Dries Mertens

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Ronaldo may be tiring as Juve go on record march

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Cristiano Ronaldo is helping Juventus break records but it could be taking a toll on the Portugal star.

Ronaldo has started all but one of Juve’s 23 games this season, having missed only the first Champions League match against Young Boys through suspension following his first-ever red card in the competition.

The 33-year-old forward has scored 12 goals since leaving Real Madrid in the offseason, despite being the subject of a rape allegation in the United States.

Kathryn Mayorga filed a civil lawsuit in Nevada in September claiming Ronaldo raped her in his Las Vegas hotel room in 2009. Police reopened an investigation into the allegation at her request. The Juve player has denied any wrongdoing.

[ MORE: Atlanta hires De Boer ]

Ronaldo’s form in front of goal has dipped in recent games, failing to score in open play in four matches although he did convert a penalty in the Turin derby on Dec. 15.

He went close on several occasions in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Roma and was denied by goalkeeper Robin Olsen. Ronaldo also produced some trademark fancy footwork to set up a goal for Douglas Costa that was ruled out following a video review.

However, the Portugal great looked tired at times and Juve coach Massimiliano Allegri has said he will give the five-time World Player of the Year a rest by sitting out one of the upcoming matches before the winter break, against Atalanta or Sampdoria.

Juve can afford to sideline him after the victory over Roma clinched the unofficial winter title with two matches to go before the halfway point of the season is reached.

Allegri’s side, seemingly unstoppable as it seeks an eighth successive Serie A title, has an eight-point lead over second-placed Napoli and a 16-point advantage over Inter Milan in third.

Juve has won 16 of 17 league matches, dropping points only in a surprise draw against Genoa.

The club’s haul of 49 points has broken its own Italian record and set a record for the top five leagues in Europe.

Still, Juve appears not to have hit top gear. It is traditionally stronger in the second half of the season and appeared to be conserving energy in its past three matches, winning each 1-0.

MISFIRING FORWARDS

Napoli’s top strikers have been misfiring.

Lorenzo Insigne and Dries Mertens have seven Serie A goals apiece this season but neither has scored in five league matches since a 5-1 win over Empoli on Nov. 2.

Both hit the woodwork in Saturday’s 1-0 victory over Spal when defender Raul Albiol was on target.

Another Napoli forward, Jose Callejon, has failed to score this season in 20 matches in all competitions.

Mertens was the club’s top marksman last term with 18 league goals.

PIATEK POWER

Genoa forward Krzysztof Piatek has regained his scoring touch.

He netted nine goals in his opening seven league matches, plus four in his first game for the club in the Italian Cup, but the Poland international then failed to hit the target in five games before breaking his drought last month.

Piatek struck again in Saturday’s 3-1 win over Atalanta to take his tally to six in as many matches in all competitions. However, he was dismayed that another effort was given as a Rafael Toloi own goal.

“I am very happy with the great Genoa victory,” he wrote on Instagram. “But I celebrated less because as soon I got to the locker room I heard the news that my first goal was an own goal. I feel that it is in every respect a double and that Serie A should go back on its decision.”

Piatek tops the scoring charts with 13 league goals, two more than Ronaldo. No player in Europe’s top leagues has netted more domestically.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Spurs draw in Barcelona, advance in Champions League

AP Photo/Manu Fernandez
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Lucas Moura‘s late goal off the bench gave Tottenham Hotspur a 1-1 away draw at Barcelona in UEFA Champions League play on Tuesday at the Camp Nou.

The draw, coupled with Inter Milan drawing PSV Eindhoven, is enough to send Spurs into the knockout rounds.

Ousmane Dembele scored for Barcelona, who had already won the group.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

Dembele cooked Kyle Walker-Peters and then waited out a sliding challenge of Harry Winks before slotting past Hugo Lloris for a cool opener.

Spurs’ fight back was lively with a pair of attempts each for Heung-Min Son and Harry Kane that were thwarted by goalkeeper Jesper Cillessen or shot-blocking defenders.

Kane made a fine run past Clement Llenglet but hit his shot well over the bar as Tottenham’s second half began with chances.

Walker-Peters made a fine sliding block on Philippe Coutinho in the 55th minute, and Barcelona would sub Lionel Messi into the game a few minutes later.

Lucas Moura entered the game for Spurs, and forced a save out of Cillessen before missing wide from an odd angle.

