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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.

Serie A: Milan tops Atalanta in massive win, Cagliari grabs 3 points

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AC Milan has scored one of the most important results of the Serie A season in what has turned out to be a vicious battle for the final Champions League places, coming from behind to beat Atalanta 3-1 on a brace from new signing Krzysztof Piatek. The win gave Milan a four-point gap between themselves and fifth-placed Atalanta, with Roma and Lazio all right there in the chase as well.

Both teams struggled to find good chances through the first 45 minutes, as the only two shots on target of the first half resulted in goals. Atalanta struck first through Remo Freuler, although Gianluigi Donnarumma will want it back. Just past the half-hour mark, great work from Josip Ilicic on the right-hand edge of the box led to a cutback where Freuler was waiting in acres of space, but his shot was right at Donnarumma. Unfortunately for the visitors, he was unable to stop the shot completely, and it trickled away to his right and over the line.

Milan was able to change the halftime feel of the game right on the stroke of the break as Piatek scored his 16th goal of the season and third for Milan since joining in the winter by somehow managing to touch Ricardo Rodriguez’s cross into the far corner despite his back to the target, contorting his body so that his leg whip redirected it inside the far post.

The visitors took the lead just after the break, a meaningful strike in more ways than one as Hakan Calhanoglu bagged his first goal of the season to a thunderous response from the Milan bench. His low strike from the top-left corner of the penalty area found the far post past a diving Etrit Berisha. Less than a week ago, Milan boss Gennaro Gattuso had called Calhanoglu out for poor play, saying “I expect more” from the Turkish winger. The goal is his first in league play since he ended last season with a run of three goals in the final four games of the campaign.

Piatek made it 3-1 just minutes after by heading in a Calhanoglu corner, and that was the ballgame wrapped up. Milan won its second in a row and fourth in its last six league matches. With just one league loss since the November international break, Milan has strengthened its Champions League hopes, just a point back of third-placed Inter who is set to host Sampdoria tomorrow.

Elsewhere, Cagliari also came from behind, beating Parma 2-1 on a brace from Leonardo Pavoletti despite falling behind before halftime.

The visitors at Sardegna Arena went in front in the 40th minute on an absolutely stunning header from Juraj Kucka, redirecting a free-kick from a great distance out, looping his header up and over Cagliari goalkeeper  Alessio Cragno, clipping the underside of the bar and deflecting into the net.

Cagliari stormed back and Pavoletti struck for the first time just past the hour mark, touching home on a set-piece development after Luca Cigarini’s looped free-kick found Luca Ceppitelli’s head, touching the ball across the face of goal right to the doorstep where Pavoletti was streaking in.

The hosts owned both the bulk of possession and the advantage in the shot count, finishing with 16 to Parma’s nine, but they struggled to get them on target. Finally, in the 85th minute, Pavoletti won it as Nicolo Barella produced a wonderful cutback delivery from the left touchline and his looping cross found the 30-year-old’s head leaving Parma goalkeeper Luigi Sepe no chance.

The win pushes Cagliari to 14th in the table, six points above the relegation zone and just one point below their opponents.

Serie A: Inter tops Parma, Fiorentina, Napoli play to stalemate

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Inter Milan’s young Argentine attacker, Lautaro Martinez, notched another tally to his goal count as Inter Milan returned to the win column for the first time in four games.

Just two minutes from coming on, Martinez latched onto a pass in the box and fired a strike in for a goal, helping give Inter a 1-0 win over Parma. It’s Inter’s first Serie A win since before the winter break.

[ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule ]

Parma nearly scored on two occasions in the first half, with Gervinho and Inglese going in on goal. On the other end, only Radja Nainggolan threatened the goal. Despite the win, Inter still has to worry about Mauro Icardi. The star Argentine attacker is now scoreless in his last four Serie A games.

Elsewhere, Napoli and Fiorentina played to a scoreless draw in front of a packed house in Florence. Fiorentina goalkeeper Alban Lafont played the hero, producing saves on Piotr Zielinski in each half. Both teams’ defenses held the opponent’s attack away from goal for long stretches, and in the end, the point is a positive one for Fiorentina. The Viola moves up into ninth place, one spot above Torino with 32 points.

Serie A: Parma completes amazing comeback to tie Juve

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On most days, a 3-1 Juventus lead would mark the figurative end of the game. On Saturday, Parma wasn’t having that.

The once-proud club staged an incredible second half comeback with a pair of goals from former Arsenal winger Gervinho as Parma drew with Juventus, 3-3. Cristiano Ronaldo also scored two goals and set up the third for Juventus, who drew for just the third time this season. Even with the draw, Juve is still nine points clear at the top of the Serie A table, over Napoli, who won over high-flying Sampdoria.

[READ: USMNT Player Ratings: Costa Rica]

Juventus, playing at home in Turin, took the lead in the 36th minute through a shot from Ronaldo, who slipped while taking it and that, plus a deflection, helped it find the back of the net. Ronaldo nearly scored a second at the stroke of halftime, but in the 62nd minute, he was credited with an assist after a header ricocheted off his head onto the foot of Daniele Rugani, who fired home.

Less than two minutes later, Antonino Barilla stormed into the box and latched onto a long cross for a header goal to bring it back to a one-goal deficit, but Ronaldo extended the lead back to two in the 66th minute, heading a snap header past Parma goalkeeper Luigi Sepe.

In impressive fashion, Parma never gave up, and a wonderful back-heel flick goal from Gervinho gave Parma some life in the 74th minute. Finally, in the third minute of stoppage time, it was Gervinho again, arriving at the penalty spot and firing a strike that found its way past Mattia Perin in for a goal.

With Europe in sight, Parma is regaining its pride

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ROME (AP) Already the first Italian club to earn three straight promotions, Parma is in position to add another chapter to its fairytale-like rise.

[ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule

Three years after being declared bankrupt and being forced to restart in Serie D, the squad nicknamed the “Crusaders” is sixth in Serie A and occupies one of the Italian league’s Europa League places.

“It seems like I’m still dreaming,” Parma president Pietro Pizzarotti said. “Thinking about everything that has happened from 2015 to today I have a hard time finding an explanation.

“There are no secrets behind our rise. We simply wanted to show that we weren’t all failures. And that means everyone: the club management, the players, the coaches and above all the fans,” Pizzarotti told the Gazzetta dello Sport. “Pride creates miracles. But I still keep watching our backs. Our goal is avoiding relegation.”

Led by former Roma striker Gervinho – who has scored five goals in nine appearances – and Portugal center back Bruno Alves, Parma has put together a series of unexpected results for a promoted club.

Belief began building in September when Parma played solid against seven-time defending Serie A champion Juventus, which needed a second-half goal for a 2-1 victory.

Two weeks later came a 1-0 win over Inter Milan at the San Siro. And now Parma is on a three-match unbeaten run, capped by a victory over regional rival Sassuolo last weekend.

Up next: another visit to the San Siro to face AC Milan in Sunday’s lunchtime match.

With 20 points through 13 matches, Parma is halfway toward meeting its objective of 40 points – which is usually enough to avoid relegation.

“We’ve got to reach 40 points as soon as possible and then we’ll see,” Parma midfielder Luca Siligardi said. “We’re going to the San Siro aiming to win. That’s for sure. … We’re going to bring the same intensity that we showed against Inter.”

A quarter century ago, Parma was a force in Italian and European soccer, winning three Italian Cups (1992, `99 and 2002) and two UEFA Cups (1995 and `99) featuring players like Gianluigi Buffon, Lilian Thuram and Fabio Cannavaro.

But the 2003-04 collapse of owner Parmalat in what remains one of Europe’s biggest bankruptcy and fraud cases initiated a downward spiral that bottomed out with another bankruptcy case in 2015 after more ownership trouble.

The current ownership is more stable under local business leaders like Pizzarotti (who owns a construction and civil engineering company), Guido Barilla (chairman and CEO of the Barilla pasta company) and racing car developer Gian Paolo Dallara.

Parma coach Roberto D’Aversa has been with the club since December 2016, leading it up the final two rungs of the promotion ladder. And at the age of 40, Daniele Faggiano is the youngest sporting director in Serie A.

“We’re going to have to battle down to the last round of the season,” D’Aversa said. “Let’s keep our feet on the ground.”

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

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf