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.

Surprises, disappointments halfway through Champions League group stage

AP Photo/Dave Thompson
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Clubs have met each of their group mates once, giving us an imperfect but workable sample size for the 2017-18 UEFA Champions League group stage.

Five groups have a side boasting a 3-0 record, while four clubs have yet to seize a single point.

[ CHAMPS LEAGUE: Tuesday | Weds. ]

Some of the strugglers, like 0-1-2 Maribor and 0-1-2 APOEL, are not surprises. And it’s no shock to see Manchester United at perfect 3-0 given its draw.

Others? Well, that’s not the case.

Status down 

While Manchester United is a perfect 3-0 in Group A, raise your hand if you figured Benfica would have just one goal and zero points through three matches. Benfica’s also played two of its three home ties, making the knockout rounds a dream.

Atletico Madrid has found the UEFA Champions League Final in two of the last four seasons, but finds itself with work to do moving forward. Atleti’s Wednesday draw at Qarabag leaves it three points behind Roma and five back of leaders Chelsea. Diego Simeone’s men still host Roma and Qarabag, so points are out there.

Serie A play has been gorgeous for Napoli, who has failed to bring that momentum to Group F. It’s worth noting that a missed penalty by red-hot Dries Mertens could’ve earned the Neapolitans a point at Man City on Tuesday, but as it stands Napoli is three points back of Shakhtar and could be six back before the Ukrainians visit on Nov. 21.

It turns out you can’t sell everyone and expect the youth to come through shining. Monaco is at the bottom of a very winnable group, having lost at home to Porto and Besiktas. Still just three points behind RB Leipzig, they’ll need to win at Monaco and/or Besiktas to have any hope of the knockout rounds.

Borussia Dortmund got a rough deal from officials when it visited Wembley Stadium, but losses to Spurs and Real Madrid can happen in a group stage. Tuesday’s draw at APOEL Nicosia, however, is close to a backbreaker.

(Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images).

Status up

Spurs draw at Real Madrid may have been aided by a huge performance from Hugo Lloris, but goalkeepers — as you know — are actual components of a team. This is in fact a group of death, but the North Londoners are holding a scythe. If Mauricio Pochettino can lead a home win over Real Madrid at a raucous Wembley on All Saints Day, well, look out!

Cenk Tosun has gone from sleepy transfer target to the tip of many gossipers’ tongues, as Besiktas is a perfect 3-0 including wins at Monaco and Porto. Anderson Talisca and… wait for it… Ryan Babel (!!) have also starred for the Turkish powers who will almost certainly see the knockout rounds.

[ MORE: JPW sits down with Ederson ]

Pep Guardiola‘s done this Champions League dance, you know, and Manchester City has weathered all storms. That includes conceded two penalties — one was saved by Ederson — as a down performance versus Napoli still ended with a home win. If City can win at the Stadio San Paolo on Nov. 1, Pep can sleepwalk into the final two matches (though that’s not his style).

Roma has a classy draw at Chelsea and has gathered five points including four away from home. Mimic that mark and i Lupi will be a challenge in the knockout rounds.

Neymar was best pals with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez last season at Barcelona, but having a less-than-perfect relationship with Edinson Cavani hasn’t hurt a thing in Paris. Paris Saint-Germain is for real, scoring 12 times and yet to concede in wins over Bayern Munich, Celtic, and Anderlecht.

Grey area

Liverpool leads its group and advancing is really the only goal, but there’s something off-putting about the home draw against Sevilla. The 1-1 draw at Spartak Moscow looks better now that the Russians hammered Sevilla 5-1, but a return visit from Maribor next should help the Reds buttress their stock.

Be careful how finely you analyze a club as accomplished as two-time reigning champs Real Madrid, but Cristiano Ronaldo’s men don’t look so hot. Still well-positioned to move on, keep a close eye on how they look at Wembley in a few weeks.

Holding pattern

Chelsea‘s 3-3 draw versus Roma today was its first real stumble of the UCL, but there shouldn’t be too many alarm bells considering their injury problems and Roma’s desperation. Consider their status even, especially given their clever win at Atletico Madrid.

Jose Mourinho is doing a fine job with Manchester United, but it’s really hard to praise the club too much for doing what’s expected in a glorified Europa League group. Clearly Sir Alex Ferguson was involved in the icing some of the draw balls again…

UCL wrap: Barcelona, PSG roll; Dzeko scores stunner (video)

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There were a few more zeroes on the board in Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League action, but that doesn’t mean the day failed to entertain by any stretch of the imagination.

[ MORE: Landon Donovan, USSF prez? ]

Chelsea and Roma staged a slugfest at Stamford Bridge, while PSG and Barcelona saw its stars shining, and Jose Mourinho orchestrated another away defensive masterclass for Manchester United.

Chelsea 3-3 RomaRECAP

There’s a lot to say about this one. Chelsea goes up 2-0 through solid goals from David Luiz and Eden Hazard, but finds itself down and needs another Hazard goal to rescue a point.

