Lionel Messi scores twice in vain for BarcelonaAIK win Swedish title thanks to victory over KalmarBarcelona suffered their first home defeat in La Liga for more than two years, the champions losing 4-3 to Real Betis despite Lionel Messi scoring twice on h

European roundup: Barcelona suffer first home defeat in more than two years

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  • 2018-12-25 09:45:19 1 years ago
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Barcelona suffered their first home defeat in La Liga for more than two years, the champions losing 4-3 to Real Betis despite Lionel Messi scoring twice on his return to action.

First-half goals from Junior and Joaquín gave the visitors a 2-0 lead before Messi pulled one back from the penalty spot midway through the second half.

However, Barcelona goalkeeper then let a shot from Giovani Lo Celso slip through his hands and although substitute Arturo Vidal reduced the deficit on 79 minutes, Ivan Rakitic was sent off moments later and Sergio Canales made it 4-2 soon after.

Messi finished off a flowing move in stoppage time to make it 4-3, but Betis held on to inflict Barcelona’s first defeat at the Nou Camp in La Liga since they lost 2-1 to Alavés in September 2016.

AC Milan striker Gonzalo Higuaín endured a terrible night against parent club Juventus as the Old Lady ran out 2-0 winners at San Siro.

Argentina international Higuain, who joined Gennaro Gattuso’s Milan on loan from Juve to pave the way for Cristiano Ronaldo’s arrival from Real Madrid, saw a first-half spot-kick saved by Wojciech Szczesny which would have levelled the score before he was dismissed late on.

Higuain tangled with defender Medhi Benatia and reacted furiously to receiving a yellow card, which prompted referee Paolo Mazzoleni to dismiss the striker for dissent following an angry outburst.

Mario Mandzukic headed Juve into an eighth-minute lead and Ronaldo wrapped up victory with nine minutes left when he was on hand to tap in Joao Cancelo’s parried effort.

Inter Milan were thoroughly outclassed in a 4-1 loss at Atalanta on Sunday for their first Serie A defeat in nearly two months. Hans Hateboer gave Atalanta an early advantage with a tap-in and the hosts wasted numerous other chances including an attempt off the post to add to the lead before the break.

Mauro Icardi equalized with a penalty two minutes into the second half following an Atalanta handball but Gianluca Mancini restored Atalanta’s lead after the hour mark with a header from a Josip Ilicic free kick.

Berat Djimsiti scored with a header on another set piece from Ilicic and Inter was then reduced to 10 men when Marcelo Brozovic picked up his second yellow card.Papu Gomez completed the scoring with a long, curling shot that left Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic motionless.

Stephan El Shaarawy scored twice in a win over Sampdoria.

Stephan El Shaarawy scored a brace, including a no-look chip shot into the far corner in Roma’s 4-1 win over Sampdoria. Juan Jesus had given Roma an early lead then Patrik Schick doubled the advantage against his former club. Grégoire Defrel pulled one back for Sampdoria before El Shaarawy converted a rebound to restore the three-goal advantage.

Bottom-placed Chievo drew 2-2 with Bologna to earn their first point since former Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura was hired a month ago. Empoli, playing their first match under new manager Giuseppe Iachini, beat struggling Udinese 2-1.

Thierry Henry endured another miserable evening as Monaco manager after Edinson Cavani’s hat-trick ushered Paris St Germain to a 4-0 victory at the Stade Louis II.

On a night when the linesmen came under scrutiny, Cavani scored twice inside 12 minutes - with both goals overturned on the video assistant referee system having been initially flagged for offside.

Cavani used his predatory instinct to complete his treble before Neymar completed the rout from the penalty spot, putting the defending Ligue 1 champions 13 points clear at the top of the standings.

Edinson Cavani took home the match ball.

Leipzig’s Yussuf Poulsen scored once in either half to help his team beat toothless Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 on Sunday and move into third place in the Bundesliga ahead of champions Bayern Munich.

The Denmark striker chipped in after 26 minutes and added a second in the 85th, pouncing on a Bayer Leverkusen mistake. Teammate Lukas Klostermann scored Leipzig’s second goal in the 68th minute as they earned their second straight win and stretched their unbeaten run to 10 league games.

Leverkusen keeper Lukas Hradecky denied Timo Werner from point blank range late in the game but Leipzig counterpart Peter Gulacsi was equally effective in palming a Leon Bailey free kick wide, the visitors’ first shot on target, after 76 minutes.

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AIK secured the Swedish title on Sunday, thanks to a goal from defender Robin Jansson just seven months he left his job making horseshoes to join the Stockholmers from third-tier side Oddevold.

Jansson and his teammates knew that a win away to Kalmar would guarantee that they would lift the Lennart Johansson trophy, and the 26-year-old headed home a first-half goal that proved enough to give them a 1-0 victory and the title.

