Lazio Face Top Four Setback Following Milan Defeat

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After narrowly succumbing to Milan by a score of 1-0 on the weekend, Lazio find themselves languishing in eighth place, six points back of fourth place; albeit with a game in hand. The good news is that they’re still very much in the race for top four. Unfortunately for them, however, so are the other five teams alongside them.

Lazio went into the game in relatively poor form dropping points against SPAL and Sassuolo prior, yet only found themselves three points adrift Milan. Against the rossoneri, Inzaghi’s men started relatively well and were unlucky not to find the back of the net first, with Ciro Immobile hitting the post. As fate would have it, Milan were awarded a penalty with just over ten minutes to play, and Ivorian midfielder Franck Kessie converted it with aplomb.

With just over seven games left, and with only six points separating fourth place from eighth, the race for Champions League football has never been closer. As a result, the biancocelesti are going to have to win out their remaining games, if they want a chance. In their next clash, they’ll be taking on a relegation threatened Udinese, a clash that will be harder than the table suggests.

Following the game with Udinese, Inzaghi’s men then have Sampdoria, Atalanta, and Cagliari on the agenda. While Lazio will be the favourites with the odds-makers for these clashes, it is typically in these types of games that Inzaghi’s men struggle. Moreover, Sampdoria and Atalanta have proven they can go toe-to-toe with just about any side in Italy, and will prove to be an equal match for Lazio. After all, there’s a reason these sides are still alive in the race for European football this late in the season.

In the past, Serie A’s provinciali have been Lazio’s bogey sides, and were a major reason behind their failed qualification to last season’s Champions League. If they win their game in hand, Lazio join Roma, and Atalanta in the pack behind Milan, and are in it with a chance. If they don’t, they might as well forget top four altogether.

With Roma experiencing a resurgence of sorts under Claudio Ranieri’s guidance, it will be important for Lazio to exhibit consistency in order to pip their fierce rivals to Champions League football. Roma, however, still have to take on Inter, and Juventus and will be travelling to the Stadio Luigi Ferrari to take on Genoa, which is never easy. Then, of course, there’s Milan.

While the rossoneri had shown signs of slowing down in recent weeks, dropping points against Inter, Sampdoria, Udinese and Juventus in their last four, their win against Lazio will undoubtedly spur them on. With clashes coming up against Parma, Torino and Bologna, there’s no reason why Milan shouldn’t pick up, at the very least, seven points out of their next nine, and continue their march for top four football. Their fate is very much in their own hands.

Lazio’s focus should be on overtaking Milan and Roma, however, they shouldn’t forget about Atalanta either. Even if they win their game in hand, gli Orobici will still have one point more than Lazio. As a result, they must beat them in their head-to-head game on May 5, and win out. Luckily for Lazio, Atalanta have one of the most difficult run-ins taking on Napoli, and Juventus.

While Lazio’s game in hand still gives them hope for top four football, they will have to be at their very best over the next couple of weeks, otherwise they can forget about top four football. Factor in their semi-final clash in the Coppa Italia against Milan, and their schedule is complicated further. In any case, Inzaghi’s men will be hungry to return Champions League football to the nation’s capital; something that hasn’t been done in over a decade at Lazio.

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Where now for Claudio Ranieri after Fulham sack him due to dismal run?

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It may well come as very little surprise that Fulham have sacked Claudio Ranieri after just 17 games in charge. The Italian was brought in to keep the club up, but ended up losing 11 of his games.

Fulham look certainties to be relegated now as they are as much as 10 points from safety and Scott Parker has been drafted into the hot seat, where he is in a win-win situation as the club will now prepare for Championship football next season.

But what of Ranieri who will always be remembered for leading Leicester City to a stunning league title in 2016? The truth is Ranieri isn’t the kind of manager known for keeping teams up from relegation. But at 67 he must be nearing the end of a long managerial career which has seen him manage 16 different teams, the national team of Greece over 33 years.

Ranieri of course will always have that special relationship with the Premier League but the league has possibly seen the end of him. As he nears 70 he may be looking for one more big pay day in the Middle East or perhaps with a Russian side, somehow one cannot really begrudge him of it, or perhaps he will go back to his beloved Italy and coach one final time.

What he does come away with is that he was one of the good guys of the coaches and even though his resume is not brimming with trophies like some current managers, he will be keeping good company and of course will always have a lot of respect. That was evident when Fulham’s owner Shahid Khan released a statement about the Italian.

“Claudio Ranieri agreed to my decision that a change was in the best interest of everyone. No surprise to me, Claudio was a perfect gentleman, as always. Be assured he is not solely to blame for the position we are in today. Claudio walked into a difficult situation, inheriting a side that gained only one point in its prior eight matches, and he provided an immediate boost by leading our club to nine points in his first eight matches. Though we were unable to maintain that pace thereafter, I am grateful for his effort.”

In many ways then everything is mutual with Ranieri now walking off into the sunset, his name etched into Premier League history and it will be very interesting to see where the so called Tinkerman ends up at next.

Craven Cottage clash is one of the biggest matches of the season

It is a rare occurrence that no Premier League manager loses their job until mid-November. Fulham broke that run when they fired Slavisa Jokanovic before the international break and replaced him with former Leicester boss Claudio Ranieri.

Ranieri’s first match as Fulham manager is against Mark Hughes. Hughes was one of the sack race favourites and with good reason. In 20 Premier League matches since he took over, Southampton have won just three times. Saints have lost 10 over that period, with the draw probably saving Hughes’ job up until now. They have scored just 16 goals and conceded 33.

Hughes saved the south coast club from the drop last season. It is almost tradition that a manager who avoids relegation on a short-term deal is given a new contract. Southampton did not break such a rich Premier League tradition, though perhaps history suggests they should have done. Short-term results earning a longer deal might seem fair, but it all too often results in a cycle of mid-season hiring and firing (just ask Sunderland fans).

Southampton are far from playing perfect football, yet there’s an argument they have been unfortunate. They are massively underperforming their expected goals. This may be because of stupendous goalkeeping, but – as anyone who has watched Southampton this season will know – this is largely down to poor finishing. Hughes’ selection is to blame for this in part. Even so, Southampton should have scored more than the eight they have managed so far.

At the other end of the pitch things have not been great either. Southampton’s 21 conceded is far from the worst record in the league (this weekend’s opponents have conceded 10 more), and there have been improvements of late, but only Fulham, Brighton and Burnley have a higher non-penalty expected goals against.

Stoke’s defence got gradually worse under Hughes. Southampton’s back line looks similarly flimsy. The combination of wasting chances and leaking goal scoring opportunities is not a good one.

Hughes is a man under pressure. Failure to beat Watford or Newcastle at home in his last two might have put him into must-win territory. Away days in west London and Leicester in their next two are crucial before they face Manchester United and Tottenham.

This weekend’s clash at Craven Cottage is obviously huge for Fulham and Ranieri too. Fulham have lost every match they have played since 25th September and play Chelsea after this one. It’s hardly panic stations at this time of year, but they will be wary of being cut adrift as they are already three points off safety.

Victory this weekend, on the other hand, would put Fulham level on points with 17th-placed Southampton. The gloomy days of Jokanovic’s final weeks in the job would be almost forgotten.

Hughes walked a tightrope for months at Stoke, and he’s mastering it again at Southampton. Defeat this weekend, however, could be the final straw.

With points tallies very low in the bottom-half of the table this season, the idea of a must-win match in November is bizarre. This is about as close as it gets for Southampton, though, and a positive start against a rival is invaluable for Ranieri before a tougher run of fixtures.

Four points separate the bottom seven teams. The head-to-head matches will go a long way to deciding which teams remains in the Premier League. With hope filling the west London air, this is about as tough a start as it could have been for Ranieri. Expectation against a fellow relegation candidate is a more important, more daunting task than the relative relaxation of avoiding humiliation against a top six side.

We might not have started our advent calendars and are not yet a third of the way through the season, but this is one of the biggest matches of the Premier League campaign to date.

