Simone Zaza

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Serie A: Inter hangs on, Koulibaly bags Napoli brace

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Inter struck twice in the opening half and hung on from there as they top Frosinone 2-1 for a critical boost in the Champions League race. Radja Nainggolan opened the scoring inside the opening 20 minutes, heading home a Danilo D’Ambrosio cross to put Inter one-up. They went 2-0 in front as Ivan Perisic finished from the spot after Raman Chibsah wrestled Milan Skriniar to the ground in the box.

Frosinone grabbed one back just past the hour mark as Francesco Cassata rifled a low shot from the top of the box that went off the hand of a diving Samir Handanovic, but Inter clung to its lead, finishing with 72% possession and an 18-12 shot advantage. The win pushes third-placed Inter to 60 points, five points above fourth-placed AC Milan in the last Champions League place.

Center-back Kalidou Koulibaly picked up a brace as Napoli moved seven points adrift in second place with six matches to go by beating Chievo Verona 3-1. The Senegalese international shook off a defender on his back to head home a corner in the 14th minute to open the scoring. Arkadiusz Milik doubled the lead just past the hour mark with a looper from outside the top of the box, and Koulibaly put the game away with nine minutes to go, again off a corner that was only partially cleared, blasting a left-footer into the back of the net. Chievo picked up a late consolation from Bostjan Cesar but that was all they could muster out of their four shots on target.

Simone Zaza scored on the doorstep and then was sent off as Torino drew nine-man Cagliari 1-1. Three total players were sent to the showers, including Zaza who put Torino in front in the 52nd minute before earning a key red 20 minutes later. His goal, the third league strike of his campaign, came off a rocketed baseline cross from Armando Izzo, and thanks to the power on the cross, Zaza just had to make contact from five yards out to redirect it into the back of the net.

The 27-year-old was then sent off for what appeared to be dissent after an innocuous foul. The moment was key, as Leonardo Pavoletti used the man advantage to bring Cagliari back level just two minutes later with a header. While the goal was initially ruled out for offside, VAR confirmed it as a legal score. While Cagliari saw two men sent off from there, both for second yellow cards, the match ended level, a big blow for Torino in the chase for a European position as the point pushed them two back of sixth-placed Atalanta who still has yet to play.

36-year-old Fabio Quagliarella played provider and finisher as Sampdoria topped Genoa at home 2-0 to slide into ninth place, four points back of a European place. Gregoire Defrel put the hosts up for good in just the third minute, sliding in to poke home a baseline cross from Quagliarella. The captain then scored himself in the 53rd minute, striking from the penalty spot after Davide Biraschi was sent off for a handball in the box as the ball bounced up and hit his outstretched arm.

Fiorentina whipped off 15 shots to Bologna’s four, but neither side could find the back of the net as it finished 0-0 at Artemio Franchi Stadium. The disappointing season for Fiorentina continued, remaining in 10th on 40 points, eight back of ninth-placed Sampdoria.

Sassuolo and Parma also drew 0-0 as both sides stayed put in the bottom half of the table. Sassuolo dominated the match, holding 72% possession and ripping off 20 shots to just three for the visitors.

Serie A: Juventus survives to beat Napoli, Torino and Atalanta both stroll

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Juventus survived a late scare to top Napoli and essentially wrap up the Serie A title, winning 2-1 to open up a massive 16-point lead at the top of the table.

On the road in Naples, Juve took a two-goal lead before the break, both coming after Napoli was reduced to 10 men. A horrible back-pass from Kevin Malcuit saw Cristiano Ronaldo clean through on goal, so Napoli goalkeeper Alex Meret came charging out of the 18-yard box to challenge. Ronaldo touched to his left, leaving Meret grasping at nothing but air, and while the two never made contact, Ronaldo had nowhere to go but up and over the sprawled goalkeeper before crashing to the ground, and the call was easy for the referee as he sent Meret off.

Juventus immediately took the lead on the ensuing free-kick as Miralem Pjanic sent it just barely over the wall and into the top-left corner. They doubled the lead soon after when Emre Can headed home a 39th minute cross by Federico Bernardeschi.

After the halftime break, things got dicey for the league leaders. Pjanic was given his marching orders after picking up a second yellow card for a handball in midfield, a harsh call after Allan‘s looped pass hit him quickly, with little time for the Juve midfielder to react. With the game at 10 v. 10, Napoli made things interesting as Lorenzo Insigne’s cross met Jose Callejon at the back post to make it 2-1, with the Spaniard beating Georgio Chiellini.

