Maurizio Sarri

Maurizio Sarri praises Ronaldo over Messi
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Sarri: ‘Annoying’ that Ronaldo has less Ballons d’Or than Messi

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Maurizio Sarri has a lot of work to do as Juventus boss.

The former Chelsea manager needs to battle critics of his style and background, all while tending to the egos of one of the biggest teams in the world.

And one of those egos is possibly the largest on record.

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That’s Cristiano Ronaldo, who did not take part in Juve’s 4-0 cup win over Udinese on Wednesday but still got plenty of airtime in Sarri’s post-match presser.

Sarri went to great lengths to describe the details of Ronaldo’s sinus infection, which comes with Ronaldo in red-hot form. The Portuguese 34-year-old has nine goals in his last six games.

The manager went on to take a shot at Lionel Messi on his player’s behalf, seemingly at random. From Football-Italia:

“I would like to help Ronaldo win a sixth Ballon d’Or, as seeing someone out there with one more than him is a little annoying… In future, Dybala can challenge for the same objective, as he can make his mark on world football for years to come.”

Without even getting into the discussion of whether there’s a single season that Messi won the Ballon d’Or over Ronaldo and didn’t deserve it (and vice versa) well… what now?

What’s Sarri doing? Assuming no one planted this bug in his ear, it’s an odd one. Your team just waxed a Serie A opponent, and Paulo Dybala got to shine without sharing the spotlight with CR7 for once. Two goals and one assist and he gets to hear about how one day he might be on his sick teammate’s level? Nah.

Look, Ronaldo is a wonderful player, and generational talent and one of the best to ever put on boots. At some point, his insufferable ego cloys the dish. Yes, it’s on brand, but there are a lot better roads to trod.

Then again, it’s probably of extreme import for Sarri to stay on his man’s good side.

Juve leads Inter in the scudetto race by two points after 19 match days.

Sarri sheds stubborn style at Juventus, finds success

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ROME — Maurizio Sarri must have learned something from those awful losses midway through last season at Chelsea, when he was getting ridiculed for stubbornly sticking with his highly technical passing system.

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Or from those near misses at Napoli, when his teams twice were on top at the league’s midpoint only to miss out on the title on both occasions.

Half a season into his tenure at Juventus, it’s often been difficult to discern traces of “Sarri-ball,” the style of mesmerizing short, vertical passes that boosted Sarri to prominence first at Empoli then at Napoli.

Yes, there were the now-famous 24 touches before Gonzalo Higuain’s winner against Inter Milan in October; but there was also a gritty 2-1 win at Roma on Sunday when Juventus stormed out to an early 2-0 lead then almost fell apart near the hour-mark before holding on for a potentially decisive victory that sent the Bianconeri two points clear at the top of Serie A.

After the game in Rome, Sarri was asked if he felt his current side plays like his previous teams.

“Well, according to the numbers, which are completely different from Juventus’ numbers last season, my answer is yes,” Sarri said. “But you’ve also got to respect your players’ characteristics. Either I coach by myself and I simply don’t care about my players’ characteristics or I (adapt) to them.

“This is a team which is not particularly brilliant from a physical point of view. They don’t have the characteristics that Napoli had in regard to the ability of moving the ball in close spaces. This is an incredibly strong team from other points of view.”

With the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo in attack plus Leonardo Bonucci and Matthijs de Ligt in defense, Juventus possesses more talent than any other squad that Sarri has coached.

“If with my Napoli we had defended in the last 25 meters for the last 25 minutes as we did tonight, we would have lost, that’s for sure,” Sarri said. “So, this team has different qualities and if I tried to re-do what I already did in other teams, I would be coaching myself, not the team.”

Another key difference from his previous teams is that Sarri now appears much more willing to rotate his players from game to game – unlike when he relied on the same starting 11 and same two or three substitutions for nearly every match with Napoli.

“At Napoli it was important to provide continuity,” Sarri said last week. “At Juve it’s totally different from my past experiences. Considering the quality of the players, when you change two or three of them it might change something in terms of individual characteristics but not much in terms of the playing philosophy.”

TEARS OF PAIN

Roma midfielder Nicolo Zaniolo cried on the pitch after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during the loss to Juventus.

The 20-year-old Zaniolo is considered Italy’s most talented young player and the injury will almost certainly rule him out of the Azzurri squad for this year’s European Championship.

Fortunately for Italy coach Roberto Mancini, midfield is the position where Italy is strongest. Marco Verratti and Jorginho have been consistent starters for the national team while other options include Lorenzo Pellegrini, Nicolo Barella, Stefano Sensi and Sandro Tonali.

LAZIO LEAVES IT LATE

Riding a club-record 10-match winning streak, Lazio’s ability to transform matches in the final minutes has been decisive.

Including Ciro Immobile’s 82nd-minute strike in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Napoli, Lazio has scored 13 of its 41 goals in the last quarter-hour of its matches – translating to six games won with late goals.

Aiming for its first Serie A title in two decades, Lazio is in third place, six points behind Juventus and four behind Inter Milan with a game in hand.

The Roman squad also recently won the Italian Super Cup with its second victory over Juventus this season.

Serie A roundup: Ronaldo scores, Juventus go clear at top (video)

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Juventus’ crucial victory over AS Roma to go atop of Italy’s top-flight highlights Sunday’s Serie A action.

