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Soccer PIX: Real scrape to win; Neymar stars for PSG

September 15, 2019 01:05 IST

Real Madrid's Eden Hazard in action during their La Liga match at Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid on Saturday

IMAGE: Real Madrid's Eden Hazard in action during their La Liga match at Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid on Saturday. Photograph: Susana Vera/Reuters

Real Madrid produced a rampant first-half display to beat Levante 3-2 in La Liga on Saturday with goals from Karim Benzema and Casemiro but dropped off after Eden Hazard came on to make his debut and were left clinging on for the three points.

Benzema headed Real in front after 25 minutes at a rain-swept Santiago Bernabeu when he met a cross from Dani Carvajal and the France forward struck again a few minutes later after latching on to a pass from James Rodriguez.

 

Brazil midfielder Casemiro stretched Real's advantage right before halftime with a gut-busting run to meet a cross from compatriot Vinicius, but Levante hit back shortly after the interval through former Madrid forward Borja Mayoral.

Perhaps with Wednesday's Champions League opener at Paris St Germain in mind, Real manager Zinedine Zidane brought off captain Sergio Ramos and Casemiro on the hour, allowing Hazard to finally make his debut after recovering from injury.

Madrid's 100 million euro ($110.73 million) signing looked a bit off the pace in his first competitive game though and, as the hosts' intensity dropped, Levante's Gonzalo Melero reduced the deficit to one goal and they had chances to equalise.

"The second half was very difficult for us as it's always tough to concede a goal early after the break but overall the sensations are good," Zidane told reporters after the win took his side to eight points after four games.

"We were phenomenal in the first half, we scored goals, played exciting football and showed real commitment. We have to try and keep that up for 90 minutes."

The visitors made it a nervous finale for the home fans with 15 minutes to go thanks to a near-post header from Melero and twice came close to levelling in stoppage time.

Real goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was forced to turn away a header from Ruben Vezo, while Levante's talisman Jose Luis Morales tried to catch the Belgian out moments later by shooting for the near post instead of crossing but narrowly missed.

"We had Madrid begging for the fulltime whistle," said Levante coach Paco Lopez.

Zidane's side had drawn their last two games against Real Valladolid and Villarreal and were grateful to scrape a victory.

Courtois criticised his side for switching off after the break following their electric start.

"If we had continued to play in the same way as in the first half we would have won 5-0 or 6-0," he told reporters.

"We played the best 45 minutes of the season but that's football, Levante changed their system and at times we were sloppy with our passing."

Mertens strikes twice as Napoli sweep pointless Sampdoria aside

Napoli's Dries Mertens celebrates scoring their second goal against Sampdoria

IMAGE: Napoli's Dries Mertens celebrates scoring their second goal against Sampdoria. Photograph: Ciro De Luca/Reuters

A Dries Mertens double helped Napoli return to winning ways with a 2-0 victory over Sampdoria on Saturday that continued the visitors' miserable start to the Serie A season.

Before the international break, Carlo Ancelotti’s side fought back from three goals down against Juventus only for Kalidou Koulibaly to score a stoppage time own goal to gift the champions three points.

Napoli bounced back as Mertens tucked home a finish early in the first half before coming close to doubling his side’s lead five minutes later when he crashed a shot off the bar from a tight angle.

Goalkeeper Alex Meret was alert to prevent an equaliser when he saved Emiliano Rigoni’s finish after the Argentine was sent clean through on goal.

But the result was put beyond doubt midway through the second half when substitute Fernando Llorente, making his debut, picked out Mertens inside the box for the Belgian to find the net for his brace.

The result moves Napoli into fourth place on six points, while Sampdoria remain rooted to the bottom of the table.

Under new coach Eusebio Di Francesco they have lost three games out of three, conceding nine goals and scoring just one.

Neymar the saviour as PSG beat Strasbourg

Paris St Germain's Neymar celebrates with Abdou Diallo, Mauro Icardi and Marco Verratti on scoring their first goal against RC Strasbourg at Parc des Princes in Paris

IMAGE: Paris St Germain's Neymar celebrates with Abdou Diallo, Mauro Icardi and Marco Verratti on scoring their first goal against RC Strasbourg at Parc des Princes in Paris. Photograph: Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters

Neymar scored a spectacular last-gasp goal for Paris St Germain that was greeted with more cheers than boos in a 1-0 Ligue 1 win over Racing Strasbourg on Saturday on his first appearance of the season following a failed transfer to Barcelona.

