Serie A round-up: Napoli close the gap on Roma with 1-0 win

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Winning strike: Callejon earned his side a crucial victory over their rivals.

Napoli reduced the gap on Roma with a tense 1-0 win at the Stadio San Paolo last night, leaving Rafa Benitez’s Napoli just three points behind second-paced Roma in the battle for an automatic Champions League spot.

The match was meandering towards a goalless draw before Faouzi Ghoulam sent over a cross that was met by Jose Callejon who headed into the top right corner on the 81st minute.

Roma did find the back of the net in the 24th minute when Alessandro Florenzi’s free-kick was headed home by Mehdi Benatia but it was correctly disallowed for offside.

It was a frustrating match for Roma, who had attempted four shots on target in the first half.

Meanwhile, Juventus won the first of three games against Fiorentina over the next 12 days thanks to Kwadwo Asamoah’s goal.

The Juve winger struck just before half time to cement the Old Lady’s position at the top of Serie A. Furthermore, it gives Antonio Conte’s men confidence for their next two meetings with the Viola in the last 16 of the Europa League.

Juve stamped their authority on the game, leaving Fiorentina chasing shadows, and the ball. Conte’s men failed to do much with their possession, however, and a long ball which just touched the toe end of a full-stretch Carlos Tevez was indicative of how they were not getting to that final ball.

Asamoah had two good chances with a volley deflected behind and another shot just missing the far post, and it was a case of third time lucky for the Juve winger, who scored just before half-time. Asamoah skipped into the penalty area with a trick taking him past three Fiorentina defenders before his shot deflected into the far corner, off the inside of the post.

Also, Rodrigo Palacio’s first-half header gave Inter a narrow 1-0 victory over Torino. Palacio nodded in the only goal of the game on the half-hour mark as Inter returned to winning ways after draws in their previous two league games.

Sampdoria came from two goals down to beat Livorno 4-2 with a rousing second-half display. Ibrahima Mbaye scored his first goals in Serie A to crown one of Livorno’s best halves of football this season, but that was still not enough to ease their relegation worries.

Instead, Domenico Di Carlo’s men capitulated in the second half with Nenad Krsticic bringing Samp back into the game before a Federico Ceccherini own goal drew them level. Stefano Okaka and Manolo Gabbiadini then sealed the win for the Blucerchiati.

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Dortmund consolidate second as Lehmann blasts ‘boring’ Bayern

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Killer Kehl: The former Freiburg man had mixed emotions after scoring the winner for Dortmund against his old club.

Borussia Dortmund consolidated second place in the Bundesliga yesterday with a 1-0 win at relegation threatened Freiburg with veteran captain Sebastian Kehl netting the winner.

Dortmund were without top scorer Robert Lewandowski, who has a knee strain, but still enjoyed their third straight win.

Jurgen Klopp’s side grabbed the winner on 58 minutes when 34 year-old skipper and ex-Freiburg man Kehl curled home a 25-metre effort which gave goalkeeper Oliver Baumann little chance.

“I told him he’s a scumbag,” Baumann joked, while Kehl admitted he was “very, very happy” after his speculative shot dipped under the bar.

The result leaves Freiburg second from bottom while Dortmund are four-points clear in second, but remain 20 points behind runaway leaders Bayern Munich.

“Those were huge points for us,” said Dortmund defender Mats Hummels. “Only second place really counts for us now and that was a big, big step in the right direction.”

Freiburg began the better with the lively Philipp Zulechner making an impressive first start for the club. Dortmund rarely threatened but were much improved in the second half and took the lead when Kevin Grosskreutz brought the ball in from the left and let Kehl curl in a first-time shot which dipped over Baumann.

He raised one hand, half in celebration and half apologetically, aware of what that goal could mean to Freiburg.

‘Boring Bayern will become undefeated champions’
Jens Lehmann has tipped Bayern Munich to complete an undefeated season – even if he finds them “boring”.

The former goalkeeper, who achieved that feat with Arsenal in 2003/04, was speaking ahead of the Gunners midweek Champions League last 16, second leg in Munich.

Lehmann, who moved to North London from Borussia Dortmund, feels Bayern will easily match his old club’s achievement, but would not be able to manage it in the Premier League.

“More than going unbeaten is not possible,” he says. “That’s the maximum. You can’t do more. I think they will become unbeaten champions. They’re playing a different football.

“I have to say the challenges they are facing in the Bundesliga are not too high. Bayern wouldn’t go unbeaten in the English league.

