Forget Suarez and Dzeko, Morata is a bargain for Juventus

Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo, center, passes the ball to Alvaro Morata, third right, who scores the opening goal in their match against Ferencvaros. (AFP)
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Updated 05 November 2020

Forget Suarez and Dzeko, Morata is a bargain for Juventus

  • Morata was signed on loan from Atletico Madrid for €10 million ($12 million)

ROME:  Four goals in three Champions League games. Six in seven matches overall.

Not bad for a player who was Juventus’ fourth option in the transfer market.

Signed on loan from Atletico Madrid for €10 million ($12 million), Alvaro Morata is turning into a bargain buy. The Bianconeri turned to him in September only after failing to sign Luis Suarez, Edin Dzeko and Arkadiusz Milik.

And when Paulo Dybala lacked condition and Cristiano Ronaldo caught the coronavirus, Juventus thrust Morata into action.

After scoring the opening two goals in Juventus’ 4-1 win at Ferencvaros on Wednesday, Morata said, “I’ve got the motivation that every player needs. I feel wanted and desired and I’ve got everything I need here.”

But Juventus initially desired Suarez, who went so far as to take an Italian language and citizenship exam, and Dzeko, who was so sure in September that he was heading to Juventus that he stopped training with Roma.

Morata, however, was an appealing backup plan because he won two Serie A titles with Juventus in 2015 and 2016 and played with new coach Andrea Pirlo for part of that stint.

Perhaps that’s why Pirlo seemed to know that Morata could prosper in a traditional center forward role supported by Ronaldo — as evidenced when Ronaldo set up Morata’s second goal against Ferencvaros.

”(Ronaldo) can play behind the two strikers, next to Morata like in this match, a bit behind him,” Pirlo said. “He moved well, and they liaised well when they needed to.”

Morata also had already teamed with Ronaldo at Real Madrid.

Unlike what could have been the case with Suarez and Dzeko, Morata seems more willing to adapt his game to Juventus’ other forward and accept a reserve role when Ronaldo and Dybala regain their top fitness. He’s used to it. He was often not a first choice striker at Real Madrid and Chelsea.

“I know they have their characteristics and I must make the most of their qualities to be in the right place for a goal or a pass,” Morata said. “I’m at the disposal of the team and don’t mind adapting to their characteristics with my movement.”

At 28, Morata also offers more prime years than the 33-year-old Suarez and the 34-year-old Dzeko.

One more thing that Suarez, Dzeko and even Milik couldn’t have had is a familiarity with Juventus. Morata’s wife is from northern Italy and he is clearly comfortable in Turin.

“I said when I came back here that I felt like a more complete player, and I matured as a person by going through the good and bad in my career,” Morata said.

The loan deal gives Juventus the option to purchase Morata’s full rights by the end of the season for an additional €45 million ($53 million); or extend the loan for another season for another €10 million, after which Juventus can purchase his full rights for €35 million ($41 million).

In the meantime, Morata and Juventus could be tested on Sunday in a visit to Lazio, a team they lost to twice last season, including in the Italian Super Cup.

Lazio, however, could be shorthanded after European Golden Shoe winner Ciro Immobile, goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha and midfielder Lucas Leiva failed to pass UEFA’s coronavirus protocols and had to sit out a 1-1 draw at Zenit St. Petersburg in the Champions League.

Like with Morata, though, Lazio has been able to come up with another scoring solution in Felipe Caicedo. The Ecuadorean striker scored a late equalizer against Zenit after having also scored a late winner off the bench in a wild 4-3 victory at Torino last weekend.

Also on Sunday, Atalanta host Inter Milan as all four of Italy’s Champions League squads go head-to-head. Serie A leader AC Milan host in-form Hellas Verona.


