Kamara

Fulham’s Premier League hopes rest on history repeating itself

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“Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times. This arises from the fact that they are produced by men who ever have been, and ever shall be, animated by the same passions.” -Niccolo Machiavelli

In 2008, Fulham FC produced one of the greatest three-match stretches the bottom of the Premier League table has ever seen. In what is known throughout Fulham lore as The Great Escape, the club retained its Premier League status.

With just the disastrously poor Derby County below them in the table and the club five points from safety, Fulham popped off consecutive season-ending wins against Manchester City, Birmingham City, and Portsmouth to avoid relegation.

The win over Manchester City was nothing short of a miracle. Down 2-0 after just 21 minutes, 64th-minute substitute Diomansy Kamara produced a double for the ages along with a penalty from Danny Murphy to begin their mountain climb.

It was a David Tyree moment, one that will live in club history no matter where Kamara’s career were to take him in the aftermath (namely, nowhere).

Then, after a comprehensive 2-0 win over Birmingham behind goals from American Brian McBride and Erik Nevland, it was set up for the final match of the season.

With Fulham and Reading tied on points and Reading scheduled to take on hapless Derby, it was win and you’re in, lose and you’re almost certainly down.

They did it, as Murphy’s 76th-minute header was enough to put Fulham past Portsmouth and the Great Escape was complete.  Just two years later, under Roy Hodgson’s guidance, the team would go on to defeat Juventus in by far the club’s greatest-ever win and eventually make the Europa League final.

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American striker Brian McBride was a key component in Fulham’s 2007/2008 Great Escape, saving the club from the drop.

All of this is in the history books. It’s done and dusted. But it’s still relevent.

Why? Well, this year the Whites find themselves in a undeniably similar position.

Almost eerily so.

Having risen so far from their position of relegation that fateful 2008 spring, the club on the River Thames now finds itself again staring the drop in the face.  This time around they are bottom, without the cushion of a Derby County to buffer them from the basement.

But with a trip to Manchester City next on the fixture list, things are looking similar to their Great Escape. At the time of the 2008 City match, Fulham were five points back of safety. Currently, they sit four back of Crystal Palace in 17th, but it might as well be five given their horrific -35 goal differential which will be virtually impossible to overcome.

And who was the man in goal when Kamara rifled home the winner six years ago? A 20-year-old Joe Hart, who now ironically plays for Hodgson on the England squad.

This time around, there are plenty more matches for Fulham to pick up points before the end, including crucial 6-pointers against Norwich City and Crystal Palace.

No, the problem this time around isn’t time, even if they are running out of clock fast. The problem is simple: they’re not very good.

Fulham don’t pass the eye test. In fact, they flunk it quite miserably. They had a massive opportunity against fellow relegation candidates Cardiff City, in which three points would have put them in a pole position to escape.  Instead, they were beaten up and down the pitch in a disappointing 3-1 loss to a team that hadn’t scored in five games.

Thing is, that 2008 team wasn’t very good either, and they burned chance after chance to save themselves much before the home stretch.

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If Fulham replicate their Great Escape this season, Ashkan Dejagah’s winner against Newcastle could get lost in the story.

On March 29, 2008 they took on Derby County – proud owner of just one win all season and 10 total points – and conceded an 80th minute goal to draw 2-2 and drop 2 critical points.  Or like on February 9, when Fulham fell 1-0 to Middlesbrough who ended the year just 3 points above the drop.

Go back even farther, and it took Hodgson (appointed on December 30 for the fired Lawrie Sanchez) nine matches to earn his first win.

But, there’s hope. With the club’s official Twitter account essentially spamming the hashtag “#believe”  the past few weeks, they went out and firmly defeated a Newcastle club mired in turmoil. Despite the slim 1-0 scoreline, Newcastle hardly threatened and Fulham picked up their first win under Felix Magath, first league win since New Years Day, and first league clean sheet since December 8.

And that, too, has precedent from six years ago.

Two weeks before the miracle at Manchester City, on April 12, Fulham soundly put Reading to rest on the road 2-0 (again from Nevland and McBride) to plant the seeds of what would come. They’d fall 2-0 at eventual Champions League runners up Liverpool the next week, but the Reading match was an incredibly important fixture.

Often overlooked for the flashier three-game season-ending stretch when narratives of the Great Escape are recalled, the win at Reading was an enormous victory. They led nearly the whole way, and rattled the crossbar three times outside of their two goals. The victory was their first in the league away from home all season, and their fourth league clean sheet of the campaign.

The similarities are there. The opportunities are there.

Make no mistake: at the moment, Fulham are a very safe bet to be playing in the Championship next season. The point is, that’s also what we thought in the spring of 2008.

Three things we learned from Leicester’s huge win vs. Man City

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Leicester City beat Manchester City 3-1 at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, with the Foxes extending their lead at the top to six points.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

They are now the legitimate favorites to win the Premier League title this season. Think about that for a second.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League table ] 

Here’s a look at what we learned from what could prove to be a pivotal moment in the title race.

