ‘long time coming’

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While Chelsea winger Christian Pulisic was detailing his frustrations to our Joe Prince-Wright near the pitch at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, his manager was unwittingly showcasing why the American 21-year-old is up against it.

An unused sub for fourth time in five matches, Pulisic told NBC Sports Soccer, “It is not going to be easy here, but it was never going to be easy.”

It never was, but it sure has grown even more difficult than anticipated due to Lampard’s unique position.

[ MORE: Chelsea dominates Brighton ]

Taking over a club on a transfer ban and with a wealth of young English players in the fold, the legendary England midfielder is being lauded at every turn for using those young bucks on the Premier League pitch.

Remember, this has been amongst the top talking points in English football circles for some time, on a much bigger scale than it is in the United States, where analysts and USMNT supporters beg MLS clubs to “play their kids.” Just as New York Red Bulls having success with Academy talent is celebrated here, Chelsea is now challenging for a Top Four place with its youngsters on a globally-lauded scale.

This is a buffet dinner for pro-England pundits who’ve long declared the league a bit too foreign.

For Lampard, one of these youngsters is Mason Mount, who was at his side at Derby County last season as the first-year manager nearly led his team to the Premier League. Mount’s incandescent start to life at Chelsea has Lampard grinning ear-to-ear, likely validating years of, “Well, if I ever manage Chelsea.”

“It is great for the club and a long time coming,” Lampard said after Chelsea beat Brighton 2-0 on Saturday. “The work is done in the academy. The mentality is great. They want to play for this club. At the moment they are earning it and setting a level for others. I have complete confidence in the lads. They are there on merit. Whatever game they take it on board and long may it continue.”

Remember that Lampard’s time with the Three Lions was also a major source of controversy, as managers struggled to find the right fit between him and fellow generational midfielder Steven Gerrard.

Lampard knows what nurturing English talent means to individual clubs as well as the national team. He’s seen rivals Manchester United hailed for always having an Academy graduate in the 18, and heard the criticism of his beloved Chelsea for sending so many young English players on loan. It also probably didn’t help things when he came to MLS and was often criticized for his performances despite metrics saying he was well above average, but that’s a minor qualm.

Then, there’s this:

Not great, Bob. Not great.

Not only is Pulisic behind Mount and wonder boy Callum Hudson-Odoi, he’s also contending with two club heroes. Willian is one appearance away from 300 in a Chelsea shirt, more than a handful of those coming when he was a teammate of his now manager. Pedro was never Lampard’s teammate, but is closing in on 200 appearances in the shirt and has won the league and Europa League.

And here’s the thing, Lampard does rate Pulisic. He just thinks he’s not in the mix yet. The problem is that he sees two other youngsters as very much in the thick of his present and his future.

Lampard has called Mount “the cataylst for us getting in front with his sharpness. He was brilliant for me at Derby. I did not expect this level but he he is improving daily.”

He’s said Hudson-Odoi “can be central to this team and for England.”

Leaving aside Hudson-Odoi, who has just returned from a long-term injury, here are what the numbers say when comparing the other four wingers.

Whoscored.com/PlayerComparison

In this small sample size, Lampard is choosing the best producing player in Mount. He has more trust in Willian than Pedro which, while debatable, is at least understandable. And Chelsea is in the midst of an easy stretch of fixtures which won’t demand much chopping and changing if the current first-choice players handle their business.

Pulisic’s career resume and production are far superior to Mount and a notch above Hudson-Odoi, but he’s also the stranger in town and you’d be foolish to say that doesn’t matter. Look at the Chelsea stints of Andre Schurrle and Kevin De Bruyne, the latter of which lasted exactly a half season before a loan to Wolfsburg saw him immediately start to redeliver the goods.

That’s a possibility here, if we’re honest. This could just be a place of good club, decent move, wrong time. If Pulisic had gone to Manchester United, for example, he might’ve seen the same path as Daniel James: An injury to Anthony Martial and non-performing Jesse Lingard opened the door wide for the youngster. At Chelsea he’s in a young team with a lot of good wingers. The good news is that there are a lot of matches through Cups and Europe for him to showcase himself to both Lampard and the world. There could be a quick loan, and it wouldn’t be the end of the world. He’s still the player we’ve seen torture CONCACAF and he’s only going to improve.

