Steven Nzonzi

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Serie A: Juventus stretch lead to 9 points with latest win

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: What did we learn in the Premier League, Week 8? ]

Udinese 0-2 Juventus

Juventus’ charge toward an eighth straight Serie A title continued at full speed on Saturday with a 2-0 victory over 15th-place Udinese. Rodrigo Betancur and Cristiano Ronaldo bagged the goals, four minutes apart beginning in the 33rd.

Massimiliano Allegri’s side is a perfect eight-for-eight thus far in league play, and last season’s 38-game title battle — as opposed to their typical 30-game sprint — appears to have been a one-season blip, with order fully restored in 2018-19.

Empoli 0-2 Roma

Roma, along with Napoli, are the nearest challengers to Juve’s throne. Saturday’s 2-0 victory away to Empoli keeps Eusebio Di Francesco’s side within 10 points of the top spot. Translation: it’s a steep, uphill battle from here.

Steven Nzonzi and Edin Dzeko were the goalscorers — in the 36th and 85th minutes. Roma have won four in a row after a very poor start to the season saw them win just once in their first five games. Realistically, their title hopes were gone by then.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Cagliari 2-0 Bologna

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Genoa vs. Parma — 6:30 a.m. ET
AC Milan vs. Chievo — 9 a.m. ET
Lazio vs. Fiorentina — 9 a.m. ET
Atalanta vs. Sampdoria — 9 a.m. ET
Napoli vs. Sassuolo — 12 p.m. ET
SPAL vs. Inter Milan — 2:30 p.m. ET

Report: Roma to sign French international Nzonzi

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According to Italian journalist Gianluca Di Marzio, Roma is nearing completion of a deal for Sevilla midfielder Steven Nzonzi that would cost the Italian club around $34 million.

The total cost is just shy of the $40 million release clause in Nzonzi’s contract, but with Nzonzi set to turn 30 in December and his Sevilla contract set to run out in 2020, this is likely the last year Sevilla would have any leverage to entertain a significant transfer fee.

The 29-year-old was a member of France’s 2018 World Cup winning squad, making five appearances in Russia. He has nine caps overall for the national team.

Roma makes sense as a landing spot for Nzonzi. With Radja Nainggolan sold this summer to Inter and Daniele de Rossi now 35 years old, 29-year-old Maxime Gonalons is the only other defensive midfielder on the roster. Nzonzi had a fantastic season with Sevilla last campaign, earning him a spot on France’s World Cup roster behind N'Golo Kante.

On Sunday, Sevilla sporting director confirmed that Nzonzi wants to leave the club, but said a suitor must submit a “significant offer” for him to be sold.

France win World Cup after classic final

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  • France win their second World Cup trophy
  • Highest-scoring World Cup final since 1958
  • Didier Deschamps becomes third man to win the World Cup as a player and head coach
  • France trailed for just nine minutes and 12 seconds at this World Cup
  • Mbappe second teenager in history to score in World Cup final

France beat Croatia 4-2 in a wild 2018 World Cup final in Moscow on Sunday. This game encapsulated what has been an incredible tournament in Russia as we had superb goals, VAR controversy and intriguing tactical battles.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Les Bleus took the lead via Mario Mandzukic’s own goal but Croatia equalized when Ivan Perisic drilled home a beauty. Before half time huge drama arrived as Perisic gave away a penalty kick for handball after referee Nista Pitana used VAR, then Antoine Griezmann made it 2-1 from the spot.

[ MORE: Player ratings | Celebrations

France threatened to pull away in the second half as Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe each scored to make it 4-1 but even a catastrophic error from Hugo Lloris to allow Mandzukic to make it 4-2 didn’t stop France who celebrated wildly at the final whistle.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]  

Didier Deschamps is now just the third man on the planet to win the World Cup as both a manager and player as the man who captained France to the first World Cup title in 1998 has now led them to their second. France are now just the sixth team in history to win multiple World Cup trophies.

After France lost the 2016 European Championship final on home soil in agonizing fashion, largely the same team has bounced back to secure World Cup glory.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

Croatia started well with crosses from out wide causing France problems as the underdogs settled well.

France eventually got going and they took the lead from their first big chance. Griezmann went down easily to win a free kick and he whipped the ball in and Mandzukic flicked the ball into his own goal to put France 1-0 up.

But Les Bleus led for just 10 minutes as a free kick was only half cleared and Perisic took a fine touch with his right foot and then drilled home with his left to make it 1-1.

Perisic went from hero to villain 10 minutes later as France whipped in a corner and Perisic clearly handled in the box.

