Napoli beats Juventus, could seal Serie A title next weekend

Napoli's Min-jae Kim, left, and Tanguy Ndombele challenge Juventus' Matias Soule Malvano for the ball during the Italian Serie A soccer match between Juventus and Napoli at the Allianz stadium in Turin, Italy on April 23, 2023. (AP)
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Updated 24 April 2023

Napoli beats Juventus, could seal Serie A title next weekend

  • Maradona led Napoli to its only previous league championships in 1987 and 1990

ROME: Giovanni Di Lorenzo is starting to think about what it will feel like to become the first Napoli captain other than Diego Maradona to raise the Serie A trophy.
A 1-0 win at Juventus on Sunday means Napoli could seal its first Italian league title since Maradona played for the club as soon as next weekend.
“Thinking about it is kind of strange. Being the first captain after the great Maradona to raise it means something inside,” Di Lorenzo said. “It’s going to be an incredible emotion.”
A stoppage-time goal from Giacomo Raspadori moved the runaway Italian leader a whopping 17 points ahead of second-place Lazio, which was beaten 1-0 at home by Torino on Saturday.
If Napoli beats regional rival Salernitana at home next Saturday and Inter Milan prevents Lazio from winning at the San Siro a day later, Napoli will have clinched with six rounds to spare.
Maradona led Napoli to its only previous league championships in 1987 and 1990.
Sensing the title nearing, Napoli celebrated wildly after the goal and at the final whistle. The victory was a welcome relief after a recent dip in form that included Napoli being eliminated from the Champions League quarterfinals by AC Milan.
“We celebrated a bit in the locker room, because it moves us closer to our goal and our dream,” Di Lorenzo said.
Raspadori was left unmarked to volley in a cross from Elif Elmas just when Juventus was gaining confidence and threatening at the other end.
“I’m shaking,” Raspadori said. “It is a very important goal but we still have games that need to be won. ... (But) we have only one thing in mind: earning three points against Salernitana.”
Napoli didn’t place a single shot on target in the first half, and the Partenopei were fortunate when the referee waved off a late Juventus goal from Angel Di Maria due to an offensive foul on Stanislav Lobotka before a counterattack.
Also, Napoli protested early on when Juventus defender Federico Gatti appeared to take a swipe at Khvicha Kvaratskhelia with his arm but the referee ruled to play on.
Juventus’ 15-point penalty for false accounting was suspended on appeal Thursday — the same day that the Bianconeri advanced to the Europa League semifinals.
Juventus is third, two points behind Lazio.
It marked a season sweep for Napoli against Juventus after routing the Bianconeri 5-1 at home in January, and a third consecutive defeat in the league for Juventus after losing to Lazio and Sassuolo.
Inter has been waiting all season for this version of Romelu Lukaku.
The Belgium striker scored twice and set up the third goal in a 3-0 win at Empoli to end Inter’s five-match winless run in Serie A.
The goals were Lukaku’s first from open play in the Italian league since the opening round of the season in August, having struggled with a hamstring injury during the first half of the season.
The return to form couldn’t have come at a better time for Lukaku, with the second leg of the Italian Cup semifinals coming up against Juventus on Wednesday, followed by the Champions League semifinals against city rival Milan next month.
“I’m getting my confidence back,” Lukaku said. “I’ve always got (to) give my all for this (club), because they gave me a big opportunity to become the player that I am today.”
Inter remained sixth, two points behind Milan, which beat visiting Lecce 2-0 with a brace from Rafael Leão.
It’s been a big 24 hours for Lukaku, who had his one-match suspension for the Cup match overturned by the Italian soccer federation on Saturday in what it called a statement against racism.
Lukaku had picked up a second yellow card in the opening leg for provoking Juventus fans by holding his finger to his lips as if to silence the crowd after converting a stoppage-time penalty equalizer. However, Lukaku — who is Black — had been subjected to repeated discriminatory chants.
Empoli beat Inter 1-0 at the San Siro in January and posed a threat in the first half.
Lukaku took over shortly after the break when he traded passes with Marcelo Brozovic before shooting precisely inside the far post. His second was a show of force, as Lukaku took on defender Ardian Ismajl 1-on-1 and fooled his marker with a step over before blasting into the far corner.
Then Lukaku turned provider, setting up Lautaro Martinez to finish off a counterattack – brining back memories of the “LuLa” combination that worked so well when Inter won Serie A in 2020-21.
Having also been key for Milan when the Rossoneri eliminated Napoli in the Champions League quarterfinals, Leão was in the spotlight again against Lecce.
Leão soared above his marker to head in a cross from Sandro Tonali five minutes before the break. Then midway through the second half, he took control in Milan’s own half and surged forward before driving an angled shot through the legs of Lecce defender Federico Baschirotto
With his 11th and 12th goals in the league this season, Leão became only the second Portuguese player to score 10 or more goals in consecutive Serie A seasons after Cristiano Ronaldo did it in three straight seasons for Juventus from 2018-19 to 2020-21.
Milan also had a first-half penalty kick waved off by the VAR after what was initially whistled as a foul by Baschirotto.
Also, Monza came from two goals down to beat Fiorentina 3-2 with Matteo Pessina converting a penalty for the winner; and Udinese beat struggling Cremonese 3-0.