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Why Claudio Ranieri is the right manager to turn Fulham around

Football is a cruel sport. Slavisa Jokanovic performed miracles turning Fulham from a mid-table Championship side into a Premier League one, and yet within three months of beginning his adventure in the top flight the Serbian is already out of a job. Having been sacked by Watford the summer after gaining promotion in 2015, Jokanovic has every right to feel hard done by.

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Roma draw Shakhtar: a favorable match-up that comes with a cautionary tale

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Roma and fellow Italian rival, Juventus, learned their Champions League fate just hours ago as the two sides drew Shakhtar Donetsk and Spurs, respectively. Given the potential options for each side, the Giallorossi and Bianconeri are unlikely to have any complaints about their opponents as both sides are already the early favorites to advance, according to several betting websites.

Roma have traveled a hard-fought group stage journey; however, they would be wise not to underestimate the Ukrainian side. Club talisman and current club director Francesco Totti, who appeared to be optimistic about the draw, issued a word of warning that Shakhtar could by no means be underestimated, “Given the options who were there, it went well. Don’t underestimate them, though, because they are very strong technically and physically, they play very well at home.”

The match-up with Shakhtar certainly appears favorable for the Giallorossi. Roma were one of the last 3 clubs drawn and had a 66% chance to draw either Bayern or Real Madrid, which would have been a nightmare scenario for the Italians. While Roma ultimately drew Shakhtar, the memory of the Ukrainian club’s drubbing of Roma in 2011 remains fresh in the minds of many.

The year 2011 seems like ages ago and the Roma from 2011 seems like an entirely different club. This was the pre-American owned Roma who were going thru a tumultuous period after having nearly won their first Scudetto since 2001 in the previous season with Claudio Ranieri.

After losing out on the Scudetto to Inter by just two points, everything seemed to come tumbling down the following season for Ranieri and Roma. While the season started relatively positive, Roma lost their heads in the winter and completely fumbled away their season, where the lowest point came at the hands of Shakhatar, who won 3-2 in Rome in the first leg of their Champions League knockout tie before galloping away with the result as they won 3-0 in Ukraine.

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While the names have changed for Shakhtar since then, the approach and style remains the same. The Ukrainian club still have their famed contingent of Brazilian players backed up by the strong tactical acumen of manager Paulo Fonseca. Captain Darjio Srna, defender Yaroslav Rakitskiy, and goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov are the only ones who are left from the 2011 team that eliminated Roma, however, all three still play important roles for the Ukrainian side, who currently sit atop the Ukrainian Premier League table. Between their speed, flair, and strong spine in the midfield, which is led by former Roma target Fred, Shakhtar Donetsk present a tall task for Roma. The Ukrainians are certainly a more favorable opponent than Real Madrid or Bayern Munich, however, this tie holds no guarantees.

The Giallorossi will have another opportunity to right their wrongs in the Champions League after a strong start to their campaign, however, their past still holds a tale of caution.

Roma look to overcome European demons in Qarabag clash

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When the Champions League draw was held in late August, it appeared that, once again, luck seemed to have evaded Roma.

First Chelsea, then Atletico, and, alas, Roma, who were then followed by Qarabag to complete Group C. Yes — judging by appearances, it essentially looked like Roma would have to keep their Thursday evenings clear as they drew what many considered to be this year’s “Group of Death”, as relegation to the Europa League seemed like a certainty.

It was another cruel draw in a long line of European disappointment for the Italian club, and yet the competition hadn’t even started. On the pitch, though, Roma haven’t fared much better in Europe. From multiple 7-1 losses to drawing at home against BATE Borisov, Roma’s European displays over the last decade have certainly left plenty to be desired. Esteemed managers such as Claudio Ranieri, Luis Enrique, Rudi Garcia, and Luciano Spalletti were all given the chance yet failed to breakthrough the impenetrable force that seems to hold Roma back every single season in European play.

Enter Eusebio Di Francesco.

The former Scudetto-winning midfielder turned manager arrived at Roma with a bundle of skepticism. He was appointed to a club who had just set a points record the previous season, had their most storied player in club history retire, and were also going to be forced to sell important players due having to comply with Financial Fair Play. It’s safe to say that expectations, while always high in Rome, were certainly tempered.

