Inter Milan and Roma end in 1-1 draw; Napoli four points clear atop Serie A

Inter later drew level on points with Lazio as they earned a 1-1 draw against Roma in Serie A.

Stephan El Shaarawy put Roma in front in the 31st minute at the San Siro, but Matias Vecino rescued a point four minutes from time.

Franck Kessie scored two goals in six minutes as AC Milan came from behind to beat Cagliari 2-1.

Nicola Barella put the hosts ahead in just the eighth-minute but Kessie’s two-goal salvo levelled before the break, the first coming from the spot.

Both sides finished with 10 men as Ricardo Rodriguez and Barella both saw red in the final 10 minutes.

Napoli moved four points clear at the Serie A summit on Sunday with a 1-0 victory over Atalanta in Bergamo.

Dries Mertens settled the early kick-off after 65 minutes, accepting Jose Callejon’s through ball to fire home an angled drive for his 14th goal of the season and earn the Partenopei a measure of revenge for their Coppa Italia defeat to the Nerazzurri earlier this month.

The goal marked the end of a 910-minute drought for Belgium forward Mertens.

Second-placed Juventus host Genoa on Monday night.

Lazio climbed above Inter Milan, who host Roma on Sunday evening, and into third with a thumping 5-1 triumph over Chievo.

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic netted twice, after Luis Alberto’s opener had been cancelled out by Manuel Pucciarelli, with Bastos’ deflected strike and Nani’s neat finish completing the rout. Chievo were awarded a penalty in first-half stoppage time, but the decision was overturned following consultation with the Video Assistant Referee.

The only downside for the capital club was the loss of Italy striker Ciro Immobile, who limped off injured in the first half.

Fabio Quagliarella hit a hat trick in Sampdoria‘s 3-1 victory over fellow European hopefuls Fiorentina at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris. Carlos Sanchez pulled a goal back for La Viola with a header 10 minutes from time, but it was scant consolation. The win consolidated sixth spot for Samp, moving them five points better off than their guests. 

Mattia Destro, Sebastien De Maio and Blerim Dzemaili scored as Bologna cruised to a 3-0 success against rock-bottom Benevento.

Crotone ran out 3-0 winners at 10-man Hellas Verona in a battle between two teams in the bottom three at the start of play.

Andrea Barberis’ third-minute opener gave the visitors the perfect start and Adrian Stoian doubled their advantage nine minutes into the second half. Bruno Zuculini saw red just after the hour mark, and Federico Ricci sealed matters with a third goal six minutes later. The result moved Crotone out of the relegation zone and kept Hellas Verona struggling in 19th. 

The games between Sassuolo and Torino, and Udinese and SPAL, ended 1-1.

Joel Obi put Walter Mazzarri’s Torino ahead in the 26th minute, but Domenico Berardi secured a deserved share of the spoils for Sassuolo nine minutes after the interval.

And Sergio Floccari salvaged a point for SPAL, notching four minutes into the second period to cancel out Samir’s 11th-minute opener, which had come courtesy of a goalkeeping error from Alfred Gomis, but it was not enough to prevent them dropping to 18th.

Messi and Suarez both score twice as Barca thrash Real Betis

Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez produced a finishing masterclass as Barcelona launched a second-half blitz at Real Betis to extend their lead at the top of the La Liga table to 11 points.

Ivan Rakitic started the ball rolling as the hour-mark approached while Messi and Suarez joined him on the scoresheet within the next 10 minutes.

The Argentina international saved his best for the last 10 minutes, adding a superb individual effort and then setting up Suarez for his second in similar fashion to help Barca claim a sixth successive league win courtesy of a 5-0 romp.

Betis gave as good as they got for long periods, but their hopes of adding to a return of three LaLiga victories in four were dashed in devastating style on a night when Ernesto Valverde’s men belatedly found their cutting edge at the Benito Villamarin Stadium.

A tight first half started in promising fashion for the home side as Andres Guardado whistled a left-footed effort just wide of the far post with Barca keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen at full-stretch.

