Vlad Chiriches

Cesare Abbate/ANSA via AP

Napoli draws against Torino to all but hand Juventus title

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MILAN (AP) Juventus has the champagne on ice after Napoli was held to a 2-2 draw by Torino on Sunday to all but mathematically hand the Bianconeri their seventh successive Serie A title.

[ MORE: Guardiola celebrates trophy ]

Napoli is six points behind Juventus with two matches remaining. The two sides have the same head-to-head record – which is the next deciding factor – but Juventus has a significantly better goal difference.

Juventus can mathematically secure the title at Roma next weekend.

After Juventus beat Bologna on Saturday, Napoli knew it needed a victory to keep the title race alive.

Napoli wasted a couple of opportunities before taking the lead in the 25th minute.

It was Dries Mertens’ 31st birthday and Nicolas Burdisso gifted him a goal as he failed to control a backpass with two awful touches, allowing the Belgium international to pounce and end his eight-round goal drought.

Torino leveled 10 minutes into the second half when Daniele Baselli’s effort was deflected in off Vlad Chiriches.

Substitute Arkadiusz Milik almost restored Napoli’s lead in the 70th minute but his powerful effort crashed off the left post.

Shortly after another substitute, Marek Hamsik, who had been on the pitch for less than two minutes, did fire Napoli in front again, curling into the right side of the net.

Milik should have sealed the result but he fired inches wide of the left post from close range and Lorenzo De Silvestri headed in the equalizer seven minutes from time.

La Liga & Serie A: Barca cruise in derby; Mertens bags four for Napoli

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A roundup of Sunday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Chelsea go 9 points clear; Man Utd streaking ]

Barcelona 4-1 Espanyol

The gap between Barcelona and Real Madrid is now just three points after the Blaugrana thrashed Espanyol in the Catalan derby on Sunday (though Madrid now have a game in hand due to their trip to the Club World Cup). Luis Suarez scored twice, his 11th and 12th goals of the 2016-17 La Liga season, with Lionel Messi and Jordi Alba also netting for Barca.

Suarez’s second, and Barca’s second, stands out as the pick of the litter, not for the Uruguayan’s finish, but for the mesmerizing passage of dribbling by Messi during the build-up (WATCH HERE). Messi was made to wait until the 90th minute to notch his 10th goal of the league season, but it was well worth the wait, even if only for the sequence of passes between himself and Suarez.

[ MORE: La Liga — Atleti end poor run of results; Sevilla go 2nd (for now) ]

Elsewhere in La Liga

Deportivo La Coruña 2-0 Osasuna
Leganes 1-1 Eibar

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Real Madrid 15 11 4 0 40 14 26 6-2-0 5-2-0 37
 Barcelona 16 10 4 2 41 16 25 4-3-1 6-1-1 34
 Sevilla 16 10 3 3 32 21 11 7-0-1 3-3-2 33
 Villarreal 16 8 5 3 25 11 14 6-1-1 2-4-2 29
 Real Sociedad 16 9 2 5 28 21 7 5-2-1 4-0-4 29
 Atlético Madrid 16 8 4 4 29 14 15 5-2-1 3-2-3 28
 Eibar 16 6 5 5 22 20 2 5-2-1 1-3-4 23
 Athletic 15 7 2 6 20 18 2 5-1-1 2-1-5 23
 Espanyol 16 5 7 4 20 22 -2 2-4-2 3-3-2 22

Napoli 5-3 Torino

Dries Mertens scored not one, not two, not three, but four goals as third-place Napoli blitzed ninth-place Torino early and held on for dear life late. Mertens had his hat trick after 22 minutes, and former Tottenham Hotspur defender Vlad Chiriches made it 4-1 (following Andrea Belotti’s league-leading 12th goal of the season) after 70 minutes.

Then came the comeback attempt, as Torino pulled one back six minutes later, only to be rebuffed by Mertens’ fourth of the game in the 80th minute, followed by another for former Tottenham man, Iago Falque, pulling the visitors back to within two goals. The victory pulls Napoli to within a point of Roma in the race for second, but still only fourth in the league table after Lazio made easy work of Fiorentina to remain third.

