Urby Emanuelson

Italy roundup: Seedorf wins coaching debut, records lining up for Juventus

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As managerial debuts go, it could have been worse. Four days into his coaching career, Clarence Seedorf already seemed to be having an impact on Milan, who controlled their Sunday game against Hellas Verona. Keeping 70 percent of the ball while recording seven shots on target, the Rossoneri left last week’s embarrassment at Sassuolo in the past, a 1-0 result giving Milan a win in its first game since firing Massimiliano Allegri on Monday.

A cynic would note Milan failed to score from open play, Mario Balotelli’s second half goal from the spot all that separated them from sixth place Verona. The underlying numbers, however, hint goals will come. It wasn’t just the seven shots on target or the 25 overall shots toward goal. Seedorf’s team dominated their opponents in those categories, their 620 passes marking the fifth time this season Milan’s eclipsed the 600-mark (they’re 2-1-2 in those games).  From a team that had only won once in their five previous league outings — one that hadn’t hit that 600-mark since Dec. 1 — this was progress.

The way Seedorf set his team up also gave Milan fans reason to hope. Kaká played as a No. 10 behind Balotelli, with Robinho (left) and Keisuke Honda coming in from their respective flanks. The two-man shield of Nigel de Jong and Ricardo Montolivo allowed right back Mattia Di Sciglio and, to a lesser extent, left back Urby Emanuelson to burst forward. Daniele Bonera and Cristian Zapata, problems in central defense, were protected in part by formation, in part by possession.

Given the flaws in Milan’s squad, it’s pretty much the only way you can imagine them playing, though it’s unfair to compare this set up to the ones Allegri used. The former boss never had a fully integrated Honda. He also didn’t have the luxury of being able to discard promises and allegiances in the face of a failed fall. Seedorf gets the benefit of a clean slate.

Through one match, he’s put that clean slate to good use. Though the team didn’t convert his plans into goals, there’s every reason to think they can, going forward. At least, the underlying numbers say they will. It’s just a matter of continuing this level of performance next week at Cagliari.

source: Getty ImagesGoals keep pouring in for unbeatable Juventus

Juventus came into this weekend having scored at least three goals in four straight games, the latest victories in club record-tying 11-match winning streak that stretches back to Oct. 20. Although few thought visiting Sampdoria would hand the defending champions their second loss of the season, there was a chance Sinisa Mihajlovic’s team could slow the Bianconeri down.  Before Saturday’s trip to Turin, it’d been over two months since Samp had given up more than two goals.

But we’re long beyond comparing Juventus to the rest of Serie A. As they showed again this weekend, any reference to what the rest of their league is doing is meaningless. Led by two goals from Arturo Vidal (bringing the Chilean to 10 in Serie A this season), Juventus posted a 4-2 win over Mihajlovic’s team, bringing their season goal total to 50 goals through 20 rounds. Still eight clear of Roma at the top of the table, the question is less whether Antonio Conte’s team will win the title than what records will they set along the way.

The club record for goals is 103, with Juventus currently on pace to score 95 times this season. With their recent uptick in scoring, however, that 63-year-old mark becomes a distant yet possible goal. While Juve would need to average 2.94 goals per game over the rest of the season to tie the mark, they’re averaged over three per game since Dec. 1. Maintain that pace, and Conte’s crew will have another club record.

The other milestone to shoot for is the team’s points record. In 2005-06, their last season before being relegated during calciopoli, Juve accrued 91 points. This season, they’re on pace for 104.

One way or another, this looks to be a record-setting year for Juventus, with their 12th consecutive win already earning this team a place in the club’s record books. Should they continue to approach Inter’s league mark of 17 wins in a row, other records will surely fall.

