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Zlatan Ibrahimovic scores for AC Milan
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WATCH: Zlatan scores in first season start for AC Milan

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored in his first start since returning to Serie A as AC Milan won 2-0 at Cagliai on Saturday.

The big Swede came off the bench at midweek, but started in place of Krzyzstof Piatek at Sardegna Arena.

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Ibrahimovic slotted a Theo Hernandez pass inside the far post to join Rafael Leao on the score sheet in the win.

It was the 38-year-old’s first Serie A goal since a May 6, 2012 brace in the Derby della Madonnina with Inter Milan. He’s scored 123 times in Italy’s top flight and 57 times overall in a Milan shirt.

He posted two shots, hit the post, and was credited with two interceptions. Ibrahimovic was involved in 22 duels, winning only nine.

Milan meets SPAL in the Italian Cup on Wednesday before a visit from Udinese on Jan. 18.

AC Milan blanked by Sampdoria on Zlatan’s return

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic made his return to AC Milan, coming off the bench with over a half-hour to play, but it ultimately proved in vain as the home side was blanked at the San Siro in a 0-0 draw with Sampdoria.

The former LA Galaxy striker, wearing an AC Milan kit for the first time since leaving for Paris Saint-Germain in 2012, came on to thunderous applause and chanting in the 55th minute as he replaced fellow striker Krzysztof Piatek, but could not find the back of the net. He produced just one shot, failing to hit the target, but was dangerous throughout, winning three of four aerial duels in the attacking third, creating a chance, and generally getting himself involved in attacking play.

Still, the attacking display from AC Milan was a disappointing one, although Sampdoria is known for its goalless encounters. Even before Zlatan came on, the performance up front was a complete dud for the home side. They managed eight shots on target out of 19 total and racked up 1.72 xG, but the finishing left much to be desired, hitting the post twice and seeing big chances by Rade Krunic and Rafael Leao go begging.

Milan head coach Stefano Pioli believed that Zlatan performed well on his debut, but the team is not used to playing with a striker of his skill set, and so the service to him was not of the proper variety. “As far as I am concerned, it was a positive impact,” Pioli said after the match. “He brought character, support and presence to the squad. I think the team isn’t accustomed to having someone of such physicality in the box, so didn’t put enough crosses in for him, especially towards the end of the match.”

“We all need to get to know each other and what we require. It’s not just quality of passing I mean, but also choosing the right passes for the players you are trying to reach. When we brought in the substitutes, we should’ve realised that it was necessary to change the way we were playing.”

A large part of the problem for AC Milan, who has now been blanked for a three consecutive Serie A matches, is Piatek who remains mired in an awful slump with just a single league goal in his last 10 appearances. The 24-year-old has just four goals this campaign, following the torrid start to his AC Milan career he produced in the second half of last season. He was invisible again against Sampdoria, producing just a single shot and receiving just 12 passes, including just four in the attacking third.

The draw left Milan still 12th in the league table, now level with Hellas Verona on points and 13 back of a Champions League spot.

Cruzeiro relegated from Brazilian top flight for first time

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Brazilian side Cruzeiro was relegated from the top flight for the first time in the club’s 98-year history following a 2-0 defeat to Palmeiras on the final day of the season.

Cruzeiro required victory and a loss by Ceara at Botafogo to stay safely in the Brazilian Serie A, but neither came to pass.

Palmeiras midfielder Ze Rafael scored in the 58th minute to send the visitors on their way, with fellow midfielder Dudu finished things off in the 84th minute. Referees ushered the players off the field immediately after the conclusion of the match as Cruzeiro fans rioted in the Mineirao stadium, ripping out seats, setting off smoke bombs, and clashing with police.

Cruzeiro finished 17th in the 20-team table, three points back of Ceara in 16th. In the Brazilian top flight, the bottom four teams are relegated. CSA, Chapecoense, and Avai were also relegated. Cruzeiro had won the Brazilian Serie A as recently as 2013 and 2014, winning four titles in its history. They also have six Copa do Brasil titles, most recently winning the league cup in 2017 and 2018.

Flamengo ran away with the championship, finishing on 90 points, 16 points clear of second-placed Santos and third-placed Palmeiras who both finished level on 74 points. Palmeiras had challenged for the title, but fell off at the end of the season with a five-match winless run through November.

Who are the favorites to replace Emery at Arsenal?

