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Serie A: Milan tops Atalanta in massive win, Cagliari grabs 3 points

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AC Milan has scored one of the most important results of the Serie A season in what has turned out to be a vicious battle for the final Champions League places, coming from behind to beat Atalanta 3-1 on a brace from new signing Krzysztof Piatek. The win gave Milan a four-point gap between themselves and fifth-placed Atalanta, with Roma and Lazio all right there in the chase as well.

Both teams struggled to find good chances through the first 45 minutes, as the only two shots on target of the first half resulted in goals. Atalanta struck first through Remo Freuler, although Gianluigi Donnarumma will want it back. Just past the half-hour mark, great work from Josip Ilicic on the right-hand edge of the box led to a cutback where Freuler was waiting in acres of space, but his shot was right at Donnarumma. Unfortunately for the visitors, he was unable to stop the shot completely, and it trickled away to his right and over the line.

Milan was able to change the halftime feel of the game right on the stroke of the break as Piatek scored his 16th goal of the season and third for Milan since joining in the winter by somehow managing to touch Ricardo Rodriguez’s cross into the far corner despite his back to the target, contorting his body so that his leg whip redirected it inside the far post.

The visitors took the lead just after the break, a meaningful strike in more ways than one as Hakan Calhanoglu bagged his first goal of the season to a thunderous response from the Milan bench. His low strike from the top-left corner of the penalty area found the far post past a diving Etrit Berisha. Less than a week ago, Milan boss Gennaro Gattuso had called Calhanoglu out for poor play, saying “I expect more” from the Turkish winger. The goal is his first in league play since he ended last season with a run of three goals in the final four games of the campaign.

Piatek made it 3-1 just minutes after by heading in a Calhanoglu corner, and that was the ballgame wrapped up. Milan won its second in a row and fourth in its last six league matches. With just one league loss since the November international break, Milan has strengthened its Champions League hopes, just a point back of third-placed Inter who is set to host Sampdoria tomorrow.

Elsewhere, Cagliari also came from behind, beating Parma 2-1 on a brace from Leonardo Pavoletti despite falling behind before halftime.

The visitors at Sardegna Arena went in front in the 40th minute on an absolutely stunning header from Juraj Kucka, redirecting a free-kick from a great distance out, looping his header up and over Cagliari goalkeeper  Alessio Cragno, clipping the underside of the bar and deflecting into the net.

Cagliari stormed back and Pavoletti struck for the first time just past the hour mark, touching home on a set-piece development after Luca Cigarini’s looped free-kick found Luca Ceppitelli’s head, touching the ball across the face of goal right to the doorstep where Pavoletti was streaking in.

The hosts owned both the bulk of possession and the advantage in the shot count, finishing with 16 to Parma’s nine, but they struggled to get them on target. Finally, in the 85th minute, Pavoletti won it as Nicolo Barella produced a wonderful cutback delivery from the left touchline and his looping cross found the 30-year-old’s head leaving Parma goalkeeper Luigi Sepe no chance.

The win pushes Cagliari to 14th in the table, six points above the relegation zone and just one point below their opponents.

Blocked from traveling, Cagliari kicks over milk in compromise

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Sardinian side Cagliari had an interesting Serie A travel day to Milan in that there was a chance it might not happen at all.

The Italians were trapped inside their training ground by over 100 protestors who were not challenging Cagliari’s on-field performances, but wanted the 15th place side to cancel their match at AC Milan in solidarity with them over high milk prices.

[ MORE: Wild day in Bundesliga ]

Part of a nation-wide protest which sees people kick over milk on the road, protestors would only let Cagliari’s players leave for Sunday’s match at AC Milan via compromise.

That compromise saw three Cagliari players join in the protest. From Football-Italia.net:

The team was only allowed to leave after several players, including Nicolo Barella, Alessandro Deiola and Joao Pedrowere filmed kicking over milk pails in a gesture of solidarity.

This a story we didn’t expect at the start of the Matchday.

Liverpool offloads Klavan to Cagliari for cheap

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Liverpool is starting to offload some of its extra weight, and it comes at the expense of the back line.

The Reds announced the sale of central defender Ragnar Klavan to Cagliari, with reports in England claiming the transfer fee was a paltry $2.5 million.

That leaves Liverpool with a relatively thin remaining central defensive corps behind starters Virgil Van Dijk and Dejan Lovren, with just Joel Matip and Joe Gomez the only ones left as natural center-backs. It’s a bold move by the Reds in a campaign full of high expectations.

The 32-year-old Klavan joined Liverpool in the summer of 2016 from German club Augsburg for around $5.5 million, but struggled to crack the first team in a consistent manner. Klavan made 39 Premier League appearances in his time at Liverpool, but was pushed back in the pecking order after the Reds brought in van Dijk last January. Still, he made a solid eight Champions League appearances last season – three of them starts – and was an important piece of Liverpool’s squad depth.

Klavan signed a two-year contract at Cagliari, where he will compete for playing time with the likes of Marco Andreolli, Fabio Pisacane, and Luca Ceppitelli.

Serie A fixtures postponed as Totti, Dzeko, world soccer mourn Astori

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Serie A has postponed seven weekend fixtures in a gesture of sorrow and respect for Fiorentina captain Davide Astori, who passed away overnight.

The 31-year-old was found dead in his hotel room ahead of Sunday’s match at Udinese.

Astoria was a Cagliari mainstay before his time at Fiorentina, and also played for top flight power Roma after beginning his career in AC Milan’s Academy.

The center back was capped 14 times by Italy, and is mourned across Italian and world football.

Report: Toronto FC to land ex-PSG back Van der Wiel

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What can’t Tim Bezbatchenko do?

The Toronto FC general manager has apparently leapt into the European transfer market to not just replace Steven Beitashour, but upgrade from the intrepid right back as the Reds pursue a CONCACAF Champions League crown.

[ MORE: MLS teen signs for Barca ]

Gregory van der Wiel, 29, is close to a move to the treble-winning Reds, bringing 46 Netherlands caps, four Ligue 1 titles, and two Eredivisie crowns. He also was a part of the Netherlands side that finished second at the 2010 World Cup.

Van der Wiel is currently struggling for playing time at Cagliari, but is a season-and-a-half removed from an important role at Paris Saint-Germain. The Ajax Academy product was the 2009-10 Dutch Young Player of the Year.

No player is a lock to succeed in his first year crossing the proverbial bond, but Van der Wiel seems close to it should the reports come to fruition.

TFC and Colorado square off in the CCL Round of 16 on Feb. 20 and 27.

Beitashour left TFC for a move back home to California with LAFC.