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Leicester City FC
Leicester City FC

Leicester City’s Europa League hunt, and effectively their season, came to an end with Saturday’s 2-1 defeat at Burnley.

Here, reporter James Sharpe looks at five of the key talking points from Turf Moor.
Stats point to positive future under Puel

While Claude Puel’s face filled the screen on Match of the Day as the Leicester City manager gave his reaction to a defeat at Burnley, a curious little graphic flicked into the bottom right-hand corner.

Expected Goals (xG): Burnley 0.85, Leicester 1.95.

We all know by now that xG measures the quality of chances a team has in a game and gives a number that represents the probability of those shots resulting in a goal.

In short: City had better chances to win the game than Burnley did.

Of course, that matters little to City fans who have just watched their team gift Burnley a 2-0 headstart inside 10 minutes on their way to killing off their chances of European football.

“Expected goals in such a pointless thing,” came one comment on social media. “The thing that mattered was it was 2-1. Burnley are seventh and we are nine points behind. It’s a nonsense stat.”

Now, of course it is the ‘balls into onion bag’ number that is the most important, but xG does have its uses, especially in the on-going debate over Leicester’s long-term style under Puel.

What xG does do is give you a clear idea of how effective your general play is. Or, at least, *should* be over time. Not just in one game.

Based on xG this season, Leicester would have eight more points and would be seventh.

That does not mean they should be seventh. Variables such as individual defensive errors and missed chances mean that Leicester should be eighth, nine points off Burnley.

But what it does show is that, over time, Puel’s approach should be able to bring sustainable positive results. And sustainability in the top half is what the owners want.

xG won’t change the result at Burnley, but it should at least give some hope for the future.
Morgan criticism justified (for once)

Plenty of the space in this column over recent months has been given to defending the performances of City captain Wes Morgan in the face of growing criticism.

Supporters had been frustrated at the decision to bring Morgan straight back into the side after injury, despite Aleksandar Dragovic performing well alongside Harry Maguire in his absence.

A fair view, and harsh on Dragovic. But Morgan is the captain: highly popular and influential in the dressing room. And his performances were still solid, and some opinions became twisted and premeditated because of it.

However, over the last few games Morgan’s performances have been poor and his mistakes have led to City conceding goals and, in turn, points. The criticism is now justified.

But should Morgan’s role as captain have any effect on his place? Nigel Pearson used to say that every player’s position is up for grabs, but the captain’s place is different.

Should Morgan’s popularity among his team-mates, his influence, play a role in Puel’s decision? How would his removal from the side affect dressing-room morale or squad happiness with the manager? Should that even matter?

This is the man who lifted the Premier League trophy. But he is struggling for form. It is a sensitive subject, but these are the decisions which Puel is paid to make.
Choudhury makes most of Ndidi’s suspension

Puel has got another decision to make for the visit of Southampton. Wilfred Ndidi returns from his two-game suspension and will come straight back into the starting line-up.

The question is: who should partner him? Adrien Silva or Hamza Choudhury?

Choudhury has been excellent in his last two games and, for the start of his full debut at Burnley, looked more assured than Silva.

It would be harsh to leave Choudhury out, but he is potentially too similar a ball-winner to Ndidi. And while Silva had a disastrous start at Turf Moor, he did improve and his creativity is likely to be needed.

Regardless, Choudhury has done enough to show, with time and experience, that he will become a mainstay of the first-team for years to come.
Time for experimenting is now

Well, that’s that then. Barring a miracle, Leicester will have to wait another year for European football.

Five games left to see if you finish eighth or 12th. What is left to play for? Other than pride and prize money, little.

What should Puel do now? Is now the time to phase out those players who he feels cannot adapt to his style ready for a summer clear-out?

Is it time to bring in more of the youngsters to see who can make the grade? Centre-back Sam Hughes continues to bang in the goals for the development squad. He could be worth a try.

This is the first time in a long while that Leicester have nothing to play for. As frustrating as that has been, at least make the most of it.
Hamer’s final chance to shine for City?

For a few weeks now, there have been growing murmurings that Kasper Schmeichel could do with a spell outside of the team.

A couple of rash errors, and some wayward kicking, has tested some fans’ patience with City’s No.1.

Well, they might just get their wish now. Schmeichel limped off late in the defeat at Burnley and will need to assessed ahead of Thursday.

Not only will those fans get to see whether their wishes were well-placed, it is also a great chance for Ben Hamer to showcase his talents to either Puel or potential suitors as he approaches the end of his contract.

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Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri saw his team take another stride towards Serie A glory and told them to show Real Madrid their true colours at the Bernabeu.

The Scudetto is not yet wrapped up, but a 4-2 win at Benevento on Saturday allowed Juventus to build a seven-point cushion over Napoli.