Fast forward to today.

The Giallorossi now find themselves roughly 24 hours away from having the opportunity to punch their ticket to the knockout stages of the Champions League. Nobody expected this. Nobody. The club’s own directors, frankly, even sounded skeptical after the draw, as Roma sporting director, Monchi, said to the club’s official website, “I think we should be ambitious and believe we can go as far as possible.”

Roma’s position in the table is certainly a surprise and was unexpected, however, don’t let that fool you. Their position in the table isn’t due to luck or happenstance. Di Francesco and his men have earned their place. They deserve it.

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The Giallorossi nicked a good point off a strong Atletico Madrid at home, beat a tricky Qarabag side (who even stymied Diego Simeone’s men twice), and thoroughly pummeled the reigning English champions on two occasions.

No, this isn’t the same Roma who were embarrassed 7-1 by both Manchester United and Bayern Munich. It’s nothing like the Rudi Garcia led Roma, who were nothing less than a proverbial punching bag in European play. It’s a new Roma — Eusebio Di Francesco’s Roma.

A victory tomorrow evening sees the Giallorossi go through: If Roma want to make the footballing world believe that they have, at least for this season, defeated their European demons…this is their opportunity.

Will Leicester reach the semi-final of the Champions League?

Leicester City’s Premier League triumph in the 2015-16 season must rank as one of football’s greatest shocks. What Claudio Ranieri, who is no longer in charge at Leicester, and his players achieved may even rank as the greatest triumph in all sports.

A thorough search would likely yield nothing if it were designed to find a single person back in August 2015 who firmly believed the Foxes would end up winning the EPL title at the end of the campaign. Fast forward to April 17th, 2017 and Leicester’s players are preparing to face Spain’s Atletico Madrid in the return leg of the Champions League quarter-finals.

To completely write-off Leicester’s chances of reaching the semi-final might be a decision fans of the beautiful game would take at their own peril. In fact, Atletico arrive in Leicester carrying a slender 1-0 lead courtesy of a penalty-kick from the club’s top scorer Antoine Griezmann. Leicester held on for what can be referred to as a decent result and might have even escaped with a draw were not for that penalty-kick. A 2-0 win for the Foxes carries them to the semi-final while a 1-0 lead after full-time will force extra-time and potentially a penalty shoot-out.

It is remarkable how Leicester have managed to not only make the Round of 16 but also eliminate Spanish side Sevilla. Therefore, to rule out Leicester would be a mistake because the Foxes have proven the critics wrong time and again. Leicester do have the ability to create and score with Riyad Mahrez still on the squad. Mahrez was one of the main architects behind the EPL triumph and though his numbers have fallen considerably during the 2016-17, he is still capable of conjuring a moment of magic. Leicester also have Jamie Vardy in attack, though like Mahrez his stats show a steep decline in scoring this season.

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Realistically, Atletico pose a much bigger obstacle than compatriots Sevilla because the Madrid side possesses one of the best defensive lines not just in Spain but the world. Atletico’s two goalkeepers, the defenders and the team as a whole have combined to present the club with the best defensive record in La liga.

The likes of Diego Godin and Filipe Luis have the necessary experience and know-how to deal with the best strikers in the world. Diego Simeone’s men participated in two of the last three Champions League finals and therefore are accustomed to dealing with the best in the world.

This will be Leicester’s first attempt at reaching the semi-final but perhaps that will be enough to not only motivate the players but also make the Foxes play with nothing to lose. Will the Spanish side become Leicester’s latest victim, or will Simeone’s men put an end to another improbably run by the English team?

Are Leicester Out Of The Relegation Mire?

We’ve all seen it happen before; team in danger of relegation, manager fired, team goes on a run that sees them stay up. In fact, we even have managers that specialize in this great escape. But rarely have we seen a club go through so many changes in fortune as Leicester have done in the last two years.