But this goal, one of two from Edin Dzeko, is why we watch this wonderful sport. Aleksandar Kolarov also scored and had an assist as ex-Man City men came to play at Stamford Bridge.

Benfica 0-1 Manchester UnitedRECAP

The perfect road match, more or less, though United scored its lone goal thanks to goalkeeper error. Marcus Rashford took the free kick that was carried across the goal line, and United completed more than 500 passes to double Benfica’s output at the Estadio da Luz.

Barcelona 3-1 Olympiacos

It’s not much of a surprise to see Barca triumph at home over Greek opposition. An own goal joined Lucas Digne and this historic Lionel Messi marker to build a 3-0 lead at the Camp Nou.

Anderlecht 0-4 Paris Saint-Germain

In case you think PSG cannot make a run this year, consider its list of goal scorers on Wednesday: Kylian Mbappe, Angel Di Maria, Neymar, and Edinson Cavani.

Elsewhere
Qarabag 0-0 Atletico Madrid
Juventus 2-1 Sporting Lisbon
CSKA Moscow 0-2 Basel
Bayern Munich 3-0 Celtic

Mourinho: Tactics involved targeting young Benfica backstop

AP Photo/Armando Franca
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Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho knew that promising Benfica backstop Mile Svilar would be facing some big nerves.

The 18-year-old was making his UEFA Champions League debut, and Mourinho instructed his Red Devils to challenge the backstop at every turn.

[ RECAP: Benfica 0-1 Man Utd ]

That paid off when Svilar carried Marcus Rashford‘s free kick into the goal, the lone marker of a 1-0 loss that keeps United atop Group A and Benfica three points behind second- and third place.

“I knew how good the goalkeeper was, I told the players that. We had a little bit of a strategy, especially on set-pieces to make him uncomfortable. We put men around him on corners so he cannot come out. He risks a lot, but only top keepers do that. He was unlucky for the goal,” Mourinho said.

Svilar looked dejected after the game, apologizing to fans at the Estadio da Luz and getting consolation from a fellow Belgian in Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku.

Nemanja Matic laid out United’s strategy a bit more, from the BBC:

“The manager said to us to try and shoot and get some crosses towards their goalkeeper because he is young and playing in his first game. This is football and I know he is a great goalkeeper and I wish him well for the future.

“We had control, some difficulties in the first 30 minuets but then we controlled the pitch. We used our experience. We could not find the second goal but did not make any mistakes at the back.”

Rashford limped out of the game, and Mourinho says he initially thought it was cramps. Instead, it’s a problem with his left knee. Simon Peach of the Press Association quotes Mourinho as hoping the injury is not bad.

United completed more than 500 passes, doubling Benfica’s production. Some have been critical of Mourinho’s penchant to play it safe, and he winked at them after the match in calling his tactics “a crime.”

“We were in control, David De Gea did not have one save to make. I never felt we could concede a goal and were solid defensively. Sometime I feel being good defensively is a crime, but that is a way of getting results.”

Chelsea 3-3 Roma – Thrills at the Bridge

AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth
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  • Luiz, Hazard put Chelsea up 2-0
  • Kolarov, Dzeko brace flip lead
  • Hazard nabs equalizer
  • U.S. U-20 mid Scott on bench for Chelsea

Eden Hazard scored twice as Chelsea overcame the sacrifice of a 2-0 lead and the Blues drew AS Roma 3-3 at Stamford Bridge in UEFA Champions League action on Wednesday.

David Luiz also scored for Chelsea. Ex-Man City men Edin Dzeko and Aleksandar Kolarov starred for Roma, with Dzeko scoring twice and Kolarov adding a goal and an assist.

Chelsea has seven points to lead Group C, two more than Roma and five ahead of third-placed Atletico Madrid. The sides will meet again in Rome on Halloween.

[ MORE: Landon Donovan, USSF prez? ]

Luiz started the scoring with a delightful strike. Call it a second bite at the proverbial apple if you must, but then admit he sunk his teeth into it.

Eden Hazard made a darting run to double Chelsea’s lead, but Kolarov pulled Roma within one with a deflected strike past Thibaut Courtois.

Diego Perotti curled a shot that hardly troubled Courtois in the 63rd minute, the Chelsea keeper just leaving his feet collect it.

Dzeko and Chelsea’s Andreas Christensen (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Then the former Man City striker struck again, seeing a long diagonal ball over his shoulder and whizzing a perfect left-footed volley through the flailing arms of Courtois.

Dzeko then made a late move before a Kolarov free kick to lose his mark and nod home a go-ahead goal.

It wasn’t over, as Hazard found his way to space and a cross from Pedro.

The Belgian headed his chance beyond a diving Alisson, and it was 3-3 with 15 minutes to play.

American-English midfielder Kyle Scott did not make his Chelsea bow. The 19-year-old has represented England at the U-16 level and the U.S. at the U-18 and U-20 levels.