Napoli was given a chance to get back level as the referee used VAR to give the hosts a penalty for a Alex Sandro handball. It was yet another harsh decision with Fabian Ruiz powering the ball straight into the Juve defender’s arm. Still, the referee pointed to the spot, but Insigne’s penalty came off the post and with hit the chance for Napoli to earn a result.

Elsewhere, Fabio Quagliarella scored twice inside the opening 15 minutes to lead Sampdoria to a 2-1 win over SPAL. His first was a brilliant finish, meeting Bartosz Bereszynski’s looped cross with an acrobatic scissor-kick that powered the ball into the ground and into the back of the net. His second came just seven minutes later with a towering header, and that was all the visitors needed. SPAL had a goal disallowed in the 67th minute for offside, and that proved decisive as Jasmin Kurtic would scupper the clean sheet in stoppage time, but it was ultimately nothing more than a consolation. Sampdoria moves to ninth in the Serie A table with the win, while SPAL remains five points above the relegation zone in 16th.

Torino needed 73 minutes to find the opener, but once they did the floodgates opened as they topped Chievo Verona 3-0. Andrea Belotti delivered a long-range missile with his right foot to break the deadlock, and while Torino saw the rest of the game out, they added the cherry on top in added time. In the 92nd minute Thomas Rincon made it 2-0 on a similar strike to Belotti’s opener, and Simone Zaza had the third a minute later as he beat Marco Andreolli to a bouncing back-pass and put the game away.

Atalanta fell behind Fiorentina just three minutes into the match, but they stormed back at home to win 3-1 behind goals from Josip Ilicic, Alejandro Gómez, Robin Gosens to move eighth in the table on 41 points, level with Torino but behind them on head-to-head.

Serie A: Milan ends skid, Fiorentina blanks Atalanta, Gervinho scores

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AC Milan ended a three-game winless streak by storming Sassuolo 4-1. It started on a first-half breakaway goal by 21-year-old Franck Kessie. The Ivory Coast international ran on the ball from his own defensive third on a breakaway, ending in a three-on-two situation and taking it himself and firing low into the back of the net.

The visitors would score twice more by the hour mark, as Suso gave Milan its second on a fantastic curler from the top-right corner of the box soon after the break, and 23-year-old Spanish international Samu Castillejo bagged their third with a left-footed shot from the top of the box. It’s just the second win of the season for AC Milan, pushing them to 10th in the Serie A table above SPAL and Torino on goal differential.

In somewhat controversial fashion, Fiorentina moved up to 4th with a 2-0 victory over Atalanta at home. The key moment came in the 62nd minute when Federico Chiesa went down at the edge of the box under pressure from Atalanta defender Rafael Toloi. The referee pointed to the spot for a penalty, but replays showed Chiesa clearly went to ground on his own from little to no contact.

Still, Jordan Veretout buried his penalty strongly into the top-left corner, and Fiorentina took a 1-0 lead. The visitors pushed hard for an equalizer, holding 65% possession and ripping off 17 shots to Fiorentina’s seven, but Atalanta only managed to put three of those on target, and were unable to pull back level. The hosts killed off the game in stoppage time on a goal by Cristiano Biragi and they moved to 13 points, level with Sassuolo and Inter.

23-year-old Polish international Krzysztof Piatek bagged a double for Genoa three minutes apart as they win on the road at Frosinone 2-1. Both of Piatek’s goals came off poor defensive mistakes, giving him an incredible eight goals just six matches into the season, including at least one in every game thus far. His first came in the 33rd minute on a speculative long-ball into the box that met the head of Christian Kouamé who beat his defender with ease, and all Piatek had to do was turn and shoot. His second came just three minutes later as Bartosz Salamon flubbed collecting a Genoa long-ball and had his pocket picked by Kouame, who fed Piatek on the two-on-none break for an easy finish.

Former Arsenal and Roma winger Gervinho scored the game’s only goal as Parma topped Empoli 1-0. The 31-year-old scored from a tight angle on a brilliant feed from Antonino Barillà in the 33rd minute.

Bologna earned its second win of the season by beating Udinese on an 82nd minute winner by Italian U21 international Riccardo Orsolini. Federico Mattiello whipped a cutback from the right edge of the box and it hit Orsolini perfectly in stride for the finish. Previously, Ignacio Pussetto saw his 32nd minute opener canceled out by Federico Santander just before halftime.

Chievo Verona and Torino went scoreless for 88 minutes before Simone Zaza scored to earn the visitors all three points at Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi. Zaza slid to finish off an absurd through-ball from Alex Berenguer seemingly out of nothing. It earned Torino its second win of the season moving them into 10th with nine points.