UAE Pro League review: Al-Wasl maintain 8-point lead over Al-Ain at top of table

Al-Wasl have an 8-point lead over Al-Ain at the top of the ADNOC Pro League. (@AlWaslSC)
Updated 15 sec ago

UAE Pro League review: Al-Wasl maintain 8-point lead over Al-Ain at top of table

  • Walter Zenga’s Emirates endure another defeat, look set for drop

DUBAI: Relentless leaders Al-Wasl heaped pressure on Cosmin Olaroiu’s underperforming Sharjah, Spain icon Andres Iniesta’s sinking Emirates Club looked doomed, and Farhad Majidi’s inconsistent Ittihad Kalba-reign was brought to an ignominious end during ADNOC Pro League’s matchweek 15.

Friday’s grandstand clash in Dubai witnessed goals from Abdulrahman Saleh and outstanding UAE attacker Ali Saleh to maintain Al-Wasl’s grip on their first title since 2006-07 with a 2-0 triumph, while pushing star-studded Sharjah 13 points off the pace.

On the same evening, Tunisia playmaker Haykeul Chikhaoui’s ferocious opener sent improving Ajman on their way to a 2-0 win which moved them nine points away from danger and pushed Walter Zenga’s bottom-placed Emirates – enduring a 10-match losing streak – eight points from safety.

Fellow promoted outfit Hatta showed fight in a 5-3 reversal at AFC Champions League quarter-finalists Al-Ain and third-placed holders Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club required an instant brace by substitute Yuri Cesar in an eventual 3-0 victory at 10-man Khor Fakkan.

Shambolic defending caused 13th-placed Kalba’s 2-1 loss to Al-Bataeh and was followed by the exit of former Iran under-23 and Esteghlal boss Majidi after almost two years at the helm. Ex-Brazil and Napoli defensive midfielder Allan netted an unlikely pair to hand Al-Wahda the Abu Dhabi Derby spoils in a pulsating 3-2 defeat for Mirel Radoi’s unconvincing Al-Jazira, while Alfred Schreuder’s flourishing Al-Nasr rose to sixth with a 1-0 triumph versus Baniyas – their fourth in five top-flight fixtures.

Here are Arab News’ top picks and a talking point from the latest action.

Player of the week: Allan (Al-Wahda)

Al-Wahda supporters could have been tricked into thinking they had landed Kaka, instead of Allan.

Their skipper’s granite reputation was earned via winning countless midfield battles in Serie A and the Premier League, rather than through artfully dispatched doubles.

Saturday’s unexpected turn, however, made all the difference on home soil when they welcomed floundering near-neighbors Al-Jazira to Al-Nahyan Stadium.

It was quite the way to open his ADNOC Pro League account, after being recruited back in September 2022.

A deft dummied shot and incisive strike through numerous flailing Pride of Abu Dhabi-defenders made it 2-0 on 41 minutes. The 33-year-old had also clipped in the 17th-minute free-kick from which on-form Iran midfielder Ahmad Nourollahi eventually back-heel half-volleyed the opener.

Even better was to come past the hour mark. By that point, a frantic derby had swung back toward the Pride of Abu Dhabi after ex-Fulham player Neeskens Kebano struck twice to make it 2-2.

Allan’s stepover at pace on the edge of the penalty box sent retreating Moroccan youngster Mohammed Rabii off balance, prior to lashing into the roof of stranded UAE goalkeeper Ali Khaseif’s net. It was a fitting winner for a high-quality and high-drama clash.