Serena, playing her 1,000th career match, crashes out of Italian Open

Updated 47 min 10 sec ago

Serena, playing her 1,000th career match, crashes out of Italian Open

  • The early exit is a blow three weeks before the French Open in Paris on May 30

ROME: Serena Williams, playing the 1,000th WTA match of her career, lost on her return after nearly three months away to Nadia Podoroska in the second round of the WTA Italian Open on Wednesday.

The 39-year-old eighth seed fell 7-6 (8/6), 7-5 in under just two hours to the 44th-ranked Argentine, a surprise semifinalist at last year’s Roland Garros.

Williams, a four-time Rome winner and 23-time Grand Slam champion, had not played since her semifinal defeat in the Australian Open this year.

The early exit is a blow three weeks before the French Open in Paris on May 30 where the American continues her bid to equal Australia’s Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam trophies.

Despite a battling performance Williams could not wear down the 24-year-old Argentine who broke the American twice in the first set. Podoroska forced a tiebreak with an ace and squandered three set points before sealing the set.

In the second, Williams was trailing 5-2 but held and broke the Argentine to love while she served for the match to level at 5-5.

Podoroska held her nerve to earn three match points to secure just her third career win over a top-10 player, all in the last eight months.

For Williams it was her 149th defeat, with 851 wins over the course of a WTA career covering 1,000 matches.

But she will not get to celebrate with the Rome public, with spectators only allowed from Thursday’s third round at the Foro Italico while limited to a 25 percent capacity.

Podoroska next meets Croatia’s Petra Martic, who earlier beat France’s Kristina Mladenovic 7-5, 6-3. 

UEFA begins legal battle with Super League holdouts Real, Barca and Juve

Updated 46 min 32 sec ago

UEFA begins legal battle with Super League holdouts Real, Barca and Juve

  • The maximum punishment under UEFA’s disciplinary pathway is a two-year ban from European competition

LAUSANNE: UEFA on Wednesday initiated disciplinary proceedings against Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus, the three clubs yet to renounce the aborted European Super League project.

European football’s governing body has appointed disciplinary inspectors to conduct an investigation regarding a potential violation of UEFA rules by the clubs “in connection with the so-called ‘Super League’ project,”  it announced.

“Further information regarding this matter will be made available in due course.” 

UEFA last week said it would take “appropriate action” against the three clubs who still support the proposed Super League, a competition that would guarantee its founding members involvement every season, instead of having to qualify.

It did not specify the violations that may have been committed, although its statutes prohibit “combinations or alliances” between clubs without the body’s permission.

The maximum punishment under UEFA’s disciplinary pathway is a two-year ban from European competition, while club officials could be banned from any football-related activity.

However, UEFA’s options are clouded by a ruling from a commercial court in Madrid on April 20.

The court banned UEFA and FIFA from making any moves to block a Super League or taking any disciplinary measures against the clubs, players or officials involved.

It is also unclear what penalties the clubs that have withdrawn may owe to the remaining clubs for breaking their agreement to join the Super League.

The Super League was announced on April 18 but two days later it collapsed as the six Premier League clubs withdrew after angry protests from supporters and under pressure from the British government.

Nine of the original 12 clubs have now dropped out.

Tottenham, Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Atletico Madrid, Inter Milan and AC Milan were on Friday given a financial penalty by UEFA for their involvement.

They committed to taking “all steps within their power” to end their involvement in the breakaway league and agreed to participate in UEFA competitions for which they qualify. They also agreed to pay fines of 100 million euros ($121 million) if they ever seek to play in an “unauthorized” competition.

In response, Real, Barca and Juventus continued to defend the Super League proposal and condemned what it termed “threats” from UEFA.

The clubs issued a joint statement that said “the founding clubs have suffered, and continue to suffer, unacceptable third-party pressures (and) threats.”

“This is intolerable under the rule of law,” they added.

The trio said the Super League had been launched “with the aim of providing solutions to the current unsustainable situation in the football industry.”

