Dries Mertens

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Liverpool draws Napoli, takes UCL fate to last match day

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Napoli drew Liverpool 1-1 on Wednesday to push the Reds’ knockout round qualification hopes to the final match day.

Liverpool will advance with a draw or better in Austria against Red Bull Salzburg on Dec. 10. It could also advance with a loss if Napoli fails to beat Genk in Italy.

Salzburg lost 4-3 at Anfield during the first meeting but carries three away goals in case it wins and a tiebreaker is required.

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Dries Mertens scored in the first half, but Dejan Lovren leveled the score in the second half.

Premier League teams would love to have a word with Napoli, or subscribe to their diet or something; The Serie A side has now a 2-1-1 record against the reigning UCL champs dating back to last season.


Three things we learned

1. VAR doesn’t save Reds from opening concession: There were two reviews of Dries Mertens opener, but neither stopped the “1” from staying on the visitor’s side of the scoreboard as the Belgian scored for the second-straight match against Liverpool. Mertens timed his run perfectly well, though at first glance it looked like offside would be the call. Also, as good as the finish was, it was helped by a rare mistake from Alisson Becker. The Liverpool goalkeeper was married to his post.

2. Reds have trouble getting going: Napoli’s plan was to punch Liverpool in the mouth. No, literally. The Neapolitan set had the Reds off balance in the first half hour or so, but goalkeeper Alex Meret was called upon twice in the final 10 minutes to keep the advantage 1-0. The second half was much better, and the Reds could’ve found more than their lone tally.

3. Fabinho injury a worry: Liverpool’s midfield monster walked off the pitch and straight into the tunnel with an apparent hip injury. He was already going to miss this weekend via suspension, so if it’s something small he’ll have some time to heal before the Merseyside Derby on Dec. 4. If it’s not something small, the Reds will have some problems navigating a terribly congested December.

Man of the Match: There wasn’t a true star in this one. Obviously Lovren and Mertens delivered the goals, and Kalidou Koulibaly was good at the back for Napoli. But we’ll give it to James Milner, who left in the 78th minute with an assist to go with 89 percent passing, two tackles, three aerials won, and two dribbles.


Napoli took the lead when Van Dijk was momentarily hobbled while rising above Mertens for an aerial win.

Mertens took off as Napoli gained possession, and the Belgian’s run to meet a Giovanni di Lorenzo through ball was immaculate in beating the line set by Andy Robertson. As noted above, Alisson wasn’t at his best and would’ve needed to be in order to stop a terrific strike.

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Liverpool came to life and might’ve won a penalty due to some Sadio Mane tomfoolery that the referee was correct to dismiss as embellishment (no card, though). The Senegalese star would later rifle a shot that Meret turned away to keep it 1-0 heading to the break.

Mohamed Salah pumped a shot into Meret’s belly at the hour mark as Liverpool fought for an equalizer. Oxlade-Chamberlain then cued up Roberto Firmino for a header that was probably put off by Kostas Manolas.

Liverpool found its answer off a corner kick, James Milner sending it in and Lovren finishing the play.

Napoli scores on late penalty, rare Van Dijk error in 2-0 win

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The good news is that Liverpool lost to Napoli last season in the UEFA Champions League, then went on to win the whole darn thing.

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Jose Callejon won a late penalty that Dries Mertens converted, and Fernando Llorente took advantage of a Virgil Van Dijk error to pad the lead as Napoli held serve at home with a 2-0 win over Liverpool on Tuesday.


Three things we learned

1. Goalkeepers immense: No, he’s not Alisson Becker, but Adrian is probably the biggest reason Liverpool didn’t open its UCL defense with a blowout loss. He made a pair of early stops on Dries Mertens before a show-stopping effort in the second half. Napoli got two fine saves from Alex Meret, including a terrific denial of Mohamed Salah in the 65th.

2. Salah, Mane can’t deliver in key moments: Take away Salah’s penalty in the UCL Final, and Liverpool’s two top threats have not accounted for a goal in four matches inside the competition. Mane was mostly good on the day, but misled Salah on an early second half pass which would have almost certainly been a goal. Salah simply had an off day

3. Callejon sells the drama: Liverpool’s Andy Robertson lost a 50/50 with Jose Callejon, who ran into the fulback and hit the deck to win a penalty. That was the difference here, as Mertens beat Adrian.

Man of the Match: Meret was especially good, the 22-year-old Italian goalkeeper big in several key moments to edge Mertens for the honor.


Napoli thought it had gone ahead through El Tri star Hirving Lozano, who nodded over the line following two Alisson Becker saves on Dries Mertens, but the Mexican was offside.

Sadio Mane had a 20th minute chance at the other end, but pumped a point blank low shot to Napoli keeper Alex Meret which led to a corner kick.

Fabinho intervened in the 53rd minute as Napoli emerged from the locker room with energy, but the best chance of the early second half was flubbed in uncharacteristic fashion: Sadio Mane was through 2v1 with Mohamed Salah but made a miserable pass to his teammate.

The first goal arrived when Callejon tapped the ball past Robertson and leapt into the defender to earn a penalty from referee Felix Brych.

It was 2-0 in stoppage time when Fernando Llorente ran onto a Virgil van Dijk error and passed beyond Adrian.

Serie A roundup: Inter edge 10-man Udinese

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Napoli and Inter Milan walked away winners in Saturday’s Serie A action.

Inter Milan 1-0 Udinese

After three games, Antonio Conte‘s spell at Inter Milan remains in immaculate shape.

According to the table, there is no better team than I Nerazzurri, who have won their first three league matches – notching seven goals and conceding only one along the way. In other words, the Italian’s astute coaching style remains effective.

Despite, Inter’s convincing play throughout the 90 minutes, only a goal would separate them from visiting Udinese, who played a with 10 players from the 35th minute on, following Rodrigo De Pual’s slap to the back of Antonio Candreva’s head.

In the 44th minute, Stefano Sensi – one of the smallest players on the field – headed the ball into the back of the net. Late in the game, Alexis Sanchez nearly scored in his Inter debut.

In the end, Udinese were no match for Antonio Conte and Co., who find themselves in prime form heading into their Champions League return midweek.

Up next for Inter in league play: Derby della Madonnina. Udinese, on the hand, host Brescia.

Napoli 2-0 Sampdoria

Dries Mertens is the gift that keeps on giving for Napoli.

To be exact, the Belgian gifted his team two goals on Saturday. 13 minutes in, following a perfectly-placed cross from Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Mertens’ first-time strike was unstoppable for Emil Audero.
Emiliano Rigoni had Sampdoria’s best chance of the night in a one-on-one opportunity with Alex Meret. The Argentine, however, wasted one of the visiting side’s two chances all night.
Then in the 67th minute – with some luck on his corner -Mertens completed his brace off a deflected shot, giving his team their second win of the season.

Quick turnaround for Napoli as they host Liverpool midweek before traveling to take on Lecce in league play, while Sampdoria take on Torino next.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Fiorentina 0-0 Juventus

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

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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.

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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.

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