Referee Nista Pitana missed the handball but VAR instructed him to look at a pitch-side TV monitor and he made the correct call, awarding a penalty to France which Griezmann slotted home to make it 2-1.

Before half time Perisic put in a dangerous cross into the box but Ante Rebic couldn’t quite get his shot right as they pushed for an equalizer and went close from two more set pieces before the break.

[ MORE: World Cup stats ] 

After the break Croatia started well and Ante Rebic smashed a shot in on goal which Hugo Lloris tipped over, then Lloris rushed out to stop a chance and he was then clattered by Mandzukic.

Deschamps then brought off N'Golo Kante and he was replaced by Steven Nzonzi as France tried to regain the midfield from Croatia.

Pogba then scored the crucial third goal for France as he started a flowing move with a wonderful drilled pass, then finished off, at the second attempt, as he curled past Danijel Subasic.

France then looked to have clinched the game as Mbappe drilled home a fourth from distance with the 19-year-old becoming just the second teenager in history to score in a World Cup final.

What. A. Strike.

But no sooner had they started to believe the game was over than Lloris made a huge mistake to hand the ball right to Mandzukic who tapped home to make it 4-2.

Croatia pushed hard late on to try and pull another back as Rakitic dragged wide and they sent in plenty of crosses but France held on to win their second World Cup trophy.

Three things we learned: France v Croatia

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France beat Croatia in the 2018 World Cup as a six-goal thriller yielded plenty of controversial and memorable moments.

[ RECAP: France win World Cup ]

Les Bleus battled by Croatia as young stars Kylian Mbappe and Paul Pogba came up big in the second half to power past Croatia’s midfield veterans Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic.

[ MORE: Player ratings | Celebrations

Below we take a look at the key storylines from what become a classic World Cup final.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


FRANCE GET VAR CALLS

There’s no doubting that the close calls went France’s way in the final, especially two key decisions.

First up: the VAR review on France’s first goal, an own goal by Mario Mandzukic, didn’t see Paul Pogba in an offside position when the free kick came in. Pogba was in an offside position when the ball was kicked and nudged into Mandzukic who headed into his own net, but the rules state that Pogba wouldn’t have been active until he made an attempt to challenge for the ball and by that time he was back onside in the second phase. He also wasn’t interfering with the goalkeeper so it appears that the rules were interpreted correctly in that case.

[ MORE: World Cup stats ] 

Then came the huge moment, the handball call on Perisic from a corner. This is probably a 60/40 decision, with 60 in favor of it being a handball. Perisic’s hands were up and he put it towards the ball and stopped the ball from going towards several French players crashing towards goal. It’s gut-wrenching to use this in a World Cup final, but it was certainly worth reviewing.

Croatia will point to key decisions going against them and had VAR not been available to use, it’s unlikely the penalty kick would have been given.


CROATIA GUTSY BUT FALL

This World Cup final summed up the 2018 tournament nicely. It didn’t make much sense at all.

From the get-go Croatia took the game to France and pinned them back, creating plenty of chances and only conceding after a own goal from a set piece and then a debatable penalty kick.

Croatia’s goal came from a moment of magic from Ivan Perisic and they went close on several occasions with crosses into the box causing France so many problems. Hugo Lloris made fine saves and interceptions in the second half to keep France ahead and although Croatia lost the World Cup final, they can leave Russia with their heads held high.

It’s tough to know how they could’ve done anymore to win the trophy as Rebic, Perisic and Mandzukic showed up but the extra 90 minutes they’d play compared to France meant they were jaded in the final stages.

Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic didn’t quite have the same time and space they’ve had on previous games and we expected that but a sign of Croatia’s dominance was N'Golo Kante being subbed off in the second half as France lost control of the central midfield area. Kante’s replacement, Steven Nzonzi, helped to steady the ship for France but Croatia still looked dangerous as they made France’s defense look shaky after two-straight clean sheets against Uruguay and Belgium.

Croatia’s incredible run to their first-ever final didn’t end in glory but their performance on the day deserved more.


POGBA, MBAPPE DELIVER

This was supposed to be the final where Kylian Mbappe, just the fourth teenager in history to play in a World Cup final, announced himself.

And he became just the second teenager in history to score in a World Cup final. The other? Pele.

Mbappe, 19, spent most of the first half trying to help out Benjamin Pavard lock down Ivan Perisic on France’s right flank but in the second half he came to life, bursting forward on the break, then drilling home a fine strike from distance to etch his name into World Cup folklore.

