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Southampton to Anfield in an hour: Incredible fan story emerges

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LIVERPOOL – Over 35 Southampton fans were still in Southampton just over an hour before their team kicked off at Anfield on Wednesday.

Around an hour later they were stood in the Anfield Road end watching their team in the huge EFL Cup semifinal second leg clash.

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Southampton beat Liverpool 1-0 and sealed their spot in the EFL Cup final for just the second time in club history and a group of fans who feared they’d miss the landmark moment have an incredible story to tell.

UK airline Flybe have dubbed their incredible efforts on Wednesday as a “rescue operation” as a miraculous operation from their staff, and airport staff in Southampton and Liverpool, ensured that Saints fans and club officials witnessed one of the greatest nights in Saints’ history first-hand.

How did it all play out?

With a technical fault delaying the 3:20pm flight from Southampton to Manchester on Wednesday – Manchester Airport is the closest airport to Liverpool you can fly to from Southampton on a scheduled service – fans, Southampton’s Chief Executive Officer Gareth Rogers and club ambassador Kelvin Davis were all stranded over 235 miles from Anfield less than two hours before kick off.

[ MORE: Saints edge Liverpool to reach Wembley ]

Compounding their misery was the fact that several other flights had been delayed or canceled at Southampton Airport in previous days due to freezing fog, meaning other flights were fully-booked and plenty of aircraft were displaced due to cancellations.

A four and a half hour drive in rush hour meant they would have reached Liverpool around an hour or so after full time, as would the best available train journey.

That seemed to be it. Their hopes of making the game were over. Or so they thought…

As some fans left the airport in Southampton and gave up hope of making the game, a plane was miraculously made ready after being flown in from Edinburgh to fly the fans directly to Liverpool’s John Lennon Airport instead, an airport you can’t fly to on a scheduled service from Southampton. After a quick charter flight put on by Flybe the fans then landed before the scheduled arrival time of 7:40pm local time and a bus was arranged to pick them up at the airport and take them straight to Anfield, 10 miles away, for the game which kicked off at 8pm.

The mastermind of this mission was Flybe’s Chief Operating Officer Luke Farajallah as he and his staff noticed the unfolding situation via social media and frantically made all of the arrangements to first find a plane, then a crew and arrange priority clearance at Liverpool Airport for the aircraft to land.

After all of Farajallah’s work, the fans only missed the opening few minutes of the match and with their luggage alongside them they were celebrating a famous win in the away end by the end of normal time.

This journey was far from normal. But boy, was it worth it for the Saints fans.

Recalling the craziness after the famous win at Anfield, Saints fans in Liverpool told Pro Soccer Talk about the incredible effort from Flybe to get them to the game and were overwhelmed they made it to the match.

Some Liverpool fans were also on board and Liverpool supporter Katie Stockwell was grateful for the effort Flybe made, despite seeing her team lose.

“When it was announced our flight would not be taking off until 8pm and we would miss the game, one guy was so upset and had his head in his hands. We were pretty gutted and were told we could get our money back for the flight but then it was announced we were flying to Liverpool, somewhere they don’t usually fly to, so it was really good for the fans,” Stockwell said. “It was a really nice thing for Flybe to do and they didn’t have to do it but it was much appreciated by everyone. It was mostly Saints fans on the plane and bus but some Liverpool supporters to and everyone was in really good spirits heading to the game on the bus after all the drama. In the end it didn’t matter who you supported because we all got there to enjoy the game.”

Flybe released the following statement late on Wednesday to reveal exactly what happened behind-the-scenes.

“Flybe regrets that the flight was delayed due to a technical fault with the aircraft and the subsequent anxiety this caused the many Southampton football supporters relying on this service to travel to Liverpool for this evening’s key EFL Cup semi-final.

“We can however now confirm that a replacement aircraft has been flown to Southampton to fly the supporters direct to Liverpool where it will be given priority landing at the airport. Flybe has also organised a coach to meet the aircraft and transport the fans immediately to Anfield. The aircraft departed Southampton at 1840 and Flybe is taking all possible steps to ensure that the supporters reach the ground as quickly as possible.

“Flybe sincerely regrets the inconvenience and hopes that the alternative arrangements it has put in place will ensure that Southampton supporters can watch the majority of this important match.”

The fact that Saints ended up winning the game 1-0 and secured a 2-0 aggregate victory over Liverpool to reach the final at Wembley on Feb. 26 made all of this effort even more worthwhile.

For most Saints fans, their win at Anfield is one they’ll never forget. For the 35 who were whisked from Southampton to Anfield in the space of an hour by Flybe, this VIP trip made it even more memorable.

Well done to the airline, airports and individuals involved as they all came together to make a seemingly impossible journey possible.

Arsenal sends Gabriel Paulista to Valencia

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Arsenal has a thin defense, but that hasn’t stopped Arsene Wenger from thinning the squad even further.

Gabriel Paulista is headed back to the Spanish top flight after the completion of his transfer to Valencia. The Brazilian was sold for a reported $12.8 million, just below the $14 million price tag Arsenal coughed up to Villareal back in January, 2015. He will partner with Manchester City loanee Eliaquim Mangala at Valencia.

The 26-year-old made 64 appearances for the Gunners across all competitions, including 46 in the Premier League. His only goal for the club was Arsenal’s first of a 2-0 win over Bournemouth in December, 2015. His high-water mark with the club was a 120-minute performance against Manchester City in the FA Cup semifinals where Arsenal came back to win 2-1 on an Alexis Sanchez goal in extra time.

“We would like to thank Gabriel for his contribution to the club and to wish him well for his return to La Liga with Valencia,” Arsenal said in its confirmation of the deal.