For fourth-placed Al-Wahda, January’s call to draft in former Ajman miracle-worker Goran Tufegdzic has been rewarded with seven points from nine. Al-Jazira, meanwhile, are yet to ignite since snaffling ex-Romania boss Radoi from Bataeh and slipped to seventh.

Goal of the week: Ali Saleh (Al-Wasl)

Whatever challenge is put in front of Al-Wasl, they have got the firepower to overcome it.

Their ninth win from their last 10 top-flight outings was sealed by homegrown hero Saleh.

The 24-year-old collected UAE colleague Caio Canedo’s flicked header, composed himself and then curled past helpless Sharjah goalkeeper Adel Al-Hosani from 20 yards. It was a beautiful way to produce a seventh goal contribution in 14 matches.

Al-Wasl remain in control of their title destiny, eight-points ahead of Al-Ain with a game extra played. It also feels increasingly perplexing why Saleh was handed just 210 minutes on the way to the UAE’s dispiriting round-of-16 exit at 2023 Asian Cup.

Coach of the week: Daniel Isaila (Ajman)

A fine rescue job is being performed by Daniel Isaila at 11th-placed Ajman.

Last season’s dark horses in sixth spot had rapidly declined to relegation certainties under Caio Zanardi. Friday’s consummate win against Emirates featured 13 attempts on target to the visitors’ three, even with Iniesta starting in the league for the first time since Dec. 1.

Isaila has transformed horizons since October’s hire. The acumen which evolved outsiders Baniyas into shock 2020/21 runners-up has been transplanted at Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Stadium.

What to do with Olaroiu?

It is not unfair, or unkind, to expect far more from fifth-placed Sharjah.

Their third league loss of a befuddling campaign has kept The King far away from the crown. A points deficit counted in double digits with 11 matches still to play was not expected when the 2023-24 season kicked off.

It is an unbalanced team which is performing below the sum of their parts. Worryingly, serial trophy hoarder Olaroiu’s once-golden touch appears to be waning.

“I am not the one who makes the decisions regarding contracts with players,” was the Romanian’s pointed comment post-match, according to Dubai Sports.

What happens next is the glaring question.

Sharjah’s 11 at Zabeel Stadium contained ex-Barcelona and Juventus superstar Miralem Pjanic, ex-Porto and Al-Hilal attacker Moussa Marega, 184-goal UAE veteran Sebastian Tagliabue, and South Korea’s World Cup 2022 performer Cho Yu-min. They boasted more possession (55 percent/45 percent) and attempts (14/12), yet Al-Wasl’s greater desire proved crucial.

Last season’s disappointing seventh-place finish was forgiven, amid an unprecedented sweep of four domestic trophies. This term, however, has been stained by group-stage collapse in the AFC Champions League, quarter-final elimination in the ADIB Cup, a 6-2 humiliation to Shabab Al-Ahli in the UAE Super Cup, and failure to threaten in the ADNOC Pro League.

Schreuder’s ascendant Al-Nasr and Al-Ain await, either side of the international break. This could be a situation careering toward breaking point.

Eddie Howe answers Newcastle United tactics critics as Magpies outwit rivals Wolves

Updated 03 March 2024

Eddie Howe answers Newcastle United tactics critics as Magpies outwit rivals Wolves

Newcastle: Criticism, at this level, is only ever just around the corner. One year you may be returning a club to the Champions League after two decades, the next some may be calling for change at the top.

That is the situation that has recently faced Eddie Howe at Newcastle United.

A one-trick pony. The lack of a plan B. Howe has faced up to some tactical criticism from certain sections of the Newcastle fanbase in a drift from top four contenders to the fringes of the bottom half of the division in what has turned into a winter of discontent on Tyneside.

And in fairness, some of that criticism has been justified.

However, when a tactical tweak was needed, Howe delivered, landing a blow to his critics by producing a compact, robust Newcastle setup that was far too much for opposite number Gary O’Neil — transforming a resurgent, on-the-rise Wolverhampton Wanderers’ bark into a whimper at St. James’ Park.

Alexander Isak gave the hosts the lead on the break, while another counter goal by Anthony Gordon had the Magpies cruising at half-time. A late wondergoal from youngster Tino Livramento added a flourish in the dying embers.

Famed for their transition play, Wolves have torn teams apart in the Premier League on their rise. And getting caught by teams on the transition, has been Howe and Newcastle’s kryptonite during their winter struggles.

Answering that, Howe tweaked it, as Newcastle sat deeper, invited the pressure and surrendered possession wilfully. It worked wonders.