“It’s the sickest evening in my life, it’s completely wonderful,” a joyful Jansson told Swedish radio.

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European roundup: Barcelona suffer first home defeat in more than two years

Gonzalo Higuaín suffers Milan meltdown as Juve push him over the edge | Paolo Bandini

Had Gennaro Gattuso noticed something in training, the first tremors that foretell the eruption of an emotional volcano? Milan’s match against Juventus was always going to bear extra significance for Gonzalo Higuaín, cast aside by the Bianconeri following the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo this summer. Still, the words spoken by the manager at his pre-game press conference sound prescient with hindsight.

“The way he experiences matches, and the way that his character is, he needs to try to stay calm,” said Gattuso. “Lucidity is required.”

Perhaps Higuaín was feeling perfectly clear-headed as he ushered Franck Kessié aside in the 40th minute. It was the Argentinian who had earned his team a penalty, timing his run just right to beat Mehdi Benatia to Suso’s low centre and sending the ball against the defender’s arm with his first touch. Why should he, Milan’s leading scorer, not be the one to reap the reward?

Well, OK, yes, there are some reasons we could give. Higuaín’s record from the spot is mediocre. He had taken 17 previous penalties in Serie A, and missed five. Kessié’s failure rate was one in six.

And then there are the memories of miskicks when the stakes have been highest. Higuaín infamously blazed his penalty over the bar during the shootout that decided the 2015 Copa América for Chile. He had done the same weeks earlier for Napoli as they lost to Lazio in what was effectively a play-off for Champions League places on the final day of the season.

Is it unfair to invoke these incidents time and again? Higuaín has found the net in big matches as well. Through his two seasons at Juventus, he scored against his previous club, Napoli, five times.

But he did not score on Sunday. Higuaín’s penalty was at least on target, aimed precisely towards the bottom left corner, but without enough power to beat Wojciech Szczęsny. The goalkeeper got his fingers to the ball and pushed it on to the post.

The score was 1-0 to Juventus at that point, Mario Mandzukic having risen above Ricardo Rodríguez to thump home a back-post header in the eighth minute. It was 2-0 by the time Higuaín got himself sent off, in the 83rd.

Was it the sight of his replacement, Ronaldo, scoring moments earlier that sent him over the edge? Regardless, it was plain that Gattuso’s remarks about the player’s emotional state had become a prophecy. After being booked for a foul on Benatia, Higuaín screamed furiously in the face of the referee, Paolo Mazzoleni, and was promptly shown a second yellow.

Anger turned to incredulity, outrage and a hint of tears. Both cards were fully merited from a refereeing standpoint, yet it was striking to see his former teammates – as much as his current ones – move to console him. Together, after several failed attempts, they eventually steered him away from the official. Juve’s Blaise Matuidi kissed the side of his head as he finally began to walk towards the tunnel.

Minds turned back to Napoli’s defeat at Udinese in April 2016. Higuaín was on the way to completing the most prolific season in Serie A history, but lost his temper at the end of a 3-1 defeat that marked the beginning of the end for his team’s title bid. He put his hands on referee Massimiliano Irrati that day and earned himself a three-game ban.

Higuaín avoided a repeat of that mistake, at least, on Sunday. He did not hide from reporters at full time but instead made a public apology to Mazzoleni as well as to his teammates, manager and fans. He also said sorry to the official in person.

Gattuso was sympathetic, despite the failure to heed his warning. He has been there and done worse in his playing days. “Sometimes your emotions cheat you,” he said, as well as insisting there was no formal hierarchy when it came to penalties. “The takers are Hakan Calhanoglu, Kessie, Higuaín and Rodríguez. If Kessié and Higuaín had not discussed it [on the pitch] today, nobody would be saying ‘Kessié should have taken it’.”

Cristiano Ronaldo

This result does not undermine his team too severely. Gattuso is as aware as anyone of the gulf in talent that exists between Milan and Juventus. The Rossoneri can still feel positive about the direction they are moving in, having arrived here on the back of a seven-game unbeaten run in the league. They are just one point outside the top four.

Juventus extended the best-ever start any team has made in Serie A, moving to 34 points from 12 games. But this was a day for emotions more than calculations. Leonardo Bonucci was also facing his former club – or would have been if Massimiliano Allegri had not left him on the bench.

The context there is very different, of course. Juventus supporters, for the most part, feel warmly towards Higuaín. Bonucci, by contrast, was welcomed back at San Siro with a banner stating that “only Schettino is worse than you” – a reference to the ship captain who deserted his post after wrecking the Costa Concordia cruise liner in 2012: a disaster in which 32 people lost their lives.

Allegri insisted that Bonucci’s absence from the starting XI was only a matter of coincidence, this match arriving at a moment when he felt the player needed a rest. His choice might nevertheless have drawn more scrutiny if Higuaín had scored his penalty, or if the defender’s replacement, Benatia, had received a second yellow of his own for the handball that preceded it.