[ MORE: Serie A — Juventus beat 2nd-place Roma, go 7 points clear ]

Lazio 3-1 Fiorentina

Keita put the home side ahead after 23 minutes, and Lucas Biglia made it 2-0 during first-half stoppage time. Former West Ham United forward Mauro Zarate pulled Fiorentina back to 2-1 in the 64th minute, but that’s as close as the Viola would get, as Stefan Radu put a tidy bow on the victory in the 90th minute.

[ MORE: Ligue 1 — Pressure increasing on Emery as PSG lose 4th league game ]

Elsewhere in Serie A

Sassuolo 0-1 Inter Milan
Udinese 2-0 Crotone
Pescara 3-0 Bologna
Chievo 2-1 Sampdoria
Genoa 3-4 Palermo

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Juventus 17 14 0 3 36 14 22 9-0-0 5-0-3 42
 Roma 17 11 2 4 36 17 19 8-0-0 3-2-4 35
 Napoli 17 10 4 3 37 18 19 6-2-1 4-2-2 34
 Lazio 17 10 4 3 32 18 14 6-1-2 4-3-1 34
 AC Milan 17 10 3 4 27 20 7 6-2-1 4-1-3 33
 Atalanta 17 9 2 6 25 20 5 5-0-3 4-2-3 29
 Inter Milan 17 8 3 6 25 21 4 5-2-1 3-1-5 27
 Fiorentina 17 7 5 5 25 21 4 4-4-0 3-1-5 26
 Torino 17 7 4 6 35 27 8 5-2-1 2-2-5 25

EURO 2016 preview, Group A: France, Switzerland, Romania, Albania

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France

Thrice the tournament has been held in France, and Les Bleus won it on two of those occasions (1984 and 2000). Semifinalists in 1996, France will be favored to win its group and make a deep run as hosts.

Game schedule:

June 10 — vs. Romania at Stade de France in Saint-Denis
June 15 — vs. Albania at Stade Velodrome in Marseille
June 19 — vs. Switzerland at Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille

Star player: Paul Pogba (Juventus) — the in-demand Juventus star and Manchester United cast-off is a wizard with the ball at his feet, and capable of striking from anywhere.

Why France can thrive from being host nation: As stated above, they’ve won the tournament twice on home soil, and have lost just once since mid-June 2015. This is a team so deep its B-side would be expected to make the knockout rounds.

But most likely Deschamps youngsters will crumbled under pressure: It’s not that France can’t cope with the pressure, but their mettle as a unit is almost completely unknown given their automatic qualification. France hasn’t played in a meaningful match since the 2014 World Cup.


Switzerland

Just their fourth tournament after failing to qualify in 2012. Has not advanced past the group stage.

Granit Xhaka of Switzerland (Photo by Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images)

Game schedule:

June 11 — vs. Albania at Stade Bollaert-Delelis in Lens
June 15 — vs. Romania at Parc des Princes in Paris
June 19 — vs. France, Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille

Star player: Granit Xhaka (Arsenal) — We’ll give the nod to the Premier League new boy, as ex-Borussia Monchengladbach standout Xhaka enters the tournament with 42 caps and six goals at the age of 23.

Why Switzerland can make a sneaky run: The Swiss have close to a golden generation of talent that may just be entering its prime. Watch for youngster Breel Embolo to ignite his star, and for Ricardo Rodriguez and a loaded defense to prove stingy.

But where’s the end product? Switzerland has a lot of players who can tempt the goal, but only Xherdan Shaqiri has a goal production rate of better than one in four matches. The lack of a “talisman” will cost the Swiss.


Romania

Romania has been three-and-out in all but one of their four tournaments, the outlier a quarterfinal appearance after both England and Germany flunked Group A in 2000. First Euro since 2008.