In a frenetic opening, an off-balance Suarez blazed over with the visitors stepping up the tempo, and keeper Antonio Adan had to make his first save from Rakitic’s 27th-minute drive.

With clear-cut chances at a premium, Messi fired into the side-netting from a Suarez pass four minutes later with neither side able to find the required quality in the final third to make the breakthrough.

Messi’s fortunes took a turn for the worse two minutes before the break when, as he fell after being hauled to the ground by Fabian Ruiz Pena, the midfielder accidentally caught him in the back of the head with his knee.

Sergio Busquets tried his luck from long range in stoppage time, but once again Adan saved comfortably to ensure the sides remained locked together at half-time.

Betis resumed brightly to put the Catalans under early pressure and Ter Stegen needed two attempts to claim Fabian’s 58th-minute shot at his near post, but they fell behind seconds later after Barca mounted a pacy counter-attack.

Suarez’s superbly-timed pass on halfway sent Rakitic clear of the Betis rearguard and he drew Adan before slotting the ball underneath him to open the scoring.

It was 2-0 within five minutes when Busquets robbed Fabian and slid the ball into Messi’s path for the striker to beat Adan emphatically.

Defender Zouhair Feddal and Suarez were both booked after going head to head following a difference of opinion, but the Uruguay international’s mood improved significantly when he volleyed Rakitic’s 69th-minute cross into the bottom corner.

The implosion continued with 10 minutes remaining when Feddal surrendered possession to allow Messi to dance his way through the home defence before beating Adan for a second time, and repeated the feat on the stroke of the final whistle to allow Suarez to blast home his second of the game.

Do Liverpool have a weakness Swansea can exploit?


Swansea players were dejected as they lost 5-0 at Liverpool in December

Swansea City boss Carlos Carvalhal says Liverpool might have the best attacking talent in the Premier League, but hopes to exploit their defensive weaknesses when they visit the Liberty Stadium on Monday.

Jurgen Klopp’s side are unbeaten since October and stunned previously unbeaten league leaders Manchester City last time out with a 4-3 win at Anfield.

Swansea themselves were defeated 5-0 by Liverpool in the reverse fixture in December, in Paul Clement’s last match in charge before Carvalhal was announced as his successor.

«The best teams in the world have very few weak points, but they do have them,» Carvalhal explained.

Improvements since December

The Anfield hammering might have put Carvalhal — who watched from the directors’ box — off the opportunity to take over, but he believes his side are vastly improved from that day.

«That game was a little strange because the team conceded two or three goals with the same mistakes they’ve been doing before,» the Portuguese said.

«Even when I arrived they were still making those mistakes, but now they’ve changed and are much better.

«We can’t repeat those mistakes. If you remember the first goal it was in a transfer situation where they built between attack and midfield.

Carlos Carvalhal’s management career began at Espinho in his Portuguese homeland in 1998

«The second was the ball in midfield again. In general the team was organised, but those two goals killed the game.

«After that it was very difficult to fight in that game. It was a lesson and I’ve seen all the games. There are things we must learn to not be in trouble again on Monday. I can assure you we’ll give a good answer on Monday.»

The former Sheffield Wednesday manager says the defeat at Liverpool never led to any consideration of changing his mind about whether to take the job, with Swansea bottom of the Premier League table.

«I felt the confidence and dynamic take a change with more organisation and sometimes the players give an extra 20 or 30%,» he said.

«The dynamic has changed and we’ve improved, [Jordan] Ayew is doing that at the moment. The players now have more confidence, more organisation. We try to do this with all the players and will it be easy to stay in the Premier? Let’s see.»

Finding Liverpool’s weaknesses

Despite Liverpool being the in-form side in the Premier League, Carvalhal says that even their impressive win over Manchester City showed potential weaknesses for the Swans to exploit.

However, the ex-Besiktas boss is unsure whether their current attacking talent is the best in the Premier League.

«They have very good players in attack — but if you ask who is the best it is like when people ask me who is the best, Messi or Ronaldo?

«In the Premier League, you can say Tottenham have very good attackers.

«They have a big threat in their offensive dynamic. It is the same with Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City.

«These clubs have the best players in the world.

