Napoli top Serie A as Higuain leads Frosinone rout

Nathan Williams 05:39 11/01/2016
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Sensational form: Gonzalo Higuain.

Gonzalo Higuain scored twice as Napoli hammered Frosinone 5-1 to assume first place in the Serie A table.

Defeats for previous frontrunners Inter Milan and second-placed Fiorentina meant two goals for the Argentinian striker, and efforts from Raul Albiol, Marek Hamsik and Manolo Gabbiadini, anointed Napoli as winter champions.

Paolo Sammarco’s 81st-minute strike soothed Frosinone’s pain, but they are now four points adrift of safety following Genoa’s triumph over Atalanta.

With Inter falling 1-0 at home to Sassuolo earlier in the day, top spot was up for grabs and Napoli snatched it. Albiol opened the scoring in the 12th minute.

Jorginho’s corner flew over Brazilian goalkeeper Massimo Zappino and found the Spaniard for a tap-in at the far post. The Azzurri were 2-0 up on the half-hour mark as Higuain won and converted a penalty – blasting the ball straight down the middle – following Roberto Crivello’s foul.

Hamsik then put the visitors out of sight with the first of two goals in two minutes, the Slovakian reaching the edge of the area unchecked before beating Zappino.

Another 60 seconds passed before Higuain scored again. The Stadio Matusa held its breath as the former Real Madrid striker danced past Modibo Diakite and Zappino before finishing with aplomb.

Goal number five belonged to substitute Gabbiadini, with Higuain’s replacement zipping the ball over Zappino’s shoulders with his left boot in the 71st minute. The new leaders would not mind too much when Sammarco blotted their copybook with a late strike for Frosinone.

Higuain said: “It means nothing to be winter champions, it’s not worth anything. Being there in May is what counts. We are working well, there are another five months to go and we hope to continue like this.”

Inter’s title hopes were unexpectedly dented in dramatic fashion by Sassuolo, who clinched victory at the San Siro thanks to the heroics of their inspired goalkeeper Andrea Consigli and an injury-time penalty from Domenico Berardi.

Inter were unable to defeat Eusebio Di Francesco’s team despite dominating throughout the game in Milan.

With 10 seconds of the five additional minutes remaining, Berardi confidently stroked the ball past Samir Handanovic after Inter defender Miranda had fouled Gregoire Defrel in the box.

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Atletico sweep aside Celta Vigo to top La Liga

Andy West 04:00 11/01/2016
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Enjoying life: Antoine Griezmann and Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco.

Atletico Madrid returned to the top of La Liga with a smooth and assured victory at Celta Vigo, made possible by a magnificent defence which prevented the hosts from creating a single clear chance.

The outstanding Antoine Griezmann and substitute Yannick Carrasco grabbed the goals in the second half, but the key to the victory was at the back and Atletico have now conceded just eight goals in their 19 league games this season, once again underlining their title credentials with three thoroughly deserved points at a venue where Barcelona lost 4-1 in September.

The game had been in severe doubt after torrential rain in Vigo left the Balaidos stadium flooded, and although it was eventually able to go ahead, the players were confronted by an uneven and very soft playing surface.

Celta, who were looking to bounce back after suffering two straight league losses, initially settled better and took the game to Atletico in the opening stages without being able to fashion any openings.

Atletico boss Diego Simeone handed a full debut to Augusto Fernandez against his former club, and the ex-Celta midfielder formed part of a narrow and tightly packed four-man midfield, with the visitors determined to show their usual solidity.

Celta, by contrast, were attempting to play with width and managed to overcome the poor condition of the pitch to string together a flowing passing move midway through the opening period, culminating in the first opportunity of the game as striker Iago Aspas headed wide from a left-wing cross.

Until that point Atletico’s attacking threat had been limited to sporadic breaks from quick forwards Luciano Vietto and Griezmann, but they gradually grew into the game and went on to dominate the remainder of the opening period.

With Saul Niguez prominent in much of their attacking play, Atletico created the best chance of the opening period as Griezmann exchanged passes with Koke to shoot from the edge of the box, but his effort flew over the top.

Atletico started the second half in a similar fashion and soon took the lead with a wonderfully worked goal, as Koke cut inside to find Griezmann whose lay-off released Vietto down the left, and his low cross was perfectly into the path of Griezmann for the Frenchman to fire home.

Simeone reacted to going ahead by reverting to a 4-5-1 formation with scorer Griezmann moving to the right wing, and his team continued to dominate as substitute Carrasco fired a long-range strike over the bar.

With the rain pouring down to threaten another flood, Celta tried to react by bringing on another striker, Jon Guidetti, but Atletico’s magnificent defence was standing as firm as ever and the visitors always looked capable of doubling their lead on the break.

And that is exactly what happened with 10 minutes remaining, as the livewire Carrasco picked up a loose ball and drove towards goal, beating two defenders before thrashing a fierce left-footed shot into the back of the net, killing off the game as Atleti’s defence did the rest to secure another clean sheet.

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La Liga: Valencia's winless run continues with Real Sociedad defeat

Kieran Canning 03:39 11/01/2016
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Match-winner: Jonathas (right).

Valencia manager Gary Neville is trying to remain positive despite now going five games without a win in La Liga as Jonathas’s late double handed Real Sociedad a 2-0 triumph in San Sebastian.

Neville’s men had shown promising signs in holding Real Madrid 2-2 last weekend and a 4-0 thrashing of Granada in the Copa del Rey in midweek, but have now gone two months without a league win to almost certainly end their hopes of reaching the Champions League.

“It’s a blow, we needed momentum, but we played well below the expectations we have set ourselves,” said Neville. “We have to snap out of it and start winning. I can only ask the fans to be patient. The dressing room is disappointed, as am I, but tomorrow is a fresh start and we have to get the fans to believe.”

Valencia ‘keeper Jaume Domenech was at fault as he flapped at Carlos Martinez’s deflected cross and Jonathas bundled home from close range 12 minutes from time.

The same two players combined for the second four minutes later as the Brazilian this time thumped home the full-back’s cross with a bullet header into the corner.

Elsewhere, Cedric Bakambu struck twice as Villarreal moved to within three points of Barcelona with a 2-0 win over Sporting. Roberto Soldado provided the ammunition for both his strike partner’s goals with crosses that Bakambu clinically dispatched either side of half-time.

Eibar boosted their European hopes by beating Espanyol 2-1 for a third consecutive win. Takashi Inui had given Eibar a 15th-minute lead but it was quickly cancelled out by Joan Jordan only for Borja’s penalty 16 minutes from time to seal the victory.

Malaga’s four-match winning run ended with a 1-1 draw against Las Palmas in Gran Canaria. Roque Santa Cruz rescued a point for the visitors after Pedro Tana had opened the scoring

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