Paulista was utilized more than expected last season thanks to an injury crisis at the back, and still the Arsenal squad doesn’t seem fat enough to offload defenders, but Gabriel’s over-aggressive nature and tackling inaccuracy led him to an early exit.

With Arsene Wenger now deploying a back-three, the only natural central defenders currently on the roster are Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Shkodran Mustafi, and Rob Holding. Koscielny is suspended from a red card at the end of last season, and Mertesacker is battling a head injury. Sead Kolasinac, Nacho Monreal, and Calum Chambers have played CB for the Gunners in the recent past, but it is not their natural position.

Fabian Johnson misses Gladbach training with injury

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With John Brooks already out long-term due to a thigh injury, the United States may have another key injury to work around.

According to Borussia Monchengladbach manager Dieter Hecking, full-back/winger Fabian Johnson missed training on Friday due to an unspecified injury, and is now a question mark for Gladbach’s home match on Sunday against FC Koln. It could be nothing, but even the scare is cause for concern among U.S. fans.

Johnson has battled a few injuries the past couple of seasons, including a hamstring problem last spring that kept him out for nearly two months, including a pair of World Cup qualifiers in March.

Johnson’s absence would leave a hole at right-back for the United States. The 29-year-old has been deployed some at right wing for the USMNT, but he has been relatively poor at that position in the national setup, looking better when pushed further back where he is given more defensive duties, roaming forward with less frequency but more intent.

In place of Johnson, another converted winger in Graham Zusi has been seeing more time at right-back, but he offers less in the attack and lacks Johnson’s recovery speed, meaning mistakes by the Sporting KC veteran are punished more often.

Falcao scores again to extend red hot start

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Monaco is hoping to ride out the final two weeks of the transfer window with 18-year-old wonderkid Kylian Mbappe still in tow.

While they wait, they aren’t missing a beat.

With Mbappe out of the squad, Radamel Falcao has begun the 2017/18 Ligue 1 season as Europe’s hottest goalscorer. He bagged a hat-trick last weekend with Mbappe on the bench to give him four goals in the first two league matches. Then, with Mbappe out of the squad entirely, Falcao netted the winner in a 1-0 road win over FC Metz.

Falcao has scored five goals so far this year, and his club has a +5 goal differential. In a way, Falcao has already been worth six points thus far.

Thanks in part to Ligue 1’s early start, Falcao’s five league goals are by far more than anyone else in the major European leagues. Four players have scored a pair of Premier League goals, nobody in La Liga or the Bundesliga have scored more than one, and the Serie A season has yet to start.

The Colombian did the same thing last season. After eventually coming off the shelf from to hamstring and concussion problems to start the season, Falcao scored 10 goals in 10 Ligue 1 matches leading up to the new calendar year.

At 31 years old, Falcao isn’t a long-term solution and the club will clearly look to retain Mbappe despite Falcao’s hot start, but should they lose the young Frenchman, the club will be in good hands while they search for a replacement over the next year.

Arena should give Ream a look in Brooks’ absence

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With John Brooks out three months thanks to a horribly timed thigh injury, the United States yet again has to scramble to fill a void at the back. It’s not the first time an injury to Brooks has left the USMNT scrambling for cover at a thin position.

In the successful Gold Cup this past summer, with a largely domestic squad in place, Omar Gonzalez saw the bulk of the time at central defender, with Matt Besler his partner through the final two matches. However, with European-based players now in contention for spots with the early September international break, those two are unlikely to continue, at least not together.

[ MORE: Liverpool holds all the cards in Coutinho transfer ]

The most obvious choice to start September 1st against Costa Rica and likely shoo-in should he remain healthy for the next two weeks is Geoff Cameron. The 32-year-old has been back and forth between defense and midfield with club and country, and although he has publicly acknowledged his preference for a spot higher up the pitch, he was used in a back-three in Stoke City’s Premier League opener last weekend and is steadiest at the back.

But with a spot next to Cameron up for grabs in Brooks’ absence, a player who should get serious consideration is United States fill-in extraordinaire Tim Ream.

Ream has had to work hard to earn his place with the U.S., and while he’s seen time of late, he’s not been a first-choice pick. The 29-year-old has four caps so far in 2017, with two of those starts, including one in the impressive 1-1 draw against Mexico at the Azteca with the US still clawing its way back up the Hex standings. Even then, Ream would likely not have earned that spot had Arena not chosen to rotate nearly the entire squad between the pair of qualifiers in that window. His other start this year, the 1-1 draw at Panama, only came after Cameron pulled out of the squad the day of the game with a late injury. The last time Ream started back-to-back matches for the U.S. came back in 2015 when he was somewhat of a regular through the second half of the calendar year.

[ MORE: LA Galaxy send Van Damme back to Belgium ]

But now, with Brooks out, Ream looks like the perfect man to fill in again. The 29-year-old defender finished last season in top form as Fulham narrowly missed out on promotion, earning the official website’s Man of the Match award in a May 2nd draw with Brentford, and won it again in the club’s final match of the season.

Without missing a beat, Ream has picked up where he left off last campaign in the first few matches this month. Last weekend against Reading at the Madjeski Stadium, Ream’s center-back partner Tomas Kalas was sent off 36 seconds into the match, forcing Fulham to play a man down for 89 minutes. Ream and company solidified the back, conceding just once in the 61st minute en route to a 1-1 draw.

The club still likely requires reinforcements at the CB position – Ream was forced to partner with right-back Denis Odoi against Reading with Kalas suspended and Michael Madl injured – meaning Ream could see an influx of competition in the coming weeks. However, as it stands, the American is far and away the best (and most improved) central defender on a club favored for promotion.

Gonzalez performed well in the Gold Cup, and Matt Besler was serviceable, but with few other options in the heart of defense to take Brooks’ place, Bruce Arena could yet again look to Ream for an in-form replacement.