Elsewhere

  • Roma 3, Livorno 0 – First half goals from Mattia Destro and Kevin Strootman allowed Rudi Garcia’s team to cruise, with Adem Ljajic’s late insurance proving unnecessary in the Giallorossi’s second straight victory.
  • Udinese 2, Lazio 3 – Down a man and a goal after an hour, Lazio came back through Antonio Candreva, Andrea Lazzari (own goal) and Hernanes, the Brazilan midfielder’s 90th minute winner giving Edy Reja his second win in since returning to the Aquile.
  • Genoa 1, Inter 0 – The Nerazzurri wasted their chance to put some room between themselves and Verona, with Luca Antonelli’s 83rd minute winner giving the Rossoblu their second win in three games.
  • Bologna 2, Napoli 2 – Down a man approaching full-time, Bologna got a second goal from veteran forward Rolando Bianchi, their draw leaving Napoli four points behind second place Roma.
  • Sassuolo 0, Torino 2 – After scoring four times last week against Milan, Domenico Berardi was kept off the scoresheet, with Ciro Immobile and Matteo Brighi giving Torino valuable points in their quest for Europe.
  • Atalanta 1, Cagliari 0 – Giacomo Bonaventura’s 68th minute was enough to hold off Cagliari, who hit the woodwork three times while being kept off the scoresheet.
  • Chievo 1, Parma 2 – Alessandro Lucarelli’s 93rd minute winner decided a match that’d gone over an hour without a score, with Alberto Paloschi and Antonio Cassano’s early goals leaving the match deadlocked into stoppage time.
  • Catania 0, Fiorentina 3 – Alessandro Matri is paying early dividends for the Viola, with the Milan loanee’s first half double leading Sunday’s outburst.

Others

Juventus 4, Sampdoria 2
Milan 1, Verona 0

Standings

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Juventus 20 18 1 1 50 14 36 10-0-0 8-1-1 55
Roma 20 14 5 1 42 10 32 9-2-0 5-3-1 47
Napoli 20 13 4 3 43 22 21 7-2-1 6-2-2 43
Fiorentina 20 12 4 4 37 20 17 6-2-1 6-2-3 40
Inter Milan 20 8 8 4 38 24 14 5-4-1 3-4-3 32
Verona 20 10 2 8 34 31 3 8-0-2 2-2-6 32
Torino 20 7 8 5 33 27 6 4-5-1 3-3-4 29
Parma 20 7 8 5 31 27 4 4-4-2 3-4-3 29
Lazio 20 7 6 7 26 28 -2 6-1-2 1-5-5 27
Genoa 20 7 5 8 20 24 -4 5-3-2 2-2-6 26
AC Milan 20 6 7 7 32 30 2 5-3-2 1-4-5 25
Atalanta 20 7 3 10 21 29 -8 6-2-2 1-1-8 24
Sampdoria 20 5 6 9 24 31 -7 3-3-4 2-3-5 21
Cagliari 20 4 9 7 19 29 -10 4-4-2 0-5-5 21
Udinese 20 6 2 12 20 31 -11 4-1-5 2-1-7 20
Chievo 20 4 5 11 15 26 -11 2-2-6 2-3-5 17
Bologna 20 3 8 9 19 35 -16 2-6-3 1-2-6 17
Sassuolo 20 4 5 11 21 43 -22 3-1-6 1-4-5 17
Livorno 20 3 4 13 16 36 -20 2-3-5 1-1-8 13
Catania 20 3 4 13 13 37 -24 3-4-3 0-0-10 13

Bargain Bucket – Who is available on the cheap this transfer window?

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They always say players are more expensive in January.

Well, whoever “they” are just aren’t looking in the right places.

With the January transfer window open for business and begging clubs to give her a whirl, we take a look at some players who could be of assistance to clubs with a smaller budget.

Two things to remember. First, cheap moves and loans are infinitely more difficult to predict than big-money transfers.

Due to the much larger pool of clubs which could be in play for a cheap transfer, loan, or free, the ability to predict where players on this list will end up – or even if they will move at all – is a longshot at best.

Second, there are loan limits, and the rules are often foggy.

