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Often derided, Fellaini finally feels some love at United

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) There was only one place Marouane Fellaini was heading after scoring the goal that put Manchester United in a dominant position in the League Cup semifinals.

And it wasn’t to the United fans who have jeered him in recent weeks.

Instead, Fellaini zeroed in on the man who has shown faith in him during the tough times. Jose Mourinho was pumping his fists in the technical area when he was met with the full force of a charging Fellaini and his trademark afro.

[ MORE: Arsenal’s new non-league LB ]

The United manager tumbled backward before putting his arms around the midfielder as they embraced. Minutes later, Fellaini’s name was being sung around Old Trafford.

“He changed the dynamic and the empathy with the fans,” Mourinho said.

Fellaini’s first goal of the season was important, not just because it sealed a 2-0 win for United against Hull on Tuesday in the first leg of the semifinals. The bear-hug celebration showed the togetherness and improving bond between Mourinho and his players, a factor that cannot have helped but aid United during its current run of nine straight victories in all competitions.

You have to go back nearly four years – before United’s miserable years under David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal – to a similar display of emotion, when Robin Van Persie ran along the touchline and embraced Alex Ferguson after scoring a match-clinching penalty against Stoke in April 2013 as United closed in on the Premier League title.

There was more of a personal element to Fellaini’s reaction.

[ MORE: Schneiderlin to Everton ]

A month ago, the Belgium international was booed by sections of Old Trafford – not for the first time – as he warmed up as a substitute late in the second half of United’s win over Tottenham. That was chiefly because a week earlier, he had come on as a late sub against Everton and conceded a penalty that was scored to deny United victory.

Yet there’s also the feeling that United fans just haven’t warmed to a player who is associated, rightly or wrongly, with the most difficult period in the club’s recent history.

Fellaini was one of Moyes’ first signings in the immediate post-Ferguson era and has never appeared a natural fit for United, whose success since the early 1990s was based on fluid, attacking and entertaining football. Getting the best out of Fellaini – a tall midfielder with a strong aerial presence – requires a more direct and pragmatic style, which is why he thrived at former club Everton.

He was nevertheless valued highly by Moyes and Van Gaal, and was therefore a regular starter under them. Under Mourinho, Fellaini has had less game time, especially since November when United has generally gone with a midfield of Michael Carrick, Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba.

Fellaini is now regarded as a Plan B, a player to throw on in the final minutes to cause damage with his height and physicality. His crucial goal against Hull came via that route, with Matteo Darmian floating over a left-wing cross that Fellaini met with a looping header over the goalkeeper.

“I’m here to support the players, especially the players in a difficult situation,” Mourinho said of Fellaini. “But he has a very strong mentality, he coped well with the situation, he was not afraid the next match after Everton to go to the pitch again.

“He is always supported by myself,” Mourinho added. “He knows he is a very important player for me.”

Mourinho likes to have physically imposing players in his team. He had them at Chelsea and immediately after joining United, he signed Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Eric Bailly – all players with a presence.

Given Fellaini’s characteristics, the midfielder could have a vital role to play for United in the second half of the season.

Leicester City 1-1 West Brom: Mahrez nets first goal of PL season

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The Foxes haven’t had the start to the season that Craig Shakespeare and Co. would have hoped for, but Monday’s performance was certainly a step in the right direction.

[ MORE: Mike Ashley puts Newcastle up for sale ]

Leicester City pulled out a 1-1 draw against West Bromwich Albion at the King Power Stadium, however, the Foxes remain in the bottom three of the Premier League.

Riyad Mahrez had plenty of chances on the day, and he rescued his side with 10 minutes remaining after powering home a strike into the far corner. The goal marks the Algerian’s first of the 2017/18 campaign.

Despite a frustrating opening hour, the visitors led on 63 minutes when Nacer Chadli curled home a brilliant free kick that left Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel stunned.

For the Belgium international, Chadli becomes West Brom’s seventh different goalscorer of the season.

