Fulham 2-0 Aston Villa: Berbatov leads Whites to first win in eight (Video)

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Fulham picked up three enormous points, their first win under new first team coach Rene Meulensteen, as they dominate a well-traveled Aston Villa 2-0 from Craven Cottage.

Steve Sidwell and Dimitar Berbatov both grabbed first-half goals, with the latter having a hand in both scores and handing in an impressive performance on the heels of a few lazy showings.

The home side started on the front foot, and bashed both of Villa’s flanks in the first ten minutes, but they couldn’t find a good cross into the box.

Brad Guzan in that time was forced into a fantastic save when Dimitar Berbatov put his head to a corner, but the 29-year-old keeper athletically kept the Bulgarian out.

Villa had clearly decided to play on the counter, like they had so many times before successfully on the road.  Christian Benteke found himself a chance in the 13th minute but couldn’t put his header accurately onto a cross from Gabriel Agbonlahor.

Benteke then three minutes later again found space in the box but Maarten Stekelenburg saved well down low to his left.

Things started to get hectic for the Villa defense just before 20 minutes as Ashkan Dejagah received a long ball in the box and was free on net but Cieran Clark made a last-ditch tackle among penalty shouts for Fulham, and Kacaniklic’s follow-up was cleared off the line by Nathan Baker.

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Giorgis Karagounis partnered beautifully with Scott Parker and put in a fantastic midfield shift.

The disorganization of the visitors at the back finally hurt them in the 21st minute.  Giorgis Karagounis won the ball in Villa’s third, and a great touch by Berbatov found Dejagah then Steve Sidwell who cut home from a very tight angle.

It got better for the home side eight minutes later as a beautiful touch by Berbatov on the counter sprung Kacaniklic all alone.  Leandro Bacuna caught up as Kacaniklic settled and broke, but the Swede stuck his body between ball and defender, and Bacuna brought him down.  What looked to be a soft penalty was shown to be the correct decision on replay.

Berbatov then took the penalty and, in his usual cool self, calmly finished past Guzan for a 2-0 lead.

The second half was more of the same, with Guzan needing to sprawl to his left to save a Philippe Senderos header within the first five minutes after the break.

Fulham didn’t find as many chances as in the first half, but they controlled possession and midfield, and Aston Villa wasted chance after chance with poor set pieces and sloppy passing on the counter.

John Arne Riise on 65 minutes just missed wide with a header after Dejagah found him with a long cross, and the Iranian himself had a shot saved by Guzan minutes later with space and the goal gaping.

It was all Fulham from that point on, with Riise failing to get past Guzan on two other occasions, and chances also falling for Berbatov and Dejagah.

The only real chance for Aston Villa came as Abgonlahor was possibly fouled in the edge of the box by Aaron Hughes on 84 mintues.  There was slight contact on Agbonlahor’s foot, but the striker didn’t help himself by going down theatrically. Mike Dean waved it off.

The win for Fulham is massive, as they move above Crystal Palace into 17th and look bright for the second straight match. Villa also halts a streak, one of five straight unbeaten marked by just their second away loss of the season.

Christian Benteke remains goalless for nine straight matches now.

GOALS:

Fulham – Sidwell 21′, Berbatov (pen) 30′

LINEUPS:

Fulham – Stekelenburg; Riether, Hughes, Senderos, Riise; Parker, Karagounis (Kasami, 75′), Sidwell; Kacaniklic (Duff, 76′), Dejagah; Berbatov.

Aston Villa – Guzan; Bacuna, Clark, Baker, Herd (Lowton, 81′); El Ahmadi (Tonev, 45′), Westwood Delph; Agbonlahor, Benteke, Weimann (Albrighton, 81′).

Mourinho: Van Gaal left good team, but I brought belief

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Jose Mourinho and Manchester United are bringing happiness to the Liberty Stadium on Sunday, or at least more of it.

The United boss says the club’s turnaround is emotionally-based, and that the cupboard certainly wasn’t bare when he took over the Red Devils last summer.

[ MORE: Fellaini red  had “a bit of acting” ]

United finished fifth in the Premier League last season, tied for fourth with Man City and 15 points back of Arsenal. Mourinho’s men sit in the same spot this year, but are in the semifinals of the Europa League, have won the League Cup, and have the door open to the Top Four.

So what’s different? Here’s the boss, from the BBC:

“I think Mr. Van Gaal left a good group of boys with very good relations between them.

“[But] I think they missed happiness, they missed trust, belief, this extra bit that brings resilience, brings fight and they have it [now].”

It’s been a bit of a roller coaster with the Bastian Schweinsteiger and Luke Shaw drama, but — like any new manager — Mourinho did have to sort the club. Now we wonder whether he’ll keep it happy or hit a traditional rut by Year Three (assuming he gets there, and United should be very good next season).

Spurs confirm Wembley as 2017-18 home

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May 14 will indeed be the last time Tottenham Hotspur takes the field at White Hart Lane.

Club chairman Daniel Levy has announced that Spurs will play all of its 2017-18 home matches at Wembley Stadium, and that WHL will be demolished in the offseason.

Spurs have a new venue under construction next door to WHL, calling the venue “the heart” of regeneration plans in the region. From TottenhamHotspur.com:

“This marks a momentous day in our Club’s history as it is the day we formally agreed the demolition of our beloved White Hart Lane.

“The Lane means a huge amount to each and every one of us and we needed to gain greater certainty on the delivery of the new stadium before we made the final decision to commence with the decommissioning of our iconic, historic home for some 118 years.

‘We shall ensure that we give the Lane a fitting farewell when we play our last match here on May 14.”

West Ham’s final match at Upton Park was a memorable one last season, thanks not just to the off-field but the on-field as well. The Irons came back to beat Manchester United 3-2 on a Winston Reid goal.

With Manchester United coincidentally (?) serving as the visitor on May 14, with Top Four if not title implications likely still in play, sign us up for a comfortable seat in front of TV.

Pochettino: Derby matters, but this is about title not “Totteringham”

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Mauricio Pochettino is a focused boss, one many of us wouldn’t mind as our manager.

The longtime Espyanol man knows a thing or two about being relegated to second fiddle in town, with Catalan rivals Barcelona enveloping the spotlight 99 times out of 100.

That’s why he’s not even bothering with treating Arsenal and “St. Totteringham’s Day” — the Gunners’ annual celebration of clinching a spot above Spurs in the standings — like anything than a derby date.

“I really don’t think about which position Arsenal are in. My view and focus is to try to win every game and try to win the Premier League.

“For me (finishing above Arsenal) is not a motivation. The motivation for me is to win because it’s a derby and I know what it means to win a derby. My motivation is to try to win some titles with Tottenham, and my players improve every day and show we are better than the opposition.”

Spurs as a club is growing in big ways, and aiming to sit atop the Premier League standings every year. Yes Premier League derbies are important, but aiming to finish above a rival versus above all rivals is short-sighted. Pochettino’s got it right.

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks – Week 35

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The Premier League games continue to come thick and fast with 10 matches on the slate this weekend.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ] 

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out.

[ STREAM: Premier League “Goal Rush”

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

West Brom 2-0 Leicester City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Man United 2-0 Swansea City – (Sunday, 7 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Middlesbrough 1-3 Man City – (Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM

Crystal Palace 3-1 Burnley – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM

DON’T TOUCH THIS… 

Stoke City 2-2 West Ham – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Tottenham 2-1 Arsenal – (Sunday, 11:30 am. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Sunderland 1-2 Bournemouth – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, CNBC) – [STREAM

Southampton 2-1 Hull City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Watford 2-1 Liverpool – (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Everton 2-1 Chelsea – (Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM