West Ham are beleaguered and languishing towards the bottom. One more big defeat could spell the end for Big Sam.

Sam Allardyce handed a managerial life-line by West Ham owners

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Sam Allardyce is every bookie’s favorite to be the next managerial casualty in the Premier League but if you ask his bosses at West Ham United, his job is safe.

Club co-chairmen David Sullivan and David Gold gave Allardyce their backing in an open letter published on the Hammers’ official website, noting that injuries have left the 59-year-old manager with “a near impossible task.”

The letter read as follows:

“Like all West Ham United supporters we feel frustrated and hurt by our recent results. It is never enjoyable being knocked out of a cup competition and losing by such a large scoreline to a lower division side is hard to take for us all. We thought the youngsters gave their all and did not stop trying but, in the end, Nottingham Forest’s experience proved too much for us.

“I know Sam would have loved to have put out a more varied side, with our talented youngsters accompanied by more senior players in the starting XI. But many key players are out injured and Sam has been handed a near impossible task of coming through three crucial games in the space of six days with a squad of only 14 fit and available senior players. This is not an excuse it is a fact. We know Sam has not lost his ambition or desire and is committed to making West Ham United a great Premier League club.”

Speculation regarding Allardyce’s future has raged following a string of poor league results that has left the Hammers second from bottom, three points adrift from safety. The only manager retained from the start of the season at any of the Premier League’s bottom five clubs, Allardyce heaped more pressure on himself last weekend when his side was thrashed 0-5 by Nottingham Forest in the third round of the FA Cup.

The fairness of the West Ham owners is due the club’s injury issues. A lingering foot injury has kept record signing, Andy Carroll, from making a single appearance this season while fellow striker Ricardo Vaz Te featured in seven matches before going down with a serious shoulder issue. Defensively, the Hammers were struck a huge blow when center-back Winston Reid suffered an ankle injury in the 0-0 draw with Aston Villa on November 2nd. Since then fellow center-backs James Tomkins and James Collins also caught the injury bug, forcing Allardyce to play full-backs in the heart of his defense.

After reaching a deal to acquire Everton defender Johnny Heitinga – only for the player to then reject the move – West Ham signed Wolverhampton Wanderers center-back Roger Johnson on loan for the remainder of the season. Up top the Hammers are also making moves and expect to have Monaco’s 6’8″ Ivorian striker, Lacina Traore, in a similar six-month deal.

“Trust us, Andy Carroll is desperate to play and is ready to do his bit for the team and we are confident that the return of all of our injured players will lead to an upturn in our fortunes,” the letter continued. “Thereafter, our second priority is to bring in the new talent needed to bolster our squad in the most needed areas.

“January is not an easy time to do business but we are pleased to confirm we are close to securing one of our key striking targets. A defender is high on the list of priorities as well and progress is being made on that front. We hope to have several of our missing players back in time for Cardiff and we go there knowing that a win can get us out of the bottom three. Such is the nature of the Premier League this season; there are only six points between us and the team in 13th place. Make no mistake, though, we are under no illusions as to the seriousness of our current predicament in the Premier League.

“But on the board we have a combined talent of running football clubs and we will draw on all of our nous to get West Ham United out of this situation. We have experienced difficult times before and we know what will get us results – hard work, determination and perseverance. To that end, we are all working round the clock to do everything in our powers to help arrest our slump in form.”

As expected, Allardyce was uplifted with the backing of the owners. “I’m obviously pleased by the united front we are trying to keep in these difficult times,” said Allardyce. “It’s nice to see and hear. We all understand the difficult position and reasons why. We have to all work through it together and turn it around into positive reaction in terms of results.”

Allardyce and West Ham travel to the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday for the first-leg semi-final of the Capital One Cup before heading to Cardiff City on Saturday for a league clash with the Bluebirds.

 

Antonio Conte on Chelsea’s struggles: “We haven’t got a magic wand”

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24:  Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea looks on during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium on September 24, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Antonio Conte knows turning things around at Chelsea will not be easy.

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Especially since, well, waving a magic wand around will do absolutely nothing to solve their defensive frailties.

Chelsea’s Italian manager was seething following their 3-0 drubbing at Arsenal last weekend as his team looked all over the place defensively and they’ve now conceded nine times in their last four games.

For a manager of Conte’s ilk who prides himself on setting up his teams to be tough to beat and stingy at the back, it hurt him. Big time.

Speaking to the press ahead of Chelsea’s game at Hull City on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBC Sports) Conte knows the size of the task facing him.

“It is never good when you lose, but I think also in these two games we saw and learnt a lot of important things. We must work very hard to recover,” Conte said. “We finished 10th last season – when you finish 10th it means you have problems. Now we are trying to solve this situation, but we haven’t got a magic wand.

“We faced two teams who were very strong (Liverpool and Arsenal) and for me, these two teams are now at the top. We have a lot to improve, but this is the hope we must have. I see the present and the opportunity to improve, it’s not easy. But we know this.”

The Italian also revealed that captain John Terry will not return for this game so he may well have to continue with the likes of Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic in defense, despite both of those long-time Chelsea defenders going through a tough time in terms of their form.

It will be intriguing to see if Conte switches to a 3-5-2 formation this week at Hull. The Tigers usually only play with one man up front, Abel Hernandez, so it would seem unlikely Conte will add an extra man in the center of his defense.

That said, such has been the shocking nature of Chelsea’s defending in recent weeks, the Italian will try anything — expect from magic — to turn this slump around and get back on track after three-straight wins to start the PL campaign had many people touting them as title contenders.

What is Arsenal’s best XI from Arsene Wenger’s 20 years in charge?

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Wow. This was tough.

