Can Erling Braut Haaland go on to become the Champions League’s all-time top scorer?

Erling Braut Håland has made the headlines for all the right reasons since he broke on to the scene at Red Bull Salzburg in 2019. Now at German Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund, of course, he is continuing to steal the spotlight and is more often than not a nightmare to tame for the opposition defenders.

His two most recent goals in the Champions League helped Dortmund progress to the quarter-final stages of the tournament against a dogged Sevilla and took his overall record for BVB to 47 goals in 47 games since he signed for the club last January.

It’s an incredible goal tally, and rightfully, he is being tipped to be the next big thing in European football. He is scoring goals with such ease and the fact that he is only 20 years of age makes it all the more mind-boggling for the average onlooker.

His two goals in the Champions League against the La Liga outfit took his tally in Europe’s elite competition to 20 goals in just 14 games. That in itself is an incredible feat. In fact, he is the fastest and youngest player in the history of the competition to reach the impressive landmark. So, it’s no wonder he alone can make Dortmund all the more favourable in the 2021 Champions League odds.

Håland broke the previous record set by Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane in 10 fewer games, and he is already just two goals away from breaking into the top 50 all-time scorers in the tournament.

In comparison with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, who are first and second in the all-time scorers chart with 134 and 120 goals respectively, it took Ronaldo until he was 24 and 56 games to notch up 20 strikes and Messi, who was 22, 40 games. So, that puts in perspective just how amazing Håland’s feat is.

The question now is whether the Norwegian international can keep up his goal-scoring prowess in the long run and bag as many goals in the competition as the two aforementioned stars? There’s no doubt that it’s going to be a tough task for Håland. He would need to score 10 goals a season in the Champions League for the next 10 years to match Messi’s current tally and even more to surpass Ronaldo’s.

Of course, he is just 20 and as a striker he could play well into his 30s, so it is doable. However, he must keep fit and would need to play for a club getting far in the Champions League’s knockout stages year-after-year for the remainder of his career if he wants to truly get within touching distance of the Barcelona and Juventus forwards.

Nonetheless, German journalist Raphael Honigstein is confident that is the 20-year-old can keep scoring in the same fashion, then he’ll outscore both Ronald and Messi by the time he hangs up his boots.

“He’s only played 30 months at this level, and he’s only going to get better. If you put him in a better team… I don’t know where this could stop,” Honigstein told talkSPORT.

“The stats are crazy, if he continues scoring at the same level, he will outscore both Ronaldo and Messi, which seems absolutely crazy to contemplate, but he could do it!”

As Håland continues to steal the headlines in the UEFA Champions League news, all of the remaining teams in the competition, along with those still fighting for a place in the quarter-finals, will dread facing the 20-year-old in the next round.

Liverpool were great champions but they need to stop making excuses for this season

Last season was so phenomenally brilliant for Liverpool that it will be etched into the memory banks for some time to come. But this season has seen the champions fall from grace in quick time. It can happen, we have seen it with Chelsea only a few seasons ago. But Liverpool have to stop with the excuses which are doing nothing but cheapen the club.

Liverpool have been the kings of Europe so to speak for the past 18 months, winning the league title and reaching 2 Champions League finals and winning one of those. A 60 odd unbeaten run at home followed. The incredible talents of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino up front were simply devastating, even scary. Their goals reigned supreme, here was a team who were built more like a machine- and then 2021 happened.

This has been the year to end Liverpool’s cycle, what a cycle it was, but it was short lived, of course at one point Liverpool will come back and will be a threat once more, but the fall off has been huge.

The club lost six games in a row at home, that is something that has actually never happened in the clubs 139 year history. A few of these defeats have been against teams you would have expected the club to beat in the likes of Brighton and Fulham. Liverpool even lost against derby rivals Everton at Anfield something that had not occurred since 1999.

Hopes of winning back to back titles were dashed within a month and suddenly Jurgen Klopp was wondering if his team were even going to finish in the top 4? Currently it’s possible that the Reds will not achieve that status and they could be playing in the Europa League next season as clubs such as Manchester United, Leicester and Chelsea have moved on. Liverpool also face stiff competition for places against Tottenham, West Ham and Everton.

The drop off has been huge and then the questions are inevitably asked as to why Liverpool have fallen out of form. Of course one could point to Virgil van Dijk’s injury earlier in the season, which has ruled him out of the majority of the season. But let’s not forget that van Dijk was part of the Liverpool team that lost 7-2 at Aston Villa, the signs were already there that Liverpool were going to struggle this season.

Mental fatigue has been thrown about and it has been accepted by many as a fine excuse. Yes Liverpool have been relentless in their pursuit of trophies and you can’t always win games. But the champions losing six in a row at home and probably finishing with 35 points less compared to the season before is just unthinkable.

The term mental fatigue is easy to throw around. But one has to look at other champions from the past to see what is happening in the present. Did Manchester United in their 20 years of dominance ever complain of mental fatigue? Sure United didn’t win the league every time in those 20 years and with 13 titles that was still an incredible achievement. But even when United failed to win the league, they remained a threat and they consistently qualified for the Champions League. There was no significant drop off not even in the mid 2000s when hundreds of millions was injected into Chelsea to make the Blues competitive. Soon after United won 3 league titles in a row and then beat Chelsea in the Champions League final in 2008.

Even Arsenal who remained in United’s shadow but still were a fantastic team did not drop off in their prime. If they were losing the title to United then they were finishing in 2nd place. One can look at Chelsea’s drop off in 2016 after winning the title in 2015 but that was more to do with manager Jose Mourinho losing the dressing room and the players going directionless as a result. Klopp has not lost any dressing room, so we can’t blame the manager and we shouldn’t be using mental fatigue as an excuse.

Perhaps quite simply the truth is that the players are not performing to their best. Maybe they are simply missing the famous stadium being filled up to the brim with fans and hearing the passionate Kop fans screaming their names and singing ‘you’ll never walk alone’. Then again how does that account for the fact that Liverpool have reached the quarter finals of the Champions League?

Surely if one is mentally fatigued then one is not even going to get out of their group stage? That isn’t the case and for whatever reason Liverpool have found a nice distraction from domestic football. Indeed if Liverpool were to reach the final that would be their 3rd in just four years, win it and much of this season could be glossed over.

As it stands excuses need to stop. Liverpool are where they are in the league because the players we expect to perform are having average to poor seasons and there is nothing wrong with admitting that. Liverpool could still finish 4th or win this seasons Champions League and have the last laugh, but the excuses need to stop.

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UEFA need to say no to the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Liverpool for a super league

In this past week a story has emerged yet again of the proposal of a super league which would replace the Champions League and would not be a part of a UEFA competition.

Super Leagues have been touted seriously since the early 1990s and UEFA already had to react to the threat and created the Champions League in the 1992/93 season. Before that the European Cup was of course only open to the winners of each European league. The Champions League used an expansion that went from 2 clubs with some of the top leagues in Europe having four clubs that can qualify for each season.

Now the elite teams are flexing their muscles again and UEFA’s Champions League is under threat once more. There is more money to be made and more exposure to be had with an independent super league and the richest and most successful clubs want as much as they can get. Instead of rejecting any ideas UEFA have tried to react again, and if these new proposals go through then if you support a mid table club this has far reaching implications and you will want to read on.

The controversial move would be backing the bigger clubs even if they are having, by their standards, a poor season. Take Arsenal who are in 10th place currently in the English Premier League. UEFA are proposing that if the league was to end today that Arsenal would qualify for the Champions League not based on their league position of course but based on their co-efficient points. In other words the last 5 seasons would count. It would mean that if, say Manchester City had a poor couple of seasons coming up, it wouldn’t matter their qualification for the Champions League would be secured anyway.

This is a slap in the face of course to the integrity of the sport and gamesmanship. What about the ‘surprise’ teams of the season, do they not count? Do we not reward the hard effort of for example West Ham and Everton who have punched above their weight this season? Do they just get disregarded? What do real fans think about this?

Once we make a mockery of a sport there seems no going back and UEFA have bent over once to create the Champions League for the elite teams, why would they feel they have to bend over again, why be put to ransom? Well the answer of course is not losing your product which brings in tens of millions of euros per year. But at the same time you are the governing body, does that not count for something?