Coutinho hit the post again, a minute before Spurs got their huge equalizer. Lamela slipped Kane into the left side of the box, and Moura popped Kane’s square cross past Cillessen.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Champions League wrap: Messi, Mertens star in wins

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Four spots remain in the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16 following Wednesday’s group stage action.

Who’s qualified for the knockout rounds? Ajax, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Juventus, Manchester City, Manchester United, Porto, Real Madrid, Roma, and Schalke are moving into the new year.

[ MORE: Robbie Keane announces retirement ]


Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 Inter MilanRECAP

Christian Eriksen‘s late finish of a fine team goal gave Tottenham Hotspur hope of the knockout rounds.

PSV Eindhoven 1-2 Barcelona

Lionel Messi had a goal and sent in the ball that Gerard Pique sent home for Barca’s second goal in a win which seals Group B.

Group A
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Atlético Madrid 5 4 0 1 9 6 3 3-0-0 1-0-1 12
Borussia Dortmund 5 3 1 1 8 2 6 2-1-0 1-0-1 10
Club Brugge 5 1 2 2 6 5 1 0-1-1 1-1-1 5
Monaco 5 0 1 4 2 12 -10 0-0-2 0-1-2 1

Borussia Dortmund 0-0 Club Brugge

American youngsters Christian Pulisic and Ethan Horvath faced off at the Westfalenstadion, with the Club Brugge goalkeeper making a few stops on Borussia Dortmund’s young star. Okay, so there’s a bit more to this one than that, but given the lack of goals, it’s what sat atop our minds. BVB moves onto the knockout rounds with the point.

Atletico Madrid 2-0 AS Monaco

Thierry Henry’s side went behind before the clock hit 2:00, and Monaco has officially been eliminated from European competition regardless of what happens at home to Dortmund on Dec. 11.

Group B
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Barcelona 5 4 1 0 13 4 9 2-0-0 2-1-0 13
Tottenham Hotspur 5 2 1 2 8 9 -1 2-0-1 0-1-1 7
Inter Milan 5 2 1 2 5 6 -1 1-1-0 1-0-2 7
PSV Eindhoven 5 0 1 4 5 12 -7 0-1-2 0-0-2 1

 

Napoli 3-1 Red Star Belgrade

Marek Hamsik scored early and Dries Mertens added two before halftime as Napoli cruised into pole position in Group C. A draw, scoring 1-goal loss, or better against Liverpool will be enough for a knockout round berth (a PSG loss also helps).

PSG 2-1 LiverpoolRECAP

The Reds conceded twice early and only put one shot on target, a penalty kick, as Neymar’s had a fine day at the Parc des Princes.

Group C
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Napoli 5 2 3 0 7 4 3 2-1-0 0-2-0 9
Paris SG 5 2 2 1 13 8 5 2-1-0 0-1-1 8
Liverpool 5 2 0 3 8 7 1 2-0-0 0-0-3 6
Red Star Belgrade 5 1 1 3 4 13 -9 1-1-0 0-0-3 4

Lokomotiv Moscow 2-0 Galatasaray

Vladislav Ignatyev’s 54th minute marker joined a late first half own goal in giving Lokomotiv its first win of the group stage.

Porto 3-1 Schalke

Both sides are moving on, but Schalke’s late Nabil Bentaleb penalty wasn’t enough to drag the Bundesliga side back into the match. USMNT midfielder Weston McKennie did not play for Schalke.

 

Group D
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
FC Porto 5 4 1 0 12 4 8 3-0-0 1-1-0 13
FC Schalke 04 5 2 2 1 5 4 1 1-1-0 1-1-1 8
Galatasaray 5 1 1 3 3 5 -2 1-1-0 0-0-3 4
Lokomotiv Moscow 5 1 0 4 4 11 -7 1-0-2 0-0-2 3

Serie A: Mertens bags hat trick, Napoli close gap to Juventus

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Napoli find themselves just three points back of Juventus, who are yet to play this weekend, after a 5-1 demolition of Empoli on Friday.

[ MORE: Barcelona taking “cautious” approach with Messi’s broken arm ]

Dries Mertens led the five-goal charge with a hat trick, taking his tally to seven league goals on the season. Mertens was the unrivaled star of Napoli’s failed title challenge last season, and still he managed only 18 goals over the entire season.

Lorenzo Insigne opened the scoring in just the ninth minute, an expert finish tucked just inside the far post, followed by Mertens’ first of the game in the 38th. The Belgian drove through the heart of midfield before unleashing a stinging strike into the bottom corner from 22 yards out.

Empoli pulled a goal back through Francesco Caputo just before the hour mark, but Mertens quickly restored Napoli’s two-goal lead with his best effort of the day. Arriving late to the top of the penalty area, Jose Callejon’s cut-back ball found Mertens who applied a powerful, but precise, looping shot over the goalkeeper’s head and into the inside netting.

[ MORE: Football Leaks reveals documents alleging fraud against PSG ]

Arkadiusz Milik made it 4-1 with a first-time finish in the 90th minute, and Mertens picked up the game ball two minutes later, when he rounded the goalkeeper nearly 30 yards from goal and rolled the ball into the empty net.

The 31-year-old is capable of this kind of performance anytime he takes the field for Napoli. Had he broken out in such a big way a bit earlier in his career — say, 24 or 25, instead of 28 or 29 — he would have undoubtedly found himself in the Premier League. Alas, he’s carved out a plenty brilliant career for himself near the top of Serie A, with the occasional deep run in the Champions League to showcase his talents to the wider world.

This weekend’s Serie A schedule

Saturday

Inter Milan vs. Genoa — 10 a.m. ET
Fiorentina vs. Roma — 1 p.m. ET
Juventus vs. Cagliari — 3:30 p.m. ET

Sunday

Lazio vs. SPAL — 6:30 a.m. ET
Sampdoria vs. Torino — 9 a.m. ET
Parma vs. Frosinone — 9 a.m. ET
Chievo vs. Sassuolo — 9 a.m. ET
Bologna vs. Atalanta — 12 p.m. ET
Udinese vs. AC Milan — 2:30 p.m. ET

Serie A: Mertens scores late to rescue Napoli against Roma

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MILAN (AP) Dries Mertens can’t stop scoring for club and country and was disappointed to be dropped to the bench for Napoli’s game against Roma on Sunday.

The Belgium international gave the perfect response with a last-minute equalizer to rescue a 1-1 draw. It was Mertens’ fourth goal in as many matches for club and country.

“I would have preferred to start from the beginning especially in a match like this. This is a really eagerly awaited match here at Napoli and I was disappointed, it’s a shame,” Mertens said.

Napoli remained second but is now six points behind leader Juventus, which is chasing a record-extending eighth Serie A title.

Inter Milan can move level on points with Napoli if it wins at fourth-placed Lazio on Monday.

“It’s a shame we didn’t win because it would have been important to pick up the three points,” a visibly dejected Mertens said. “There was a good reaction after we went behind, but we need to do more.”

Napoli coach Carlo Ancelotti has rotated his squad significantly more than predecessor Maurizio Sarri and he did so again following the midweek draw against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League.

“If I put someone on the bench and he’s happy, I would get angry. I’ll talk to him (Mertens),” Ancelotti said.

Napoli dominated but it was Roma which took the lead in the 14th minute. Cengiz Under pulled the ball back and Edin Dzeko couldn’t control it but it came through to Stephan El Shaarawy, who fired in off the inside of the left post.

Despite having the best chances, Napoli almost found itself 2-0 down 10 minutes from halftime but defender Raul Albiol headed Dzeko’s effort off the line after the Roma forward had rounded goalkeeper David Ospina.

There was a blow for Roma shortly before the break as it lost captain Daniele De Rossi to injury.

Napoli continued to attack after the break and Jose Callejon hit the post, while it also had two goals ruled out for offside late on.

Just as it seemed as if Roma would leave with all three points, Napoli leveled in the final minute. A cross was miskicked by Callejon but came to Mertens, who fired in for his third goal in as many matches.

A stunning strike from Suso saw AC Milan put a miserable week behind it to beat Sampdoria 3-2.

The Spain forward struck shortly after the hour mark, racing down the right and cutting in before curling the ball into the far bottom corner.

Sampdoria had the meanest defense in the league, having let in just four goals in its previous nine matches but it conceded three against Milan.

Patrick Cutrone scored Milan’s opener – which was set up by Suso – and assisted the other for Gonzalo Higuain. Former Milan midfielder Riccardo Saponara also had a goal and an assist for Sampdoria.

Milan came into the game after back-to-back defeats against Inter Milan in Serie A and Real Betis in the Europa League, and was languishing in the second half of the standings.