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UCL Weds. preview: Spurs, Liverpool get next tests

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Barcelona may be winless in three matches, with two draws, but that isn’t going to lead Tottenham Hotspur boss Mauricio Pochettino down the road to peaceful, restful sleep ahead of their Champions League clash.

[ UCL WRAP: Man City wins, Real loses ]

Messi is also causing Pochettino another kind of trouble, the same pain felt by most of us writers when describing the exploits and greatness of one Lionel Andres Messi Cuccittini.

“It’s difficult to praise him more,” Pochettino said. “You try to find the words that describe him. He’s one of the greatest players ever in football and for me, it’s a great opportunity for everyone to enjoy playing against him. It’s a game to enjoy, of course a game to try to win and to have the opportunity to play against Messi doesn’t happen often.”

Spurs will likely to have to cope with even more absences, with Christian Eriksen, Jan Vertonghen, and Mousa Dembele missing training to join Dele Alli and Serge Aurier in the crowd. And it’s unclear whether Hugo Lloris is healthy enough to take the reins back from Paulo Gazzaniga.

Tottenham lost at Inter Milan in its opener, could really use a home result against Ernesto Valverde’s Barca.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

The other Premier League side in action is Liverpool, who won their UCL debut by holding on to beat Paris Saint-Germain 3-2 at Anfield.

The task is at least equal but possibly more difficult on Wednesday, when Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds hit the road to face Napoli.

The hosts are quite wary of the threat provided by Klopp’s men.

“Liverpool don’t just have one good player – they’ve got several, especially when it comes to playing on the break,” said Ancelotti. “We want to attack and win but we need to be wary of that side of Liverpool. Klopp is a friend. He’s a very experienced coach and his teams have a very clear identity: pace, aggression and intensity. … Liverpool will play with very high intensity so we’ll need to be ready for that.

“It’s important that we show bravery and personality, implement what we’ve worked on and be ready to withstand their counter-attacks. If we play the way we know how, we can cause Liverpool problems.”

Elsewhere, American youngsters Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund) and Weston McKennie (Schalke) could feature, while USMNT and Club Brugge goalkeeper Ethan Horvath isn’t expected to start when Club Brugge visits Atletico Madrid.

Full Weds. slate
Paris Saint-Germain vs. Red Star Belgrade — 12:55 p.m. ET
Lokomotiv Moscow vs. Schalke — 12:55 p.m. ET
Spurs vs. Barcelona — 3 p.m. ET
Borussia Dortmund vs. Monaco — 3 p.m. ET
Napoli vs. Liverpool — 3 p.m. ET
Atletico Madrid vs. Club Brugge — 3 p.m. ET
Porto vs. Galatasaray — 3 p.m. ET
PSV Eindhoven vs. Inter Milan — 3 p.m. ET

Ancelotti hired to end Napoli’s scudetto drought

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Is Carlo Ancelotti the right man to end Juventus’ seemingly ages-old hold on the scudetto?

Napoli hopes so, and has inked the former Real Madrid, Chelsea, and Bayern Munich boss to a three-year deal.

Ancelotti’s resume speaks for itself, and the hiring promises more Serie A drama after the Neapolitan club nearly got the job done this season under Maurizio Sarri.

[ MORE: Top takeaways from Emery’s Arsenal unveiling ] 

Ancelotti won scudetti as a player with Roma (1) and AC Milan (2), once more as a manager for the latter. He also led Milan to two Champions League crowns, winning the tournament with Real Madrid as well, while bringing league titles to Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, and Bayern Munich.

Napoli has finished Top 3 in six of eight seasons, finishing four points behind Juve this season. Juventus has won the last seven scudetti, and Napoli’s only title came in 1987.

The club announced the move after owner Aurelio De Laurentiis let go of Sarri, thanking the previous manager for three seasons of work which included a Serie A Coach of the Year Award and wins in 97 of 147 matches.

“I’d like to thank Maurizio Sarri for his valuable contribution to the Napoli cause. He brought joy and prestige to Naples and Napoli fans all over the world with an entertaining brand of football that drew praise from all quarters. Well done, Maurizio.”

Ancelotti to coach Beckham’s MLS team in Miami?

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After moving to Miami full time, David Beckham is reportedly looking at appointing Carlo Ancelotti as the first-ever manager of his Miami franchise in Major League Soccer.

[ MORE: 3 things learned, MLS Week 4

According to a report from the Daily Mirror in the UK, Beckham remains close friends with Ancelotti, 58, and sees him as his main coaching target for the team which is expected to start play in 2020.

Of course, the biggest hurdle for Beckham and his ownership group to get over in the short-term remains nailing down a stadium deal, but focusing on naming a new head coach will be right at the top of their to-do list.

Per the report, Beckham is also keen on Bruce Arena (his former boss at the LA Galaxy) and former Real Madrid teammate Zinedine Zidane but Ancelotti appears to be the top target and given his pedigree it is easy to understand why.

The Italian coach has won major trophies with AC Milan, Real Madrid, Chelsea, PSG and Bayern Munich, including three Champions League titles, but is out of work after leaving Bayern in September 2017.

Ancelotti has been spotted in London over the past few months with his name linked to both the Arsenal and Chelsea jobs, and it feels like the former Italian national team defender fancies one last crack at a big job in the Premier League.

That could scupper Beckham’s plans to have Ancelotti in charge in Miami — he’d likely want to get someone in charge by the summer of 2019 at the latest — but given the latter spending plenty of time in North America in recent years and seeming to come towards the twilight of his managerial career, it could work.

Ancelotti, along with Beckham, would be able to entice plenty of his former players to Miami to work with him again (would you really need much persuading if you’re a player to move to Miami? Probs not, but still…) and his coaching record and persona speaks for itself. He is a classy individual who has won everything he can in Europe and now may be a good time to try something completely different.

Luigi Di Biagio takes over as Italy coach on caretaker basis

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ROME (AP) Under-21 coach Luigi Di Biagio was promoted Monday to take over Italy’s senior national team on a caretaker basis for friendlies against Argentina and England next month.

[ MORE: Ronaldo at 33 ]

The Azzurri have been without a coach since Gian Piero Ventura was fired following a playoff loss to Sweden in November that ruled Italy out of the World Cup for the first time in six decades.

Italy plays Argentina in Manchester, England, on March 23 then faces England in London four days later. The Azzurri’s next competitive fixture isn’t until Sept. 7 against Poland in the inaugural UEFA Nations League.

The 46-year-old Di Biagio played for Italy as a midfielder at the 1998 and 2002 World Cups.

Roberto Mancini, Carlo Ancelotti and former Italy coach Antonio Conte are among those being considered for the full-time job.

Roberto Fabbricini, the Italian football federation’s emergency commissioner, mentioned Mancini as a candidate last week.

[ MORE: Kane on 100 PL goals ]

On Monday, he also mentioned current Nantes manager Claudio Ranieri as a possibility.

“Ranieri is no less appealing than Mancini. He’s got the credentials,” Fabbricini said. “But we need to be attentive from a procedural point of view. Many of these coaches are currently under contract. Either they free themselves up or it will be difficult to ask them to consider the job.”

Ranieri coached Leicester to an improbable English Premier League title in 2016.

Fabbricini also suggested that many current Serie A coaches could be considered – perhaps referring to Massimiliano Allegri at six-time defending champion Juventus.

“It’s Alessandro Costacurta’s job to get in contact with the candidates,” Fabbricini said, referring to his vice commissioner and the former AC Milan and Italy defender.

Italian president’s burning remarks provide path for USMNT

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There’s no question whether the Italian national team job is a different class than the United States men’s national team.

Aside from the fact that both sides failed to qualify for the World Cup, have a vacant manager’s chair, and decent recent results at youth level, the disparity is striking (and not all in negative ways for American fans).

[ MORE: McKennie impresses again ]

Italy has won four World Cups and a EURO, and played in four additional title games. Their domestic league is Top Five, and only six pool players who’ve been called up in the last 12 months come from outside Serie A. Three play in the Premier League, two in La Liga, and one in Ligue 1. It’s qualifying slate meant top Spain or face a home-and-home playoff with another top European team.

On the other hand, the U.S. faces the most forgiving qualifying run this side of Oceania. It’s room for improvement on the international stage is much higher, and its current group is so much further from its potential than the Italian side that it’s hard to find an apt comparison (Consider that, playoff loss aside, Italy has beat the following sides in the last 18 months: Belgium, Spain, Netherlands, and Uruguay).

Differences/similarities aside — and yes, it’s a tad ridiculous to get this deep into what separates Italy from the U.S. in terms of soccer — the USSF could do worse than monitoring how the Italians are handling their World Cup disaster.

1) Accepting responsibility without caveats about their previous successes — Here’s federation president Carlo Tavecchio (who it must be noted has said some reprehensible racist things. We would never gloss over something like that, but we’re talking about the soccer side here). After blasting player selection, he then said, ‘Yeah, but I hired the dude”:

“How can you not play [Lorenzo] Insigne? I told the staff, not him. I can’t intervene [with the coach], there are rules. I have to acknowledge it; I chose the coach. It’s been four days that I haven’t slept. I wake up continuously. We have always played crosses against tall defenders, some almost two meters tall. We had to play around them with the little players, who were on the bench.”

2) Waiting a while to make the correct move — By most accounts, this is very much the plan for the United States (especially with a presidential election looming in February). While most new presidents wouldn’t begrudge the hiring of an highly-qualified name, plenty of prospective bosses would want to wait until the new (or current) man in charge cements his place.

Tavecchio dropped plenty of names, and is especially interested in Chelsea’s Antonio Conte. And he said it’ll be worth the wait.

“We’re looking for the best. They already have commitments until June from a contractual point of view. Then when we get to June, who will be free? The ones are Ancelotti, Conte, Allegri, [Claudio] Ranieri and Mancini. This is the truth of those available.”

Granted the U.S. does not have the wealth of elite experience coaches that Italy does, but the Americans are also not limited to hiring an American.

USMNT interim boss Dave Sarachan is a respected soccer name who is not going to light the shop on fire while the right hire is made during this upcoming string of friendlies.

It’s a top-bottom failure. It includes nearly every part of the system, but the man in charge is the most important part considering that the USMNT should qualify for every World Cup and somehow managed to bungle it.

America needs a bungle-free hire.