After recording the Magpies’ first home win since Dec. 16, Howe said: “We changed things tactically today. It was a big win.

“We knew, being back at home, that we hadn’t won here for quite a while, certainly in 2024. Our home form has always been so good. Ever since I’ve come to the football club, even in the season when we stayed up and then making the top four in the following one, the home form was really the bedrock of all our success.

“So, to have our first wobble here was a concern. We’re delighted to win; it was a massive game for us.

“It was a slight tweak from our normal way of playing. We analyze our opposition, like we do always, and I know there’s a lot of people that say we play the same way every week, but I can assure you that’s not the case.

“There’s always tweaks and little things we try to do to help us in our performance, and that was one today, to try to maybe play a slightly more transitional game.

“I still think we’re not quite where we were at times last year, and also at times this year, but I thought it was better. I thought we had a better physical look about us, with really good running capacity, highlighted by our first goal, which was really transitional.

“There were players running the full length of the pitch, with a real desire to score. I thought, individually, we looked better as well in that respect.

“As I’ve said many times, confidence can ebb and flow, from individuals and the team. But I thought toward the end of the game, we started to see the confidence flow back into the group, and the last 10 to 15 minutes was really good,” he added.

Newcastle have so often been starved of options when they have needed them, and injuries to key players at key times has limited what the head coach can do off the bench.

With just 12 games left, that situation is clearly easing — and it is no surprise to see Newcastle put in arguably their most impressive, coherent performance in 2024.

Turning to goalscorer Livramento as well as summer signing Harvey Barnes, coupled with Miguel Almiron, Lewis Miley, and Elliot Anderson off the subs bench is as strong a group as Howe has been able to name for months.

Arguably, the biggest impact of all, however, was getting Joe Willock back into the starting 11.

After 12 months of struggles, this was the first match the former Arsenal man has started since November. And what a difference his energy and legs gave to a United midfield that has lacked anything like it for so long.

Howe said: “Naturally, I think our midfield does have a different complexion with Willock in the team. I think he has different qualities, although I have to compliment Lewis Miley when he came on because that’s a difficult game situation for someone so young, but I thought he did really well.

“Joe does add a running and an athleticism that maybe we don’t have without him. I was delighted with his contribution. Yes, we’ve managed his game minutes, but it’s great that he’s come through three games and done really well.

“I thought he (Bruno Guimaraes) was very good and had moments where he really showed his class. When he’s at the top of his game, for me, there’s no one better in playing the role that he does. I was really pleased with his impact in the first goal because it’s a full length of the pitch counterattack and he’s had to make up a lot of yards to get a vital contribution to that goal.

“That lets me know that, mentally, he’s in a good place and, physically, he’s in a good place too after a three-game week with extra-time. I was really pleased with that part of his game,” Howe added.

Blue cards absent from latest changes by football’s lawmakers

Updated 03 March 2024

Blue cards absent from latest changes by football’s lawmakers

  • Details of the trial were believed to have been close to publication by the International
  • Football Association Board (IFAB) last month Stronger enforcement on time-wasting goalkeepers was the major development to emerge from the meeting

LONDON: A controversial sin bin trial featuring blue cards was absent from the latest changes made by football’s lawmakers to improve player behavior on Saturday.
It was reported in February that blue cards were set to be part of a trial of sin bins at higher levels of the professional game.
Details of the trial were believed to have been close to publication by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) last month.
But the negative response to the proposal from Premier League managers like Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp and Tottenham’s Ange Postecoglou played a role in the trial details being delayed.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino said on Friday that he “wasn’t aware” blue cards were intended to be used in the trial and said his organization was “completely opposed” to the idea.
Sin-bin yellow cards will continue to be trialled at grassroots level instead.
“If the trials at the lower levels work, of course the conversation continues throughout the pyramid,” said the English Football Association chief executive Mark Bullingham after IFAB’s annual general meeting near Loch Lomond, Scotland.
“I don’t think that was ever the intention for the trial to start in the Premier League.”
Stronger enforcement on time-wasting goalkeepers was the major development to emerge from the meeting.
Fans could be encouraged to join in countdowns on goalkeepers holding on to the ball too long.
In competitions taking part in the trial, goalkeepers will be able to hold onto the ball for eight seconds and the sanction for holding on too long would be a corner or a throw-in in line with the penalty spot, rather than an indirect free-kick.
Under current guidelines, ‘keepers are supposed to only hold onto the ball for a maximum of six seconds, but the rule is rarely strictly enforced.
The other two trials approved by IFAB are designed to help referees regulate player behavior.
Referees now have the option to create captain-only zones and cooling-off areas in the event of mass confrontations.