«Against Man City, they score four but they let in three. They have strong points, but a team that lets in three has weak points also.

«It is not a team that wins 2-0, 3-0, 4-0, so I look at the game like that. If a team scores four, let’s see how they do it and what type of dynamic they have.

«How can we block them when they have the ball?

«That is our job, we must defend when they have the ball and attack when we have it. So let’s try and exploit that and hide the strong points that they do have.

«I must be realistic of the point where we are in this moment and the things we are doing to progress the team.

«Between where we arrive and where we want to go there is something very important in this process — and that is the results. We need points.»

Messi and Suarez score twice as Barcelona thump Betis


Lionel Messi (left) has scored 19 goals in La Liga this season

Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez both scored twice as Barcelona thumped Real Betis to move 11 points clear at the top of La Liga.

The visitors scored all five goals in a dominant second-half performance to extend their unbeaten league record.

Ivan Rakitic slotted in the opener before Messi hammered in a second soon after from the edge of the box.

Suarez’s volley made it 3-0 before Messi’s clinical strike and a curled effort from the Uruguay forward.

The former Liverpool striker’s brace moves Suarez onto 100 La Liga goals in just 114 matches.

Messi, meanwhile, is the top scorer in the Spanish top flight with 19 goals from 20 games.

Bayern Munich rule out early signing of Schalke’s Leon Goretzka


Schalke boss Christian Heidel confirms Leon Goretzka will join Bayern Munich at the end of the current Bundesliga season.

MUNICH — Bayern Munich boss Jupp Heynckes has said the club have ruled out signing Leon Goretzka this month after Schalke hinted that they would be willing to allow the Germany international to leave immediately.

Schalke, who drew 1-1 with Hannover on Sunday, announced before the weekend that Goretzka will join Bayern in the summer on a four-year contract.

Shocked at his star midfielder’s decision, Schalke chairman Clemens Tonnies told Sky: «My first reaction was that he never wears the club’s shirt again.

He added: «When Karl-Heinz Rummenigge [Bayern CEO] calls, Christian Heidel [Schalke’s sporting executive] will answer,» but also indicated that if the situation «had a negative effect on the team, then it could be that Leon sits in the stands until the end of the season.»

Goretzka was included in Schalke’s starting XI in the draw, but was jeered off when replaced by U.S. youth international Weston McKennie on 64 minutes.

Schalke fans also vented their anger with a series of banners inside the stadium, accusing Goretzka of «letting down 1000 friends in favour of emotionless titles and shallow twits.»

Another one read: «Neither money nor titles are more valuable than our club. Whoever doesn’t appreciate that can p— off immediately.»

But Bayern have dismissed signing Goretzka prematurely and insist, despite the unrest, that he will give his best for the Royal Blues until the end of his contract.

«I believe the situation will calm down. Leon has good character and has always showed the correct attitude on the pitch — always giving his all for his side,» Heynckes said at a postmatch news conference following Bayern’s 4-2 win over Werder Bremen.

«I expect him to do that until the summer when he joins Bayern on a four-year contract — and that’s the way we will proceed and not in any other way.»

Bayern’s sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic echoed this sentiment: «I am sure he will give everything for Schalke until the summer. We have made our plans with this squad and it will stay that way.»

Heynckes also criticised Tonnies for his reaction to Goretzka’s decision.

He said: «Leon is a very young player, who has built a good career at Schalke over the last four and half years, becoming a German international and, as a result, became an interesting target for major international clubs, including Bayern.

«Of course, you are going to be disappointed when an important and valuable player moves clubs. But I repeat, he’s a young player and you cannot react so emotionally.»

Meanwhile, Heynckes hailed the «amazing» James Rodriguez as the reigning champions moved 16 points clear in the Bundesliga with the come-from-behind win against lowly Bremen.

Two goals apiece from Thomas Muller and Robert Lewandowski turned the game around after Jerome Gondorf had fired the visitors into a shock lead on 25 minutes.

Leon Goretzka leaves the field during Schalke's 1-1 draw with Hannover.
Schalke’s Leon Goretzka was jeered after being substituted against Hannover ahead of a summer move to Bayern.