Gerd Mueller would be happy if Lewandowski equals goal record, says wife

Updated 12 May 2021

Gerd Mueller would be happy if Lewandowski equals goal record, says wife

  • Lewandowski hit a hat-trick on Saturday as Bayern were crowned Bundesliga champions before thrashing Borussia Moenchengladbach 6-0
  • Mueller’s wife Uschi says the former Bayern and West Germany star, who suffers dementia, would be happy for Lewandowski if his record is finally matched

BERLIN: The wife of Gerd Mueller says the former Bayern Munich legend would be happy to see Robert Lewandowski equal — but not break — his 49-year-old Bundesliga goal record with the Poland striker just one short.
Lewandowski hit a hat-trick last Saturday as Bayern were crowned Bundesliga champions for the ninth season in a row before their 6-0 thrashing of Borussia Moenchengladbach.
He is now on 39 league goals this season — tantalisingly close to Mueller’s record of 40 scored in the 1971/72 Bundesliga season.
Lewandowski, 32, has two games left to reach Mueller’s milestone — away to mid-table Freiburg on Saturday and home to Augsburg the weekend after on the final day of the season.
Mueller, 75, is currently in poor health and suffering from dementia.
However, his wife Uschi says the former Bayern and West Germany star would be happy for Lewandowski if his record is finally matched.
During his stellar career, Mueller scored a total of 365 goals in 427 Bundesliga games, but has been in a care home since November 2015.
“Gerd would be happy for him,” Uschi Mueller told magazine Sport Bild.
“He would be the first to congratulate him.
“He was always surprised that someone hadn’t caught up with him long ago.
“I am firmly convinced that Lewandowski will do it. He has played a great season, is a hard worker.”
Mueller, nicknamed ‘The Bomber’, scored his 40 goals in 34 games during an incredible season in which he claimed four Bundesliga hat-tricks, as well as scoring four goals in an 11-1 mauling of Borussia Dortmund and five goals in a 7-0 drubbing of Oberhausen.
Lewandowski’s tally of 39 goals is all the more remarkable as he has only played 27 of Bayern’s 32 league games so far this season.
His superb hat-trick on Saturday was his fifth in the league this season, which includes the four goals he netted for Bayern in a nervy 4-3 home win against Hertha Berlin last October.
Lewandowski, voted FIFA’s best male player of 2020, is one of the world’s top strikers having scored 275 goals in 348 Bundesliga matches for Bayern and former club Dortmund.
Mueller’s wife says comparisons between her husband and Lewandowski are pointless as they come from such different eras.
“You can’t compare the two at all. Robert is an athlete, Gerd was an artist,” added Uschi Mueller.
“He was like a rubber ball. Gerd always had two men practically standing on his feet (marking him).
“That is impossible with Lewandowski and his athletic build.”
However, Uschi Mueller also kindly requested that Lewandowski equal, not break, her husband’s record.
“As a wife, I’d rather Gerd kept it,” she laughed.
“Dear Robert Lewandowski, 40 goals is enough.”

Dimitrov stunned by Spanish qualifier in Rome

Updated 12 May 2021

Dimitrov stunned by Spanish qualifier in Rome

  • Tenth seed Roberto Bautista Agut booked his place in the second round with a comfortable 6-3, 6-4 win over American Tommy Paul

ROME: Sixteenth seed Grigor Dimitrov crashed out of the Italian Open in the first round on Tuesday when he was beaten in straight sets by Spanish qualifier Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.

The world No.  48 saved two set points in the second set as he dismissed the 2014 semifinalist Dimitrov 6-4, 7-6 (7/2) to win in one hour and 43 minutes.

Tenth seed Roberto Bautista Agut booked his place in the second round with a comfortable 6-3, 6-4 win over American Tommy Paul.

On the women’s side, Argentinian Nadia Podoroska, ranked 44 in the world, assured herself of a second round meeting with Serena Williams, playing her first event since the Australian Open, when she came from a set down to beat German Laura Siegemund 2-6, 7-6 (7/3), 6-1.Madison Keys won the battle of the Americans when she overcame Sloane Stephens 4-6, 6-2, 7-5.

