Serie A round-up: Juventus still on course for record points tally

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Closing in ton the title: Pogba handed Juventus yet another league victory.

Juventus remain on course for a record-breaking points haul as they closed in on the Serie A title with a 1-0 win over struggling Bologna on Saturday.

A 64th minute goal from French starlet Paul Pogba was enough to give the Turin giants all three points and take them to 90 for the season.

With four matches remaining, and having lost only twice in the league all season, Juventus can reasonably expect to become the first club to break the 100-points barrier.

It also moved them eight points clear of their only remaining title rivals, Roma, who won 1-0 at Fiorentina thanks to a 26th minute goal from Belgian midfielder Radja Nainggolan.

That was enough for Roma to secure second place and automatic qualification for the Champions League as third-place Napoli could only manage a 1-1 draw away at Udinese.

"We are certain of second place as well as a spot in the Champions League, but we still believe we can get first place in the table," said Roma coach Rudi Garcia. "I am happy and my happiness is also for the players as they deserve this."

But Napoli's hold on the last Champions League spot is not yet under serious threat, despite Inter Milan's 2-0 away win over Parma.

Torino striker Ciro Immobile enhanced his claim for a place in Italy's World Cup squad with his 20th goal of the season. But his last-minute effort was in vain as Lazio grabbed a point with the last kick of the game in the Olympic Stadium to secure a 3-3 draw.

The point left Torino eighth, still in contention for a Europa League spot, but two behind AC Milan, who eased to a 3-0 victory at home to Livorno.

Immobile must have imagined he had give Torino all three points and level with AC Milan as he put Torino ahead in the 89th minute, only for Antonio Candreva to grab his second of the game and salvage a point four minutes into stoppage time.

Milan encountered little resistance from Livorno in the San Siro as they cruised to their fifth consecutive victory.

Goals from Mario Balotelli, just before half-time, Moroccan Adel Taarabt, six minutes after the break, and Giampaolo Pazzini, six minutes from time, secured the points.

Inter suffered a nerve-racking few minutes around the interval at Parma, with Antonio Cassano missing a penalty just before the break before Portuguese striker Rolando made amends shortly afterwards by scoring with a diving header.

Argentine-born Gabriel Paletta was sent off for a second yellow card and even though Parma continued to press Inter, the numerical advantage told in the end as Fredy Guarin grabbed a second for Inter a minute from time.

Veteran striker Luca Toni pressed his own claim for a place in the World Cup squad with the winner away to Atalanta, in Bergamo, in a 2-1 victory, which took the much-travelled 37-year-old's tally for the season to 18.

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Martino plays down reports of Messi leaving Barca

Andy West 20/04/2014
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Unhappy times: Messi has gone three games without a goal as Barca continue to struggle.

Barcelona manager Tata Martino has played down speculation that Lionel Messi could leave the Nou Camp club.

Messi’s notably lifeless performances in his team’s recent trio of losses against Atletico Madrid, Granada and Real Madrid, which have all but ended Barca’s hopes of finishing the season with silverware. 

This sparked stories within the Spanish press that the Argentine star is unhappy after failing to agree a new contract in Catalonia.

Other reports have claimed that some members of Barca’s board are advocating cashing in on Messi’s €250 million (Dh1.2bn) release clause, believing his best days are now behind him.

But fellow Argentine Martino, whose own future is in doubt after a troubling few months, insisted that he does not believe Messi will ever leave Barcelona.

“For me and for 99 per cent of people in the football world, it’s a surprise that people talk about Messi’s future,” said Martino.

“I can’t see Messi ending his career at any club other than Barca.”

However, he did hint that there is some truth in the reports of Messi’s unhappiness as he added: “Players forget about contractual issues when they play games like the ones we’ve had recently.

“Sometimes they play very well and sometimes they don’t, but you shouldn’t attach importance to that. Because it’s him, the analysis takes on a proportion that is hard to understand.”