It is easy to blame UEFA for changes in the rules, but in truth they are being held to ransom and panicking about losing their competition. Clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona and Liverpool need to stop throwing their tantrums and demands about. They are involved in competition that is what sport is all about, if you have a bad season you can get punished, accept it and move on and work harder.

The irony of course is the fear that the elite teams have of not qualifying for a competition where only one team can win it. But the owners do not care as much as the fans for trophies, it’s the money involved that reigns supreme in their minds and the added sponsorship on top- related of course to money.

The big clubs are at fault here. New ideas should always be welcomed in football, but not to the point that it destroys the very fabric of the sport and the people within it.

 

 

Juventus Top Performers – UCL Round of 16 – Return Leg vs Porto

For the third consecutive season, the Champions League journey of Juventus ends abruptly before reaching the final phases. The Bianconeri put in a lot of effort in a marathon with Porto, but ultimately got bit by an abhorrent start, frenzy and lack of attention to detail, wasting an opportunity that was surely within reach.

Federico Chiesa: the clear man of the match in both contests as, after keeping the hopes alive in the first one, he spearheaded the assault after the disadvantage, bagging two terrific goals and constantly pushing the envelope. He was the true leader on the pitch, took on most of the responsibilities and delivered with a piledriver in the top corner and a clutch header. The Old Lady got a lot out of their midfielders in this one as Arthur properly pulled the strings and orchestrated the offense while he had still the legs to do so, while Adrien Rabiot re-opened the match in the extra time with a great header on a corner kick after what was in general a pretty decent display. Continue reading

Why this seasons Champions League has been tarnished

The Coronavirus pandemic has affected the world like something we could never have imagined and of course this means that football has suffered as a result too. Players being tested twice a week and no fans at grounds for almost a year bar in very rare instances it has been an odd time for the game we all love.

The biggest European competitions have been affected too, especially the Champions League. And this season the most elite club competition of them all feels like it has been tarnished, and simply feels very unfair.

Let’s explain.

The games affected have all involved English teams, Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City. Some EU countries have said that persons from England cannot travel to Germany and Spain because of the new variant, which means in effect that the football clubs cannot travel to these countries to play their first legs.

This in itself is a real head scratcher given that players and coaches are tested twice a week and they will be the only personnel entering the countries. We are not talking about fans being present, so one has to wonder where the problem lies? Of course the other side of the argument would be, why would football players be given special access and not members of the public?

So for English clubs playing in Europe their first leg matches were directed to Budapest, Hungary. But this is wholly unfair on the likes of Atletico Madrid, RB Leipzig and Borussia Monchengladbach. It is unfair because the 2nd legs will all take place in England at the respective clubs grounds. What happens in that instant is the most elite competition loses its integrity and gamesmanship- and no sport should be losing either of those.

Of course there will be arguments against and that at the end of the day it is not the clubs fault that England are allowing German and Spanish nationals into the country and it isn’t like this in the opposite direction. But it is unfair on the clubs.

Some will say that Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City will give up their home advantage anyway because the 12th man- the fans- will not be allowed to attend the games. But hang on one second. What about the extra travel time for the away sides having to arrange drives to the airport and planes, hotels etc. What about the familiarity of the home teams ground, players have a connection to that even without the fans. When Atletico visit Chelsea they are not in Madrid anymore.

It is odd to think that UEFA have not stepped in. If English based players cannot play in Germany and Spain then there is nothing wrong with playing in Budapest as a neutral venue. But why not also have the 2nd legs take place in the country too. Why change and have one team have an advantage by playing in their backyard so to speak, even if the advantage is decreased by a lack of fans, there is still some there.

Fans of the clubs will care little of course, and probably won’t see the argument either. But surely if you’re in love with the game and value fairness within it, this way of playing this seasons Champions League could feel like the soul just got ripped out of it.

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Why Lazio could spring an upset over Bayern Munich

When Lazio was initially drawn against Bayern Munich in the Champions League, many deemed it mission impossible for the capital-based club. Overcoming the reigning champions is a tall ask for anyone, let alone – at the time – a struggling Lazio side. Simone Inzaghi’s men have since turned their fortunes around, surging up the Serie A table. In fact, Lazio enters its clash against the Bavarian giants on Tuesday with seven wins in its last eight games.

