Juventus coach Sarri: Cristiano is in another class

Cristiano Ronaldo in action during the Serie A match against Parma on Sunday. (Reuters)
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Updated 20 January 2020

Juventus coach Sarri: Cristiano is in another class

  • The 38-year-old is the only player to have scored at least league 15 goals in each of the last 14 seasons

MILAN: Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to form has coincided with Juventus taking a firm grip on Serie A.

Ronaldo did not score at all in November, but he scored twice as Juventus beat Parma 2-1 on Sunday to take his tally to 11 in his last seven league matches.

The win also put Juventus on course for a record-extending ninth straight Serie A title as the Bianconeri moved four points above Inter Milan. They were two points behind the Nerazzurri a month and a half ago.

Ronaldo has struggled with injury this season and missed three Serie A matches, playing through pain in others.

The 38-year-old Portugal forward has nevertheless scored 16 goals in 17 matches, becoming the first Juventus player to have that many goals after 20 matches since Omar Sivori in 1960.

Ronaldo is also the only player to have scored at least 15 goals in one of Europe’s top five leagues in each of the last 14 seasons.

“Cristiano is in another class,” Juventus coach Maurizio Sarri said. “Sometimes he poses you a little bit of a problem but he will solve 100 others for you.”

While Juventus managed to grind out results in November when Ronaldo wasn’t scoring, Inter struggle when their top scorers are not on form.

There have been three matches since December where neither Romelu Lukaku nor Lautaro Martínez have managed to find the back of the net. All three ended in draws.

The latest was a surprise 1-1 result at relegation-threatened Lecce on Sunday.

That is also down to a general drop in pace in the team as, prior to that, Inter had managed to win the previous four matches where Lukaku and Martínez didn’t score.

“The final result stems from the fact that we’re a team that needs to go at 200 kph. We cannot afford to be off the pace,” Inter coach Antonio Conte said. “It’s evident that if we go at an average pace, if we go into cruise speed, we become a normal team and aren’t able to get a result.”

Substitute

Mario Balotelli’s match lasted only seven minutes on Sunday and he could now find himself with even less playing time in the coming weeks.

Balotelli came on as a substitute in the 74th minute of Brescia’s 2-2 draw against Cagliari but shortly afterward was shown a yellow card for a high tackle and then immediately shown a second after repeatedly swearing at the referee.

Depending on what referee Antonio Giua writes in his report, Balotelli could be suspended for several matches.

The forward will certainly miss Brescia’s next match, against former team AC Milan.

“I think the yellow card was too harsh. Mario didn’t feel it was right, and his protests didn’t seem excessive to me,” Brescia coach Eugenio Corini said. “It’s a pity because he came on with the desire to make us win the match.”

Balotelli was banned for the first four matches of the Serie A season following a red card in his last match with Marseille last season.

“It’s incredible how one episode can always drastically change from too negative or too positive everyone’s opinion on the character or professionalism of a person,” Balotelli wrote on his Instagram story after the match. “I will continue with my daily work this time, too. It’s not a problem. You can continue to judge me as you wish.”


Tottenham look to seize on Chelsea’s Premier League slump

Updated 21 February 2020

Tottenham look to seize on Chelsea’s Premier League slump

LONDON: Jose Mourinho had almost reached the end of his lament about the current situation facing his weary Tottenham players when he turned his attention to their next Premier League game against a team he knows so well.

“The Chelsea players were watching this game on TV,” Mourinho said after Tottenham’s 1-0 home loss to Leipzig in the Champions League, “with nice sparkling water, with lemons and biscuits, enjoying the game.”

If only the outlook at Chelsea were so rosy.

Indeed, recent results suggest the predicament of Mourinho’s old club is more concerning than Tottenham’s.

Chelsea, somehow, find themselves still holding onto fourth place in the league heading into Saturday’s London derby against their nearest rivals in the race for Champions League qualification. That’s despite collecting only 15 points from its last 14 games, a dire run stretching back to the end of November.

At that time, Chelsea were on a six-match winning streak — its best since the team’s title-winning season of 2016-17 — and wasn’t too far behind Liverpool, the current runaway leader. Youngsters like Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori were regular starters, given their opportunity by an up-and-coming manager in Frank Lampard who is eager to promote youth. US winger Christian Pulisic was in his best form since his move from
Borussia Dortmund.

Fast forward three months and injuries are starting to bite, the kids are starting to feel the pace in a grueling season, and Lampard — a bright, eloquent and engaging manager — has been grumbling about the club’s failure to add numbers to the squad in January and his players’
wastefulness in front of goal.

“I must sound like a broken record,” a clearly frustrated Lampard said after seeing Chelsea get picked off in a 2-0 home loss to Manchester United on Monday.

Lampard’s main gripe is the team’s inability to finish off chances, which has become more pronounced with Abraham — a scorer of 13 league goals this season — currently out injured.

With Callum Hudson-Odoi and Pulisic also missing against United, Lampard played a front three of Willian, Michy Batshuayi and Pedro Rodriguez — a throwback to a few years ago and an era Chelsea fans probably thought they’d seen the back of.

Key midfielder N’Golo Kante joined Abraham on the injury list after going off early against United, while Lampard is still playing 38-year-old Willy Caballero in goal after dropping Kepa Arrizabalaga — signed in 2018 as the world’s most expensive goalkeeper.

It’s an uncertain period for Lampard, who is still a rookie in managerial terms, and Chelsea’s recent slump has seen as many as seven teams move within seven points or closer in the standings.

In that three-month period, Tottenham have won 29 points — a haul second only to Liverpool. That coincided exactly with Mourinho taking over as manager from Mauricio Pochettino.

The issue, now, is whether Spurs can keep it up, and Mourinho clearly has his doubts. With attackers Son Heung-min and Harry Kane out potentially for the rest of the season, Mourinho likened his team to someone “going to fight with a gun without bullets.”

Amid a hectic schedule that has seen his team play two FA Cup replays since the turn of the year, Mourinho said he has been forced to start with the same group of players for matches every three of four days. Erik Lamela and Tanguy Ndombele came off the bench against Leipzig having barely trained.

“I try to manage the pieces that we had,” he said.

Throw in the fact that Tottenham has a tight turnaround after the Leipzig match — Wednesday night to Saturday lunchtime — and Mourinho will feel he has genuine cause for grievance.

Yet, he is managing to scramble together results and a win at Stamford Bridge, where he previously enjoyed two separate trophy-winning spells as coach and was once revered, would see Tottenham climb above Chelsea.

Outmanoeuvring Mourinho, his former coach, in a 2-0 win at Tottenham in December was one of the few bright spots for Lampard in recent months. 

Doing so again would give him and Chelsea some much-needed breathing space in what is suddenly a bunched chase for Champions League qualification.