BUCHAREST, ROMANIA - OCTOBER 08: Razvan Rat of Romania in action during the UEFA EURO 2016 Qualifier between Romania and Finland on October 8, 2015 in Bucharest, Romania. (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
Razvan Rat of Romania (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)

Game schedule:

June 10 — vs. France at Stade de France in Saint-Denis
June 15 — vs. Switzerland at Parc des Princes in Paris
June 19 — vs. Albania at Parc Olympique Lyonnais in Lyon

Star player: Vlad Chiriches (Napoli) — The central defender and captain will be the main man holding everything together. Failed to shine at Spurs but has never let Romania down.

With experience in the back and in goal, Romania could just ride captain Chiriches and 111-cap man Razvan Rat into another unlikely knockout round appearance.

The schedule will cost them, though, as opening with the host nation before facing Switzerland should make the Albania match academic.


Albania

Have neither made a World Cup nor a Euro until this tournament.

ZURICH,SWITZERLAND - APRIL 26: Armando Sadiku of FC Zurich runs during the Swiss Super League football match between FC Zurich and FC Luzern held on April 26, 2014 at the Letzigrund Stadion in Zurich, Switzerland. (Photo by Michael Buholzer/EuroFootball/Getty Images)
Armando Sadiku (Photo by Michael Buholzer/EuroFootball/Getty Images)

Game schedule:

June 11 — vs. Switzerland at Stade Bollaert-Delelis in Lens
June 15 — vs. France at Stade Velodrome in Marseille
June 19 — vs. Romania at Parc Olympique Lyonnais in Lyon

Star player: Armando Sadiku (FC Lugano) — On loan to Vaduz in Liechtenstein, the Zurich striker has scored in each of Albania’s last three matches.

Shock the world? Albania gets Switzerland first, and might be able to hold down the fort and then hope France doesn’t find chemistry in match two before beating Romania.

Probably not, though. Everyone loves an underdog. Everyone should love Albania a ton.


Who’s going through, who’s going home: France and Switzerland advance, with Romania and Albania battling for third.

Marquee match: The finale between Switzerland and France should have the group “title” in the balance.

Top players to watch: 

  1. Paul Pogba, France
  2. Antoine Griezmann, France
  3. Dimitri Payet, France
  4. N'Golo Kante, France
  5. Granit Xhaka, Switzerland

La Liga & Serie A roundup: Real Madrid hang 7; Napoli keep tight to Juve

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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights:

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Real Madrid 7-1 Celta VigoRECAP + HIGHLIGHTS

You make Cristiano Ronaldo angry, you pay the price. Unfortunately for Celta Vigo, they weren’t the ones who infuriated the Portuguese superstar, but they were the ones who took the full force of his wrath. How’s four goals to silence the critics? (Video at the above link.)

Now the bad news: even with their 7-1 victory on Saturday, the Los Blancos still find themselves nine points back of Barcelona, who now have a game in hand (Sunday), for the league lead. Celta Vigo are clinging European qualification in sixth place after making an early-season push the UEFA Champions League.

Villarreal 0-1 Las Palmas

Villarreal, who currently occupy the fourth and final Champions League place in Spain, dropped all three points away to 14th-place Las Palmas on Sunday. Fortunately for El Submarino Amarillo (The Yellow Submarine), fifth-place Sevilla were only able to draw away to Getafe, thus they remain eight points back of fourth.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Getafe 1-1 Sevilla
Deportivo La Coruña 3-3 Malaga

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Real Betis vs. Granada (6 a.m. ET)
Eibar vs. Barcelona (10 a.m. ET)
Real Sociedad vs. Levante (12:15 p.m. ET)
Sporting Gijon vs. Athletic Bilbao (12:15 p.m. ET)
Valencia vs. Atletico Madrid (2:30 p.m ET)


Napoli 3-1 Chievo

Juventus may be 17 games unbeaten in Serie A action (16 wins) and on the brink of running away with their fifth-straight league title, but Napoli aren’t ready to concede just yet. Saturday’s 3-1 victory over Chievo puts them level on points with Juve, who now have a game in hand (Sunday), on 61 points.