That was a lead they knew could be clipped to four on Sunday when the second-placed Neapolitans play Chievo.

After the disappointment of losing 3-0 at home to Real Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal last Tuesday, Allegri wants it to be a different story in Madrid on Wednesday.

Madrid also mauled Juventus in last year’s European final so there is a score to settle.

“You can have no complaints when you lose 3-0 but for the first hour it was more evenly matched than the final in Cardiff and the games [in this season’s group stage] against Barcelona,” Allegri said on Saturday.

“The whole world will be watching on Wednesday and we have to produce a top performance.”

Paulo Dybala scored a hat trick against Benevento, including two penalties, and victory was wrapped up by a terrific long-range strike into the top corner from Douglas Costa.

Benevento twice netted through Cheick Diabate, each time getting them back to level terms, before Juventus pulled away to secure the victory.

Allegri, though, felt there was room for improvement in his team’s display.

He told the Juventus website the team “ran too many risks,” adding: “We let our opponents have too many chances.

“We must defend better when we’re in our own half. We were good at closing them down in their half but we did less well when we were on the back foot.

“We’ve been allowing the opposition too many shots recently and you get spells like this over the course of a season. The main thing is you’re aware of it and you try to avoid it in the next game.”

Benevento sit at the foot of Serie A, with relegation looking inevitable.

Juventus have eyes on the trophy and Dybala said the Turin outfit can seal the title in style by winning all seven of their remaining league games.

Dybala said: “Napoli won’t go away so we need to remain calm and focused, because we control our destiny.”

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Inter Milan FC
Inter Milan FC

The Derby della Madonnina always raises the blood pressure of both Inter Milan and AC Milan fans, no matter what the circumstances are.

This replay Wednesday is certainly no different.

Both teams still have a lot to play for this late in the season.

For the Nerazzurri, all eyes are on a Champions League position which many feel will be the solution to all of our woes.

Will it? Not likely, but it certainly couldn’t hurt.

After Sunday’s win over Hellas Verona, Inter sit in fourth – just two points back of Roma – with a game in-hand over the capital club and a point ahead of Lazio who crushed Benevento over the weekend.

Now, we all know that Juventus and Napoli are out of reach. There is no realistic way for Inter to crack the top two this season because of how both the aforementioned teams have performed. It’s unfortunate considering how Inter started the season, but it is what it is.

For Interisti, we have to hope for a top four finish to get back to Europe. And, despite our fall on challenging times in December and January, it is still within our grasp. Which more speaks to the weakness of Serie A’s midtable teams than our ability to keep in the chase.

A win Wednesday puts us over Roma and into third, but by no means secures a spot in the Champions League. But, a loss for Milan likely ends their season chasing the Europa League – which would be great for Inter fans for us to say we shut the door on our rivals.

At this point, it really doesn’t matter how Milan finishes, so long as it isn’t above us. Barring a complete let-down by us and a run of the table for Milan, it is unlikely they finish above us this year. Of course, in the process of writing that I realize I may have jinxed it a bit.

The one certain thing is that Inter Milan controls its own fate. Win and we are in, lose and we leave our future to Roma and Lazio to determine.

The fact of the matter is that we are resting a lot of the future on qualifying for Europe next season. We are banking, literally, on it so much that qualification will have a direct impact on our squad for the next season.

Earning qualification likely means we keep Joao Cancelo and Rafinha, restructure Mauro Icardi’s contract with confidence and keep Luciano Spalletti for another five years or more. Not qualifying means all of those factors come into question.

Not qualifying means we likely ship either Cancelo or Rafinha back, or both. Negotiating Icardi’s contract becomes harder because we lose a lot of contractual leverage. Plus, any hopes of adding anyone withers on the proverbial vine. No Javier Pastore, no anyone.

The belt-tightening by the Suning Group almost assures no new funds infused into the club unless from additional sponsorships or the cash from Champions League football.

It’s not all gloom and doom. With where we currently sit, the Europa League is a strong possibility as Serie A gets its fifth- and sixth-place teams in. The fifth-place team goes to the Group Stage while the sixth-place finisher enters the second qualifying round. But, let’s be honest, we don’t want Europa League. It will be fine, but not the goal and many will see it as a failure despite missing European football completely this season.

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The reality is we are no where near out of the woods and nothing is assured at this stage. With eight games remaining after the Derby, a win gives us a lot of hope with Torino, Atalanta, Cagliari, Chievo, Juventus, Udinese, Sassuolo and Lazio left to round out the regular season.

A loss means Inter has to get wins where it is supposed to in at least six of those remaining games to remain in contention for the Champions League. Plus, we would need help from others to give losses to Roma, Lazio and Milan.

Not that winning Wednesday means we are in, because it certainly doesn’t. But, consider the confidence it will give to the team heading into winnable games in the next four weeks.