The Serie A title race this season is the most exciting it’s been for a while, and it stayed that way this weekend.
Juventus trounced Chievo Verona 4-0 in the early fixture to temporarily go top of the table, but Napoli laid the hurt on Empoli 5-1 to regain first place. Other than a 3-2 Bologna win over Sampdoria in an important lower-half battle, there was little other excitement across the fixtures.
Alvaro Morata scored twice and Paul Pogba was in beast mode as Juventus jumped into the league lead temporarily. Read about it in full here.
Napoli 5-1 Empoli
Maurizio Sarri pulled his side back atop the league standings with a monstrous second half. A critical own-goal by Empoli’s Michele Camporese on a cross from Jose Callejon put Napoli 3-1 ahead just six minutes after the break. Callejon hit for a pair of his own late to add icing on the cake. The win keeps pace with Juventus and while the Bianconeri have won 12 in a row, Napoli has put together a tidy six-game league winning streak to stymie their challengers.
Bologna 3-2 Sampdoria
In a battle of teams looking to pull away from the relegation zone, Sampdoria fought back from 2-0 down only to fall on an 87th minute penalty by Mattia Destro as Bologna pulled seven points clear of the drop. That’s two wins in a row for Bologna, with summer newcomers Destro and Emanuele Giaccherini providing winning goals in each.
Torino 0-0 Hellas Verona
Genoa 0-0 Fiorentina
Udinese 0-0 Lazio
Welp. The rest of the Italian slate today was a dud. Fiorentina could not keep pace with the top two in Juventus and Napoli, and their draw at 16th placed Genoa really hurts, as they fall six points back of Napoli and see Inter catch up. Lazio had a shot to jump to eighth or even sixth, but failed to capitalize on the road. Torino also could have jumped into the top half, but instead were held by the bottom-dwellers in Verona, who have scored just 14 goals in 21 matches this year.
Sansone of Sassuolo, with five goals and four assists on the year, came through Bayern Munich’s youth system and was born in Germany, though he has made appearances for Italy’s youth side dating back to 2007.
Stephan El Shaarawy returned from injury and is fit for a training retreat that goes from June 2 to June 4.
Defenders: Francesco Acerbi (Sassuolo), Davide Astori (Roma), Domenico Criscito (Zenit), Matteo Darmian (Torino), Mattia De Sciglio (Milan), Lorenzo De Silvestri (Sampdoria), Emiliano Moretti (Torino), Manuel Pasqual (Fiorentina), Andrea Ranocchia (Inter)
Midfielders:Andrea Bertolacci (Genoa), Daniel Caligiuri (Wolfsburg), Daniele De Rossi (Roma), Alessandro Florenzi (Roma), Emanuele Giaccherini (Sunderland), Marco Parolo (Lazio), Andrea Poli (Milan), Roberto Soriano (Sampdoria), Mirko Valdifiori (Empoli), Marco Verratti (Paris Saint Germain)
Forwards: Antonio Candreva (Lazio), Stephan El Shaarawy (Milan), Manolo Gabbiadini (Napoli), Ciro Immobile (Borussia Dortmund),Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli), Alberto Paloschi (Chievo), Graziano Pelle (Southampton), Nicola Sansone (Sassuolo), Franco Vazquez (Palermo), Simone Zaza (Sassuolo)
Italy’s World Cup provisional squad is loaded, so who got snubbed?
Italy’s powerful unit for World Cup 2014 in Brazil will be without Sunderland’s Emanuele Giaccherini, Liverpool’s Fabio Borini, Juventus’ Dani Osvaldo and Zenit’s Domenico Criscito on a heavily-Serie A provisional roster.
In fact, the only three players not playing for an Italian club all play for French powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain, with Thiago Motta, Marco Verratti and Salvatore Sirigu on the squad.
Ciro Immobile and Mattia Destro make the 30-man unit after tremendous Serie A campaigns.
Defenders: Ignazio Abate (Milan), Andrea Barzagli (Juventus), Leonard Bonucci (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Matteo Darmian (Turin), Mattia De Sciglio (Milan), Christian Maggio (Napoli), Gabriel Paletta (Parma), Manuel Pasqual (Fiorentina), Andrea Ranocchia (Inter Milan)
Midfielders: Alberto Aquilani (Fiorentina), Antonio Candreva (Lazio), Daniele De Rossi (Roma), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Ricardo Montolivo (Milan), Thiago Motta (Paris Saint-Germain), Marco Parolo (Parma), Andrea Pirlo (Juventus), Romulo (Verona), Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain)
Forwards: Mario Balotelli (Milan), Antonio Cassano (Parma), Alessio Cerci (Turin), Mattia Destro (Rome), Ciro Immobile (Turin), Lorenzo Insigne (Naples), Giuseppe Rossi (Fiorentina)
A late goal from Samir Nasri gave Manchester City a point from a match Connor Wickham had temporarily stolen, but after the teams’ 2-2 draw at Etihad Stadium, Sunderland had dealt the Citizens a major blow in their title pursuit. Still six points behind league-leading Liverpool, Manchester City failed to take advantage of one of their two games in hand, with their remaining advantage from their fewer games played sitting pale in comparison to the gap between first and third.