Yet apart from Mbappe’s moment of brilliance the only other French player to truly stand tall in the final was Paul Pogba who scored a crucial third and battled valiantly in midfield as Modric and Rakitic tried to drag Croatia level and got the better of N’Golo Kante. After all of the criticism of him at Manchester United over the past two seasons, Pogba delivered several disciplined displays to drive his team to glory.

It is fair to say that France will be remembered as being pragmatic rather than electric when it comes to this World Cup but Deschamps’ defensive unit, although rattled for large spells in this game, held firm.

Rapahel Varane and Samuel Umtiti dug deep and even a mistake from Hugo Lloris couldn’t stop them. France trailed for just nine minutes and 12 seconds during the entire 2018 World Cup and they relied on their stars to deliver in key moments.

Mbappe and Pogba did that on Sunday on the biggest possible stage and both of those superstars will be entering, or about to enter, their prime for the next World Cup in Qatar in 2022.

Man United, Chelsea prepare for La Liga tests

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The final two Premier League teams to get their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 ties off and running are Manchester United and Chelsea who both play this week.

Both PL giants face Spanish opposition but both are in very different situations heading into these games.

 [ MORE: Champions League schedule

United travel to Sevilla on Wednesday as the firm favorites to advance to the quarterfinals, while Chelsea host Barcelona on Tuesday hoping to still be in the tie after the first leg at Stamford Bridge against Lionel Messi and Co.

After Liverpool battered FC Porto, Manchester City demolished Basel and Tottenham went to Juventus and dominated in a draw last week, all of a sudden United and Chelsea are under a little bit of extra pressure to not let the PL sides down.

That pressure is ratcheted up given the fact that Spanish clubs have dominated the Champions League for much of the last decade, with six of the last 10 European champions hailing from La Liga.

Chelsea were the last PL club to reach the UCL final, when they beat Bayern Munich in 2012, while United reached the final in three of four seasons from 2008 to 2011 but only prevailed on one occasion… when they beat Chelsea in the final 2008. That rich run for English clubs in the Champions League saw seven of the eight finals from 2005-2012 have at least one English club in it, but none have made it that far since.

Six of the last eight teams to reach the UCL final have been from Spain, with Juventus reaching the final in two of the past three seasons but failing to the might of Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Yet this season, with five teams from one league reaching the last 16 for the first time in the competition’s history, there’s a sense the English clubs are back to their best and are ready to put La Liga in their place. United and Chelsea will have the first crack at doing that in the knockout rounds with all eyes on what could be a seismic shift in power back to the PL.

Chelsea were the only one of five PL teams in the Champions League this season to not win their group and they paid the ultimate price for that as they were drawn against Barcelona, the current La Liga leaders and one of the red-hot favorites to win yet another European title.

Antonio Conte‘s men have recovered well in recent weeks after patchy form in the Premier League briefly dropped them out of the top four, but there’s no doubting that there are still issues behind-the-scenes with Chelsea’s Italian manager who many expect to walk away at the end of this season.

On the pitch, Chelsea continue to be Lionel Messi’s kryptonite as the Argentine star hasn’t scored in any of his eight previous outings against the Blues. Conte will hope that is once again the case and we may well see a more defensive Chelsea side than usual as they will keep it tight, then play it up to either Olivier Giroud or Alvaro Morata to link up with Eden Hazard on the break.

Barca lead La Liga and if Messi once again fires a blank against Chelsea, at least this time they also have Luis Suarez in reserve, although Philippe Coutinho is cup-tied and can’t feature in the UCL after his January move from Liverpool.

As for United, the rigmarole around Paul Pogba continues as Jose Mourinho’s star midfielder missed their FA Cup fifth round win at Huddersfield on Saturday due to illness but is expected to be fit to play against Sevilla. Does Pogba have a future at Old Trafford?

That’s the key question right now but the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez will be eager to lead United in the latter stages of the UCL for the first time since 2014 when they reached the quarterfinals, but Mourinho is dealing with an injury crisis as Marcus Rashford could join Ander HerreraAntonio Valencia, Zlatan IbrahimovicMarcos RojoPhil Jones and Marouane Fellaini on the sidelines.

Sevilla drew against Liverpool twice in the UCL group stage and even though their La Liga form has been up and down throughout this season (they currently sit in fifth place in the table) and since Vincenzo Montella was appointed as their new boss in December, they’ll be a threat.

Wissam Ben Yedder is Sevilla’s chief goal threat and has six goals in six UCL games so far this season, while ex Manchester City pair Nolito and Jesus Navas will cause problems and Steven Nzonzi continues to impress in central midfield.

Both United and Chelsea know they face tough tests against Spanish opposition this week, and it is perhaps made a little tougher with expectations growing for English clubs in the Champions League this season.