Fulham steal Deadline Day spotlight with total squad overhaul

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While top clubs like Manchester United, Liverpool, and Arsenal sat twiddling their thumbs, the bottom of the table was scrambling to save their seasons.

Of all the teams near the relegation zone, Fulham soared above and beyond on Deadline Day, giving supporters hope for the rest of the season.

The beginning of the Rene Meulensteen era providing a few results but nothing earth shattering, and losses such as 6-0 to Hull and 4-1 to Sunderland left the club broken and in serious trouble.

The situation is dire. The Cottagers sit in 19th position, two points deep in the relegation zone, and matches with Manchester United, Liverpool, and Chelsea dotting their next five fixtures.

So instead of allowing the season to come to them and deal with the consequences, Meulensteen and CEO Alistair Mackintosh – aided by new front office additions Alan Curbishley and Ray Wilkins – took the bull by the horns, armed with an arsenal of cash from new owner Shad Khan.

Mackintosh had come under fire from Fulham fans in recent times, taking the brunt of the blame for a squad that had suddenly become old and decrepit under former manager Martin Jol, filled with players who should probably no longer be starting in the Premier League.

First Mackintosh sealed a move for a relative unknown in Danish midfielder William Kvist, owner of 44 caps at the international level. The deal is a low risk one as a loan, but also leaves open the chance for a purchase should the 28-year-old impress.

A look at Kvist’s numbers show the shrewd nature of the purchase.  At just 81% passing on the Bundesliga season, there appears to be a problem there at first glance.  However, after some digging, it would appear that a poor record heading the ball and lumping it forward seriously depleted his passing number, and his short- and mid-range accuracy actually impresses in the 90% range, according to Squawka statistics.

But the pair left the big guns for deadline day. First, Mackintosh convinced Daniel Levy to part ways with promising midfielder Lewis Holtby. Currently excess to requirements at White Hart Lane, Holtby provides a starving Fulham midfield with plenty of nourishment, and between Kvist and Holtby the creativity department should see itself improve exponentially.

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Lewis Holtby’s passing and creativity is just what the doctor ordered for Fulham’s midfield.

The Holtby deal, while just a loan, also presents itself with promising future prospects. Should the Cottagers save their Premier League status this year – still a very iffy possibility – they may be able to convince Holtby that he can ply his trade best at Craven Cottage and that going back to Tottenham would only mean being stuck back out on the wing, a place the 23-year-old has publicly despised.

Finally, the Deadline Day roast beef to Fulham’s sandwich. After a scare thanks to Big Sam and West Ham (or so it was reported), Fulham secured the services of imposing Greek striker Kostas Mitroglou on a club record fee, brokered by the infamous Mino Raiola.

An outstanding goalscoring record at both Borussia Monchengladbach and Olympiakos (with flair and strength), the gritty Mitroglou is the perfect fit for a relegation battle, replacing the luxurious Dimitar Berbatov at the head of the Fulham attack.

While the Bulgarian provided Fulham fans with many moments to remember, he unfortunately was more of a burden in his second season at Craven Cottage, and the replacement is for sure an upgrade. Mitroglou, at 25 years old, also presents a wonderful chance for the club to make a profit should he impress in around 18 months time.

With a defense that has conceded a league-leading 50 goals thus far – 10 more than any other team – the front office pair knew they had to improve the back line. While the biggest hole remains unsolved at left-back, Fulham did bring in Johnny Heitinga on a free transfer, another quality signing. Everton’s former Player of the Year just two seasons ago, Heitinga has fallen behind

But the two weren’t done. Meulensteen used his Manchester United connections to convince the Old Trafford brass that bright young prospects Ryan Tunnicliffe and Larnell Cole were better served in London.  The icing on the Deadline Day cake (we’re making a full three course meal here), the youth squad duo provide Fulham with talented young options moving forward, whether they stay up or not.