Leicester nearly came out flying in the second stanza whenMahrez had an open chance in the center of the Baggies penalty area, however, the Algerian winger’s left-footed attempt was too high to hit the target.

[ MORE: Liverpool’s Lovren accuses Lukaku of deliberate stamp ]

Mahrez’s chance came just minutes after West Brom keeper Boaz Myhill was nearly sent off after the 34-year-old took out a streaking Jamie Vardy on the edge of the penalty box.

Monday’s result means both clubs have now gone six matches with a win in PL play.

Liverpool’s Lovren accuses Lukaku of deliberate stamp

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Saturday’s titanic clash between Liverpool and Manchester United ended in an uneventful draw, but that didn’t mean the match itself was short on drama.

[ MORE: Mike Ashley puts Newcastle up for sale ]

Reds defender Dejan Lovren wasn’t happy with Romelu Lukaku‘s action after the former made a tackle on the Man United striker during the first half of the 0-0 draw.

The Liverpool center back spoke ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League match against Maribor.

“I made a tackle there and I just felt he was over me and could just move away,” Lovren said in regards to the play in question. “To be honest, my point of view is that he did on purpose.”

Despite his claims of Lukaku’s malice, the FA has already come out and stated that they won’t take any action against the Belgium international.

“It is not my decision,” Lovren continued. “He seemed nervous during the game and maybe that’s why. Normally if you do it, you apologise.

“It happened and it’s over. Nobody can change it.”

Tab Ramos confirms interest in USMNT job

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The U.S. Men’s National Team scene is quite uncertain at this point, despite U.S. Soccer announcing an international friendly against European powerhouse Portugal on Monday.

Since Bruce Arena’s announcement on Friday that he would step down as USMNT manager, the million-dollar question has been: who’s next?

[ MORE: USMNT U-17s advance to WC quarterfinals with win over Paraguay ]

One name that continues to be floated around is Tab Ramos — current U.S. Under-20 MNT coach and national team assistant.

Ramos, a former national team midfielder in his own right, was in attendance at Sunday’s New York Red Bulls match and spoke with Metro New York.

“If you’d ask everyone here at the Red Bulls game if they’d be interested in the national team job they would say yes,” Ramos said on Sunday. “And I’m just another fan so I’d say yes as well.”

The 51-year-old played in two World Cups during his career on the pitch (1990, 1994), but Ramos is familiar with what it’s like trying to rebuild the pieces of a failed World Cup bid.

Ramos’ first international appearance with the USMNT came two years after the Americans had missed out on qualification into the 1986 World Cup.

“It was very hard back in the ’80s to get people to recognize that we play soccer. Sometimes it feels like a slap in the face that we have to go dig ourselves out,” he said.

“One thing I know about us is that we picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves us back in 1989. We’ll do it again.”

Watch Live: Leicester City v. West Brom

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Leicester City and West Bromwich Albion clash on Monday in a big clash between Midlands rivals at the King Power Stadium (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN an online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

Neither team has won a game in the Premier League since August and pressure is starting to mount on Leicester’s manager Craig Shakespeare in particular.

As for Tony Pulis and West Brom, the Baggies have not been beaten in three trips to Leicester in the Premier League.

In team news Leicester start Kelechi Iheanacho up top with Vicente Iborra making his first PL start for the Foxez.

West Brom’s goalkeeper Ben Foster is out injured so Boaz Myhill comes in to start in goal, while the Baggies have gone to a 4-3-3 with Nacer Chadli making his first start of the season in the PL.

LINEUPS

Leicester City: Schmeichel; Simpson, Maguire, Morgan, Fuchs; Mahrez, Ndidi, Iborra, Albrighton; Iheanacho, Vardy. Subs: Hamer, Chilwell, Amarety, King, Gray, Slimani, Okazaki

West Brom: Myhill; Dawson, Evans, Hegazi, Gibbs; Livermore, Barry, Krychowiak; Chadli, Rondon, Rodriugez. Subs: Palmer, Nyom, Yacob, Phillips, Brunt, McClean, McAuley