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Serie A: Juventus rolls, Milan back into 4th

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After much movement, much speculation, and lots of ups and downs, the top of the Serie A table changed little from the positioning entering the weekend.

Juventus topped Sassuolo 3-0 to restore its 11-point lead at the top of the table, while AC Milan took care of Cagliari 3-0 to move back into fourth place after falling as far as seventh due to other results.

The Old Lady maintained its iron grip over Serie A with a dominant win, grabbing goals from Sami Khedira, Emre Can, and of course Cristiano Ronaldo. While Sassuolo managed to grab 50% possession in the match, they could only muster two shots on target, including none in the final hour of the game.

Ronaldo created the opener 23 minutes in as he worked space near the penalty spot and unleashed a ripper, and while that was saved well by Sassuolo goalkeeper Andrea Consigli, Khedira was there to tap in the rebound at the far post. Ronaldo got his goal on a powerful header in the 70th minute to put the game away, and Can added the cherry on top with four minutes remaining, finding the far post with a low effort from a tight angle. Ronaldo also failed to get through the 90 minutes without a blooper, as he inexplicably rifled a powerful rip straight into Khedira’s face at the top of the box despite his teammate standing almost right next to him.

Milan, meanwhile, picked up a critical result in a match marred by protests. Cagliari struggled to leave its training ground earlier in the weekend as local farmers protested plunging dairy prices, hoping to stop Cagliari from making the trip to the San Siro, wanting the club to use their high profile to make a statement. The team eventually traveled, but ran into a buzzsaw.

Suso was responsible for creating the opener, as his left-footed curler was saved by Alessio Cragno, only for the rebound to ping directly off Cagliari defender Luca Ceppitelli and into the back of the net. 21-year-old Lucas Paqueta doubled the Milan lead in the 22nd minute on a cross from Davide Calabria that found Pacqueta charging to meet at the back post, scoring his first Serie A goal after joining in early January. Krzysztof Piatek made it 3-0 with 20 minutes to go on a scrappy goal that he poked through the legs of Nicoló Barella with Cragno way out of net.

While it appears the top two places in the table have been all but locked up with Juventus on 63 points and Napoli on 52, the final two Champions League spots in the Serie A table are being fought for tooth and nail. Inter, who beat Parma 1-0 on Saturday, sits third with 43 points, while AC Milan moves back into the final position with 39.

Below Milan sits Atalanta, Roma, and Lazio all on 38 points, with Torino at 34, Sampdoria at 33, and Fiorentina at 32.

Elsewhere on Sunday, Atalanta also picked up a 2-1 win over SPAL on a 79th goal from white-hot Duvan Zapata, who grabbed his 15th goal in his last 10 Serie A games. He picked up the winner on the break, with Hans Hateboer providing the fast-break delivery from the right after being sprung through by a wonderful chip from Marten De Roon.

Torino defeated Udinese 1-0 at home to stay in the hunt, with the lone strike coming from former Chelsea youth product Ola Aina just past the half-hour mark on a header, finishing a cross from Cristian Ansaldi after spectacular one-on-one work on the left flank. Torino shot-stopper Salvatore Sirigu also saved his fifth-straight penalty, off the foot of Rodrigo de Paul.

Bologna and Genoa drew 1-1 on a pair of first-half goals by Mattia Destro and Lukas Lerager that cancelled out. The teams combined for 25 shots, including eight on target, but the second half was a dud as Bologna pulled out of the relegation zone but only on goal differential.

Report: West Ham has $45m striker bid rejected

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Duvan Zapata’s career half-year has made him an almost inexorable force in Serie A.

[ MORE: Juve wins again ]

The 27-year-old’s four-goal haul this weekend led him atop the Italian top flight in goals, level with Cristiano Ronaldo and Fabio Quagliarella.

Here is where it’s appropriate to pause and note that Quagliarella is going to turn 36 this month and we still think that number is too low. Didn’t he partner with Roberto Baggio or something?

His productivity has West Ham idealizing him as a fitting replacement for Marko Arnautovic, whether immediate or for next season, and Atalanta has reportedly spurned a $46 million offer for Zapata.

The five-times capped Colombian has 10, 11, and 14 goals in his last three Serie A campaigns, and the last number folds into his 17 across all competitions for Atalanta this season.

It would’ve essentially been a pound-for-pound deal for West Ham, who could allow Arnautovic to fly the coop for China.

Serie A: Napoli builds cushion, Zapata scores four in Atalanta win

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Napoli afforded itself even more space at second place in the Serie A table with a big 2-1 win over Lazio.

Jose Callejon scored just past the half-hour mark on the break, slotting inside the right post on the low feed from Dries Mertens. Just three minutes later, Arkadiusz Milik buried a free-kick into the top-right corner from just outside the box, doubling Napoli’s lead.

After Callejon hit the post with a header past the hour mark, Ciro Immobile brought Lazio one goal back as he worked Raul Albiol one-on-one. However, the visitors would fall a man down as Francesco Acerbi received a second yellow card and Lazio was unable to draw back level with the disadvantage. The sending off is significant for the record books, as Acerbi had played a full 90 minutes in 148 straight matches, but his suspension next week against Juventus means he will fall just 13 matches short of Javier Zanetti’s Serie A consecutive appearance record.

