Serie A

Photo credit: Corriere dello Sport

Italian newspaper condemned for “Black Friday” headline featuring Lukaku, Smalling

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Italian newspaper Corriere dello Sport has been widely condemned after printing the headline “Black Friday” on top of photos of Inter Milan forward Romelu Lukaku and Roma defender Chris Smalling, former Manchester United teammates set to face one another in Serie A action on Friday.

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The sub-headline went on to read: “Lukaku and Smalling, former teammates at Manchester United and today idols at Inter and Roma, this is the battle within the battle tomorrow with the scudetto and a Champions League place at stake.”

Both clubs were quick to put out statements condemning the newspaper’s coverage.

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Per the Guardian, an excerpt of the article which appeared to attempt to highlight Serie A’s problem with racism, saying, “We are all trying to tackle the issue of racism in Italian football,” before making a racially insensitive statement of its own:

“In the faces of those idiots who boo, tomorrow everyone must instead go ‘oooh’ like children. It will be a Black Friday, but this is not an end-of-season sale.” It went on to describe Lukaku and Smalling as “two giants of color.”

This comes less than a week after Serie A’s 20 clubs put out a joint statement “acknowledging a serious problem with racism” in the Italian game, while providing little or no concrete plan for action to rid the game of the very racism they acknowledged.

Lukaku has scored 10 goals in 14 league games since joining Inter this summer and Smalling has become a mainstay for Roma in recent months, scoring twice and leading the defense to a much improved record of goals conceded and five victories in six games.

UPDATE #2: Roma has banned Corriere dello Sport from “our training facilities for the rest of the year and our players will not carry out any media activities with the newspaper during this period.”

UPDATE: Lukaku and Smalling have each commented on the headline…

Agents made $650 million from player transfers in 2019

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Looking for a new “get rich quick” scheme? Try becoming an agent for any number of professional footballers, but you better hurry.

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While it turns out there’s quite a lot of money to be made for representing footballers and facilitating transfers and negotiating contracts, including your own piece of the pie, the well is set to dry up in just over 12 months’ time.

First things first, how much money are we talking about here? More than $650 million in 2019 alone — up nearly 20 percent from 2018 — according to numbers released by FIFA on Wednesday, and that number doesn’t include players who moved between two clubs in the same country, only players who made international transfers. That would be the good news.

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Here’s the bad news, for the agents at least: FIFA has approved new guidelines which will cap agent fees at 10 percent of transfer fees and 3 percent of player salaries beginning in 2021. OK, so there’s still decent amount of money to be made in your new career.

The agents and FIFA are at odds over the new rules, which prompted the governing body to release the figures, as if to say, “See? These are the really bad guys ruining your sport.”

Ranking the top 10 Ballon d’Or contenders

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The Ballon d’Or will be awarded in Paris, France on Monday, as the top player on the planet in the last 12 months will be honored by France Football.

But who deserves the coveted title?

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Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are among the favorites once again, as one or the other won this award for 10 years on the trot with five each, but Luka Modric broke up their monopoly after being crowned the best player on the planet in 2018.

Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dijk is among the favorites given his transformative arrival at Anfield to take Jurgen Klopp‘s side to European glory last season and so close to a first Premier League title, while the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Sadio Mane and Raheem Sterling are all leading contenders too.

But all eyes will be on Messi (the bookmakers favorite), Ronaldo and Van Dijk as the Argentine star was named FIFA’s Best Player of the Year, VVD won UEFA’s top player and both times Ronaldo came up short.

Below is a look at our ranking of the top 10 candidates (from the 30-man shortlist) as the winner will be announced later on Monday.

Feel free to add your thoughts and let us know who you think deserves to win the award in the comments section below.


10. Eden Hazard: A very decent season with Chelsea under Maurizio Sarri and led Belgium to top spot in the world rankings. His start at Real Madrid hasn’t been that impressive, but we know the quality he has and injuries have started to build up.

9. Roberto Lewandowski: A simply amazing start to the 2019-20 season for club and country has pushed Lewandowski higher up the list. He’s led Poland to EURO 2020 and made sure Bayern Munich won the Bundesliga last season despite all of their struggles. The best central striker on the planet? Quite possibly.

8. Bernardo Silva: What an incredible 12 months the Portuguese playmaker has had. Silva has taken his game to a totally new level and he was key in Man City winning the PL title last season, and Portugal winning the inaugural UEFA Nations League trophy.

7. Alisson: Alongside Virgil van Dijk the Brazilian goalkeeper has transformed Liverpool’s defensive unit. He doesn’t have a weakness and is so good with the ball at his feet. Alisson came up big throughout their UCL run and his injury at the start of this season proved how much they need him.

6. Kylian Mbappe: It is amazing to think he is only 21 years old. Mbappe carried PSG to the French title last season while Neymar was out injured and he is France’s leading light as they aim for EURO 2020 glory this summer. He continues to get better each and every month.

5. Sadio Mane: So often the player in Liverpool’s side who was under appreciated, that is no longer the case for Mane. This season he leads the team in goals with 12 as Salah battles through injury. Mane is clutch and always delivers when Liverpool need him most.

4. Raheem Sterling: Talking about delivering, Raheem Sterling’s incredible consistency has seen him move close to breaking into the top three in the world conversation. He has finally found composure in front of goal and the Man City and England star has scored 15 goals for City this season and eight goals in nine games in 2019 for the Three Lions. 12 months from now it feels like Sterling will be pushing hard for the Ballon d’Or.

3. Cristiano Ronaldo: Another country, another team, another title. Cristiano Ronaldo is a machine and led Juventus to the Serie A title last season as well as Portugal to the Nations League trophy. He is a serial winner but there has been a few signs of his production slowing down. Still, he is in the top three.

2. Lionel Messi: He may well win the award a secure a record sixth Ballon d’Or and recent displays will probably seal it if he does. Barcelona won La Liga and he has been at his wizard-like best for most of the last 12 months, but there have been blips like they UCL semifinal defeat at Liverpool and his meltdown for Argentina against Chile. Messi is undoubtedly the GOAT, but don’t be surprised if he’s pipped at the post to this award.

1. Virgil van Dijk: Okay, here me out here. Virgil van Dijk is a towering giant and on his own he has not only transformed Liverpool defensively but also their mentality into a winning team too. He has also done that for the Netherlands as they’ve been totally transformed under Ronald Koeman and it’s hard to remember a defensive player having such a big impact for club and country over a 12-month period. VVD is a born leader and he deserves to win this award. Messi may win it, but Van Dijk deserves it.

Serie A: Inter goes top, Napoli falls again

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It’s Lautaro Martinez’s world and we’re all just living in it.

The white-hot Argentine scored a brace as Inter beat SPAL 2-1 to go top of the Serie A table, taking advantage of a Juventus slip at home.

Martinez continues to develop a deadly partnership with Romelu Lukaku, and the big Belgian’s presence was felt on the opener 16 minutes in. Lautaro dribbled down the center of the pitch with Lukaku cutting in front of the move, dragging both defenders off the ball enough for the Argentine to bury a scuffed shot in the bottom-left corner of the net.

Lukaku was again involved on the second just before halftime, holding the ball up at the top of the box and feeding it to the right wing where Antonio Candreva delivered a fabulous cross to Lautaro’s head at the far post. That put Inter 2-0 up, and they skirted around a 50th minute Mattia Valoti consolation.

The win moved them top of the table on 37 points thanks to a 2-2 draw for Juventus at home against Sassuolo, in which a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty was required to secure the comeback. Juve opened the scoring 20 minutes in off a pinpoint shot from Leonardo Bonucci, but Sassuolo soon matched that just minutes later via a delicious Jeremie Boga chip from a tight angle.

The visitors moved in front on an ugly goal for Juventus to concede, started thanks to a bad giveaway by Matthijs de Ligt at the back and finished by a miserable effort from Gianluigi Buffon as the ball trickled over the line. Ronaldo won the penalty and finished it off in the 68th minute to level the score, but Juve could not muster a winner despite a whopping 29 efforts on net. Ronaldo struggled for much of the game, not fed his usual quota of service down the left. Gonzalo Higuain wasn’t any more involved, as Miralem Pjanic was the only attacking threat up front for the defending champions.

Juve now sits second on 36 points, six ahead of Lazio who remained in the hunt with a 3-0 thumping of Udinese. Ciro Immobile bagged a brace in the first half while Luis Alberto hit from the spot before halftime to ensure the scoreline was comfortable.

AC Milan required an 88th minute winner from Theo Hernandez to secure a 1-0 victory at Parma, keeping them afloat in the crowded middle of the table. The goal was a dogged effort from Hernandez who followed up a saved Giacomo Bonaventura shot, stealing the ball off a miserable Matteo Darmian clearance and thrusting it into the back of the net. The match saw 28 shots from AC Milan, but just eight on target. They managed to hold Parma without an effort on frame, however, as the defense was never truly tested.

Napoli slumped to yet another poor result, falling 2-1 at home to Bologna on an 80th minute Nicola Sansone winner that puts Carlo Ancelotti’s position under even more pressure. Fernando Llorente opened the scoring just before halftime, following up a Lorenzo Insigne effort at the far post. That was all they had in front of net, however, as Napoli manage to put just six of its 30 shots on target. They were punished after the break as Andreas Skov Olsen struck just before the hour mark and Sansone cropped up 10 minutes before full-time. The loss leaves Napoli on a six-game Serie A winless run and sees them fall to seventh in the league table, 17 points back of leaders Inter.

Roma moved into a Champions League spot with a 3-1 win over Hellas Verona on the road. Justin Kluivert and Davide Faraoni cancelled each other out in the first half but Diego Perotti put Roma up on the stroke of halftime with a penalty to send Roma through. Henrikh Mkhitaryan added the third in stoppage time to seal things off. The victory moved them into fourth in the Serie A table on 28 points, three ahead of Cagliari.

Juventus draws after winning bid blocked by Ronaldo; Inter can go 1st

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Inter Milan could finish the day above Juventus with a win at 9 a.m. ET after Cristiano Ronaldo scored a penalty to level Sunday’s match against Sassuolo but also blocked his side’s match-winning attempt in the 70th minute.

Comically, the shot was taken by Paulo Dybala, who also won the penalty. The jokes are there for the taking when it comes to Ronaldo’s perceived jealousy of the Argentine playmaker, though Sassuolo goalkeeper Stefano Turati was well-positioned to catch the ball had it reached him.

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Juve had led 1-0 through Leonardo Bonucci, but Sassuolo struck on both sides of halftime to put the hosts behind.

Ronaldo converted Dybala’s penalty, the 116th of the Portuguese’s amazing career, but then couldn’t get out of the way on the below shot (few could).

The megastar was apparently attempting to not interfere with the play, knowing he was probably in an offside position.