Without further ado, let’s plunge into the January transfer window edition Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives with…

LOANS, FREE TRANSFERS, AND BARGAINS

(alright, nobody’s leaving on a free in January, but I had to try)

1. Younes Kaboul, CB – Tottenham Hotspur (Premier League)

Frozen out by former manager Andre Villas-Boas, Tottenham’s 27-year-old center-back has played just three Premier League matches so far, and it doesn’t look much better from here on out.

Kaboul has struggled severely with injuries the past year and a half, currently on his way back from a hip problem.  But with Jan Vertonghen, Vlad Chiriches, and Michael Dawson all ahead of the Frenchman, his prospects for playing time don’t look in the near future.

If new manager Tim Sherwood doesn’t completely want to part with defender depth given their injuries at that position, he could be available on loan.  If Sherwood decides he’s dead weight, he could leave on a cut-rate deal, with his contract expiring this summer.  AC Milan are rumored to be involved, but defending is needed around the Premier League’s bottom half as well.

2. Filip Djordjevic, ST – FC Nantes (Ligue 1)

The 26-year-old Serbian is hitting the prime of his career, and it seems now is a better time than any for Nantes to sell and sell high.

Djordjevic cooked up 20 goals in Ligue 2 last season, earning Nantes their first trip back to Ligue 1 since 2008.  But he didn’t stop there.

This season, the poacher has continued his stellar form, striking for eight goals in 19 league appearances, helping the newly-promoted side to their current position of seventh in the Ligue 1 table.

Premier League rumors have surfaced involving both Hull City and Crystal Palace, and at a cut-price cost of approximately £2-3 million ($3.3-4.9 million) he could be the crown jewel of any low-budget wish list if he can translate his French league success to England.

Oh, and did I mention his contract expires this summer? Bid away.

3. Aron Johannsson, FW – AZ Alkmaar (Eredivisie)

source: Getty Images
American Aron Johannsson is making plenty of noise in the Eredivisie and attracting attention around Europe.

Bring out your USMNT links! A bargain bucket wouldn’t be complete without this scorching-hot youngster, who at 23 is blasting his way past Jozy Altidore in the Alkmaar record books.

With Celtic the clear frontrunners, a £2.4 million ($3.9 million) price tag for 18 Eredivisie goals (32 altogether) would certainly turn heads.

(MORE: Aron Johannsson’s move to Glasgow edging closer?)

However (there’s always a catch!), Eredivisie stars have a history of not translating successfully to more physical leagues such as the Premier League.  Look no further Costa Rican Bryan Ruiz.  The £11 million ($18 million) feather in Martin Jol’s cap proved to be one of the biggest flops in recent memory and a big reason Jol ended up without a job at Craven Cottage.

And then there’s always Altidore himself, who is yet again struggling to find the back of the Premier League nets, albeit not all of that is his doing. *shakes fist at Sunderland midfield*

4. Joleon Lescott, CB – Manchester City (Premier League)

The Premier League hasn’t seen much of the sport’s biggest forehead this season, with Lescott making just seven starts under Manuel Pellegrini.  Lescott has been hard done recently by the emergence of Matija Nastasic and the arrival of Martin Demichelis.

Much like Kaboul, being the club’s fourth-string option at a position that often sees iron men hold down the fort isn’t a preferable situation.  At 31 years old, Lescott also has an expiring contract, but is more likely to head out on loan whereas it would seem Kaboul is set for a transfer.  Some rumors also have Lescott taking a pay-cut to push through a move to Swansea.

5. Viktor Fischer, LW – Ajax (Eredivisie)

Am I mad? Putting one of the most talented and talked-about teenagers in the world into the Bargain Bucket? What’s gotten into my head?

Well, here’s my thinking. Fischer (pictured, top) has been close to a household name for the better part of two years now.  At just 18 years old, the young Dane bagged 10 Eredivisie goals in 23 appearances last season for a Champions League side.  That got people’s attention.

