Relief for Martin Jol, after Fulham’s confidence-boosting win against Stoke

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LONDON — Going into Saturday’s game against Stoke, Fulham manager Martin Jol needed a big win to cast off the growing band of doubters after the Cottagers poor start to the season.

He didn’t get the convincing win he was hoping for, but it was a win that will breed confidence amongst his players before the upcoming international break.

“Unbelievable importance,” Jol said afterwards in the beautiful confides of Craven Cottage. “I can come up with all the stories and excuses and say that we’ve got a good spirit, that they’re behind each other and behind me. But if you don’t get the points, everyone is in a big depression. It gives you a relief, and gives you confidence again. I was happy because we got three points and that it what we needed.”

(MORE: Fulham 1-0 Stoke City – Bent’s late goal seals win for Cottagers)

The 1-0 victory saw Fulham under the cosh for most of the second half, as more pressure piled on Jol’s side as the homes fans became frustrated by a largely disjointed display. But in the 83rd minute Craven Cottage erupted as Darren Bent calmly slotted past Asmir Begovic to give Fulham a crucial 1-0 win. It was the West London sides first victory since the opening day of the season, and the relief on Jol’s face was clear for all to see.

The under-fire manager also revealed that game-winner Bent wouldn’t have come on if forward Dimitar Berbatov hadn’t been injured. So maybe after four late goals in a row thwarting Fulham in recent weeks, lady luck was finally smiling down on Jol’s side.

“I was very happy with Darren Bent to come on for Berbatov,” Jol laughed. “Because if Berbatov would have stayed fit I would have probably left him on the pitch. So I was very happy to have Bent on the bench, and he could have scored two.”

source: Getty Images
Jol celebrates Darren Bent’s late winner, as Craven Cottage erupts.

But despite picking up a valuable three points, this win will only bide Jol some time. It was Fulham’s fist league victory at home since April, and their first in six Premier League outings this term since their opening day success away at Sunderland. With new owner Shadid Khan eerily silent behind the scenes, and many fans launching abuse at Jol following his sides last-gasp defeat at home to Cardiff last week, the pressure is still on.

And Jol knows it.

“You need results, and you need to be without pressure,” Jol said. ” Because any team under pressure will perform not as good as they’re capable of. We need to be better on the ball.”

However his side out-worked Stoke on Saturday, that doesn’t happen often, and dug in to get the result they desperately needed before the two week international break. Jol will breath a huge sigh of relief and the Dutchman hailed the importance of the victory, and the confidence it will give his players.

“We worked ever so hard, nobody could fault us for lack of application,” Jol said. “But we have to do better on the ball, we have to take control of the ball and dominate, especially teams like Stoke. But my boys showed they have an unbelievable mentality.”

Yet Stoke still troubled Fulham from set pieces, which is something Jol wants his side to work on.

“We were a bit lucky,” Jol said. “If you look at Stoke, Robert Huth had two clear header from set pieces and you work on that all week and it still happened. We have to do better, we conceded a lot of goals with set pieces. In hindsight everything is good, but not for me. We have to improve.”

(MORE: Mark Hughes fumes, as Stoke denied “two stonewall penalties” in Fulham loss)

Patjim Kasami was a constant thorn in Stoke’s side from the left wing position, running at Geoff Cameron all afternoon and providing plenty of promising moments for the Fulham faithful. And the 21-year-old winger played a big hand in the winning goal, with the Macedonian cutting in from the left and seeing his shot deflected into Bent’s path to score. Jol has been pleased with Kasami since his arrival in the summer.

“He is probably one of the fittest players in the league if you look at the stats,” Jol said. “I am very happy with him, but you can’t say it was an unbelievable pass for when we scored.”

Many fans and pundits were calling for Jol to be fired after Fulham lost 2-1 to Cardiff last week, coupled with giving up late goals to Newcastle and West Brom in recent weeks. But the former Tottenham Hotspur manager doesn’t feel any pressure.

This victory will make the next few weeks easier.

“Pressure is if you are vulnerable and if your life will change big-time, my life won’t change big-time,” Jol said. ” I will be in this job for the next years, and I want to be here with my players, because most of the players are here because of me. So I want to help them to get better and be there where we should be.”

Report: Bayern Munich scouted Walker, Alexis this weekend

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German publication Kicker says Bayern Munich technical director Michael Reschke attended both of this weekend’s FA Cup semifinals and had his eye on two players in particular.

Reschke apparently wants to bring players from both North London Derby rivals Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur to the Allianz Arena.

[ MORE: Liverpool’s Top Four plight ]

In the case of Spurs, that man is right back Kyle Walker. The 26-year-old has also played right mid in 8 of his 35 matches for Tottenham this season, and was named in the PFA Team of the Year. It’s hard to believe Spurs would have interest in selling Walker, who would help fill the role of retiring Philipp Lahm.