This is a club that was staring down the barrel of relegation in April 2015 before going on a run that saw them take 19 points out 24 available in the last eight matches of the season. Their top flight status secured, all looked peachy at the King Power Stadium until that video in Thailand saw then manager Nigel Pearson’s son dismissed along with two other players. Pearson’s relationship with the owners never recovered, and he was soon replaced by Claudio Ranieri, and we all know what happened next.

For ten glorious months, Vardy et al. reminded us what the modern game was missing. It was a spectacular season that we might never see the like of again. Leicester had found their manager, and he had found his team. It’s an overused phrase, but this really was a match made in heaven.

Then it all went wrong.

This season Leicester have only shown glimpses of the form that won them the league, and it begs the question; What is going on? Did the footballing Gods decree that enough was enough and put Leicester firmly back in their place? Or was it that the players simply stopped listening to their manager?

Whatever the reason, the entire squad, with the exception of Kasper Schmeichel, seemed to forget how to play football. Unfortunately, the buck stops with the manager, and no matter how callous it may have seemed, the owners had no choice. It was either demote half the squad to the reserves or fire Ranieri, and while it wouldn’t have been easy, it now looks like they made the right choice.

Nine points and nine goals in the three Premier League games since Shakespeare took over the reins from Ranieri tells its own story. This is a team that couldn’t hit a barn door for much of the season but are now scoring for fun. They even scored a couple against Sevilla to set up a Champions League quarter-final with Atletico Madrid while they were at it.

Say what you will about the reasons for Ranieri’s sacking, the fact is that Leicester are a different team now that the Italian has left the club. While no one in their right footballing mind believes that Shakespeare has introduced a new and innovative training regimen that has lifted the club out of the mire, Leicester are looking pretty good to stay up. BetStars currently has them at 25/1 for the drop which is a big change from the 5/2 they were not so long ago. In fact, these are the same odds you would have got at the start of the season.

Are they out of the mire? Not yet. They’re still ten points short of the magical 40 which should ensure their survival and who knows, perhaps they’ll forget how to score again, but it seems unlikely.

To the objective observer, there has never been a more clear-cut case of player power at its worst. Whatever went on with Ranieri, the players weren’t playing for him and in doing so put the club at risk of relegation. And now that they have their new manager, they’re back to winning ways, let’s just hope for the fans that it stays that way.

 

Claudio Ranieri sacked from champions Leicester City

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Claudio Ranieri has been sacked as Leicester City manager less than a year after guiding the team to the Premier league title. The decision to axe the Italian has stunned the football world given the teams heroics last season.

Ranieri found out he was losing his job on the flight back from their Champions League match against Sevilla. There the club were outplayed but actually came away with a decent 2-1 defeat and the match was nicely poised for the 2nd leg at King Power Stadium.

But Leicester’s Thai owners who gave Ranieri their backing just two weeks ago have shown how brutal the game can be by sacking a manager that they admitted was Leicester’s greatest manager of all time. So why did they feel the need to sack him?

The most obvious point is that the team are currently in 17th place and if they lose to Liverpool in their next league game it’s possible that they will be in the relegation zone. It’s true that the club have been poor this season and they haven’t scored a Premier league goal in 2017.

But the fight they showed against Sevilla could well have been a turning point for the Foxes ambitions of staying in the top flight. No team since Manchester City’s 1938 league winning side has been relegated as champions. Fear and panic seems to have brought this on, but the decision remains bizarre given how just 9 months ago the club swept to the title.

One is reminded of the case of Blackburn Rovers who in 2010 were taken over by the Indian company VH Group. Within two years and after some controversial choices of management they were relegated and the club have yet to regain Premier league status. Again choices that were made in haste.

Leicester City despite making waves in the league and having a fairly positive debut Champions League campaign are not Real Madrid. They can’t sack a manager of quality and experience and hope to bring on in of equal value, especially so far into the season, and that is what they will need if they hope to stay up.

Keeping Ranieri for this season did have a risk factor and the current situation did have to be reviewed, but removing the man from his position so late in the season is an odd decision.

Roberto Mancini the former Manchester City manager has been tipped to replace Ranieri, how soon he or someone else can come in is anybody’s guess at this point.