Muller equalised four minutes before the break, chesting down a long through ball from Jerome Boateng before unleashing an unstoppable shot past Jiri Pavlenka in the Bremen goal.

On his return to the starting lineup after injury, Lewandowski enjoyed a quiet opening half, but exploded into life with two second half headers to take his tally to 17 Bundesliga goals in 17 starts this season.

The Poland captain fired Bayern ahead just after the hour mark following an exquisite James delivery from a corner before Niklas Sule’s own goal restored parity at 2-2 with a quarter-hour remaining.

Lewandowski nodded Bayern ahead immediately from the restart from an inch-perfect Muller cross, before the Germany international reached a century of Bundesliga goals from another cute pass from James to put the result beyond any doubt.

Heynckes paid tribute to the Colombia international’s contribution since arriving on a two-year loan deal from Real Madrid last summer.

«Overall James has developed very well at Bayern,» he said.

«He has not only become a regular in the team but also provides impetus to our play. Not only that, he is ready to fight and run for the team.

«He has fantasy and is an amazing player.

«Today he was very good but he can play even better, like the rest of the side for that matter. But that sets Bayern apart that we have the players to decide these sorts of games.»

The result was probably a mere formality once Muller found the net as Bayern have never lost in 78 games when their captain has scored in a run of 74 wins and four draws.

Heynckes said: «Thomas Muller proved his goal scoring instinct once again, while you could clearly see in the first half that Robert Lewandowski hadn’t played for six weeks, but he has so much class that he makes the most of such service and score goals.»

Mark Lovell covers Bayern Munich for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @LovellLowdown.

Bencharki misses penalty as Sudan hold Morocco

Achraf Bencharki missed a second-half penalty as Morocco were held 0-0 by Sudan in their final group game at the African Nations Championship in Casablanca on Sunday.

The point is enough for Morocco to top the group — setting up a meeting with either Zambia or Namibia at the Stade Muhammed V on Saturday — while Sudan will face Group B’s winner on the same day in Marrakech.

In the group’s other fixture, already eliminated Guinea beat Mauritania 1-0 to end their disappointing campaign with a first win of the tournament.

In Casablanca, Jamal Sellami opted for a much changed XI for Morocco’s final group game, with centre-back Nayef Aguerd the only survivor from their first two fixtures.

The introduction — from the off — of Wydad Casablanca duo Bencharki and Walid El Karti ensured, however, that the Atlas Lions lost none of their attacking venom during the early stages.

Ahmed Hammoudan set the tone with a dangerous cross during the early moments, while Bencharki — the darling of the Casablanca crowd — broke through in the first moment only to chip his effort over the bar.

Sudan soon got the measure of this unfamiliar Morocco selection and stymied their attacking threat, although Aguerd did sent a header over the bar from seven yards after being picked out, unmarked, by a ocorner in the 37th minute.

Morocco began the second half as they had the first, and catching Sudan cold they earned a penalty moments after the restart when Bakri Bachir Bakri brought down El Karti.

Referee Jean-Jacques Ngambo pointed to the spot, but Sudan goalkeeper Akram was equal to Bencharki’s effort to preserve the stalemate.

As the game became increasingly tetchy, Sellami introduced Zakaria Hadraf and tournament top scorer Ayoub El Kaabi in a bid to preserve his side’s 100 percent record.

While the latter went close with a side-footed effort from inside the box three minutes from time, the Falcons of Jediane stood firm to survive a testing examination of their own title credentials.

In the other Group A clash, Ibrahima Sory Sankhon struck in the 15th minute as Guinea beat Mauritania 1-0 to end their disappointing campaign with a win.

Guinea held their own for long spells against an experienced Sudan team and Morocco, but ultimately ended both contests pointless to drop out of contention before this final dead rubber.

Kurzawa equalises for PSG right before halftime

Kurzawa equalises for PSG right before halftime — ESPN FC

‘Effective, rather than thrilling’ — what can Watford expect from Gracia?