Meantime, two-time Olympic champion Rafael Nadal on Tuesday became the latest top tennis
player to admit that he had not yet decided whether he would participate in the Tokyo Games this summer, still giving himself time to decide according to “circumstances.” 

The 34-year-old Spaniard won gold in the singles in Beijing in 2008, adding another gold in the doubles with Marc Lopez in Rio de Janeiro five years ago.

“In a normal world I would never consider missing the Olympics. There is no doubt about that,” he said at a press conference ahead of his opening match at the Italian Open.

“Everybody knows how important the Olympics are for me.”

“Under these circumstances, I don’t know. Let’s see what’s going on in the next couple of months. But I need to organize my schedule.

“I don’t know yet. Honestly I can’t give you a clear answer because I don’t know.”

“In a normal year, I know my schedule almost 100 percent from January 1 until the end of the season. This year is a little bit different, no?

“We need to be flexible. We need to adapt to the things that are happening. I don’t know, I can’t give you an accurate answer. Sorry.”

Nadal is the latest top tennis star to voice his concerns about the Tokyo Games.

On Monday, Serena Williams said she was undecided about going to the Olympics while Japanese stars Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori have both raised concerns about whether Tokyo should be hosting the Games at all.

“I’m an athlete, and of course my immediate thought is that I want to play in the Olympics,” Osaka told the BBC.

“But as a human, I would say we’re in a pandemic, and if people aren’t healthy, and if they’re not feeling safe, then it’s definitely a really big cause for concern.”

The Olympics, postponed from 2020 because of the coronavirus, are due to run from July 23 to Aug. 8.

Manchester City clinch third Premier League title in four seasons

Updated 11 May 2021

Manchester City clinch third Premier League title in four seasons

  • Ending Liverpool's reign as champions gives Pep Guardiola a third Premier League title in four seasons
  • “This has been a season and a Premier League title like no other — this was the hardest one," Guardiola said

MANCHESTER: Manchester City reclaimed the Premier League title with three games to spare after closest challengers Manchester United lost 2-1 to Leicester on Tuesday.
Ending Liverpool’s reign as champions gives Pep Guardiola a third Premier League title in four seasons, adding to the trio of domestic titles he won at both Barcelona and Bayern Munich as coach.
And he could yet complete the season by ending his 10-year wait to win the Champions League again if City can beat Chelsea in the club’s first European Cup final.
Where once United dominated English football, now City are the force with five titles in 10 seasons since first lifting the Premier League trophy in 2012.
It was the influx of Abu Dhabi investment from 2008 that transformed a City side that was playing in the third tier until 1999 and whose only previous English titles were in 1937 and 1968.
It was Caglar Soyuncu’s header that clinched the victory for Leicester that ended United’s faint hopes of catching its neighbor.
City have built up an unassailable 10-point lead in the league and added a second trophy of the season to the League Cup won last month.
In a congested pandemic-impacted season that stretched the resources of teams, City were eight points from the lead in November languishing in 11th place after eight games. But Guardiola turned City’s campaign around.
“This has been a season and a Premier League title like no other — this was the hardest one,” Guardiola said in a statement. “To come through this season — with all the restrictions and difficulties we’ve faced — and show the consistency we have is remarkable. It is relentless. Every single day, they are there, fighting for success, trying always to be better. They have been so, so resilient.”
Unlike last season when Liverpool ended a 30-year title drought, 10,000 fans will be able to see City collect the trophy after the final game of the Premier League season against Everton on May 23 at the Etihad Stadium.
“We have missed the fans so much,” City captain Fernandinho said. “We wanted to do this for them. We will enjoy this moment and we hope the fans do too. Rest assured we will continue to do everything we can to bring the Champions League home this season.”