Here’s the other thing, though: It’s only been a dozen games and this could simply be down to form. Look at the above stats again; What’s bringing Pulisic down is his giveaways (times dispossessed) and bad controls per game. In the case of the latter, he’s even or better than Pedro and Mount. The difference is that Mount is producing goals.

The other thing is that Lille on Wednesday and Saints next Sunday. His chances will come, though they just won’t be in the quantity or quality (See: Town, Grimsby) as American fans would like. C’est la vie.

It’s also something to keep in mind from those quick to obliterate Pulisic’s move to Chelsea, which came when there was a different manager in charge of the team to boot. This is what happens at top clubs, and is why plenty of magnificent players take time to adapt to a new league, and that’s if they ever do; Henrikh Mkhitaryan had 23 goals and 32 assists in his final season at Dortmund, and combined for 22 and 24 between Arsenal and Manchester United. Just one example, but you get it.

The kid is going to be fine, and there’s a good chance he’ll be fine at Chelsea. But nothing that happens over the next three months is going to stop Pulisic from shining at the USMNT level. Heck, it may lead to a fresh, inspired Pulisic running all over CONCACAF in the Nations League and beyond.

But right now, he needs to weather a storm which is going to blow stronger and harder as a storyline one nation has always wanted runs straight into the one our nation has desperately sought for the United States’ best product yet.

Serie A roundup: Roma’s Mkhitaryan scores on debut, Milan edges Verona

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Roma’s first win of the season headlines Sunday’s Serie A action.

Roma 4-2 Sassuolo

Henrikh Mkhitaryan‘s stint with Roma is off to a brilliant start.

The former Arsenal attacker, scored a blistering goal in his debut with the Italian giants, who won their first game of the season in the 4-2 thumping of Sassuolo.

The Armenian’s goal was only one of the four that Roma put together in the first 45 minutes of the game. With a headed goal off of a corner kick, Bryan Cristante gave the home side an early lead. Seven minutes later, Edin Dzeko tallied his second goal of a young season.

By the 33rd minute, Justin Kluivert’s calm finish inside the box had Roma up by four goals. I Giallorossi kept pushing, dismantling the visiting with their frenetic pace down the wings, but came up short, striking the bar post in three different occasions.

Despite being outclassed in the first half, Sassuolo’s silver lining showed up in the final 45 minutes: Domenico Berardi. A wonder free-kick opened the scoring for the 24-year-old, who eventually sealed his brace in 72nd minute. The captain has scored five goals in two league matches this season.

With confidence under their belt, Roma travel to Bologna next, while Sassuolo host SPAL.

Verona 0-1 AC Milan

Milan aren’t doing it in convincing fashion, but they’re winning.

A game that saw both teams end up with 10 players, also saw Milan walk away with a 1-0 victory in Verona. The win has Marco Giampaolo’s side sixth in the table only three points behind leaders and rivals Inter Milan.
Despite playing a player down early on, Verona had a pair of chances in the first half. A half-effort bicycle was no match for a well-positioned Roma defense and Gianluigi Donnarumma. The clearest chance of them all came right before the first 45 minutes came to a close, however. In motion, with his back turned on the ball, Valerio Verre’s first touch and subsequent strike would just go inches high of the bar.
As the second half went on, Milan proved to be too much for the home side, controlling the ball and taking a plethora of shots on goal. Eventually, it took a tool on I Gialloblu. In the 68th minute, Hakan Çalhanoğlu shot struck Verona’s Koray Gunter hand, resulting in a penalty that Krzysztof Piątek put away.

Now in sixth place, Milan face rivals Inter Milan next. On the hand, Verona travel to Turin to take on a mighty Juventus.

Elsewhere in Serie A

SPAL 2- 1 Lazio

Brescia 3-4 Bologna

Parma 1-3 Cagliari