With all these additions, changes had to be made, and ties had to be severed to create roster space.  Adel Taarabt left for AC Milan, clearing one of the two domestic loan slots given to Premier League teams (Darren Bent occupies the other).

Central defenders Philippe Senderos and Aaron Hughes departed for Valencia and Queens Park Rangers respectively, ending an era of frustration for fans forced to watch Senderos destroy a solid 89 minutes with one infuriating mistake.  Hughes leaving is bittersweet, with many remembering his days partnering with Brede Hangeland en route to a Europa League final and 250 club appearances.

The transfer window is a fragile one – drop one domino and the whole plan falls out of whack. But the CEO and manager navigated the treacherous waters successfully, and while Fulham still have a serious bit of work to do on the pitch, the intention is clear – stay up at all costs.

Premier League Preview: Southampton vs. Hull City

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  • Hull won 2-1 on Nov. 6
  • Tigers two points clear of drop zone
  • Saints lead all-time 23W-20D-15L

After back-to-back losses to Man City and Chelsea, Saints meet a different kind of desperation when Hull City arrives at St. Mary’s (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

With a win, Hull can move five points clear of the final relegation spot and heap pressure on Swansea City, who plays Sunday. With a loss, Marco Silva’s men open the 17th place door for Swans.

[ MORE: JPW on Romeu the Destroyer ]

Since the start of the 2011-12 season in the Championship, Southampton has won six of seven matches against Hull. That seventh, however, was the match at the KCOM Stadium earlier this season, one that saw now-West Ham man Robert Snodgrass spur a Tigers comeback.

Saints open the day four points back of eighth place West Brom, and also hold a match-in-hand on the Baggies.

What they’re saying

Saints boss Claude Puel on slump busting“After two losses it’s important to move forward now and take points on Saturday in front of our own fans. We have to improve in the right areas and find a good balance of play, but also a good clinical edge in both penalty areas.”

Marco Silva on Hull’s away troubles““We have conceded goals on the counter-attack away from home in games when the result has been looking good for us – we cannot make it possible for our opponents to do this to us. The second goal we conceded at Stoke is an example of this – conceded at a time when we were in control of the game. Details like this are making the difference and these are things we must look to change. This is clear to me and I pass this on to my players.”

Prediction

Saints have more quality than Hull, but may not have as much fire in the belly. Still, home field means a lot here and Southampton should reverse the score line from November’s tilt. 2-1, with Manolo Gabbiadini and Dusan Tadic leading the way.

La Liga: Sevilla win late to move even with Atletico Madrid in 3rd

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MADRID (AP) Wissam Ben Yedder scored three minutes after entering the game to give Sevilla a late 2-1 win over 10-man Celta Vigo in the Spanish league on Thursday.

The victory moved Sevilla even on points with third-place Atletico Madrid with four matches left. Third place guarantees an automatic spot in the Champions League next season, while the fourth-placed team has to go through a playoff.

Ben Yedder netted the winner from close range after a low cross by Samir Nasri in the 79th minute, beating a defender to the ball and hitting the top of the net with a right-footed shot.

“It was a complex game but the team was able to overcome the difficulties,” Sevilla coach Jorge Sampaoli said.

Joaquin Correa put the host ahead after halftime, and Iago Aspas equalized by converting a penalty kick just minutes later. Aspas did not celebrate the goal out of respect to fans of his former club.

Sevilla dominated from the start and was pressuring vigorously in search of the winner, especially after Celta went a man down when midfielder Pablo Hernandez was sent off with a second yellow card in the 56th with the game 1-1.

Sergio Escudero and Nasri each struck the crossbar a few minutes apart late in the second half, and Vicente Iborra also had hit the woodwork earlier in the game played under steady rain in Seville.

It was the third win in four matches for Sevilla after a streak of five games without a win.

Sevilla and Atletico are level on points, but the Madrid club is ahead on the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Top PL Storylines: Bye-bye, St. Totteringham’s Day? So long, Sunderland?