La Liga: Messi maintains Barca’s unbeaten start, 4-point lead

BILBAO, SPAIN - OCTOBER 28: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring goal during the La Liga match between Athletic Club Bilbao and FC Barcelona at San Mames Stadium on October 28, 2017 in Bilbao, Spain. (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)
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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ PL ROUNDUP: Man City’s historic start; Man United, Arsenal win ]

Athletic Bilbao 0-2 Barcelona

Barcelona’s quest for an unbeaten La Liga season continued in earnest on Saturday, as Lionel Messi scored his league-leading 12th goal of the still-young season to help secure all three points from a difficult test away to Athletic Bilbao. The victory keeps Barca four points clear of second-place Valencia and eight points ahead of third-place Real Madrid, who play on Sunday.

Saturday’s hosts had ample opportunity of their own to open the scoring, but missed a pair of key chances before Messi swept home a Jordi Alba cross in the 36th minute.

Paulinho put the game out of reach in the 91st minute, slotting home an empty-net rebound for his third league goal of the season.

Alaves 1-2 Valencia

Valencia maintained their best-ever start to a league season with a 2-1 win away to 19th-place Alaves. Simone Zaza bagged his ninth goal of the season (second-most behind Messi) in the 34th minute, before Alaves pulled level through Alexis Ruano in the 49th minute. Rodrigo Moreno converted from the penalty spot not long after the hour mark for Valencia’s seventh victory (to go with three draws) of the season.

Atletico Madrid 1-1 Villarreal

Atletico Madrid’s title bid is, for all intents and purposes, finished. After dropping two points to Villarreal, Diego Simeone’s side now trails Barca by eight. Angel Correa put Los Rojiblancos ahead on the hour mark, but Carlos Bacca grabbed the equalizer in the 81st minute as Villarreal moved to within three points of Atleti for the fourth and final UEFA Champions League place.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Sevilla 2-1 Leganes

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Getafe vs. Real Sociedad — 7 a.m. ET
Girona vs. Real Madrid — 11:15 a.m. ET
Eibar vs. Levante — 1:30 p.m. ET
Malaga vs. Celta Vigo — 3:45 p.m. ET

Has Everton’s expensive rebuild given it Top Four hope?

Branislav Racko/TASR via AP
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There’s one each August.

Take last season. Buoyed by a seventh place finish under Slaven Bilic in 2015-16, West Ham United spent to bring Andre Ayew, Manuel Lanzini, Håvard Nordtveit, Gokhan Tore, Simone Zaza and a host of others to town.

Some worked out, some didn’t, some were hurt, but the Irons didn’t move the needle in taking all season to build any semblance of form. Prone to losing streaks, West Ham lost four-straight and five-straight matches in the PL, going six and seven games without a win.

[ MORE: 2017-18 PL season preview hub ] 

This year, it’s again the seventh place finisher making noise, and some think Everton could finish higher than Merseyside rivals Liverpool in Ronald Koeman‘s second year on the job.

The Toffees need to handle Hajduk Split over two legs to reach the UEFA Europa League group stage, and Koeman has built up enough quality to make a deep run in the tournament and a nice climb in the Premier League standings.

When the biggest question mark of the big summer additions is England’s all-time leading scorer, well, big things are going to be expected from Goodison Park.

Everton has added Wayne Rooney, Davy Klaasen, Sandro Ramirez, Michael Keane, and Jordan Pickford. Those are potential impact players right up the middle of the pitch (perhaps with Sandro shipped wide because of Rooney). The Toffees still have Morgan Schneiderlin and Idrissa Gana Gueye as a killer midfield duo, Ashley Williams to team with Keane, and any number of prospects and valuable commodities (plus the leg peg of Leighton Baines).

And rumor has it Gylfi Sigurdsson is going to end up at Goodison.

Sure the club sold Romelu Lukaku and will be without influential fullback Seamus Coleman for some time, but there are many reasons to believe the Toffees can reach new heights.

Here’s the rub: and it’s the schedule. How far behind will the Toffees be in their chase for the Top Four after opening the campaign home to Stoke, then away to Man City, away to Chelsea, home to Spurs, and away to Bournemouth (with the Hajduk Split matches mixed into the first three encounters)?

That’s one heck of a gauntlet, one laden with away obstacles. But navigating that mess and still being within shouting distance will be a major victory, and one that could propel Everton’s status as a contender deep into the season.