In the end, though, we are left with the same impression as ever. It is not lucidity but quality, and a little luck, that opponents will require to knock Juventus off their course.

Quick guide Serie A results Show Hide

Milan 0-2 Juventus, Sassuolo 1-1 Lazio, Chievo 2-2 Bologna, Empoli 2-1 Udinese, Roma 4-1 Sampdoria, Atalanta 4-1 Inter, Genoa 1-2 Napoli, Spal 2-2 Cagliari, Torino 1-2 Parma, Frosinone 1-1 Fiorentina

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Talking points

• A goal down away from home, midway through the second-half, on a pitch every bit as sodden as you might expect for a match that had to be stopped for almost a quarter of an hour due to a downpour. Yes, Dries Mertens, Napoli really can do it on a cold, rainy day in Genoa.

• It took Giampiero Ventura all of four games (this weekend’s draw with Bologna being the first that didn’t end in defeat) to resign as manager of Chievo. As Italian journalist Giovanni Capuano observed: “Only 363 days late.”

• From seven wins in a row, to a 4-1 defeat at Atalanta in which they produced a single shot on target. The Bergamaschi have hit their stride after a tough start to the season, and Gian Piero Gasperini always seems to know how to get one over on the club that discarded him, but still, no other club swings as violently from excellent to footballing excrement as Inter. They had conceded six goals in total in their first 11 games.

• “We’d been waiting for that” – Eusebio Di Francesco delivers the understatement of the week after Patrik Schick scores his first competitive goal for Roma since April.

Pos Team P GD Pts 1 Juventus 12 17 34 2 Napoli 12 13 28 3 Inter Milan 12 12 25 4 Lazio 12 4 22 5 AC Milan 12 5 21 6 Roma 12 7 19 7 Sassuolo 12 3 19 8 Atalanta 12 9 18 9 Fiorentina 12 8 17 10 Torino 12 2 17 11 Parma 12 -3 17 12 Sampdoria 12 1 15 13 Cagliari 12 -4 14 14 Genoa 12 -12 14 15 SPAL 12 -8 13 16 Bologna 12 -7 10 17 Udinese 12 -7 9 18 Empoli 12 -9 9 19 Frosinone 12 -15 7 20 Chievo 12 -20 0
Topics Serie A Milan Juventus European club football features Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via Email Share on LinkedIn Share on Pinterest Share on Google+ Share on WhatsApp Share on Messenger Reuse this content

When should a football club retire a player's shirt number?

Not long ago I was speaking to some Napoli fans about Lorenzo Insigne. He was born in Naples, signed for the club aged 15 and has been running up the wing at the Stadio San Paolo for nearly a decade. I put it to the supporters that, if Insigne helped the club go one better than the second-place finish they achieved in Serie A last season and Napoli finally won their third league title, it might be fitting to reward him with a new squad number. The club retired Diego Maradona’s No 10 shirt after he inspired them to two league titles in 1987 and 1990. If anyone deserved the honour of bringing it out of retirement, surely it would be local boy Insigne?

The Napoli fans responded with an unequivocal “no”. It was nothing against Insigne, they said, but rather the simple acknowledgment that no one ever will deserve the No 10 shirt because no one will ever be Maradona. Insigne will have to stick with the No 24 – his wife’s birth date.

The first shirt number to be retired from professional sport was that of the Toronto Maple Leafs star Ace Bailey. While playing in an NHL game against the Boston Bruins in 1933, Bailey was upended and landed headfirst on to the ice, fracturing his skull in the process. His injuries were so severe that doctors worried he might not survive. He pulled through, but never played professional ice hockey again. In response, the Maple Leafs retired Bailey’s No 6 shirt permanently.

The practice of retiring squad numbers quickly spread through US sports. The New York Yankees have now retired every single number from one to 10 and they somehow managed to retire their No 8 twice – for Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey.

The idea did not catch on in football until much later. For a long time footballers did not have fixed squad numbers and instead wore the shirts 1-11 according to who was picked on the day. It wasn’t until the early 1990s, when shirts began to bear the players’ names as well as numbers, that it became necessary to fix the numbers from one game to the next. Almost as soon as squad numbers were allocated, clubs started to retire them. The frequency with which numbers are retired, and the reasons for it, offer interesting insight into the mentality of different clubs and their fans.

It is fairly common for football clubs to retire the No 12 in honour of the fans, the mythical “12th man”. None of the current Premier League clubs have retired the No 12 shirt but sides such as Bristol Rovers, Exeter City, Gillingham, Oxford United, Oldham Athletic, Peterborough, Plymouth Argyle and Portsmouth have gone for the idea. It is more common on continental Europe, where Bayern Munich, Lazio and PSV Eindhoven have gone down that route. As a gesture, it seems a bit condescending to supporters, something that requires neither imagination nor expenditure from the board.

