Sunderland's Adam Johnson, left, celebrates his goal against Fulham with teammates during their English Premier League soccer match at Craven Cottage, London, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)

Fulham 1-4 Sunderland: Much needed victory gives Black Cats hope (video)

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Clint Dempsey made his return to Craven Cottage today, happily welcomed by Fulham supporters, who showed their appreciation for his five seasons spent at the club. Unfortunately, the Whites couldn’t mark the American’s return with a win, instead floundering when confronted with Sunderland’s well-worked setpieces and quick counterattacks.

For the first 25 minutes, it looked as though the hosts were going to come out on top. Fulham were putting plenty of pressure on the Black Cats, and in the 7th minute, Vito Mannone had to rescue a close range shot from  Dimitar Berbatov, getting on the end of a cross from Adel Taarabt.

Dempsey too, tried to get in on the action, again on the end of a ball from Taarabt. But the attacker’s shot went wide, prompting a counter-attack that set up Sunderland’s first chance of the match.

Shortly before the half-hour mark, the visitors pulled in front. Steve Sidwell fouled Adam Johnson about 25 yards from goal, and the forward stepped up to take the free kick himself. The shot curled in to the top corner of the net and, although David Stockdale was able to get a hand on it, the Fulham keeper couldn’t keep it out.

Fulham’s early spirit seemed broken by the Black Cats’ lead, with the hosts unable to put in another effort on goal. Instead it was Sunderland doubling their lead, off another free kick. This time Johnson sent it back to Ki Sung-Yueng, whose shot wiggled through the Fulham shirts to find the back of the net.

The hosts got themselves back into the match early in the second half. Again, the goal came from a set piece, with Damien Duff sending in the corner. Sidwell was there to nod in, his second in two games and his fifth of the season.

But the goal turned out to be a simple consolation for the hosts. Despite pressure from Fulham as they looked for the equalizer, Sunderland were able to break free with a perfect counterattack. Jozy Altidore, on just a few minutes before, slid the ball over to Ki, who set up Johnson for his second.

Sunderland didn’t stop there, however. In the 85th minute, Philippe Senderos brought Altidore down inside the area. Johnson stepped up to take the resulting penalty, sending Stockdale the wrong way while completing his hattrick.

Fulham: Stockdale; Riether, Senderos, Amorebieta, Riise; Duff (Dejagah 68), Parker, Sidwell, Dempsey (Bent 79); Taarabt (Kasami 63); Berbatov

Goals: Sidwell 52′

Sunderland: Mannone, Bardsley, Alonso, Brown, O’Shea, Cattermole, Colback, Ki, Johnson (Celustka 87), Borini (Larsson 75), Fletcher (Altidore 66)

Goals: Johnson 29′,69′, 85′; Ki 41′

Klinsmann side-steps blame, calls USA-Mexico one of world’s best rivalries

Jurgen Klinsmann, USMNT
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The rivalry between the national soccer teams of the United States and Mexico is one of the fiercest and most unique of its kind in the world of sports. Anyone who’s participated in, or simply attended, a competitive fixture between the two sides will immediately attest to that.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage ]

Speaking to ahead of Saturday’s clash against Mexico at the Rose Bowl, it’s quite interesting to hear current USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann describe the rivalry from his point of view, both before and after having coached in it on a number of occasions.

Before we get to that, though, Klinsmann had a bit more blame side step regarding his side’s fourth-place finish at the 2015 Gold Cup, the USMNT’s worst-ever showing at the tournament for CONCACAF nations.

Q: What did you learn from this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, where you lost to Jamaica in the semi-finals?

A: There were so many things that happened in the tournament and decisions that were made that affected the outcome. It was difficult for the players to know what to expect. For Mexico and for Panama it was the same thing. The lesson is that you just have to roll with it and try to control the things you can.

What’s the no. 1 thing players can’t control? Who gets called into the team/plays in the games.

What was the no. 1 problem for the USMNT at this summer’s Gold Cup? Who got called up/played game after game despite performing very poorly. Ultimately, it’s what undid them in the semifinals and third-place game.