Elsewhere, Atalanta went to Stadio Benito Stirpe and obliterated Frosinone 5-0 behind four goals from Duvan Zapata. Gianluca Mancini opened the scoring in the 11th minute, but the second half was the Zapata show. He scored his first just a minute before the break on a towering header powered past Marco Sportiello. After halftime, it took just three minutes for Zapata to grab his second, finishing off great individual work by Berat Djimsiti who twisted through defenders.

His third came as he beat Luka Krajnc and took a header from Hans Hateboer to strike home, and for his fourth he got position on Edoardo Goldaniga and headed in a Matteo Pessina cross. The win pushed Atalanta up to seventh on 31 points, just two back of Roma in fourth.

Fiorentina earned an exciting 3-3 draw at home against Sampdoria, falling a man down in the 39th minute but sticking with it during a roller coaster final 10 minutes plus. Holding a 2-1 lead thanks to a brace from debutant Luis Muriel, Fiorentina suddenly found itself trailing 3-2 thanks to 81st and 85th minute goals by Fabio Quagliarella including one from the penalty spot. Thankfully for the home side, German Pezzella was on hand to grab the equalizer in the 93rd minute, powerfully holding up the ball one-on-two in the penalty area and turning to slot home the late effort.

Cagliari also worked a late draw at home thanks to Diego Farias who struck a 91st minute equalizer to finish 2-2 with Empoli. Three of the four goals in that game were scored in the second half with Cagliari up 1-0 at the break.

Finally, Rodrigo Palacio and Jasmin Kurtic cancelled out as Bologna drew 1-1 with SPAL in Ferrara. The match was even on just about all accounts, with the shots 16-14, the possession 53-47 in the home side’s favor, and the teams separated by just two points in the table. The visitors came out the most disappointed with the result, still in the relegation zone on 14 points.

Girona shocks Atletico Madrid behind stunning goals

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Co-owned by Pep Guardiola and the City Football Group, Girona isn’t your average minnow. However, what Girona did on Wednesday is worthy of a closer look.

Girona came back from a goal down on two occasions, eventually scoring on a breath-taking counter attack in the 88th minute to advance past Atletico Madrid, 4-4 on away goals at the Wanda Metropolitano. With the draw, Girona advances to the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey, the farthest it has ever gone so far in the competition.

[READ: Berhalter announces USMNT staff]

Nikola Kalinic put the hosts up 1-0 early, but that was before Valery Fernandez, who made his first-team debut in La Liga just last month, became a household name around Spain and the talk of the internet. Fernandez touch a touch on a cross into the box with his chest and then on the volley, rifled a goal past Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Antonio Adan.

Cristhian Stuani and Angel Correa traded goals, before Antoine Griezmann put Atleti back in front with a goal in the 84th minute.

But four minutes later, a turnover in midfield led to a break for Girona, where veteran forward Seydou Doumbia re-directed a shot from Borja Garcia in to give Girona the result it needed.

Reports: Simeone, Southgate on Manchester United’s list

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It seems Manchester United’s pursuit of a new manager has not lost any steam, even as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer puts his undefeated Manchester United record on the line Sunday.

The Red Devils have been linked with two more names this weekend, one a long-time whisper and the other a bit of a surprise.

[ MORE: What we learned in the Premier League, Week 22 ]

The Daily Mirror reports that Diego Simeone has been “sounded out” by United’s brass, with 18 months left on his Atletico Madrid contract and La Liga’s mainstays actively seeking to extend his 7-year reign in Spain.

And United is also considering England boss Gareth Southgate as an option, according to Sky Sports, touting the manager’s acumen in developing young players and strong reputation in the soccer community.

The two options could hardly be more different, or less likely. Simeone is a no-brainer for literally any open job on Earth, while Southgate’s flower has just bloomed and is merely a prospect having held one Premier League job at the club level.

Simeone is a master tactician capable of leading an aggressive attack, but more likely to err on the side prudent of than free-flowing at all costs, especially in big matches.

A fireball on the sidelines, Simeone also has a resume reputation few managers can touch. He won La Liga during the Ronaldo-Messi era in 2013-14, twice claimed the Europa League, has won the Copa del Rey, and was a two-time Champions League runner-up all while dealing with sales of Theo Hernandez, Arda Turan, Mario Mandzukic, Sergio Aguero, Diego Costa, and David De Gea (who has since returned).

As for Southgate, his reputation has grown in a big way since leading England to the 2018 World Cup semifinal and the inaugural UEFA Nations League knockout rounds. He has unrivaled job security in terms of the Three Lions job, having led England’s U-21 to the Toulon Tournament title and helped developed many of their stars.

But his club experience as a manager is less impressive, winning 29 percent of his games at Middlesbrough over three seasons. He led Boro to 12th, 13th, and 19th place Premier League finishes, and left the relegated club in its first season during the Championship.

Southgate would still, of course, be an attractive option.