Although he admitted that he is disappointed with his tenure at the Nou Camp, Martino also refused to comment on his own future despite the continuing belief from outside the club he has already reached agreement with the Barca board to leave at the end of the season.

“I’m not satisfied at all with the job I’ve done,” he added. “Nothing positive can be taken from being knocked out of two tournaments and only having an outside chance in the other.”

Tonight Barca will be hoping to beat in-form Athletic Bilbao at the Nou Camp and keep alive their slim hopes of overhauling Atletico Madrid in the race for the La Liga title.

Atletico are now seven points clear of Barca, but Martino insists they have not yet given up, adding: “We have to keep in mind that we still have a chance. A slip-up from one of the teams above is all we need.”

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John Barnes: Liverpool must embrace ‘gung-ho’ mentality to end title drought

Adrian Back 20/04/2014
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Believe: Philippe Coutinho's winner against Manchester City has put Liverpool in the driving seat for the title.

John Barnes has urged Liverpool to approach their remaining four games with the same “gung-ho” mentality that has seen them fire a staggering 93 goals in 34 Premier League matches.

The Reds have won 11 straight league games and after securing a dramatic 3-2 victory over Manchester City at Anfield last weekend, they know that the title is now theirs to lose.

That victory over City held even more significance for captain Steven Gerrard who was visibly overcome with emotion as he gathered his troops and delivered a battle cry that called for focus ahead of the trip to Norwich.

It was not just the victory that meant so much to the skipper but it came on a day when fans and players across the country united to remember the 96 supporters who sadly lost their lives at Hillsborough some 25 years ago – including Gerrard’s own 10-year-old cousin Jon-Paul Gilhooley.

Barnes was a member of that Liverpool side in ’89 and witnessed first-hand the tragic events unfolding. But he hopes the current squad can control their emotions and continue to play their brand of free-flowing, attacking football.

“I think everyone saw just how much it meant with that huddle at the end of the City game. But they must play with calm heads as if you have too much passion then you won’t perform to your best,” Barnes told Sport360 during a visit to Dubai to promote Harvey Nichols’ ‘Sport is Great’ football fashion campaign.

“Having the right balance is important. You have to be assured and calm or else you risk missing an easy opportunity in front of goal or making a bad tackle and getting a red card.

“But with only four games to go they have to approach them in a very gung-ho fashion, which they have done virtually all season.”

Liverpool know that by winning their remaining four games they will end their 24 year wait for a league title. After a trip to Carrow Road they face potentially their most important game since the 2007 Champions League final when second-placed Chelsea travel to Anfield.

The Blues may have suffered a shock loss to Sunderland but they could still prevent Liverpool from lifting the trophy if they could win on Merseyside. 

Barnes, who was a member of the last Liverpool side to win the title in 1990, believes Jose Mourinho’s side present a huge challenge but has warned the players not to take Norwich, Crystal Palace and Newcastle lightly.

“I always felt the Chelsea game was going to be the biggest,” explains Barnes. “But I think it could still go down to the last game.

“Can you be confident that we [Liverpool] will beat Palace away? Chelsea lost to them only a few weeks ago so it seems anyone can still beat anyone on a given day. But I’m still cautiously optimistic.”

That optimism may be increased if Brendan Rodgers’ side can defeat Chelsea, but even if Liverpool fail in their bid to win a first Premier League crown, Barnes sees plenty of reasons for fans to remain positive.

“I’m hoping Liverpool fans won’t be disappointed if they don’t win the league because at the start of the season if you would have said you would be top with a few games to go they wouldn’t have believed it,” added Barnes.

“It will be even harder next year as we will be fighting in the Champions League as well, and with a small squad.

“We will strengthen but we won’t be able to get the same players Chelsea and [Manchester] City can. I won’t say it’s Liverpool’s one chance this year but what you have to say is that I can see it being much more competitive every single season.

“I don’t think we will go from top three to finishing eighth next season. Year to year I think you may see different teams winning it. And I think Liverpool will be one of those teams. This is a great chance for Liverpool but I don’t think it will be their only one.”

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