Now, at 19, Fischer is having what we in the media like to call a sophomore slump (3 goals and 4 assists in 18 appearances).  With an asking price of around £7 million ($11.5 million) likely to scare away many, I’m not so convinced Ajax wouldn’t like to send him out on loan for the rest of the season. Especially considering his dip in form this year surely cooling rumored summer interest from the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United, and Roma.

A short-term loan deal would serve multiple purposes for both parties.  With Ajax in the lead of a very hotly contested Eredivisie title race, they can’t exactly afford to weather many more below-par matches from their best young talent. Sending him out on loan would not only possibly give him a fresh start to boost his confidence, but also give other clubs a good look at what he can do in another league.

Think of it as a sales pitch. If Fischer performs well at, say, a Cardiff City or Swansea City, then many other Premier League clubs with deeper pockets would unquestionably come calling, and his price would skyrocket.

6. Cristian Tello, LW – Barcelona (La Liga)

With just two starts (10 appearances) in Spain’s La Liga, it’s no surprise Barcelona’s 22-year-old starlet is looking for minutes elsewhere before making a run at breaking into Gerardo Martino’s first team.

Reports are abound that Liverpool has jumped on the opportunity to give Tello more playing time, but that doesn’t mean it’s the Reds or bust. It would be shocking to see Barcelona allow him to leave on anything other than a loan, but with Liverpool reportedly trying to convince them to give him up permanently, someone else could swoop in.

7. Kevin De Bruyne, AM – Chelsea (Premier League)

source: Getty Images
With pressure from his national side, Kevin De Bruyne is openly seeking more playing time before he is able to break into Chelsea’s first team.

Jose Mourinho wants £25 million for the young Belgian. Any clubs have that laying around somewhere for a 22-year-old who has made three league appearances this year? Bueller?

Didn’t think so.

Cue the loan sharks.  And with both De Bruyne himself and Belgium manager Marc Wilmots pleading for more time on the pitch, a loan is certainly in order.

8. Fabio Coentrao, LB – Real Madrid (La Liga)

With Ashley Cole struggling to stay fit and Branislav Ivanovic recently ruled out for a significant amount of time, Jose Mourinho is rumored to be in the market for a left-back.

Enter Fabio Coentrao and his paltry four La Liga appearances this season with Real Madrid.  Carlo Ancelotti would no doubt prefer to keep the 25-year-old’s future under his control, so a loan could be in order for the Portugese international.

Chelsea isn’t the only club in need of a left-back of Fabio’s quality though.  Tottenham Hotspur are in desperate need after a long-term injury to Danny Rose left them exposed at the position, and Everton’s left-back situation could be thrust into clout if Leighton Baines leaves for Manchester United.

9. Urby Emanuelson, LW/LB – AC Milan (Serie A)

Expiring contract alert! With AC Milan sure to make plenty of changes this January to make a desperate attempt at improving their horrific Serie A positioning, Emanuelson may be one of those.

The 27-year-old is out of a contract this summer, and having already been somewhat successful in the Premier League at Fulham on loan last year, he has been open about looking for another shot at the English top-flight.

With his Serie A form dipped this season (alongside many of his teammates) and his contract situation the way it is, the £6 million ($9.8 million) Dutchman could be available for significantly less.

10. Thomas Ince, ST – Blackpool (Championship)

The longer he stays at Blackpool, the more his price seems to increase, leaving him already barely at bargain status.  Unfortunately for his club, they can’t hold onto him forever.  His contract expires at the end of this season, and that may cause the 21-year-old to finally make his way to the Premier League after years of rumors.

At 21, Ince’s numbers didn’t turn as many heads as they did last year, but they’re still enough to intrigue those in the top flight.  He’s got seven goals and six assists from play out on the left wing.  With Blackpool last year, he played in 44 of their 46 league matches (started 42 of them) and bagged 18 goals and 14 assists.

The Championship club, coached by his father Paul Ince, will want to fetch a price in the range of £6-7 million for him or maybe more, but so far all that tag has done is cause Premier League clubs to balk, and the last thing they’ll want is to let him walk come summer. Due to that, he could be available for cheap if Blackpool believe he’ll walk at season’s end.