West Ham gave T-shirts to fans earlier this year to mark the 25th anniversary Bobby Moore’s death.

A lot of numbers have been retired to show respect to players who have died tragically in their prime. Some, such as Piermario Morosini of Livorno, even did so on the pitch. This gesture acknowledges their irreplaceability: that no one else could step into the place they have vacated so suddenly. Far more intriguing, however, are the numbers retired for players who are either still alive or who died long after their retirement, such as Bobby Moore’s No 6 at West Ham or Javier Zanetti’s No 4 at Internazionale. There is something slightly grandiose about this, as if fans are commending the player to the ages, like a Viking warrior pushed out to sea on a ship with his shield and battle armour.

This is nowhere more true than in the case of Paolo Maldini’s No 3 shirt at Milan. When Maldini hung up his boots in 2009, the No 3 he wore for almost the entirety of his career was not completely retired but was instead held until one of Maldini’s sons, Daniel or Christian, could emerge from Milan’s youth system and take it.

This romantic, almost fairytale, gesture acknowledges the club’s history – Paolo’s father Cesare had also been a Milan captain – while also nodding to the future. The implication is that only someone from that illustrious Maldini line could be capable of filling that role, heirs to the throne in an almost literal sense. However, with 22-year-old Christian currently playing for Pro Piacenza in the third tier and 17-year-old Daniel still in the Milan academy, it is hard to see that No 3 shirt as anything other than another albatross around the necks of two youngsters who already have an incredible legacy to live up to.

Roberto Baggio captaining Brescia in 2004.

The example of Roberto Baggio shows how relative the concept of irreplaceability can be. The beloved trequartista is probably most closely associated with the No 10 shirt of Italy’s national team, but that number was never retired for him. Nor was his shirt at Juventus – where he won the Ballon d’Or and his first Scudetto – or at Milan, where he won his second league title. Instead, his No 10 shirt was retired by Brescia, his final club.

This might seem odd. A cynic might think that Brescia, a club whose best ever finish in Serie A was seventh place, were merely trying to wring the last drops of glamour from its association with a player who was really out of their league. A more charitable view would be that Baggio played more league games and scored more goals for Brescia than anywhere bar Juventus and that, freed from the dressing room politics and injuries that blighted his career at bigger clubs, he was able to be truly influential at Brescia, leading the club to that all-time best league finish and an Intertoto Cup final.

Baggio was irreplaceable for Brescia in a way that he wasn’t for Inter, Juventus, Milan or Fiorentina. Retiring his squad number was a way of saying “it won’t get better than this” and it’s useless for a side with Brescia’s resources to pretend otherwise. Anyone who saw Baggio’s golazo against Juventus would be inclined to agree.

There is something unsatisfying and even anti-sporting about retiring squad numbers. A significant part of sport’s appeal it that it is endlessly renewing itself; as soon as you are crowned champions, you need to prepare your title defence because everything is reset to zero when the new season comes around. This is what keeps fans coming back over and over again, hoping that this year will be their year. It is unsurprising, then, that most top clubs have little interest in retiring numbers. To do so would be to suggest that one particular victory was freakish or unusual.

The most successful clubs want to convey the idea of endless renewal in the pursuit of excellence. Manchester United are unlikely to retire their iconic No 7 shirt and it’s the same with the No 10 at Juventus. Both clubs take pride in the long list of illustrious players who have worn them, suggesting that those shirts will continue to be worn by the superstars of the future. Similarly, when Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo hang up their boots, it would be surprising if Barcelona or Real Madrid retired their numbers. They will look to other players in the expectation that they too will enjoy outstanding careers.

Contrast this with how Napoli feel about Maradona. He is worshipped like a saint in Naples, where his image is blazoned on walls across the city. Fans regard Maradona as irreplaceable and his achievements as little short of miraculous. However, by linking their only period of success so strongly to one man, they betray the fear that there will never be another league title. If Napoli wish to win a third Scudetto, they may need to overcome these hang-ups and adopt the mentality of their hated rivals, Juventus, who view success as both a right and an obligation rather than a miracle.

In the meantime, Insigne could do worse than consider the words of one Napoli fan, who told me: “Instead of thinking about the No 10, Insigne should concentrate on making them retire the No 24.” If he and this Napoli side can win that title, the club might do just do it.

• This article first appeared on The Gentleman Ultra• Follow Ricci Potts and The Gentleman Ultra on Twitter

Topics Soccer Guardian Sport Network European club football Serie A Diego Maradona Napoli Juventus Manchester United features Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via Email Share on LinkedIn Share on Pinterest Share on Google+ Share on WhatsApp Share on Messenger Reuse this content
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