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AS Roma 1-2 Juventus 

Juventus are Italy’s winter champions.

The Bianconeri scored two goals opening 10 minutes as they surpassed Inter Milan and regained control of Serie A with a 2-1 win over AS Roma.

Defender Merih Demiral scored his first goal for the Old Lady by gently volleying Paulo Dybala’s service inside the box.

Six minuted later, the Argentine drew a penalty after dispossessing Jordan Veretout inside the box. Cristiano Ronaldo converted from the spot shortly after, increasing his count to nine goals in his last six league appearances.

“We played well for a good 60 minutes, and suffering at the Olimpico against Roma is almost inevitable,” the Maurizio Sarri told Sky Sport Italia following the match.

“What I did not like is that we tried to sit on our lead rather than increase it, as three times we had three-against-one counter-attacks and didn’t finish them off.

Juventus, in fact, spoiled precious chances to stretch their lead against a Roma, who also lost Italy international Nicolo Zaniolo to a reported ruptured ACL.

Diego Perotti converted from the spot in the second half, but Roma failed to earn the leveler before the final whistle blew. Edin Dzeko came close, but his strike struck the post.

A narrow offside decision annulled Gonzalo Higuain’s third goal for the visitors.

Juventus, who now lead Inter Milan by two points, host Udinese in the Coppa Italia Round of 16. Roma, on the other hand, travel to Parma in the same competition.

Elsewhere

Udinese 3-0 Sassuolo

Sampdoria 5-1 Brescia

Fiorentina 1-0 SPAL

Torino 1-0 Bologna

Verona 2-1 Genoa

Lazio beats Juventus 3-1 to win Italian Super Cup in Riyadh

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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) Lazio beat Juventus 3-1 on Sunday to win the Italian Super Cup for a fifth time amid a background of protests and political outrage at the game being held in Saudi Arabia.

Senad Lulic scored in the 73rd minute for Lazio after Juve’s Paulo Dybala had canceled out Luis Alberto‘s opener at Riyadh’s King Saud University Stadium.

Danilo Cataldi sealed the result in stoppage time with a free kick. That was conceded by Juventus midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur, who was shown a second yellow card and sent off.

It was the second time in three years that Lazio had beaten Juventus in the Super Cup. The capital side had also won 3-1 when the two clubs met in Serie A two weeks ago in what was Maurizio Sarri‘s only previous defeat as Juventus coach.

Amnesty International and the journalists union for Italian state TV RAI had written a joint letter to the presidents of Juventus and Lazio. The letter asked the clubs not to play the Italian Super Cup in Saudi Arabia because of the country’s human rights record.

Italian politicians and human rights activists also objected to last season’s game being played in Saudi Arabia, citing the assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

The Italian league has a contract with Saudi Arabia to play three Super Cups in the country over five years and – just like last year – the match went ahead.

Lazio took the lead in the 16th minute when Lulic crossed for Sergej Milinkovic-Savic at the back post, and he cut it back for Luis Alberto to fire into the roof of the net.

Sarri had again started with the superstar trident of Cristiano Ronaldo, Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain and the first two combined for the equalizer on the stroke of halftime.

Dybala turned in the rebound from close range after Lazio goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha could only parry Ronaldo’s effort.

But Lazio captain Lulic helped to win the match with a splendid volley at the back post after Marco Parolo had nodded on Manuel Lazzari’s cross.

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

Five match-ups we’d love to see in the UCL Round of 16

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We know who each UEFA Champions League knockout round contestant can draw in the Round of 16, but some would be juicier than others.

From an American angle, we’ve been deprived of a Christian Pulisic and Borussia Dortmund reunion for now, though we could see a CONCACAF young star duel if Pulisic’s Chelsea draws Alphonso Davies’ Bayern Munich.

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But let’s be honest: That’s simply a subplot for our North American audience. The big intrigue lies elsewhere.

Alas, most of Jose Mourinho’s old employers Chelsea and Real Madrid are unseeded like current club Spurs. Barcelona cannot draw Man City, another beauty.

5. Tottenham Hotspur v. Barcelona — Jose Mourinho and Barcelona have a history, while Spurs are winless in four outings against La Liga’s storied club.

4. Juventus v. Real Madrid — Wouldn’t it be something if Cristiano Ronaldo and his longtime buddies met up in the Round of 16.

3. Manchester City v. Real Madrid — Guardiola v. Zidane, with a heaping helping of Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne. Pep might not be able to draw Bayern Munich nor Barcelona, but he sure wouldn’t mind tangling with a side who was involved in a number of incredible Clasicos as a player and manager.

2. Liverpool v. Borussia Dortmund — We got Jurgen Klopp against his old Der Klassiker rivals Bayern Munich last season, and it’s only natural that the Reds could match up against Klopp’s former club and maybe future star in Jadon Sancho. The two sides met in the 2015/16 Europa League quarterfinals, but this stage — with Klopp as a UCL reigning champ — would be extra delightful.

1. Juventus v. ChelseaMaurizio Sarri went to Chelsea for one season, won the Europa League over a crosstown rival and came within penalty kicks of upending Man City for the League Cup. The Blues are doing well under Frank Lampard, but an “our guy versus the guy we didn’t like” would be a cigarette-chewing wonder, wouldn’t it?