Manchester United 2-2 Fulham: Darren Bent denies Old Trafford comeback as United continue to falter (video)

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It ended in a draw, but no doubt feels like a loss by Manchester United. Two points lost, that is.

Fulham got an early goal, parked the bus, and withstood a furious assault from Manchester United. They broke with 10 minutes to go, but Darren Bent scored at the death as Fulham picked up a vital point in their quest against relegation.

The attacking numbers are staggering. With the visitors attempting to salvage all three points after Steve Sidwell gave them a 19th minute lead, Manchester United unleashed an assault that is sure to rewrite the statistics record books.

At the end of it all, United had attempted 82 crosses, of which 18 they completed, and attempted 31 shots.  That crossing total is the most by any team in the five major European leagues this year.

United outpassed Fulham 598-136.  They forced the visitors into a staggering 89 clearances, of which ALL were successful.  Standing out in defense was 6’5″ 21-year-old Dan Burn, who managed 22 clearances and halting crosses whenever they came near.

While Fulham were busy on the defensive end, they made the most of their few chances.  Venturing into the attacking third for what seemed like the first time all match, a curling ball from Lewis Holtby found Steve Sidwell and the Englishman slid and poked the ball into the bottom corner for a 19th minute Fulham lead.

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Steve Sidwell’s 19th minute opener set the tone as Manchester United spent much of the match playing catch-up.

The goal’s buildup saw both Wayne Rooney and Darren Fletcher both fail to track Sidwell’s run, with the latter certainly the one to shoulder most of the blame.

The goal, Sidwell’s sixth of the season, stunned the Old Trafford faithful and came entirely against the run of play.

The home side would, however, prove wasteful. Robin van Persie produced a stunning miss just minutes after the opener, blasting well over from just two yards out on the end of a great cross from Rafael.

Fulham had a big miss of their own. Young Muamer Tankovic broke well on a three-on-two situation, and he found Kieran Richardson, but the angle was too tight for the winger who blasted over.

United continued to pummel Fulham’s penalty area, as pretty much everyone in the Red Devil attack had a good pop at goal.  A furious moment on 39 minutes saw two saves from Maarten Stekelenburg as well as two blocks kept a ridiculous flurry of shots from Michael Carrick and Patrice Evra somehow out of the Fulham net.

It was more of the same in the second half, and United’s pressure forced a world-class save from Stekelenburg on 55 minutes to keep Wayne Rooney out.

As Fulham parked the bus to keep United out, the pressure mounted. United threw the kitchen sink at Fulham out of frustration, but they maintained their quality.  Key passes came from Wayne Rooney, sub Adnan Januzaj, and the rest of the attacking midfield.

United finally got their goal, and when they did the floodgates opened. As Manchester United peppered the Fulham goalmouth, Juan Mata lashed across the face of goal to Robin van Persie, who touched home, and immediately called his teammates to return to the center spot.

They weren’t done.  Michael Carrick unleashed a shot that was deflected and found the top corner past Stekelenburg for the lead, and just like that it was 2-1.

With Fulham offering nothing in the attack, it appeared that the double had sunk them, but in stoppage time they pressed one more time, and four minutes into the extra time, Kieran Richardson forced a spectacular save from David De Gea before Darren Bent pounced on the rebound.

The share of spoils allows Fulham to stay three points from safety, just a point back in 20th.  For Manchester United, they had a chance to draw within two of Everton, but instead they remain four back in seventh.

GOALS:

Manchester United – van Persie 78′; Carrick 80′
Fulham – Sidwell 19′; Bent 90+4′

LINEUPS:

Manchester United – De Gea; Rafael (Valencia 69′), Smalling, Vidic, Evra; Mata, Carrick, Fletcher (Januzaj 62′), Young (Hernandez 69′); Rooney, van Persie.

Fulham – Stekelenburg; Riise, Burn, Heitinga, Riether, Richardson; Kvist (Cole 80′), Sidwell, Tunnicliffe (Parker 65′), Holtby; Tankovic (Bent 45′).

French league terminates goal-line technology contract

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PARIS (AP) The French football league has terminated the contract with its goal-line technology provider after a series of glitches.

The LFP had already suspended the use of GoalControl, the German system that was deployed at the 2014 World Cup.