Other than their defeat against Inter, where they dominated possession, Lazio has arguably been Italy’s most in-form side since the turn of the new year. Bayern Munich goes into the game off the back of a poor run of form, having dropped points in its last two games in league action. While you would be foolish to rule out Hansi Flick’s men, recent form suggests they can be beaten.

Lazio must be wary, however, as last season the Bundesliga outfit flicked a switch in the knockout stages and outscored the opposition 18-3 on route to the final. The Biancocelesti may be a heavy underdog, but have all the tools to spring an upset over Bayern Munich.

Ciro Immobile has shown no signs of slowing down this season and has delivered when called upon in the Champions League with five goals in four games. If Lazio has a chance at progressing, the Italian international will need to lead by example and deliver a top-class performance at home. Immobile has typically struggled on the biggest stage, but as Euro 2021 approaches, he will be eager to prove he can get it done against the very best.

Beyond Immobile, Lazio’s midfield tandem of Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Luis Alberto is among the very best left in the competition. The former imposes his physique and regularly looks to go beyond the strikers, while few midfielders can deliver a final ball as good as Luis Alberto. The Spaniard has even added goals to his game this season, most recently scoring the winner in Lazio’s win over Sampdoria.

While Lazio may be good value to score against Bayern Munich, their progression very much depends on keeping a clean sheet on Tuesday. Inzaghi’s men welcome the Bavarian giants to the Stadio Olimpico and simply cannot afford to concede an away goal. Francesco Acerbi will be tasked with thwarting Robert Lewandowski, having gotten the better of him on the international stage before.

Playing against Bayern Munich, however, is a completely different challenge for the veteran defender and is arguably his biggest test yet since joining the Biancocelesti. The veteran presence of Pepe Reina between the posts should help alleviate some pressure off Lazio’s rearguard.

The final challenge for Lazio will be the battle on the wings. Alphonso Davies marauds the left flank at will alongside Kingsley Coman, while Leroy Sane will be raring to go himself on the opposite wing. If Inzaghi’s men can’t contain Bayern Munich’s wide men, the tie is as good as done.

Mohamed Fares and Adam Marusic will undoubtedly have their hands full on Tuesday and will need to step up. The Algerian has been all too guilty of switching off at times but will need to be at his best helping Matteo Musacchio down the left-hand side of the defense. Marusic has impressed this season, but facing Bayern’s dynamic duo is a different beast altogether.

Make no mistake about it – It won’t be easy but Lazio has what it takes to get the job done against Bayern Munich. All Inzaghi can ask for from his men is to give themselves a chance to progress going into the second leg in Germany. Lazio has a devastating front-line, a quality midfield, and an experienced backline. Whether they can all come together remains to be seen, but don’t count out Inzaghi’s men just yet.

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Juventus Top Perfomers – UCL Round of 16 vs Porto – First Leg

Despite the shocking start in each half where they literally gave away two goals amid a very lackadaisical performance, Juventus maintained their qualification hopes alive in the Porto clash thanks to a late push that culminated in a vital score by Federico Chiesa.

Chiesa: the Italian winger bagged it with an accurate strike, and who knows whether he intended to do that or if it was just a lucky bounce, but the trajectory ended up being just perfect considering the bodies in between. However, the whole action would have not been possible without a very clever cut down the flank by the Frenchman and an impeccable low-driven cross. He also produced the only other major chance for the Bianconeri, forcing the opposing goalie into a difficult save with an acrobatic kick.  Continue reading

Did Frank Lampard deserve to get sacked by Chelsea?

The big news in the Premier League over the last few days has been the sacking of club legend Frank Lampard. Lampard was sacked after Chelsea fell to 9th place and the Chelsea board could seemingly take no more.

Lampard lasted 18 months in the job and one has to wonder have Chelsea made the right choice in sacking him, or have they reacted too quickly? After all in his debut season with the club in the dug out he did manage to qualify for the Champions League as the Blues finished in 4th place. He also guided the team to the FA Cup final, although they eventually lost to Arsenal.