Manchester City went up in the second minute through Fernandinho, giving an early impression that Wednesday’s game would be a City cruise. For the next 71 minutes, only scattered half-chances for the Black Cats hinted Sunderland would compete, though an often disorganized City defense continued to give the league’s last place club a path back into the match.
In the 73rd minute, after a cross from Emanuele Giaccherini found him open at the far post, Wickham’s first goal of the night seized that opportunity, with a second score 10 minutes later leaving the Black Cats within minutes of a shock upset. Two minutes before full-time, however, a Nasri shot through the hands of Vito Mannone trickled over Sunderland’s goal line, allowing City to salvage a 2-2 result.
It remains to be seen whether that point will even matter. Six points back with one game in hand, Manchester City is no longer in position to take advantage of a potential slip when Chelsea visits Anfield on April 27. Instead, Chelsea become sLiverpool’s main title contenders, with a lackadaisical City left hoping more missteps from the top two can bring the team back into the title race.
At the other end of the table, Sunderland gets a point it wasn’t expecting, pulling within six of safety. With a match in hand and a five-game losing streaked snapped, the Black Cats, buoyed by the result, have reason to think an improbable survival run is possible.
Having never won at the Etihad, Sunderland’s fortunes were brightened early, with Manuel Pellergini selecting a team without Yaya Touré and David Silva. Touré, removed early on Sunday against Liverpool, is out for two weeks. While Silva’s absence was without explanation, a lingering ankle problems on the back of a short turnaround likely left the Spanish playmaker on the sidelines.
Two minutes after kick off, those absences appeared to be irrelevant, with a turnover forced by Álvaro Negredo producing an early opener. Dispossessing Lee Cattermole, Negredo poked the ball to Sergio Agüero, who eventually found Fernandinho bolting into the right of Sunderland’s area. A near-post finish past Mannone gave the hosts an early 1-0 lead.
Sunderland nearly equalized four minutes later on a restart from the right, but John O’Shea’s header from 10 yards out went wide. Another chance created for Fabio Borini left the Italian alone in front of Joe Hart to the right of goal. The Liverpool loanee’s shot sailed out of play, leaving the teams destined to go into halftime 1-0.
A more controlling Manchester City came out for the second half — an unmotivated but oppressive grip that seemed to eliminate the slim chances Sunderland was able to muster in the first 45 minutes. As Pellegrini removed Agüero (57th minute) and Negredo (69th), a slight arrogance started to appear in City’s approach, one that made the lack of a second goal even more important.
In the 73rd minute, City’s lack of urgency came back to haunt them. On play built down the left side, Marcos Alonso found Giaccherini on a run through the left channel. Chipping the ball far post just before the byline, the Italian midfielder found Wickham alone inside the six-yard box, the easy tap-in into an empty goal bringing Sunderland even.
Ten minutes later, it was Giaccherini providing for Wickham again, giving the Black Cats an unlikely lead. Putting the young striker behind City’s increasingly suspect defense, Giaccherini allowed Wickham to go in alone on Hart, with a slow reaction from the City keeper toward his left post allowing the Sunderland forward his second goal of the match.
With Agüero and Negredo out of the game, City initially struggled to muster a response. In the 88th minute, however, the team received some help from the opposing keeper. On a low shot toward Mannone’s feet by Nasri, City were able to equalize, with pair of soft hands from the Sunderland keeper allowing Nasri’s shot to inch over the goal line.
Minutes later, Nasri had a chance for an equalizer from a near-identical spot before putting his shot into the crowd. Left drawn 2-2, City were sent to the locker room to consider their new, diminished title relevance, while Sunderland may have rekindled hope it can find a path to survival.
“If I was a player, going to play the team three points ahead, I wouldn’t be affected or down just because there is no more cup and no more Wembley.”
“If there are weak players in the dressing room feeling sorry, I assure you they will not play.”
The fans and some pundits have hit back at Poyet for his changing of the lineup between Sunderland’s March 1 loss to Manchester City in the League Cup final and Sunday’s aforementioned loss to Hull.
He had strong words for them as well.
“People will criticise, but you cannot go back – some of them haven’t got a clue what goes on behind the doors.”
“Wes Brown and Craig Gardner were injured, Jozy Altidore and Valentin Roberge ill, Emanuele Giaccherini started and he is one of our most expensive players, Steven Fletcher is coming back and Ignacio Scocco needs to play.
“There are no excuses from me, if someone wants to look for some, then fine. I’m man enough to say we played 11 first-team players that were certainly good enough to win the match.”
So there are some more answers for those questioning why Altidore wasn’t suiting up for the Hull match.
Sunderland sits in 19th place with 24 points, one point back of Cardiff City and West Bromwich Albion. The Black Cats have played three less matches than the Bluebirds and two less than the Baggies. A win over Palace would land them even with the Eagles.