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Ahead of Week 34 of the 2016-17 Premier League season, we’re most looking forward to keeping an eye on the following storylines…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Cancel St. Totteringham’s Day?

8,018 days (otherwise known as 22.9 years) have passed since Tottenham Hotspur last finished above Arsenal in the Premier League. First of all, that’s a lot of days. Secondly, the time to reset that clock is nearly upon us, as Tottenham take a 14-point lead into Sunday’s North London derby (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com) — perhaps the final one to be played at White Hart Lane. With Arsenal having only five games left to play after Sunday, a 17-point deficit would be mathematically impossible to overcome, and would guarantee Spurs’ first PL finish above Arsenal since the spring of 1995.

The fact that Spurs could end that embarrassing, heinous streak in a game against Arsenal, in perhaps their next-to-last game at White Hart Lane, and maybe even close to within a single point of Chelsea in the title race… it’s almost all too timely and too perfect to believe it could really happen… to Spurs.


Finish the job

With all due respect to Middlesbrough (home), West Bromwich Albion (away), Watford (home) and Sunderland (home), Sunday’s trip to Goodison Park, where they’ve lost on their last two visits (all competitions) and they’ll take on seventh-place Everton (Watch live, 9:05 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com), is far and away the toughest remaining fixture on Chelsea’s schedule as they chase a fifth PL-era title (fifth in all eras). Having booked their spot in the FA Cup final by beating Spurs last weekend, Antonio Conte is dreaming of — and a favorite to win — a double in his first season at Stamford.


Someone has to finish top-four

Ahead of the weekend, two points separate Liverpool (third), Manchester City (fourth) and Manchester United (fifth), with Arsenal another four back in sixth (but possessing a game in hand). Given all the points dropped by each of the aforementioned sides in recent weeks, it’s important to remember that someone has to finish third and fourth in the PL this season.

We’ve already discussed Arsenal’s titanic task, so here’s the challenges facing the other three this round: Liverpool, at Watford (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com); Man City, at Middlesbrough (Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET, on  NBCSports.com); Manchester United, vs. Swansea City (7 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com).


So long, Sunderland?

For five seasons now, Sunderland have flirted with relegation from the PL; and every previous season, they’ve pulled a rabbit out of the hat and managed to stay up. This season, though, under David Moyes, there appears to be no rabbit. With five games to go, safety is a whopping 12 points away, which means a loss to Bournemouth on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBCSports.com), coupled with a win or draw by 17th-place Hull City, would officially send Sunderland to the Championship next season. If the Black Cats somehow find their way out of this predicament, a northeastern knighthood awaits Mr. Moyes.

French authorities investigating 2018, 2022 World Cup bids

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PARIS (AP) French financial prosecutors are investigating the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and have heard former FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

A person with direct knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press on Thursday that France’s financial prosecutor services (PNF) opened the investigation on grounds of private corruption, criminal association, influence peddling, and benefiting from influence peddling relating to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which were awarded to Russia and Qatar respectively.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the case.

Blatter was questioned in Switzerland last week as a witness, the same person told the AP.

The office of the attorney general of Switzerland said in a statement that “at the request of and in the context of proceedings being conducted by French justice authorities, it has questioned Mr. Joseph Blatter in his capacity as a person providing information on the 20th April 2017 in Zurich.”

The PNF opened its investigation last year.

FIFA has also been targeted by investigations led by Swiss and US authorities. Last month, FIFA sent 1,300 pages of internal investigation reports into suspected bribery and corruption to Switzerland’s attorney general. The documents complete a 22-month probe by legal firm Quinn Emanuel, which FIFA retained in the fallout from United States and Swiss federal prosecutors revealing their sprawling investigations of soccer corruption in May 2015.

Blatter said last week that he met with U.S. Department of Justice investigators and insisted he was not a suspect in their bribery and corruption case linked to FIFA.

Blatter was suspended from office in September 2015 and later banned from soccer by the FIFA ethics committee.