Klopp dismisses Forest complaints over Nunez winner

Updated 02 March 2024

Klopp dismisses Forest complaints over Nunez winner

  • Nunez marked his return from injury by heading home nine minutes into stoppage-time at the City Ground
  • “It happened exactly the same in the first half didn’t it? Exactly the same, just the other way round,” Klopp said

NOTTINGHAM, United Kingdom: Jurgen Klopp claimed Darwin Nunez’s controversial late winner against Nottingham Forest was legitimate as Liverpool moved four points clear at the top of the Premier League on Saturday.
Nunez marked his return from injury by heading home nine minutes into stoppage-time at the City Ground.
But the Uruguay forward’s decisive contribution left Forest furious after referee Paul Tierney had stopped play before the build-up to the goal for an apparent head injury to Liverpool defender Ibrahima Konate.
Tierney blew with Forest in possession on the edge of Liverpool’s area and after Konate had quickly recovered, the official dropped the ball to Reds goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher, who then started the move that led to Nunez’s goal.
“It happened exactly the same in the first half didn’t it? Exactly the same, just the other way round,” Klopp said.
“I accepted it would happen like that because it happened in the first half. If it didn’t happen in the first half, I would have asked the question as well.
“I would assume that’s the rule, I don’t know. But because it happened twice and got handled exactly the same, I don’t really see their reasons for a discussion.”
Earlier in the game, Tierney halted a Liverpool attack after Forest captain Ryan Yates was felled by Harvey Elliott’s shot and play resumed with goalkeeper Matz Sels taking possession.
“I understand 100 percent the excitement and the anger of Nottingham, of course, they fought for everything. But it happened twice the same and was consistent,” Klopp said.
Nunez’s winner secured Liverpool their first league victory at the City Ground in almost 40 years.
The priceless success by the banks of the River Trent piled pressure on second-placed Manchester City and third-placed Arsenal, who play on Sunday and Monday against Manchester United and Sheffield United respectively.
Klopp admitted it had been a huge effort from his injury-hit squad, who have registered six straight wins in all competitions, including last Sunday’s League Cup final win over Chelsea.
“Four games in 11 days, come on. Five in 15,” Klopp said. “It’s really tough. With our squad situation it’s super-tough and how the boys fought through that is really special.
“The fourth game was the toughest. It was an unbelievable effort the boys put in. A proper, proper shift.
“If you had asked me 12 days ago if it was possible to win all four games, I’d have said no.”

Chelsea fans turn on Pochettino during draw at Brentford. The Argentine says he doesn’t feel loved

Updated 02 March 2024

Chelsea fans turn on Pochettino during draw at Brentford. The Argentine says he doesn’t feel loved

  • “I’ve been told — I didn’t hear, to be honest. It’s difficult for me to understand,” the Argentine coach said
  • Chelsea rescued a point on Pochettino’s 52nd birthday when Axel Disasi headed home Cole Palmer’s cross

LONDON: Chelsea fans turned on Mauricio Pochettino as they watched their team labor to draw at west London rival Brentford 2-2 in the English Premier League on Saturday.
The Blues were leading through Nicolas Jackson’s 35th-minute header but were pegged back by Mads Roerslev’s close-range strike in the 50th.
When Yoane Wissa put Brentford ahead with a spectacular overhead kick in the 69th, the away fans began singing the name of former manager Jose Mourinho as well as calling for Pochettino to go.
“I’ve been told — I didn’t hear, to be honest. It’s difficult for me to understand,” the Argentine coach said.
“But it’s normal, we were losing the game 2-1 and they expressed their frustration. I am one of the ones responsible, I’m the coach.”
Chelsea rescued a point on Pochettino’s 52nd birthday when Axel Disasi headed home Cole Palmer’s cross.
The point left Chelsea languishing in 11th place in another dismal league campaign and the first season under Pochettino.
“I was asked before if I feel the love from the fans — no,” Pochettino said. “I’m not worried — we need to accept this relationship. You win your relationship through winning games.
“I will continue to work and try to change this perception. We need to manage some reality. We are working really hard to try to win games, the team is fighting. If it doesn’t work and the fans are disappointed, I need to respect their opinion.”