This season Chelsea were brilliant in the Champions League group stage and qualified with ease for the knock out rounds in February where they will play Atletico Madrid. In the FA Cup they have made it to the fifth round this past weekend as they beat Luton 3-1, this was incidentally Lampard’s last game in charge of the club.

But it’s the league where the problems mount up for Lampard’s Chelsea side. The club spent big on players last summer over £200m was spent bringing in the likes of Ben Chilwell, Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech. Chilwell has been superb and fitted right into the club. Ziyech has looked quick but has also faced some injuries and Werner has looked lost, confused and puzzled. He has been a huge disappointment.

It has been reported that behind the scenes lies problems, players feel they are not being coached very well and Lampard isn’t up to the job. Of course it is one thing being a superb player for the club but quite another at managerial level. Perhaps the problem in this whole matter is that Lampard was not experienced enough to manage a club side like Chelsea?

One has to ask would Chelsea have appointed a manager who has only had 1 season with Championship side Derby County on his resume? Therein lies the answer as to why everything hasn’t turned out as Chelsea had hoped. It also goes to show that even though Lampard spent 14 seasons at Stamford Bridge and knows Chelsea inside and out, managing players who also may have had egos is a difficult task.

Chelsea do not give the best managers a chance if failure looks like it is creeping up, the likes of Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti have been sacked in the past, so Lampard’s number looked up a few weeks ago. Though how odd is football sometimes because it was only 8 weeks ago that the Blues had gone 2 months unbeaten in all competitions and were challenging for the title.

Ultimately Lampard wasn’t able to get the best out of his players, but Chelsea are to blame too for going in for an unexperienced manager, their though process only concerned with the fact that he used to play for the club. New players coming into the team don’t care about the past when they were still teenagers, only the now and the relationship simply didn’t work out.

After spending huge sums though one has to wonder what Chelsea thought would happen this season. A league title? surely not. As any team who has bought so many impact players knows, it always takes some time for the players to gel and click by that time any league chance has gone. Did Chelsea really believe that they would fly past Liverpool and Manchester City, if so that seems like wishful thinking.

At the flipside of that the club were not expecting to be 11 points behind either. Chelsea are 5 points from 4th place and that would have been taking into account too.

Sadly for Lampard Covid-19 and the impact it has made on football hasn’t been taking into account. Chelsea may have won more games at home with fans and the players may have reacted more positively. The pandemic has turned football on its head and we have seen some interesting results to go along with that. There have also been more away wins than any other season, that can’t just be a coincidence.

In an ideal football world Lampard would have been given more time, perhaps until the end of the year if not end of this season. However, if as expected, he had lost the dressing room then there is only one solution for that and that was his sacking. One has to wonder what the future now holds for Lampard? And who knows maybe the club legend will return back in the dugout after gaining years of experience coaching elsewhere.

As for Chelsea they have brought in Thomas Tuchel the ex PSG coach and who knows what will happen there. Tuchel is a good character and of course with PSG had to put up with plenty of egos. But he hasn’t been in this position for a long time where his team are not challenging for honours so it will be fascinating to see how he takes to the job.

Also Tuchel being German might be able to train Timo Werner better and install some confidence in him, let’s see if Werner becomes the striker we all thought he would be in the Premier League.

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Julen Lopetegui wants to usher in a new era at Sevilla

Because of their Europa League successes Sevilla are one of the most successful clubs in Europe over the last decade. But there is a feeling that the club have become more of a cup specialist team and less of a league one, and Julen Lopetegui has come in over the past year to try and change that up.

Of course winning cups is a great thing and Sevilla have achieved so much in the modern game winning 5 trophies in the last decade and, according to the official UEFA rankings they are in 9th place. That’s not bad going at all and yet of course they are not seen in same lights as Real Madrid and Barcelona and not even Atletico Madrid.

The reason is that the club do not win league titles- their last one came n 1946 and they haven’t even finished in the runners-up position since 1957. There is also the case of the other European competition, the Champions League where Sevilla have had no significant history. Even Atletico have made it to finals including two recent ones. This year highlighted Sevilla’s miserable run in the Champions League when they were knocked out at the group stages and in one game lost 4-0 at home against Chelsea.