Javi Gracia guided his Malaga side to a win in the Nou Camp in 2015

Watford sacked head coach Marco Silva on Sunday and quickly replaced him with Javi Gracia — a man largely unknown to English football fans.

Spaniard Gracia has been out of work since June, when he left Russian club Rubin Kazan — his most recent job after a 10-year coaching career in his homeland and in Greece.

He has signed an 18-month contract to become the 10th manager to work under the Pozzo family at Vicarage Road since 2012.

But who is the 47-year-old? What can Watford fans expect from a side under his management? And have the club made the right decision to let Silva go?

‘Effective and balanced team, rather than thrilling’

Spanish football expert Andy West

Nobody in Spain will be surprised to see Javi Gracia back in management, because he has regularly been linked with a number of high-profile jobs — including Athletic Bilbao, Sevilla and former club Malaga — since leaving his brief tenure with Rubin Kazan last summer.

Most recently, he was reportedly lined up to take over at Espanyol if Quique Sanchez Flores decided to leave the Barcelona-based club and accept the offer he had from Stoke City.

The demand for his services stems largely from two highly successful seasons in charge at Malaga, where he enjoyed consecutive top-half finishes between 2014 and 2016.

His team’s achievements during that period, including a 1-0 victory at Barcelona in the middle of the Catalan club’s 2014-15 treble-winning campaign, were largely based on excellent defensive organisation, with Malaga conceding just 35 goals — only one more than Real Madrid — as they finished eighth in his final season at the Rosaleda.

Juanmi — who would go on to play for Southampton — scored the winner as Gracia’s Malaga won in the Nou Camp in 2015

His teams do not play flowing, attacking football but operate with good positional discipline and are very hard to break down, so Watford fans can prepare for an effective and balanced team rather than a thrilling one.

A mark of his influence is how badly Malaga have struggled this season — they finished in the bottom half last season and are bottom now, having gone through four different managers since Gracia departed just 18 months ago.

His most recent job ended in frustration after just one season, with Kazan finishing in mid-table and Gracia blaming difficulties in communication for his failure to get more out of his players.

But he speaks good English so that should not be a problem at Vicarage Road, and many fans in Spain will be intrigued to see how copes in a new league after coming close to taking over at many clubs in La Liga in the last few months.

‘Team spirit had ebbed away’

BBC chief football reporter Ian Dennis

In announcing Silva’s departure, Watford described Everton’s approach for the Portuguese in November as the «catalyst».

Things had not been right at the club since they turned down the Toffees’ £8.5m offer. It did not go unnoticed among the Watford hierarchy that Silva did not kill the speculation.

You compare his stance to, say, Burnley boss Sean Dyche when he has been linked with jobs. He will come out with a line that he is fully focused and concentrating on the job. Silva never did that, and the owners believed he had lost focus. They have seen the spirit ebb away from inside the club.

I have been saying for a while that Watford are a club on the slide. Perception is everything. Last season, people would say Walter Mazzarri was struggling but Marco Silva made a strong start and everything was fine. The hard facts are Watford are four points worse off now than at this stage last season.

Watford have got a lot of flak for the hiring and firing, and chopping and changing of managers, but there is no instability in the boardroom. There is a clear focus.

‘Gracia fits the profile’

Independent chief football writer Miguel Delaney

It’s a remarkable turnaround. Marco Silva is a manager who it was reported Manchester United were looking at in the long term. They were impressed with what he’s done. Chelsea had an eye on him.

He’s gone from that, and everyone talking about how good his coaching is, to a relegation with Hull and a sacking, which is incredible.

It’s hard not to get the feeling that he tried to make too many jumps too quickly, having just come to England.

I was talking to an executive at a Premier League club recently, and why they still like young players from Spain and Germany, rather than England, is because of how good the coaching is, and Gracia is the latest in that.

Malaga have had their own issues in the past few years, and he’s helped stabilised the club. It fits the profile for Watford.

Funny reason for Silva sacking — Lescott

Former Arsenal striker Ian Wright on 606

Marco Silva’s character will be called in to doubt. If a player reacted like that, we’d be criticising him and rightly so. If you want to go and you get that kind of offer, sometimes it is too much to deal with.

Philippe Coutinho was able to do that at Liverpool, Alexis Sanchez couldn’t at Arsenal, Marco Silva couldn’t as a manager. His team stopped performing. Bigger clubs will see that as a fault in him

Watford think things out. They had a plan to see how he would react to the interest from Everton and they think he hasn’t reacted in a positive way. They would have been feeling other people out.

The way Watford have been getting rid of managers anyway, I’m sure they are always looking.

Your reaction on #bbcfootball

Alphonse: Watford did the right thing over Silva. Team had lost its way. Silva responded in an apathetic manner and the team has been feeling that apathy ever since.

Prince Gyimah: Gracia is la decima manager for Watford in six years. They’ve trampled on Chelsea’s record of sacking and appointing.

Watch Silva’s final MOTD interview

Mark: Sooner or later, all of these sackings will backfire on them.

Nick: Marco Silva sacked, while Watford sit in 10th place. A dreadful decision by the Watford board. Let’s just admit it, no-one in Watford will manage longer than one single season.

Johnny: Sacking Silva is probably the best move for both him and the club. Something wasn’t right after Everton’s approach but he’s a good manager so shouldn’t find it hard to get another job. Watford can rebuild now but it’s risky this late in season when facing relegation.

Joe: Watford have made a colossal mistake firing Marco Silva. Clubs go through down times but he had them playing some tasty football earlier this season. Massive mistake in my opinion.

Kim: Watford are an average at best club, with no trophies ever. They are doing well at 10th place in the Premier League and so they decide to sack their seventh manager in the five years since the Pozzo family took over. Will they fall eight places and get relegated?

Chris: It really makes you wonder what owners expect these days. They were 10th. With the greatest of respect were Watford expecting Champions League football next season?

Hearts 1-0 Hibs: Neil Lennon accuses Craig Levein of being disrespectful after cup tie


Relations between Craig Levein and Neil Lennon seemed cordial before kick-off

Hibernian boss Neil Lennon has called Craig Levein «disrespectful» after his Hearts counterpart claimed natural order had been restored.

The pair were reacting after Hearts’ 1-0 win in the Scottish Cup ended Hibs’ run of nine derbies undefeated.

«What does that mean? Restoring natural order?» head coach Lennon told the Press Association.

«I don’t understand what that is — Hearts beating Hibs every time? There’s a lack of humility in that statement.»

Hearts have 138 victories in Edinburgh derbies to Hibs’ 83, with 94 draws.

But the Easter Road side had knocked Hearts out of the cup at the same stage in the previous two seasons and are one place and five points above their Edinburgh rivals in the Scottish Premiership.

«I think it’s a pretty poor statement to make and disrespectful to the club, players and me,» said Lennon. «I don’t think I’ve ever made a statement like that.

«We have two games to come, so we will see if natural order is restored then.

«It’s not good. I don’t know what he means by that, but they haven’t won in nine, it’s my first defeat in five and we should have won the game here.»

Highlights: Heart of Midlothian 1-0 Hibernian

Lennon was referring to last month’s league game, when Hibs striker Oli Shaw’s shot struck the bar and rebounded over the line only to be disallowed in a 0-0 draw.

The same goalmouth was the scene for Hearts’ winner this time as Hibs midfielder John McGinn was unable to prevent Don Cowie deflecting in a Christophe Berra header.

Levein had admitted to PA his relief because Hibs were «gaining some momentum» in the fixture «and I wanted to restore the natural order of things».

Lennon had spoken to BBC Scotland before hearing Levein’s remarks and praised his side despite the defeat.

«You’ve got to be philosophical about it,» he said. «I don’t think there was much in the game, as I expected.

«Both teams missed good chances early on and then Hearts maybe had the upper hand, but we had another good chance just before they got the corner for the goal.

«We were unlucky and it’s a very difficult pitch to play football on and it suits Hearts more than us, but we’ve adapted fairly well.

«I would like to congratulate my players because it is a hell of a derby run they have been on and to lose it so closely speaks volumes for their determination.

«We can’t win every game, but we’ll come again although it is a major disappointment to go out the cup.»