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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.

source:
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′).

Klinsmann praises Nagbe: “He knows he has to push the envelope”

FRISCO, TX - MAY 25:  Pedro Larrea #15 of Ecuador reacts as Nagbe Darlington #10 of the United States celebrates with Christian Pulisic #17 of the United States after scoring against Ecuador during an International Friendly match at Toyota Stadium on May 25, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images
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Breaking into a Jurgen Klinsmann side isn’t easy, especially for an attacker.

With the United States men’s national team boss quite happy to trot out Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and — when healthy — Jozy Altidore, becoming a regular isn’t easy.

So making the most of your opportunity is key, and Darlington Nagbe has done that most times he’s hit the pitch for the USMNT.

[ USMNT-ECUADOR: Match recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

And scoring a 90th minute winner against Ecuador, even in a 1-0 friendly win, is going to help his odds of sticking in the coach’s mind. Klinsmann said Nagbe “knows he has to push the envelope”, and lauded him for doing so while cautioning that he’s never questioned the offensive acumen of Portland Timbers’ man.

From MLSSoccer.com:

“Now you also want to tell him ‘Listen, you’ve got to make an impression. You’ve got to learn to play both ways and grind it out defensively, go into 1v1s and win balls as well,’” Klinsmann said.

“And that’s just going forward. He has tremendous talent with the ball at his feet going forward. That’s what we enjoy in MLS every weekend. But the international side is both ways, and that’s what we’re working on. And he’s getting better and better at doing that.”

Nagbe was among a handful of U.S. players to shine during a dominant second half that saw the Timbers midfielder snare the decisive goal, and it’s not a stretch to say he was the brightest. Let’s hope to see him get a chance to start on Saturday against Bolivia.

Lukaku will listen to Everton but “I have my own ideas in mind

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - MAY 11: Romelu Lukaku of Everton arrives for the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and Everton at the Stadium of Light on May 11, 2016 in Sunderland, England.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
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Romelu Lukaku‘s future looks to be away from Goodison Park.

The big Belgian striker authored 25 goals across all competitions this season, including 18 in the Premier League.

[ MORE: Zlatan has “taken a decision” ]

But as he prepares for the Euro 2016 tournament, Lukaku’s comments make it seem likely that even new investments from up high aren’t going to keep him on Merseyside.

From Sky Sports:

“We have a new investor at Everton and out of courtesy I will listen to what he has to say. But I have my own ideas in mind. I want to win titles.

“I have had a very good season, but it is time for me to write myself a CV. That is why I play football. I got that trophy-winning mindset from Chelsea.”

Lukaku would be a big ticket item on the transfer market, and should go for more than the $41 million price tag Everton paid to get him from Chelsea.

Ibrahimovic says he has received offers from England, Italy

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 11:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Paris Saint-Germain walks out for a training session ahead of the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final Second Leg match against Manchester City at Etihad Stadium on April 11, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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STOCKHOLM (AP) Still looking for a team for next season, Zlatan Ibrahimovic says he has “concrete offers” from England, Italy and other countries.

The 34-year-old Sweden striker, who has said he is leaving Paris Saint-Germain, has yet to announce where he is headed after the European Championship.

[ USMNT-ECUADOR: Match recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

Ibrahimovic says “I have taken my decision,” but he didn’t elaborate.

At Euro 2016, Sweden will play in Group E with Belgium, Italy and Ireland.

Benitez stay is huge, but Newcastle cannot be content with players

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 30:  Rafael Benitez (R) manager of Newcastle United congratulates Andros Townsend (L) after their 1-0 win in the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Crystal Palace at St James' Park on April 30, 2016 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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As posted yesterday, Rafa Benitez met with the media after Newcastle United confirmed that the trophy-winning manager has decided to stay with the club despite relegation, and said this is his ship now.

This is huge news for the Magpies.

The 56-year-old Spaniard couldn’t rescue the sinking ship he inherited from Steve McClaren, and is tasked with lifting Newcastle back to the Premier League at the first time of asking.

[ USMNT-ECUADOR: Match recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

For years, Newcastle’s managers have been subject to the approval of chief scouts, managing directors and owner Mike Ashley. What Benitez has now is assurances that no player is being sold without his permission, and none being bought without his approval. Which means no midseason sales of Yohan Cabaye because the iron is hot, or unrequested purchases like Xisco.

Of course that could mean we’re headed for a huge August or January bust-up when Ashley or Lee Charnley pulls the rug out from some big acquisition that could firm up Newcastle’s standing in the top flight, but we’ll stay on the sunny side for now and assume Benitez’s people made that part of his contact air tight.

It means Newcastle could line up, basically, the same as last season. There are plusses and minuses to that, of course, as the club was relegated thanks to woeful form and players who were perhaps rightfully accused of only showing up for primetime matches.

Consider:

— Newcastle took as many points from Manchester United (2) as Aston Villa.

— The Magpies went 2-0 against Tottenham Hotspur, grabbed four points from Liverpool, beat West Ham and drew both Manchester City and Chelsea.

— They also lost to relegation rivals Norwich, drew Sunderland twice and were swept by Watford.

So while Benitez holds sway to keep Moussa Sissoko, Georginio Wijnaldum and Daryl Janmaat despite the big money they could command on the open market, he has to be 100 percent sure they won’t mail it in.

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Kevin Nolan of Newcastle United celebrates scoring the opening goal with team mate Andy Carroll (L) during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Liverpool at St James' Park on December 11, 2010 in Newcastle, England. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Carroll and Nolan (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

There’s no certainty there, and one of the main things that helped Newcastle bounce right back up to the PL in 2009-10 was a crew that got its footing in the Championship by Week 13 and never looked back: the Magpies lost just once in the league from Oct. 24 onward thanks in large part to heart-and-soul players who stuck around after the drop (Kevin Nolan, Jonas Gutierrez, Fabricio Coloccini, Andy Carroll and others).

Among those who fit the bill for understanding the task at hand are Andros Townsend, Jonjo Shelvey, Jack Colback, Chancel Mbemba and Coloccini. Others, like Sissoko and Siem De Jong, risk poisoning the well. That’s not to say they shouldn’t be kept around, but Benitez will need to know transfer rumor and agent hijinks aren’t in the offing.

Make no mistake about it, Benitez in control is better than anything the Magpies have had in ages and Newcastle is far more likely to replicate the instant promotions of West Ham and itself than the divisional drops of Leeds United and Portsmouth.