Lionel Messi double leads Barcelona past Milan in UEFA Champions League

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Four games scoreless led to jokes that Lionel Messi had forgotten how to score, and while those observations were tongue-in-cheek, Messi still quieted on Wednesday. A first half score from the spot and an insurance tally late gave the Argentine star his first two goals of the competition, helping Barcelona to a 3-1 win over Milan at the Nou Camp.

Sergio Busquets doubled Barcelona’s lead in the 39th minute before a Gerard Piqué own goal pulled Milan within one at halftime. The home side’s stifling possession game, however, limited the Rossoneri to one shot on goal, with a 92 percent pass completion rate ensuring Milan would rarely see the ball.

The victory moves Barcelona to 10 points in Group H, five ahead of second place Milan. They can clinch first place with a win next match day at Ajax (Nov. 26). That result combined with a Milan win at Celtic would also put the Italians into the knockout round.

As characteristic of the teams’ three other meetings this year, Barcelona dictated the game, but whereas Milan often starts applying pressure at the edge of their defensive third, today they quickly regressed much deeper. With a defense setting up just inside the penalty box behind midfielders holding their ground at the arc, the visitors were providing little resistance for Barcelona’s midfield.

When they did create turnovers, Milan would quickly move down their left, through the place vacated by Dani Alves. The tactic would come good near halftime, but over the first 45 minutes, its main virtues were wasting time, giving their defense some rest, and allowing their lines to reset.

In the 30th minute, though, that deep block cost them, if controversially so. Barcelona’s midfield saw no pressure before lofting a ball behind the defense for Neymar. Cutting in from the left, the Brazilian attacker tried to get inside right back Ignazio Abate for his chance but was eventually ridden to ground. The 50-50 call went against Milan when referee Milorad Mazic pointed to the spot, setting up Messi to end his scoreless run.

Six minutes later, Barcelona fans were treated to a rare set piece goal, with a Xavi Hernandez inswinger from the right finding an unmarked Sergio Busquets eight yards out. The midfielder’s glancing header beat Christian Abbiati for what would become the game-winning goal.

Milan pulled one back before half time, again attacking down the left flank. Just before the byline, Kaká tried to send a ball into the six-yard box, but an attempted block from Gerard Piqué deflected the pass into his own net, Victór Valdés jumping away from goal trying to play the cross that never came. Milan went into halftime down one.

In an often dull second half, Barcelona chose patience over pursuit, keeping the ball high while daring Milan to chose their one-goal deficit.

Eventually, Milan’s defense broke down. In the 83rd minute, Messi was allowed to play a one-two with Cesc Fábregas at the edge of the Milan area. Chipping over Abbiati as the Milan keeper came to challenge, Messi converted for his day’s second goal, giving Barcelona a 3-1 win.

It was a typical Barcelona performance, one that ended in a predictable win, but the news was not all bad for Milan. Thanks to Ajax’s win in Amsterdam over Celtic, the Rossoneri maintained second place in Group H, staying one-point clear of the Dutch champions. Win their next two, and Milan’s still going into the knockout round.

Scoring

Barcelona: 30′ (p.k.), 83′, Lionel Messi, 36′ Sergio Busquets

Milan: 45′ Piqué (o.g.)

Lineups

Barcelona: Victor Valdes; Dani Alves, Gerard Piqué, Javier Mascherano, Adriano; Sergio Buquest, Xavi Hernández (88′ Alex Song), Andrés Iniesta (78′ Cesc Fábregas); Alexei Sánchez, Lionel Messi, Neymar (85′ Pedro)

Unused subs: Marc Martra, Pinto, Cristian Tello, Martín Montoya

Milan: Christian Abbiati; Ignzaio Abte, Cristian Zapata, Philippe Mexes, Urby Emanuelson; Andrea Poli (74′ Valter Birsa), Nigel de Jong, Ricardo Montovilo, Sulley Muntari; Kaká (84′ Alessandro Matri); Robinho (45′ Mario Balotelli)

Unused subs: 

AC Milan, FC Barcelona play to 1-1 Champions League draw at the San Siro

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When Champions League group stage is said and done in December, both Barcelona and AC Milan seem likely to find their way into the tournament’s elimination rounds.

But that doesn’t make the latest meeting of these European giants any less interesting. (And these sides do seem to be in UEFA opposition quite often, don’t they? This was their seventh meeting in recent seasons.)

Both teams remain unbeaten in Group H after their 1-1 draw Tuesday at the San Siro.

Leo Messi was back on the field after his recent injury struggles, but talented Milan troublemaker Mario Balotelli was on the bench to start this at the fabled San Siro. Never mind that for the Italians, who spent the early minutes Tuesday looking like a better version of the club that has struggled to impress this year in Serie A.

They looked dangerous early, and what a big mess Gerard Piqué and Javier Mascherano made in dealing with one rather benign, bouncing ball into their half, both players failing to communicate or take charge. (Carles Puyol, just cleared to play, can’t get back quickly enough for the Blaugrana.)

From there, Barcelona’s scrambling center backs were in big trouble as Kaka and Robinho went quickly to work, keeping ahead of the desperately pursuing pair of Barca defenders and tucking away a deserved 1-0 lead after just seven minutes. Robinho had the goal.

Milan blew it similarly in the 24th minute as Cristian Zapata fumbled away possession in midfield. Andres Iniesta pounced as ferociously and effectively as we should expect from the exceptional Spanish world champion, quickly finding the peerless Messi along the right. Once Milan’s Zapata had lost the ball, so quick was Barca’s movement forward and the telling pass into Messi, the world’s best player was left unmarked, utterly alone to sweep in on goal.

Messi seemed almost to lose the opportunity as he moved quickly in on goal, but then gained his balance just enough to record his personal Champions League goal No. 63, one closer in his pursuit of Raul’s all-time tournament record.

Still, Messi was far from his best; the Argentinian striker is had played just 20 minutes (just last weekend) since sustaining a September thigh injury sustained against Almeria. So those signature Messi bursts arrived only on occasion, unfortunate for the visitors, who would surely have liked to have tested young Milan backup goalkeeper Marco Amelia.

The second half was lots of Barca possession with just a scattering of chances on either side. Messi’s pass into the galloping Adriano gave Barca the best of three good chances after the break.

Milan’s best chance after the break: Robinho’s curious decision to let a ball roll through the penalty area (Or did he badly misplay a centering pass?) robbed the home side of a potential go-ahead goal in the 51st minute.

(At least we noticed Robinho. The other famous Brazilian in this one, Barca’s recently arrived Neymar, still hunting his debut Champions League goal, was seldom heard from Tuesday at the San Siro.)

Otherwise, Milan’s attack went meek. Mario Balotelli’s 65th minute introduction did add just a smidge of punch, but only briefly. In fact, all of Barca’s possession quieted the crowd and left the San Siro in an odd hush for most of the second half.

Tuesday’s lineups:

AC MILAN: Marco Amelia; Ignazio Abate, Cristián Zapata, Philippe Mexès, Kévin Constant; Nigel de Jong, Sulley Muntari, Riccardo Montolivo; Valter Birsa, Robinho, Kaká

Substitutes: Ferdinando Coppola, Matías Silvestre, Andrea Poli, Antonio Nocerino, Urby Emanuelson, Alessandro Matri, Mario Balotelli

FC BARCELONA: Victor Valdés; Dani Alves, Gerard Piqué, Javier Mascherano, Adriano; Sergio Busquets, Xavi, Andres Iniesta; Alexis Sanchez, Lionel Messi, Neymar.

Substitutes: Jose Manuel Pinto, Marc Bartra, Martin Montoya, Alex Song, Cesc Fabregas, Pedro, Cristian Tello