Just once — once — would it hurt Klinsmann to answer a question with an “I,” or “me,” or even “we?” The question was “What did you learn,” yet the answer always come back to “the players,” or “they,” or “them.” At this point, Klinsmann either believes he’s infallible, or he’s simply trying to see how many ridiculous statements he can get away with.

Q: You’ve been in the top US job for almost five years now and you’ve met Mexico many times. How would you define the rivalry between these countries on the pitch? Can you compare it with others you’ve experienced?

A: The USA-Mexico rivalry is one of the greats in world football. For me, it compares to Germany-Holland in terms of the intensity and emotion it brings out in the fans. As USA coach, it was a learning curve to understand how much this rivalry means to our fans. We had won some games against big nations, but the reaction from everyone to when we went down to [Estadio] Azteca and beat Mexico there for the first time was just amazing.

Q: What makes the rivalry unique?

A: What is unique is that there are so many Mexican-Americans living in the United States, so the rivalry crosses borders. We have seen many times in these last years that younger Mexican-Americans will wear a Mexico jersey to our game, and when we start doing well they take it off and have a U.S. jersey underneath! More and more they’re supporting us, and we hope to continue to win them over.

Klinsmann gets this one absolutely right. With the two countries situated right next to each other, the aforementioned immigration of so many Mexican soccer fans into the U.S., and the classic battles between the two sides over the years, USA-Mexico not only feels amazing to get one over on your rivals, but perhaps more than anything it’s avoiding that feeling of defeat, of embarrassment, of being taunted and haunted for days, weeks, months and sometimes years, that makes beating the old foe so satisfying.

Ozil, Coquelin: Arsenal can win the title this season

Mesut Ozil, Arsenal FC
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I suppose, in theory, that any Premier League club that fields a team could win the league title for a given season, so the above headline could have been written in reference to any one of 20 teams a few short weeks ago.

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Fast forward eight rounds of fixtures to the present day, and it’s becoming clearer and clearer with every passing week that it’s a three-horse race — Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United, who currently sit 1-2-3 atop the league — for the 2015-16 Premier League title.

So — and stick with me for just a second — why not Arsenal? [The crowd gasps loudly] Arsenal midfielders Mesut Ozil and Francis Coquelin believe the Gunners have what it takes to win the title this year, so why doesn’t anyone else?

Ozil and Coquelin, on Arsenal’s progression to title contenders — quotes from the Guardian:

Ozil: “We have a great team with many world-class players. Our goal is to win the Premier League and I think that this season it’s possible to do it, if we all stay healthy. But the season is long.”

Ozil: “I didn’t expect [Bayern Munich] to beat Dortmund 5-1. Their recent results show they are simply in great shape … But our victory against Manchester United was a sign: when we play and want it 100 percent, then we can beat Bayern.

“We are playing at home. Although we have respect for them, we don’t have any fear. We know how to score goals against Bayern and we can be successful. It will be difficult – but we have the potential to beat any team.”

Coquelin: “We proved a lot of people wrong. Inside the dressing room we knew we could do good things this season. We knew we could be contenders, but obviously we have to be consistent.

“We are getting stronger against the big teams. We beat City last season, now United. It’s all about consistency. The league is getting tougher, so we need to be getting results every week … We knew we had to put it right after Olympiakos and that’s what we’ve done.”

Coquelin is absolutely right — no one expected Arsenal to throttle Man United the way they did on Sunday. The Gunners acquitted themselves quite well, though it should be mentioned that Louis Van Gaal set up United to fail miserably with the immobile midfield duo of Michael Carrick and Bastian Schweinsteiger against a quick, dynamic Arsenal unit.

[ MORE: “Super computer” predicts final Premier League standings ]

That’s not meant to take anything away from Arsenal’s scintillating performance, because they did exactly what they should be doing against a poorly planned side — that’s not always been the case for Arsenal against top teams. The Gunners will play hosts to Man City on Dec. 19; perhaps we’ll better be able to dub them contenders or pretenders based their showing that day.