Lopetegui is doing a steady job with Sevilla and in his first season he was able to get them to 4th place with 70 points and therefore qualify for the Champions League. Overall he has a win rate of 57% which is impressive and has lost 14 games from 73 played.

This season the club are in sixth place and are seven points adrift. They have been up and down as they do not draw many games, just 1 so far. Whilst they need to find stability no one can accuse the club of not being entertaining. The problem currently is that no one is sure what Sevilla version will turn up week by week. On their day they are capable of beating any side in La Liga.

Lopetegui has kept the people he knows close to him and that figurehead is the clubs assistant coach Pablo Sanz who used to be a product of the old Academy at Barcelona. When Lopetegui was the coach of the national side Spain, Sanz was his assistant so they know each other very well. He was also the assistant at Real Madrid at Lopetegui’s short spell at Santiago Bernabeu back in 2018.

The objective for the club is to improve each season in the league, the last season saw the club finish 4th so the objective is to finish 3rd and a possible title challenge with 2-3 years although whether that is realistic or not is another story altogether.

However the club have always had some quality within their ranks and below we look at the best 3 players currently playing for the club this season based on fantasy rankings points.

Bono- Goalkeeper

Bono’s value is 6.5m and he currently has the most points of any Sevilla player with 19 so far. Bono’s job is of course to keep clean sheets and he has done so on 3 occasions so far. He is 5th in the goalkeeper rankings for La Liga overall.

Youssef En-Nesyri- Striker

Youssef En Nesyri has scored 3 goals so far but is yet to assist and has 12 points so far. He has only managed to start six games so has a 50% striker rate which is good and his value is 6.5m.

Sergio Escudero- Defender

Sergio Escudero has helped keep 2 clean sheets he has also scored a goal and his value is 6m and so far he has earned 12 points.

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Inter close gap on Milan but crash out of the Champions League

Inter will now be fully concentrating on trying to win their first Serie A title since 2010 as they were knocked out of the Champions League in the group stages.

It was always going to be a difficult group for Inter and in having to square off against Real Madrid, Borrussia Monchengladbach and Shakhtar Donetsk Inter were certainly in the group of death.

In the final group game they had to beat Shakhtar at home and hope that Real Madrid would beat Monchengladbach. Real obliged with their win which they needed themselves anyway but Inter could only draw 0-0, and they were out. To rub salt into the wounds Antonio Conte’s team finished in 4th place. One wonders though if finishing last could be a blessing in disguise, as 3rd would have put the club into the Europa League. With no European football to contend with Inter can focus 100% on the league now.

The Italian media were inevitably scathing of Conte after their European exit and Conte said: “We have to evaluate everything with cool heads, not after an exit like this. There is a great deal of regret and disappointment, but I absolutely do not feel we were lacking determination, focus or aggression. We lacked a goal and throughout the Champions League campaign, we have not been fortunate with referees and the VAR.”

Cagliari 1-3 Inter

The good news is that the disappointment of being knocked out of Europe did not roll over and infect the team in the domestic league which they still hope to win. Inter beat Cagliari 3-1 and that means Conte’s side have won 4 games in a row.

It was a game that Inter dominated from the first whistle to the last but they found themselves trailing 1-0 at half time. The home side had scored from having just one shot on target to Inter’s five, and it looked like it would be a frustrating game for the away side.

However with 13 minutes left and a surprise result on the cards Inter’s pressure finally paid off. Nicolo Barella made it 1-1 with a fine effort from the edge of the area. Seven minutes later Inter were in the lead and now Barella had turned provider after his cross found the head of Danilo D’Ambrosio who had been on the pitch for just 60 seconds.

Romelu Lukaku wrapped the encounter up with a fine run from his own half as Cagliari were caught out throwing too many men forward in search of an equaliser. Lukaku had no one to challenge and was able to run the length of the half and tap in easy. It was Lukaku’s 9th goal of the season.

Inter are 2nd and because Milan could only draw 2-2 at home to Parma it means that the gap has been shortened to just 3 points. Milan will be away to Genoa in midweek and Inter will be at home to Napoli in a crunch game since Napoli are right behind them and just a point off. Indeed the difference between 2nd to 5th is just two points so a lot can change in midweek and then next weekend as we head into the Christmas break.

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