The Brazil forward found the back of the net with a bicycle kick two minutes into stoppage time, drawing mostly applause but a few boos from the Parc des Princes faithful as he appeared to have put the transfer saga behind him.

PSG lead the standings with 12 points from five games ahead of their Champions League match against Real Madrid on Wednesday, for which Neymar will be suspended.

The result left Strasbourg in 18th place on three points.

"It was sublime. It's good for him and good for the team," team mate Idrissa Gueye said.

Neymar, who angered the PSG fans by saying his best memory as a footballer was PSG’s humiliating 6-1 defeat by Barca at the Camp Nou in the Champions League in 2017, was booed by part of the crowd in the first half as he put on a decent performance.

He capped his return with a goal that did not mask PSG's collective mediocrity.

New keeper Keylor Navas made a couple of brilliant saves as the visitors threatened on a few occasions while Mauro Icardi was toothless after coming on as a second-half substitute.

The Argentine striker, however, will be needed against Real on Wednesday in the absence of Neymar and the injured Kylian Mbappe.

The French international was sorely missed, just like Uruguay striker Edinson Cavani who may come back for the Real clash.

Strasbourg had the first clear chance when Navas stretched to tip away Ludovic Ajorque's sudden strike in the 18th minute and PSG did not muster a single shot on target in the first half, struggling to unsettle a compact defence.

The hosts stepped up a gear in the closing stages, with Neymar scoring his 21st goal in 20 Ligue 1 games at the Parc des Princes.

He netted again two minutes later, only for the goal to be ruled out for an offside position.

Juventus escape with a point from trip to much-improved Fiorentina

Fiorentina were left to rue missed chances after holding Juventus to a 0-0 Serie A draw in Florence on Saturday to end the champions' perfect start to the season.

Juve arrived at the Stadio Artemio Franchi having won their opening two games and were heavy favourites against a Fiorentina side on zero points and a 16-match winless league run.

Franck Ribery impressed on his first start for the hosts as they created the better chances, but a lack of clinical finishing from Vincenzo Montella's men helped Juve escape with a point.

"I am proud, because the team had two and a half games at a great level so far this season against some very tough opposition, so that means we can fight it out with anyone," Montella told Sky Sport Italia.

"Unfortunately, when we have 10-15 shots on goal and don't score, that is disappointing. I think Florence will be proud of us today, a win would've been the icing on the cake, but we are on the right track."

Juventus are top of the standings with seven points but could surrender the lead to Inter Milan or Torino before the end of the weekend, while Fiorentina are 16th after collecting their first point of the campaign.

The draw extended Fiorentina's run of Serie A games without a victory to 17, their worst run in the competition since 1970-71.

Montella changed tack after seeing his side lose their opening two league games against Napoli and Genoa, changing to a 3-5-2 formation and asking his players to aggressively press high up the pitch.

Juve struggled with the tactic early on as Fiorentina forward Federico Chiesa closed down goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny’s clearance only for it to rebound over the bar. The Pole then scrambled to perform a last-ditch tackle on Ribery following a slack pass from Matthijs de Ligt.

Ribery and Chiesa had efforts saved by Szczesny before Dalbert’s back post header was pushed wide by the goalkeeper as the hosts pushed to take a first-half lead.

Maurizio Sarri, who was in the dugout for the first time as Juventus coach in Serie A after recovering from pneumonia, was left cursing his luck as Douglas Costa, Miralem Pjanic and Danilo were all forced off with injury problems.

"We didn’t put in a good quality performance, it was a very complicated situation, as Fiorentina played well and we used up all our substitutions with injuries and had no more fresh legs to introduce," he said.

"With all those variables, we did well in terms of character to get a point out of it. We lost possession too many times, which may also be a consequence of physical issues. Playing in mid-afternoon in Florence when it's realistically still summer is tough for everyone."

The home side continued to look the more likely after the break but couldn't break through as Dalbert's volley was pushed away, Gaetano Castrovilli sliced wide and Nikola Milenkovic headed straight at the goalkeeper.

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