Gonzalo Higuain equalized for Napoli (below video), who conceded an early goal in the 2nd minute, on six minutes. Former Tottenham Hotspur defender Vlad Chiriches put Napoli into the lead for good in the 38th minute. Jose Callejon completed the scoring on 70 minutes (below video).

Elsewhere in Serie A

Hellas Verona 0-3 Sampdoria

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Torino vs. Lazio (6:30 a.m. ET)
Sassuolo vs. AC Milan (9 a.m. ET)
Bologna vs. Carpi (9 a.m. ET)
Genoa vs. Empoli (9 a.m. ET)
Atalanta vs. Juventus (9 a.m. ET)
Frosinone vs. Udinese (9 a.m. ET)
Inter Milan vs. Palermo (2:45 p.m. ET)

Looking at Franco Baldini’s legacy after Spurs departure

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Franco Baldini has left as the technical director of Tottenham Hotspur by mutual consent.

[ MORE: Pele – “I’d rather play for Arsenal than Chelsea” ]

Baldini, 54, has been with Spurs since 2013 when he left AS Roma to become the head of their scouting and transfer policy.

The Italian will be remembered for the transfer dealings he was in charge of during the summer of 2013 as Spurs spent most of the $132 million they eventually received from Real Madrid for Gareth Bale on seven new players.

[ VIDEO: Ben Arfa scores stunner for Nice ]

Most of those seven new arrivals from two years ago have failed to shine at White Hart Lane, with four of them sold for a loss of $45 million this summer by new boss Mauricio Pochettino.

Here’s a look at Baldini’s buys in the summer of 2013 and their productivity, as this will be, whether he likes it or not, his lasting legacy at the Lane:

  • Paulinho – Bought for $24 million, sold for $15 million in 2015 (6 goals in 45 PL games)
  • Nacer Chadli – Bought for $10 million, still at the club (13 goals in 64 PL games)
  • Roberto Soldado – Brought for $40 million, sold for $15 million in 2015 (7 goals in 52 PL games)
  • Etienne Capoue – Brought for $15 million, sold for $9 million in 2015 (1 goal in 24 PL games)
  • Vlad Chiriches – bought for $13 million, sold for $6 million in 2015 (1 goal in 25 PL games)
  • Erik Lamela – bought for $45 million, still at the club (3 goals in 44 PL games)
  • Christian Eriksen – bought for $17 million, still at the club (17 goals in 63 PL games)

It’s safe to say that Baldini’s time at the Lane has not been a success. With Bale in the team, Spurs qualified for the UEFA Champions League under Harry Redknapp in 2009-10 and then finished in fourth again in 2011-12 but did not qualify for the UCL due to Chelsea winning the trophy.

When Andre Villas-Boas replaced Redknapp for the 2012-13 season, Spurs’ upward curve continued with Bale leading them to their highest ever points tally in the PL but they were pipped to a fourth place finish by North London rivals Arsenal. Then, in the summer of 2013, it all unraveled as Bale was sold and seven new players were brought in to replace him. Only three still remain at the Lane with Eriksen and Chadli both proving good buys, especially the former, and despite looking like he would leave Spurs on several occasions after lackluster displays, club-record signing Lamela has been much improved this season.

Soldado and Paulinho were perhaps the biggest disappointments. Soldado always gave his all but it just didn’t happen for him. As for Paulinho, the Brazilian midfielder started well but faded badly as injuries and a lack of appreciation from Pochettino caught up with him. Guys like Chiriches and Capoue were squad players but even they underachieved as the recruitment process at Spurs must improve.

Baldini’s time at Tottenham will not be looked on kindly by Spurs fans, as many blame him for poor recruitment which all but wasted the money brought in by Bale’s departure. As Villas-Boas and Tim Sherwood were sacked over the past two years, Baldini was in the background making most of the decisions on players and was never culpable. Now, since Pochettino brought in his old head of recruitment from his days at Southampton, Paul Mitchell, in January, Baldini will move on “to spend time outside of club football,” according to Spurs.

When all is said and done, there won’t be many tears shed among Tottenham fans about this departure.