According to L’Equipe newspaper, the league will launch a tender in February to find a new provider of the technology that determines whether the ball crossed the line.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

In recent months, the French league had repeatedly expressed its discontent with GoalControl.

Goal-line technology entered soccer after a goal was wrongly disallowed at the 2010 World Cup.

FIFA is already focused on fast-tracking the next phase of technology – video assistant referees – for the World Cup in June.

Goal-line technology and VAR were provided by Hawk-Eye at the Confederations Cup last year.

Bristol City’s Johnson: “They certainly have heard of us now”

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The Premier League world may see Bristol City next season, but it seems its manager has the personality to arrive on the top flight whether or not his Robins earn promotion this season.

Johnson, 36, earned plenty of plaudits after leading his Championship club to the League Cup semifinals, famously defeated Manchester United in the quarters.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

Before that, Bristol beat Premier League sides Crystal Palace, Stoke City, and Watford. The Robins beat third tier Plymouth Argyle 5-0 in the first round.

Johnson was beaming after the Robins took Man City to the edge, closing to within a goal of extra time before Kevin De Bruyne‘s stoppage time number ended the tie 5-3 on aggregate.

“Absolutely I’m proud. It’s not just tonight but over the course of the season, particularly the cup run. It was a fantastic occasion, I’m sorry we couldn’t get the win but we played against the best side that I have ever seen live. They have so many good individuals.

“We kept going and it’s taken two injury-time goals to beat us. They certainly have [heard of us] now…everybody knows what we’re about. It’s been great.”

Bristol City is in the Championship’s fifth place, bidding for its first top flight campaign since 1980. Johnson should be a hot prospect to earn a shot in the Premier League should the Robins not make the jump.

League Cup semifinal preview: Arsenal vs. Chelsea

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  • Chelsea has won 4-of-7 League Cup matches vs. Arsenal
  • Arsenal leads all-time series 74W-58D-62L
  • Clubs have drawn four times this season

Hardware hopes are on the line when Chelsea hits the Emirates Stadium for a League Cup semifinal second leg with Arsenal on Wednesday.

The sides drew 0-0 at Stamford Bridge, giving Chelsea the advantage of knowing a scoring draw would do the trick and set up a date with Manchester City at Wembley on Feb. 25, though Arsenal has home field advantage in pursuit of a win.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

Henrikh Mkhitaryan may debut for Arsenal, though the club released an interesting note on Tuesday: He’ll wear No. 7 in most competitions, but will have to use a different number in the Europa League because Alexis Sanchez wore it to start the tournament.

Chelsea’s Antonio Conte won’t have Alvaro Morata (back) and Cesc Fabregas for the match, though Andreas Christensen will be available for selection.

The clubs are no strangers to each other in big non-PL spots, squaring off in this season’s Community Shield (Arsenal won in penalty kicks) and last season’s FA Cup Final (Arsenal won).

Nothing has separated the sides on the field aside from those penalty kicks at Wembley Stadium, as Arsenal and Chelsea have drawn 1-1, 0-0, 2-2, and 0-0 since August.

What they’re saying

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger on Henrikh Mkhitaryan“He can play in different positions, but personally I see him first in a wide position, but I’m thinking about him a possibility to play through the middle. You are certain in our job of nothing, that’s absolutely sure. But you believe and I believe he has the qualities to do well, is a team player and our game is based on team attitude and movement and I think he can absorb the quantity of movement in our team.”

Chelsea’s Conte on the lineup: “Every game is different, you change the quality of your opponent and you must be intelligent enough to understand if you should continue with the same players or make some changes.”

Javier Mascherano leaving Barcelona after 8 seasons

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says defender Javier Mascherano is leaving the club after eight seasons.

Barcelona says there will be a farewell ceremony on Wednesday with Mascherano, club president Josep Bartomeu and the rest of the squad.

[ MORE: Man City to buy $86m CB ]

The 33-year-old Argentina international will say goodbye to the fans before Thursday’s game against Espanyol at Camp Nou in the Copa del Rey. He is reportedly going to play in China.

Mascherano, who also played as a defensive midfielder, arrived in Barcelona in 2010 from Liverpool and helped the Catalan club win 18 titles. He has made 334 appearances with Barcelona, but recently hadn’t been playing much.

The club earlier this month signed Colombia international Yerry Mina to boost its defense.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga