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Serie A: Higuain fires Juve past Milan; Roma outlast Bologna

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ PL ROUNDUP: Man City’s historic start; Man United, Arsenal win ]

AC Milan 0-2 Juventus

Gonzalo Higuain bagged a brace on Saturday, as Juventus won their third straight game and continued to apply the pressure to Serie A leaders Napoli (Juve now sit top of the table on goal differential, with Napoli still to play this weekend). It’s been reported (by the press and the naked eye) that Higuain has slimmed down a bit after starting the season in relatively poor form and fitness.

Saturday’s opener came after 23 minutes, when the Argentine quickly touched the ball around one defender and fired low and hard from the top of the 18-yard box. It was Higuain’s 100th goal in Serie A (71 in three seasons for Napoli, 24 in his first season for Juventus, and his fifth thus far in 2017-18).

Higuain scored his sixth of the season to make it 2-0 just after the hour mark — another strike from distance.

AC Milan’s fourth defeat in six league games leaves them 12 points off the top spot, and already nine back of the fourth and final UEFA Champions League spot (having already played one more game than everyone else in the race).

Roma 1-0 Bologna

Roma, another of the half-dozen sides expected to factor into the top-four race, did just enough to top Bologna, courtesy of Stephan El Shaarawy’s 33rd-minute goal, the only one of the game.

Like Juve, it’s a third straight win for Eusebio Di Francesco’s side, which now sits fifth in the table, a point back of fourth-place Lazio and four back of Juve and Napoli.

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Benevento vs. Lazio — 7:30 a.m. ET
Napoli vs. Sassuolo — 10 a.m. ET
Crotone vs. Fiorentina — 10 a.m. ET
Sampdoria vs. Chievo — 10 a.m. ET
SPAL vs. Genoa — 10 a.m. ET
Udinese vs. Atalanta — 10 a.m. ET
Torino vs. Cagliari — 3:45 p.m. ET

La Liga & Serie A roundup: Villarreal firm in 4th; Roma dominate Rome derby

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A roundup of Sunday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

[ MORE: Saturday’s La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

Eibar 1-2 Villarreal

With seven games to go, Villarreal currently hold an eight-point lead in the race for Spain’s fourth and final UEFA Champions League place after winning away to ninth-place Eibar on Sunday. The hosts went ahead on 22 minutes, but Adrian and Roberto Soldado bagged goals either side of halftime (35th and 50th minutes) to break El Submarino Amarillo’s (The Yellow Submarine) four-game winless skid and reaffirm their grip on fourth.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Athletic Bilbao 1-1 Granada
Malaga 1-1 Espanyol
Sevilla 1-2 Real Sociedad

Udinese 3-1 Napoli

Napoli were the last side with any chance of preventing a half-decade of Serie A dominance by Juventus, but Sunday’s loss away to Udinese leaves Maurizio Sarri’s side six points back of Juve with seven games to play — a seemingly insurmountable deficit at this point.

Bruno Fernandes opened Sunday’s scoring from the penalty spot on 14 minutes, though Gonzalo Higuain’s 30 league goal of the season (31 games) equalized for the visitors 10 minutes later. Fernandes bagged the winner and his brace less than a minute into the second half, and Cyril Thereau added an insurance just before the hour mark.

Lazio 1-4 Roma

Four points behind Napoli, you’ll find Roma, who thrashed and embarrassed their capital rivals, Lazio, in what could be the final Rome Derby of Francesco Totti’s brilliant, one-club career (Totti was an unused substitute on Sunday). Stephan El Shaarawy put the “visitors” (they share the Olympic Stadium) ahead after 15 minutes (his sixth goal in nine league games since joining the Romans in January), and Edin Dzeko made it 2-0 just after the hour mark.

Marco Paolo pulled one back for the “hosts” with 15 minutes left to play, but Alessandro Florenzi and Diego Perotti provided the insurance and exclamation point goals in the 83rd and 87th minutes. Roma’s lead on Fiorentina and Inter Milan in the race for Italy’s third and final Champions League place currently stands at seven and eight points, respectively, with seven games to go.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Fiorentina 1-1 Sampdoria
Inter Milan 1-2 Torino
Chievo 3-1 Palermo
Genoa 4-0 Frosinone
Atalanta 2-1 AC Milan

Roma 0-2 Real Madrid: Ronaldo bags away goal, Jese adds exclamation point

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Cristiano Ronaldo’s deflected goal helped silence his critics, and Jese Rodriguez added a late tally to lift Real Madrid past AS Roma in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie on Wednesday in Rome.

The second leg comes March 8 at the Bernabeu in Spain. Real was fortunate to avoid conceding a late penalty. The match was frenetic, fun, but ultimately a bummer for the fortunes of leg No. 2.

[ MORE: Champions League schedule ]

Stadio Olimpico was electric from the start, and Roma frustrated the favorites by playing extremely well-disciplined in banks of four or five.

Yet Real tracked back with fury, and closed down some promising Roma breaks with great tackles. Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane specifically shown in the opening 45 minutes.

And Cristiano Ronaldo was booed almost every time he touched the ball. One of those touches was a cheeky looped pass that Marcelo nearly bent inside of the frame from a wild angle.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

[ MORE: Europa League schedule ]

Stephan El Shaarawy showed some danger after Varane cut him off in the first half, followed by a sliding Keylor Navas save in the second. Mohamed Salah was also particularly dangerous for i Lupi.

That’s when Ronaldo struck, racing by Alessandro Florenzi to reach a long ball. The Portuguese star cut back to lose Florenzi before ripping a deflected shot around Wojciech Szczesny. Was he offside?

James Rodriguez took an absolute beating at the hands of the Roma defense, needing stitches to his head after a high-cleated follow through and treatment on his shoulder after a rough Kostas Manolas tackle.

Roma had its second-half chances as well, as Salah stayed dangerous and William Vainqueur belted a 20-yard shot just beyond the far post. Edin Dzeko‘s 79th minute chance wasn’t ideal thanks to Varane, and the shot went off the outside of the net.

Ronaldo nearly put the tie away when his in-tight header beat Szczesny but bounced just wide of the goal.

Salah should’ve equalized, but a terrible first touch allowed Navas to rescue a prime Roma chance in the 83rd minute.

Super sub Jese salted the tie away when he pushed a low shot past Lucas Digne’s legs and by a diving Szczesny.

La Liga & Serie A roundup: Barca’s lead grows; El Shaarawy is back

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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights:

[ MORE: Barca favorites in Copa del Rey ]

Barcelona 2-1 Atletico Madrid — (RECAP)

Barcelona’s advantage atop the La Liga table grew a great on Saturday, as the Blaugrana knocked off second-place Atletico Madrid 2-1 and the Camp Nou. Ahead of kickoff of Saturday, Barca’s advantage was their game in hand over both Atleti and Real Madrid. At the end of day Saturday, that advantage stands at three points and a game in hand over Atleti.

Atleti went ahead through Koke’s opener in the 10th minute before Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez bagged goals eight minutes apart after the half-hour mark. The two Barca goalscorers were the targets of reckless challenges through, which eventually resulted in Atleti finishing the game with just nine men (FULL RECAP for more details and highlights).

Villarreal 1-0 Granada

Villarreal’s quest to return to the UEFA Champions League continued on Saturday, as El Submarino Amarillo (The Yellow Submarine) narrowly defeated 16th-place Granada. Bruno scored the game’s only goal, from the penalty spot, in the 55th minute to extend Villarreal’s unbeaten run to nine games in the league (seven wins).

Villarreal now have a 10-point advantage over Athletic Bilbao and Celta Vigo for the fourth and final Champions League place.

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Barcelona 21 16 3 2 54 17 37 11-1-0 5-2-2 51
Atlético Madrid 22 15 3 4 31 10 21 7-2-1 8-1-3 48
Real Madrid 21 13 5 3 58 20 38 9-1-1 4-4-2 44
Villarreal 22 13 5 4 29 18 11 9-2-1 4-3-3 44

Elsewhere in La Liga

Getafo 0-1 Athletic Bilbao
Eibar 1-2 Malaga
Real Sociedad 2-1 Real Betis

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Sevilla vs. Levante (6 a.m. ET)
Valencia vs. Sporting Gijon (10 a.m. ET)
Las Palmas vs. Celta Vigo (12:15 p.m. ET)
Real Madrid vs. Espanyol (2:30 p.m. ET)

Roma 3-1 Frosinone

Stephan El Shaarawy is back. You remember him, right? You know, the spiky-haired wonderkid who burst onto the scene about three years ago as a 20-year-old and rocketed to the top of the “future superstars of the world” list. Well, about that… it’s been a pretty forgettable two and a half years for El Shaarawy, who faltered badly for two straight seasons before leaving AC Milan for the riches of Monaco.

France’s southern principality didn’t exactly work out well for El Shaarawy, either, so now he’s back in Italy. On Saturday, he made his debut for Roma and — wouldn’t you know it — scored the game-winning goal (below video) in the Giallorossi‘s 3-1 victory over Frosinone. In typical El Shaarawy fashion, it wasn’t just any goal; it was a spinning, back-heeled effort from 12 yards out to beat the goalkeeper at the near post. Long live El Shaarawy.

Radja Nainggolan and Miralem Pjanic were the other goalscorers for Roma, who are still the fifth-place side in Serie A, nine points back of leaders Napoli and three back of Fiorentina for the third and final Champions League place, but El Shaarawy’s arrival could be the spark they’ve been waiting for all season.

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Napoli 21 14 5 2 45 18 27 8-2-0 6-3-2 47
Juventus 21 14 3 4 38 15 23 7-2-1 7-1-3 45
Fiorentina 21 13 2 6 39 21 18 8-1-2 5-1-4 41
Inter Milan 21 12 5 4 26 14 12 6-2-3 6-3-1 41
Roma 22 10 8 4 40 25 15 7-3-1 3-5-3 38

Elsewhere in Serie A

Carpi 1-1 Palermo
Atalanta 1-1 Sassuolo

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Chievo vs. Juventus (6:30 a.m. ET)
Napoli vs. Empoli (9 a.m. ET)
Genoa vs. Fiorentina (9 a.m. ET)
Torino vs. Hellas Verona (9 a.m. ET)
Udinese vs. Lazio (9 a.m. ET)
Bologna vs. Sampdoria (9 a.m. ET)
AC Milan vs. Inter Milan (2:45 p.m. ET)

Friday’s transfer rumor roundup: Kroos, Pato to Chelsea; Townsend’s exit

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They may currently sit 14th in the Premier League, but Chelsea are still in the business of big spending in the transfer market. The latest superstar in their crosshairs? Real Madrid’s World Cup-winning midfielder Toni Kroos, for whom they’ve already tabled a bid of more than $55 million, according to the Daily Star.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

The Blues are also close to completing the signing of 26-year-old Brazilian striker Alexandre Pato from Brazilian side Corinthians, according to a report from ESPN Brazil. With Diego Costa currently injured, Loic Remy perhaps on the move away from Stamford Bridge, and no other cover at striker present, Chelsea might just be willing to meet Corinthians’ $14-million asking price.

Leicester City have entered the Saido Berahino sweepstakes, according to the Mirror, as Claudio Ranieri‘s side makes a push for a top-four finish this season. Berahino, who was denied a move to Tottenham Hotspur in the summer, is also once again being heavily linked with a move to north London. West Bromwich Albion still aren’t looking to sell, though.

[ MORE: Thursday’s transfer rumors | Wednesday | Tuesday | Monday ]

Andros Townsend will likely leave Tottenham either this month or in the summer. Newcastle United will reportedly bid $17 million for the 24-year-old winger in January, as the Magpies attempt to stave off relegation once again. Very much out of favor with manager Mauricio Pochettino, Townsend has made just three substitute appearances in the PL this season.

Outside the Premier League, AC Milan’s on-loan (Monaco) forward Stephen El Shaarawy is the target of “a big Italian club,” according to ESPN FC. The mystery Serie A side — Juventus? Roma? — would reportedly end the 23-year-old’s loan spell in France by signing the Italian international on a permanent transfer in January.