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Serie A roundup: Roma hold off Napoli; Juventus remain leaders (video)

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Roma’s victory over Napoli highlight Saturday’s Serie A action.

 [ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule ]

Roma 2-1 Napoli

On Saturday, at Stadio Olimpico, when Roma found themselves up 2-0 on Napoli, the game came to a pause. Referee Gianluca Rocchi made the decision to grab the ball and blow the whistle in the second half after Roma fans aimed racist chants at Napoli.

After a few minutes, the game resumed, and eventually, Hirving “Chucky” Lozano’s darting ball into the box would find Arkadiusz Milik, who extended his scoring run to four matches.

The first half had it all.

Nicolo Zaniolo opened the scoring, when his left-footed strike zoomed past Alex Meret and into the top-right corner of the goal. The 20-year-old has now scored three league goals in 11 matches. Shortly after, VAR granted Roma a penalty after concluding that Jose Callejon contacted the ball with his arm inside the box when pressured by Chris Smalling. Aleksandar Kolarov‘s penalty, however, was denied by Meret, who recorded four saves throughout the 90 minutes.

Napoli were persistent and came close several times. Giovanni di Lorenzo was denied at the goal line by a full-extended Smalling. In a matter of seconds, the visitor’s struck the woodwork twice, once by header from Milik, which was subsequently followed by a first-time volley from distance that also rattled the bar.

I Giallorossi would get a second chance from the spot in the second half. And this time they didn’t squander it.

Javier Pastore, who zipped through Napoli’s backline, saw his lofting cross crash into Fabian Ruiz’s arm. A penalty was awarded, and Jordan Veretout – on loan from Fiorentina – opened his Roma account, which ended up being the game-winning goal.

Up next for Roma, who moved to third and are only behind Inter Milan and Juventus, take on Borussia Mönchengladbach in the Europa League midweek. Napoli, on the other hand, host Red Bull Salzburg on Tuesday and aim to remain perfect in Group E of the Champions League.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Tornio 0-1 Juventus

Bologna 1-2 Inter Milan

Serie A wrap: Late Ronaldo penalty saves Juve; Smalling nets for Roma

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Italy was not happy about playing at midweek, or so it seems from the five red cards handed out across seven Wednesday matches in Serie A.

[ MORE: Liverpool 5-5 Arsenal | GK hero reacts ]

Juventus moved back atop the table by a point over Inter Milan, but had to work to the wire for it, while Atalanta held firm against Napoli’s challenge to see two Roman clubs move into the Top Five.


Juventus 2-1 Genoa

It was supposed to be easier for The Old Lady at home against a Genoa side which hasn’t done much well this season, especially after a 51st minute red card for the visitors made a 1-1 score line appear destined to move toward the hosts.

Despite taking 20 more shots than the guests, Juve could not make it an easy win. Adrien Rabiot was sent off in the 87th minute, and Maurizio Sarri‘s men only triumphed when Cristiano Ronaldo converted a stoppage time penalty.

Napoli 2-2 Atalanta

The hosts lost a pair of leads as goals from Nikola Maksimovic and Arkadiusz Milik couldn’t deliver three points against the third place La Dea.

Remo Freuler’s 41st minute goal meant the score line was tied at halftime, and Josip Ilicic struck in the 86th minute to give Atalanta a share of the points in a match with 13 shots on frame.

Lazio 4-0 Torino

It was a bit of cakewalk for Lazio, who scored in the 25th and 33rd minute and saw Nicolas Nkoulou sent off in the 68th. Ciro Immobile scored two in the win, as 18-point Lazio is a point back of their fourth-place city rivals.

Udinese 0-4 Roma

Manchester United loanee Chris Smalling has his first Serie A goal, nodding in Roma’s second as i Lupi move back into the Top Four.

Roma led 1-0 when Federico Fazio was sent off, but still scored the game’s three remaining goals. Nicolo Zaniolo, Justin Kluivert, and Aleksandar Kolarov joined Smalling on the score sheet.

When asked about the performance, Roma boss Paulo Fonseca offered this gem:

“Most teams defend when down to 10, but we do not,” he said.

Elsewhere
Sassuolo 1-1 Fiorentina
Sampdoria 1-1 Lecce
Cagliari 3-2 Bologna
AC Milan v. SPAL — 4 p.m. ET Thursday

STANDINGS

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Juventus 10 8 2 0 18 9 9 5-0-0 3-2-0 26
 Inter Milan 10 8 1 1 22 10 12 3-1-1 5-0-0 25
 Atalanta 10 6 3 1 30 16 14 2-1-1 4-2-0 21
 Roma 10 5 4 1 18 11 7 2-2-1 3-2-0 19
 Lazio 10 5 3 2 22 10 12 3-2-0 2-1-2 18
 Napoli 10 5 3 2 20 13 7 3-1-1 2-2-1 18
 Cagliari 10 5 3 2 16 10 6 3-1-2 2-2-0 18
 Fiorentina 10 4 3 3 15 13 2 2-1-2 2-2-1 15
 Parma 10 4 1 5 15 14 1 3-0-3 1-1-2 13
 Bologna 10 3 3 4 14 15 -1 2-1-1 1-2-3 12
 Verona 10 3 3 4 7 8 -1 1-2-2 2-1-2 12
 Torino 10 3 2 5 11 16 -5 2-2-1 1-0-4 11
 AC Milan 9 3 1 5 9 13 -4 1-1-2 2-0-3 10
 Udinese 10 3 1 6 5 17 -12 3-0-3 0-1-3 10
 Sassuolo 9 3 0 6 16 18 -2 2-0-3 1-0-3 9
 Lecce 10 2 3 5 11 19 -8 0-1-3 2-2-2 9
 Genoa 10 2 2 6 13 23 -10 2-1-2 0-1-4 8
 Brescia 9 2 1 6 9 14 -5 0-1-3 2-0-3 7
 SPAL 9 2 1 6 7 16 -9 2-1-2 0-0-4 7
 Sampdoria 10 1 2 7 6 19 -13 1-2-2 0-0-5 5

Man Utd: Smalling, Darmian seal Serie A moves

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Manchester United is waving goodbye to a pair of defenders, and only may eventually come back to Old Trafford.

Chris Smalling is off to AS Roma on loan, while Matteo Darmian will join Parma for an underwhelming $1.7 million (according to Sky Sports).

[ MORE: UEL group stage draw ]

Those Man Utd salaries have made from less than ideal transfer situations for the Red Devils. While Romelu Lukaku did fetch $90 million from Inter Milan, Alexis Sanchez joined the same Serie A side for an alarmingly low loan fee (reportedly).

Here’s Solskjaer on Smalling’s move to a fellow Europa League side. From ManUtd.com:

“At the moment we’ve got six center backs and it’s just something that popped up in the last couple of days. Chris fancied the chance to go over there; it’s a new experience, new adventure. He’ll come back better for it because it’s a big club, it’s a good league. There aren’t too many English players who have been playing in Italy so I think he’ll enjoy it.”

Whether United is able to bring in some free agent or budget savvy moves like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, it’s pretty clear that chairman Ed Woodward (and maybe Solskjaer) believes the club is not ready for a Top Four challenge but has the strength to compete for continued UEL berths via blooding plenty of young depth.

Chris Smalling to join Roma on loan

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Chris Smalling is heading out on loan to Roma.

Despite signing a new contract earlier this year, the Manchester United and England center back has fallen out of favor at Old Trafford under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Smalling, 29, will reportedly join Roma on a season-long loan deal for a loan fee of around $3.3 million. Roma would also have the option to buy Smalling permanently.

With Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof ahead of him in the pecking order, plus Axel Tuanzebe, Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo all around as center back options for Solskjaer, this is a smart move for Smalling.

Roma sold Kostas Manolas to Napoli over the summer and are rebuilding after failing to qualify for the UEFA Champions League this season. They drew 3-3 at home to Genoa in their opening Serie A game of the season and need a little help defensively.

Smalling is a towering figure who will block and clear until his heart is content. He has been at United for nine years, winning two PL titles, an FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League trophy.

This loan move works out well for everyone, as United have now sold Romelu Lukaku to Inter Milan, Alexis Sanchez is also heading to Inter on loan and Smalling is now heading to Roma.

The path from Manchester to Italy is becoming a well trodden one.

One area where Mourinho was right: Man Utd badly needs center backs

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Big Manchester United wins and losses, especially post-Alex Ferguson, have a tendency to get overstated at both ends of the spectrum, but there’s plenty to take away from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s recent struggles at the helm of the Red Devils.

[ MORE: Recap | Solskjaer reacts ]

For one thing: Jose Mourinho wasn’t right about much this Manchester United season, but he knew he needed better men in the back.

Everton’s beautiful opener in the first half of Sunday’s 4-0 pummeling of the Red Devils may tempt some to wash over the defending, but heading below the surface shows more problems.

The opener saw Richarlison score a terrific overhead kick after Dominic Calvert-Lewin flick a Lucas Digne throw-in to the back post. Beautiful, for sure, but Smalling never gets up to thwart Calvert-Lewin’s powerful jump.

Now that’s certainly just one example, but United’s slide is a feature of a few things.

Nineteen goals conceded in 17 PL matches is a clear upgrade from the 29 in 17 under Mourinho, and let’s not pretend United hasn’t been better with Solskjaer at the proverbial wheel.

Throw in a very average season from David De Gea — which in his case is far below standards — and it’s not a surprise that United is flailing away from the Top Four. The Alexis Sanchez move has been poor, Romelu Lukaku‘s form has dipped save back-to-back braces against a pair of unremarkable defenses, and Paul Pogba remains mercurial. He’s a monster of the midfield at his best, and a drifting object in the wind at his worst.

There’s a comparison to made with where Liverpool was under Brendan Rodgers somewhere, a legendary club not quite sure of how to fit its standard to its standing. Marcus Rashford needs room to grow, not constant comparison to Romelu Lukaku. There are a lot of extra pieces in the squad, the guys you like as a luxury for a great team but are either too old or too green to be reliable.

Of center backs to play in 10 or more Premier League matches this season, Phil Jones ranks 16th, Chris Smalling is 38th, and Victor Lindelof is 44th. Only 57 are ranked. Advanced stats aren’t foolproof, but they help (Jones and little-used Eric Bailly, for what it’s worth, were well-rated last season).

The club needs a big rebuild, to be sure. De Gea is a suitable goalkeeper for a team with top end ambitions, and we know that Lukaku and Pogba at their best can dominate (whether either is capable of doing it consistently under anyone is a debate).

But really, perhaps De Gea’s amazing 2017-18 and Mourinho’s defense-first system papered over something that’s been evident for some time. There’s neither a Aymeric Laporte or Toby Alderweireld at United, let alone a Virgil Van Dijk.