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.

Report: Arsenal interested in Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel

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According to a report by The Sun, Arsenal is monitoring the progress of Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.

The rumor does make sense. With Petr Cech at 34 years old and having a poor season in front of net and backup David Ospina failing to challenge him for the starting job, the Gunners are looking elsewhere to bring in a potential future starter.

Schmeichel has been one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League the past two seasons. Last season he led the Foxes to the Premier League title, organizing a stunningly good defensive line of patchwork players. This season, the defense has largely regressed and let Schmeichel down, but he has still performed well and has the metrics to remain one of the league’s top shot-stoppers.

The Danish keeper is 30 years old himself, but that puts him in his prime for a goalkeeper. He has been with Leicester City since 2011, and he will tick 250 appearances for the club with his next match. Schmeichel was rumored to be a member of the secret player delegation that worked hard to see Claudio Ranieri pushed out of the club, a sentiment which he and the other players have strongly denied.

Still, with an improbable Premier League title in hand and an appearance in the Champions League quarterfinals now on the cards, there probably isn’t much else for him at Leicester City. It’s possible Schmeichel could look to bank on his past performances and secure a move to a bigger club this summer.

Should Arsene Wenger stay with Arsenal past this season, a possibility that looks more and more likely, he could look to move on from Cech despite signing the former Chelsea goalkeeper just two summers ago.

Diego Costa injured, but will stay with Spain squad for friendly

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Chelsea striker Diego Costa pulled up in Spain training on Sunday, and with the Blues in first in the Premier League and Costa in great form, there were obvious concerns.

With Costa struggling with leg and ankle injuries, the RFEF informed Chelsea that there was an issue, and Costa was pulled from training and sent for tests. X-Rays at the local hospital in Madrid were negative, and he’s rejoined the squad.

According to the RFEF, doctors will continue to monitor the 28-year-old and he will continue with the national team for the rest of the international break. With a World Cup qualification win over Israel already in the books and just a friendly against France to go on Tuesday, it’s odd that Spain would risk Costa moving forward, but they will continue to keep him around.

Costa has scored 18 goals this season to lead the Blues, and he scored in the win over Israel. Spain takes on France in Saint-Denis on Tuesday, with both teams leading their World Cup qualification groups. Spain has a goal-differential lead on Italy with both teams miles above the rest of the Group G, and France is ahead of Sweden by three points in Group A, with the Netherlands back in fourth.

Foul or flop? Player “headbutts” referee, is sent off

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Well, there must be something in the water down in Brasilia, because things got a little weird this evening.

Flamengo drew with Vasco da Gama 2-2, but that was just the start.

In the 54th minute, with Vasco da Gama leading 1-0 at Estadio Nacional Mané Garrincha, 36-year-old Luis Fabiano was sent off for “headbutting” the referee. Headbutting is in quotes because looking at the video, it certainly appears there was little to no contact, and the referee flops.

Yes, the referee flopped. Take a look:

To be fair, Fabiano was already on a yellow, so getting in the referee’s face even without the headbutt/pelvic thrust would likely still have seen him sent to an early shower.

So the former Porto and Sevilla man was sent off, and Vasco da Gama was down to 10 men. Immediately after the red card, Flamengo took advantage, powering in a pair of goals via Willian Arao and Orlando Berrio to take the lead 2-1. But Vasco wouldn’t quit, and they earned a penalty five minutes into stoppage time, which Nene buried for the 2-2 draw.

To top things off, a player named Yago Pikachu scored the opener for Vasco da Gama, which was followed by a delay in the game seven minutes later after a power surge in the stadium. Go figure.

Lletget diagnosed with foot sprain, escaping further damage

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Word has arrived from the LA Galaxy camp that will see USMNT fans feel relieved as Sebastian Lletget has escaped the news many feared.

The young attacker was impressive in the first 18 minutes of the United States’ 6-0 win over Honduras, but was injured minutes after scoring the opening goal and could not continue. Replays showed that Lletget got his foot caught underneath a defender in the process of a hard challenge on the right wing.

There was concern that Lletget would be out for a significant amount of time, but the Galaxy announced that after testing over the weekend, Lletget did not suffer any structural damage and was diagnosed with a left foot sprain.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Paul Arreola to roster, drops Lletget, Brooks, Morris ]

Lletget will visit a specialist on Monday to determine a plan for recovery, and it’s possible that he will still have to miss some time in the near future. The Galaxy visit Vancouver on Saturday, and his status for that match has to be considered up in the air. They then host Montreal on April 7.

While Lletget obviously misses out on the next USMNT game at Panama on Tuesday having already been dumped from the roster, he will most definitely be available for the June games against Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico, and will likely be an option for Bruce Arena given the manager’s history with Lletget at Los Angeles.

The United States have been struck with a collection of injuries that all occurred just before the international break, hampering the squad significantly. Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris, and Fabian Johnson all went down in the days before reporting for international duty, and the team lost Lletget and John Brooks in the Honduras win. Lletget’s departure could see Alejandro Bedoya into the starting lineup on Tuesday, with the Union midfielder having replaced Lletget in the Honduras match. Also in contention is Jermaine Jones, who could come in after his suspension and push Darlington Nagbe onto the wing.