LEICESTER’S CLINIC IN COUNTERING

They do it pretty much every game but nobody can handle it. Nobody. I’m talking about Leicester’s ridiculously efficient counter-attack. At the home of the title favorites — well at least until before this clash — Leicester struck early in both halves and never looked back. Ranieri’s side played like men without any pressure on their shoulders and at this point of this season they have none. Favorites for relegation ahead of this campaign, they now sit 13 points ahead of fifth-placed Manchester United as failure to qualify for the UEFA Champions League would now be hugely disappointing. How they’ve got there is by getting in-behind teams early and often. Whenever Marc Albrighton, N'Golo Kante or Riyad Mahrez got the ball their first instinct is to clip it over the top for Jamie Vardy or Shinji Okazaki to run onto.

It’s not just long-ball, it is playing into spaces defender don’t want to go in with a purpose. Vardy and Okazaki’s incredible work rate typified Leicester’s performance at City and with the center back duo consisting of an ageing Martin Demichelis and a battered and bruised Nicolas Otamendi, Leicester had the better of City’s defense all game long. The Foxes struck fast and hard at the heart of City’s defense and made the most of their set piece opportunities with Robert Huth showing his eye for goal.

This fairytale just keeps on getting more believable and now Leicester’s clash at fellow title contenders Arsenal next Sunday, Valentines Day, will be pivotal in proving whether or not the most romantic storyline in recent PL history will have the fairytale ending it deserves.

GUARDIOLA’S SHADOW LOOMS LARGE

City scrapped a 1-0 victory away at Sunderland in midweek but in all fairness they weren’t very good. On Monday Manuel Pellegrini announced he would be leaving this summer and it was also confirmed that Pep Guardiola will be arriving as the new manager at the end of the season. From the very start, the timing seemed odd.

Nobody was really pressing for the news to break, it was already basically accepted that Guardiola would arrive this summer but Pellegrini decided it was time to announce he was leaving. Talking of departures, most of his players should have joined the fans and left the stadium early on Saturday as they didn’t turn up for a key game in the title race. Win and they would’ve been top on goal difference but they look deflated from the start as Pellegrini’s tactics of playing Fabian Delph on the left and Yaya Toure alongside Fernandinho didn’t work. Toure and Delph were both hooked off in the second off and the former didn’t do his defensive work, as we should expect by now, with Kante and Danny Drinkwater dominating the center of midfield.

With Guardiola’s imminent arrival casting a huge shadow over the Etihad it’s only natural for a few of the players to be concerned about their future and feel a little uneasy. That said, they must be professional and are still in with a shout of winning four trophies during Pellegrini’s final months in charge. That said, they let a huge chance to boost their PL title hopes slip and Guardiola will not have been impressed with the lack of drive, spirit and energy omitted. Yes, City have injury problems with Kevin De Bruyne out and Vincent Kompany still struggling back, but the most expensively assembled team in the PL should be able to cope with these absences better. In a few weeks time the decision to announce the managerial switch at a pivotal stage in the season may seem like a very silly one if City don’t win the League Cup, fail in the UEFA Champions League and fall further behind the Foxes. It’s easy to point to Guardiola’s arrival as a determining factor in this loss, but in fact Leicester where better than Man City in every department.

HUTH AN UNSUNG HERO

When Robert Huth joined Leicester City on loan from Stoke City in January last season, the big German center back was no longer a regular for the Potters. The Foxes were starring relegation square on and looked doomed. At around this time last season I received a message from somebody who knew Huth and it read: “Huthy believes they will stay up, he’s certain of it.” That wry smile on my face reading the text turned into a head nod of appreciation after Leicester won seven of its final nine games last season to stay up. “Wow. He was right.” Now, Huth has become the leading man in Leicester’s defense and he put in an incredible display on Saturday at both ends of the pitch.

Huth, 31, swept home Leicester’s opener less than three minutes into the game and then preceded to pretty much block every City shot or cross which came into the box. He then headed home a looping effort after 60 minutes to score his second and Leicester’s third and the towering center back is proving to be one of the best bargains in a team full of incredible buys. Huth was bought for $5 million this summer from Stoke and his goals away at Man City and Tottenham over the past three weeks have helped Leicester knock off two of their title rivals. Scoring crucial goals aside, his first job is to defend and his partnership with Wes Morgan has been one of the less talked about success stories while Vardy, Mahrez and Kante are around. Now, though, Huth’s resurgence has coincided with Leicester’s dramatic rise to the top. I wonder what he’s thinking they’ll achieve this season…

Manchester City 1-3 Leicester City: Foxes on fire, six points clear at top

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  • Huth scores twice
  • City had 4 shots on target
  • Leicester 6 points clear at top

“We’re going to win the league!” was the chant from Leicester’s fans throughout their clash at second-placed Manchester City on Saturday and after this showing they have to be the favorites.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Leicester beat Man City 3-1 and dominated the game from start to finish with Robert Huth scoring less than three minutes into the game and then Riyad Mahrez scoring less than three minutes into the second half. Huth added another on the hour mark and City were stunned by the Foxes as Sergio Aguero’s late header was nothing more than a consolation.

With the win Leicester increased its lead at the top of the table to six points as Claudio Ranieri‘s side have 53 points for the season and go into their clash at Arsenal next week as the favorite to win the Premier League.

[ RELATED: Watch full match replays

The Foxes had a dream start as Mahrez’s free kick from the right was swept home by Huth from close range and inside three minutes Leicester was 1-0 up. The home fans inside the Etihad were stunned.

City responded well to going behind with Raheem Sterling causing problems with his pace, but it could have been 2-0 to Leicester inside 10 minutes. A good ball from Marc Albrighton found Jamie Vardy in-behind but Joe Hart denied him as he rushed off his line, then Nicolas Otamendi denied Shinji Okazaki‘s follow-up.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Leicester continued to look dangerous on the break with City failing to make the most of their superior possession. That said, Silva did roll a shot just wide of the far post which took a nick off a Leicester defender as City turned up the heat. Vardy then beat Otamendi for pace and drilled the ball across goal for Okazaki but he couldn’t get enough on his effort and the ball skipped wide.

City then went close as Pablo Zabaleta was brought down by Christian Fuchs right on the edge of the 18-yard box although replays suggested it was on the line and should have been a penalty kick. From the resulting free kick Aleksandar Kolarov whipped in a great free kick that Huth somehow managed to deflect over his own cross bar.

[ RELATED: Latest Premier League standings ]

Less than three minutes into the second half Leicester went 2-0 up as Kante’s driving run and through ball saw Mahrez skip passed Otamendi easily and he coolly sent Hart the wrong way with a composed finish. 2-0 to the Foxes as their fans were in dreamland. Outgoing Man City boss Manuel Pellegrini was in the middle of a nightmare as his side were all over the place.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

City pushed to get back into the game and substitute Fernando headed downwards but Kasper Schmeichel scrambled the ball away to safety. Terrific stop from the Danish goalkeeper.

At the other end Okazaki saw his effort blocked by Demichelis — even though the ball looked to come off the Japanese striker last — and from the resulting corner the Foxes went 3-0 up as Huth rose highest and headed home majestically. Scenes at the Etihad as the home fans were stunned into silence.

Man City never recovered from the third goal — Hart denied Vardy his first goal of the game and Leicester’s fourth, while the PL’s top scorer also fired into the side-netting late on — and home fans streamed towards the exit way before the final whistle. Those that did missed Aguero’s header which made it 3-1 but that was no more than a consolation even if he had another good chance and Leicester withheld some late pressure.

Ranieri’s side had put in a memorable display as they extended their lead at the top with ease against a lackluster City outfit.

Watch Live, Stream: Spurs-Watford, Liverpool-Sunderland; every 10am ET game

WATFORD, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 28:  Erik Lamela (4th R) of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates scoring his team's first goal with his team mates during the Barclays Premier League match between Watford and Tottenham Hotspur at Vicarage Road on December 28, 2015 in Watford, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Six Premier League games are coming your way at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday, with plenty of tasty matches on the slate involving some of the big boys.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Click on the link above, or the individual links below, to stream every single game live online via Live Extra. Plus, if it’s lineups, stats and a box score you are after, click on the link below.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score

So, here is your one-stop streaming shop for every PL game kicking off at 10 a.m. ET.

Saturday, 10 a.m. ET kick offs

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Watford – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Spurs could move up to second with a win, while the Hornets have won just one of their last seven games.

Liverpool vs. Sunderland – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, USA) – [STREAM]

Jurgen Klopp will not be on the sidelines after going down with appendicitis. The Black Cats desperately need points in their battle against relegation.

Aston Villa vs. Norwich City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

A simply must-win game for Villa if they’re going to get themselves off the foot of the table. The Canaries are hover just two points above the drop zone.

Stoke City vs. Everton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Two teams hoping to make a charge towards the top six clash. Both have plenty of injuries. This will be tight. Will Martinez be getting out his best dance moves at full time?

Swansea City vs. Crystal Palace – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Three games unbeaten for the Swans as they ease relegation fears but they still aren’t out of it. Palace have lost five on the spin and are without a win in seven games.

Newcastle vs. West Brom – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

The Magpies are still in the bottom three and will see this as a must-win. West Brom haven’t won in four and are just above the drop zone.

VIDEO: Mahrez strokes a beauty; Leicester cruising at Man City

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Riyad Mahrez is hot again, and so is Leicester City.

The Algerian playmaker has an assist in three-straight matches, and added his first Premier League goal since a Dec. 19 brace against Everton as the Foxes are cruising at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday morning

[ WATCH LIVE: Man City vs. Leicester City ]

Mahrez makes his move into the box to lash a classy “no look” shot past Joe Hart, and temporarily — at least — keep Leicester six points clear of hosts Manchester City atop the PL table.

Robert Huth has scored on either side of Mahrez’s goal, and it’s 3-0 at the Etihad Stadium.