“Watching them is a little bit boring as well,” he added. “It’s not a pacy game going forward.”

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Ligue 1 round-up: Rivals green with envy as Zlatan & PSG continue to excel

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Paris Saint-Germain warmed up for their Champions League tie against Bayer Leverkusen by extending their lead at the top of Ligue 1 with a 0-3 away win at Bastia in a game that left the whole PSG team elated bar their goalkeeper.

Salvatore Sirigu (27), poised to become Buffon's successor in the Italian national team after the World Cup, left the pitch on sore terms with the home crowd. For the second year in a row, a Bastia fan spent the entire game shouting obscenities at the goalkeeper, who "told him to think about his own life for a bit". 

But aside from receiving abuse from the home crowd, it was another memorable afternoon for Sirigu and his PSG teammates whose march towards the title shows no signs of slowing down. 

In the wake of the 3-0 win in Corsica, which sees the side extend its lead over second-ranked Monaco who are now eight points adrift, Laurent Blanc came under fire from FC Lorient coach Christian Gourcuff who argued that the 1998 World Cup winner is doing little behind the scenes. 

"Laurent Blanc does not train the PSG players and leaves everything to his assistant Jean-Louis Gasset. When a coach does that, all he has left to do is communication," blasted Gourcuff. 

But with a 20th win in 28 league games and a near-certain spot in the Champions League quarter-finals once the return leg, the PSG coach does deserve some credit.

Hired by default last summer after Fabio Capello, Frank Rijkaard and Roberto Mancini refused to take over from departing Carlo Ancelotti, the former Manchester United, Barcelona and Internazionale centre-back is now outshining his predecessor.

PSG have already scored 102 goals in 42 games this season, two more than their all-time record set last year.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic was once again the centre of attention as he opened the scoring after just six minutes. As if leading the Ligue 1 goalscoring chart was not enough, the Swedish striker now also tops the assists table thanks to a delightful scorpion-kick style through ball for the first of Lavezzi's two goals of the afternoon.

With 23 goals and 11 assists, the Sweden international tops both the goalscoring and assists table in Ligue 1.

And after Monaco's blip against Saint-Etienne last week, PSG are on course for a second domestic title in a row and Ibrahimovic can set his sights on the most prestigious club trophy that still goes amiss in his collection: the European Cup.

In his 32nd year and with no World Cup in sight next summer, the PSG star is keen to take his side to unprecedented European success, 21 years after Olympique de Marseille became the last French side to win the competition against AC Milan in May 1993.

PSG's impressive outings in the group stage (0-5 at Anderlecht, 1-4 at Olympiacos) and in the first leg of their last 16 clash with Bayer Leverkusen (where they secured a 4-0 away win) is whetting the capital's appetite on the European scene.

The hungriest of all must be Ibrahimovic, who has played for five Champions League-winning sides in his career but has never lifted the trophy himself, leaving both Internazionale and Barcelona one season before they would win the trophy (in 2009 and 2010 respectively).

Recent concerns over his back were also quelled on Saturday with another stellar performance.

Another comforting fact was his team-mates' performances, with Lavezzi rediscovering his abilities after the personal tragedy that hit him last month.

With Edinson Cavani back from Uruguay, where he finalized his divorce this week, and Brazil winger Lucas Moura returning to his best form, PSG are well-equipped to deal with any European defence.

Bayer Leverkusen fans have be warned but still over 1800 of them have booked their trip to the French capital despite their side having virtually no chance of going through. 

Many of them will have paid the ticket just to see Zlatan Ibrahimovic at the peak of his footballing powers.

Talking points

– Dimitar Berbatov quickly adapted to his new surroundings in Ligue 1. The AS Monaco January reinforcement netted his first goal in France with his very first shot, in the 6th minute of his side's home game against Sochaux, which they went on to win 2-1. 

– Less than two years after its inauguration, Lille's Pierre-Mauroy stadium has become something of a fortress already. With nine clean sheets in 13 home games, Eden Hazard's former side has a rock solid back line to support its Champions League push.

– Olympique Lyonnais scored two goals in stoppage time to come from behind and secure a 2-1 home win against Bordeaux. Promising right-back Corentin Tolisso, who made his competitive debut just last week, scored the winner.

– FC Nantes were left regretting signing Ismael Bangoura without a letter of consent from Al Nasr club in Dubai in the summer of 2012 after French league governing body LFP decided to suspend the French side from signing any players in the next two transfer windows.

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