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Following news of Unai Emery’s firing as Arsenal manager, the club announced that its search for a new manager is already underway.

[ MORE: Unai Emery fired by Arsenal ]

With the Gunners set to face Norwich City in Premier League action on Sunday (Watch live, 9 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBCSports.com), interim manager Freddie Ljungberg is almost certain to take charge of at least one game before Emery’s successor takes the reins.

According to reports, Arsenal had previously contacted Jose Mourinho as a potential replacement for Emery, in the event they decided to make a change. Following Mourinho’s appointment as new Tottenham Hotspur boss a week ago, some figures at Arsenal are said to be upset at missing out on the Portuguese.

[ MORE: Emery: “We are better than we are showing” ]

Below is a look at the current bookmakers’ favorites to replace Emery at Arsenal, listed in the order of who is favorite.

  • Massimiliano Allegri (unemployed) – The clear-cut favorite, at almost even odds. The thinking here would be that Allegri is a proven winner (five Serie A titles and four Italian Cups at Juventus), but so was Emery when he was hired (three straight Europa League titles). He’s been out of a job since leaving Juve at the end of last season and has been linked with every major managerial job since then.
  • Nuno Espirito Santo (Wolverhampton Wanderers) – Unlike Allegri, Santo is a proven PL manager, only he comes without the same (read: any) winning pedigree of the Italian. After guiding Wolves to the EFL Championship title in 2018, he then took them to a seventh-place finish (and UEL qualification) in the PL last season.
  • Mikel Arteta (Manchester City, assistant) – Previously an Arsenal player (2011-2016) and now an assistant under Pep Guardiola, Arteta has been linked with a number of high-profile jobs in the last two years, including Arsenal back when Emery was hired. For him, it’ll likely hinge upon the succession plan at Man City: Guardiola never stays at one club for too long, so does Arteta believe he’ll be given a chance to take over?
  • Mauricio Pochettino (unemployed) – Pochettino has long since claimed he will never manage two clubs — Barcelona and Arsenal — out of principle after managing rivals Espanyol and Tottenham Hotspur. Alas, the bookmakers can’t help themselves from stirring the pot in north London.
  • Rafael Benitez  (Dalian Yifang) – Potentially a very sensible, if slightly underwhelming, option. Reports have him leaving China very soon, at the end of the Chinese Super League season. If nothing else, Benitez would get Arsenal defending and make them highly functional, if lacking the kind of flair that fans have come to expect.
  • Carlo Ancelotti (Napoli) – Somewhat out of left field, but potentially available for no compensation after a rough start to his second season at Napoli (seventh place, 15 points back of leaders Juve).
  • Eddie Howe (Bournemouth) – Forever tabbed a long-odds option, because the bookmakers need an English name to add to the list.

Lecce completes comeback in wild finish over Cagliari

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When Radja Nainggolan put Cagliari 2-0 up over Lecce, it seemed the newly-promoted side was sunk at home in an otherwise unremarkable Serie A match.

Then the last 10 minutes happened.

Three players were sent off and two goals were scored as the home side completed a wild comeback and earned a critical point in the relegation battle. Gianluca Lapadula struck from the penalty spot in the 83rd minute, and Marco Calderoni cropped up a minute into stoppage time to secure the draw.

It wasn’t just goals, however, that made the end of the match so exhilarating. Fabrizio Cacciatore and Robin Olsen were both shown straight red cards in the 81st and 85th minute respectively, which Cagliari down to nine men, while Lapadula was given an early shower soon after.

Cacciatore’s red came as he kept out an Andrea La Mantia header with his arm, reaching out to intentionally save the shot – which would have been lauded as the save of the match had he actually, you know, been the goalkeeper. The final two were particularly explosive, with Olsen sent off for shoving Lapadula to the ground immediately after the penalty was scored, while Lapadula was given yellow for his role in the scuffle, his second of the match.

Still, Lecce’s man advantage was critical in the final goal as Calderoni took a feed from Panagiotis Tachtsidis standing straight atop the box, and his through ball was met with a vicious low left-footed strike from Calderoni, leaving Cagliari goalkeeper Rafael late to react. The moment came on a mis-match as two defenders were there to cover three attackers and Calderoni made the most of the situation.

The point sees Lecce just outside the relegation area, in 17th on 11 points, one above Genoa and two on top of SPAL.