On the other side is Alexis Sanchez, the embattled but electric Arsenal attacker who Arsene Wenger described as an “animal” and “always ready to kill the opponent” this weekend. Wenger says Sanchez isn’t going anywhere, but Bayern does boast Chilean teammate Arturo Vidal and former Barca mate Thiago Alcantara.

Walker is signed at Spurs through 2021, while Sanchez’s contract ends after next season.

Roma lands sporting director Monchi, a reported Arsenal target

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AS Roma has found its new sporting director, and it’s a man with a keen eye for talent.

Ramon “Monchi” Rodriguez Verdejo, 48, has spent the last 18 years as the sporting director at Sevilla, which won five UEFA Europa League titles under his watch.

Monchi was discussed in the media as a target for the same job at Arsenal and was a target for other Premier League clubs, but Roma sealed the deal with the former goalkeeper.

[ JPW: Oriol Romeu — The Perfectly Poised Destroyer ]

He is considered to have a big role in discovering and developing Sergio Ramos, Jesus Navas, and Dani Alves.

Read more from ASRoma.com.

Liverpool’s murky Top Four path depends on Manchester United

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Liverpool is a historic club with incredible presence. Jurgen Klopp is a celebrated manager with a strong reputation as a players’ coach.

Those two facets will always make the club attractive to players. Missing out on the UEFA Champions League is another thing altogether and would put a huge dent in Klopp’s ambitious recruitment goals.

And right now, the Reds look destined to drop out of the Top Four.

[ JPW: Oriol Romeu — The Perfectly Poised Destroyer ]

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Chelsea 32 24 3 5 65 27 38 13-0-2 11-3-3 75
 Tottenham Hotspur 32 21 8 3 68 22 46 15-2-0 6-6-3 71
 Liverpool 34 19 9 6 70 42 28 11-4-2 8-5-4 66
 Manchester City 32 19 7 6 63 35 28 8-6-1 11-1-5 64
 Manchester United 32 17 12 3 50 24 26 7-9-1 10-3-2 63
 Everton 34 16 10 8 60 37 23 12-4-1 4-6-7 58
 Arsenal 31 17 6 8 63 40 23 10-3-2 7-3-6 57

Even if Manchester United and Manchester City draw Thursday’s derby, both will be poised to pass the Reds by winning the match-in-hand.

Injury-ravaged United is bothered by UEFA Europa League duty against Celta Vigo, and has a brutal run-in that includes Spurs and Arsenal in addition to City. Liverpool has to hope United falls off, because Man City is likely going to walk over the Top Four line even with a draw in the derby.

The worst case scenario for Liverpool, aside from continuing to flail against clubs outside the Top Seven, is United toppling City on Thursday.

As an aside, it’s extremely unlikely that Arsenal leaps into the fray but if the Gunners did it would come at the expense of United.

Really, Liverpool’s run-in is perfectly built for two of its supporters’ favorite things: Winning matches and rooting against Manchester United. Here’s how they finish:

May 1 — at Watford
May 7 — vs. Southampton
May 14 — at West Ham United
May 21 — vs. Middlesbrough

Liverpool battered Watford 6-1 at Anfield and Boro 3-0 at the Riverside Stadium, but drew both Saints and West Ham earlier this season in addition to losing to Southampton in an EFL Cup semifinal.

Say the Reds nab a perfect 12 points to finish with 78; They’ll need City to take less than 14 from six remaining matches and United to earn less than 15 from six. The latter is far more likely than the former, but will matter very little if Klopp can’t motivate and organize his men in the final four matches.

Schweinsteiger shares thoughts on MLS, much more in lengthy interview

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Ambassadors responsible for Bastian Schweinsteiger‘s move to America extend deep into the 1970s.

1977 to be exact. That’s when Franz Beckenbauer first came to the New York Cosmos from Bayern Munich, a three-season tenure that went so well he returned to New York for his final professional season after time with Hamburg.

[ PL PREVIEW: Chelsea vs. Southampton ]

Schweinsteiger said Beckenbauer’s words meant a lot to him, and admitted that he’s not imparting that wisdom to other overseas players who ask him about MLS.

From TSN.ca (Full video here):

“I remember when David Beckham was playing here or even I know when Franz Beckenbauer was playing here, and I was talking to him and he said he had his best life in America,” Schweinsteiger said. “We spoke about it and I was thinking about it a little bit.For me it was a little bit different because I love to play soccer and in Manchester I couldn’t play enough soccer so that was the problem.”

Among several interesting soundbites from the interview with Schweinsteiger also spoke about Germany’s memorable destruction of host nation Brazil at the 2014 World Cup:

“I remember the semifinal that we won 7-1. Everyone speaks about the 7-1, but we were not talking so much about it because we felt very, in a way, sad, because you saw your teammates like Dante and Luis Gustavo and the Brazilian supporters and the team crying, so you couldn’t really celebrate. Our focus was so much looking forward to the final. I remember things like this, sometimes more than the final.”

Not something you consider often. Winning a match 2-1 against your club teammates is one thing, but sending them to international humiliation is another.