With Arsene Wenger celebrating 20 years in charge at Arsenal on October 1, tomorrow, now seems like a good time to look back at all the players he’s managed and pick the best XI during his two decades at the helm of the Gunners.

[ MORE: Wenger to England? ]

Of course his early teams dominated the Premier League, winning three PL titles in his first eight seasons in charge which included the “Invincibles” and going 49 games unbeaten in the Premier League. Arsenal fans won’t need reminding that they haven’t won a title for 12 years but that doesn’t mean plenty more fine players haven’t played for the Gunners in that time period.

Below is my selection of the best XI to play for Arsenal under Wenger, and I urge you to tell us yours in the comments section below.

Remember: At 12:30 p.m. ET, this Saturday, Oct. 1, NBCSN presents a new Premier League Download: Inside the Mind of Arsene Wenger, hosted by The Men in Blazers’ Roger Bennett to celebrate 20 years at Arsenal. Promo video is above.


JPW’s best Arsenal XI under Arsene Wenger

—– Seaman —–

— Dixon — Adams — Campbell — Cole —

—- Pires — Vieira — Fabregas — Sanchez —-

—– Henry — Bergkamp —– 

Iniesta in, Fabregas out as Spain seeks to avenge loss to Italy

TOULOUSE, FRANCE - JUNE 13: Andres Iniesta of Spain shoots at goal during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group D match between Spain and Czech Republic at Stadium Municipal on June 13, 2016 in Toulouse, France.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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MADRID (AP) Andres Iniesta will lead Spain in its World Cup qualifying matches against Italy and Albania after returning from injury.

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Spain will be seeking to avenge a loss to Italy at the European Championship that ended the team’s bid for a third consecutive continental title.

Spain coach Julen Lopetegui named Iniesta to his squad on Friday for the upcoming away qualifiers Oct. 6 and 9.

“The return of Andres is very good news for us,” Lopetegui said. “He has played consistently for the past month. We are happy he is here, above all given the rivals we have to face.”

Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas was not included in Lopetegui’s squad after losing his place in Antonio Conte‘s starting lineup for most of this season.

The most notable inclusion was Napoli forward Jose Callejon in place of new Barcelona striker Paco Alcacer, who was dropped. He will join an attack consisting of Diego Costa, Alvaro Morata, Manuel “Nolito” Agudo and Victor “Vitolo” Machin.

Midfielder Francisco “Isco” Alarcon returned to the squad in detriment of Real Madrid teammate Marco Asensio. Madrid defender Nacho Fernandez and Sevilla goalkeeper Sergio Rico were also back after missing Lopetegui’s first list.

The 2-0 loss to Italy in the round-of-16 of Euro 2016 marked the end of Vicente del Bosque’s long and successful stint as Spain’s manager. Lopetegui has since been tasked with rejuvenating a team that won the 2010 World Cup and 2008 and 2012 European Championships.

Under Lopetegui, Spain beat Lichtenstein 8-0 its first qualifier for the 2018 World Cup after beating Belgium in a friendly in his debut. Iniesta missed those two matches with a knee injury.

Both Italy and Albania won their opening qualifiers in Group G.

While Italy is clearly Spain’s main rival for the group, Albania is riding high after winning its first match at a major tournament at Euro 2016.

“These are two important matches, but they are not definitive,” Lopetegui said. “We know how tough they will be and we are motivated to meet the challenge. We will not settle for draws.”

Spain:

Goalkeepers: David De Gea (Manchester United), Pepe Reina (Napoli), Sergio Rico (Sevilla).

Defenders: Nacho Fernandez (Real Madrid), Jordi Alba (Barcelona), Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Gerard Pique (Barcelona), Javi Martinez (Bayern Munich).

Midfielders: Jorge “Koke” Resurreccion (Atletico Madrid), Sergi Roberto (Barcelona), Saul Niguez (Atletico Madrid), Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), David Silva (Manchester City), Lucas Vazquez (Real Madrid), Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), Francisco “Isco” Alarcon (Real Madrid).

Forwards: Jose Callejon (Napoli), Victor “Vitolo” Machin (Sevilla), Alvaro Morata (Real Madrid), Diego Costa (Chelsea), Manuel “Nolito” Agudo (Manchester City).

Why is Jose Mourinho upset with his Man United coaching staff?

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 29:  Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United looks on prior to kickoff during the UEFA Europa League group A match between Manchester United FC and FC Zorya Luhansk at Old Trafford on September 29, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Jose Mourinho was visibly upset during Manchester United’s 1-0 Europa League win against Zorya Luhansk on Thursday.

Why, I hear you ask?

[ MORE: Wenger to coach England? ]

Well, it all centers around his coaching staff as Zorya’s lineup surprised Mourinho and his players, most notably Paul Pogba, were incredible confused.

At the beginning of the game Mourinho yelled towards his coaches and looked bemused alongside Pogba. After the game, which Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s lone goal decided, Mourinho explained what the problem was all about.

“It was set pieces, organisation, they changed their team before the game,” Mourinho said. “Paul Pogba was a bit confused with the changes and obviously I want my assistants to take care of all the details.”

Mourinho was in discussions with assistant manager Rui Faria and Pogba but he was seen staring moodily at analyst Giovanni Cerra and then he took his frustration out on the bench.

The former FC Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid manager is a stickler for details and after spending many years as an assistant manager himself, he expects every meticulous detail to be spot on from his assistants.

Turns out there is a small margin for error when Mourinho is your boss.

With United winning three games on the spin after losing three in a row, Mourinho isn’t getting ahead of himself but anything other than a convincing win over Stoke City this Sunday (Watch live, 7 a.m ET online via NBC Sports) will not be greeted warmly.

One final note: it’s worth remembering that Mourinho has turned on his staff at other clubs before when things weren’t going so well…