Quick Six: Top stories from the Premier League weekend

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1. STUNNING ERROR COSTS MANCHESTER CITY AT CHELSEA

We know Joe Hart’s made worse mistakes this season, a perspective that leaves us looking for other answers after happened on Sunday. That’s when, near full time at Stamford Bridge, the England international came sprinting out of his box to play a ball near the edge of his penalty area. But with his Matija Nastasic on the scene, there was no need for him to come.

True, the Serbian international should have seen Hart coming and directed his header elsewhere, but City’s keeper shouldn’t have come.  Hart should have been waiting to receive his defender’s back-pass. Instead, he abdicated his goal ahead of Fernando Torres’s winner.

During NBC’s broadcast, Tim Howard was diplomatic about the error, placing blame on Hart but explaining it as a basic communication error that could happen to anybody. That seems too generous, perhaps a function of that implied goalkeepers’ fraternity that keeps number ones from being overly critical of each other. While that mistake could have happened to anybody, it would have been equally inexcusable from everybody, with the ability to correctly read the game in front of you a reasonable expectation of any Premier League goalkeeper.

Hart cost City a point at Stamford Bridge, giving a title rival two they would have otherwise been without. Would Costel Pantilimon have done the same? Or perhaps he would have be been worse in other areas – areas where Hart was fine on Sunday?

These are the basic questions Manuel Pellegrini needs to answer ahead of the January window, because even if he thinks Hart’s better than Pastilimon, England’s number one may not be better than another player City could get on the open market.

2. SUÁREZ STRENGTHEN’S CLAIM AS PREMIER LEAGUE’S BEST

This is why Luis Suárez’s transgressions spur so much discussion. He’s more than a troubled soul lashing out with a forked tongue and carnivorous intent. With Gareth Bale in Spain, Suárez is in a one-man discussion as the league’s most dangerous player, possessing an unmatched ability to single-handedly turn games.

Saturday was a perfect example. The Uruguayan international embarrassed Jonas Olsson on the first goal, nutmegging the Swede before beating Boaz Myhilll. His second was a perfectly played header from near the edge of the box, a snap decision that seemed to catch the West Brom keeper off guard. The third, a perfectly flicked header off a second half restart, was more defensive error than individual brilliance, yet it still highlighted an rarely discussed part of Suárez’s arsenal. At 5’11” (perhaps a generous listing), Suárez is an underappreciated asset in the air.

He’s like Sergio Agüero, except more explosive. He’s more relentless than Robin van Persie; more consistently lethal than Wayne Rooney. Second on the circuit in goals with only four games played, he is the Premier League’s best striker, with comparisons between him, Mesut Özil, and Yaya Touré coming down to esoteric arguments about positional value.

On Saturday, Suárez showed the value of having the league’s biggest threat, the kind of tactics-defying virtue you also see from the likes of Messi, Ronaldo, and Ibrahimovic. Perhaps Suárez isn’t quite in that class, but in the Premier League, he’s in a class by himself.

3. RIVALS PROVIDE ANOTHER REPRIEVE FOR SUNDERLAND

When spring doubts about Paolo Di Canio were echoing through Wearside, the short-lived Sunderland boss got a win over Newcastle. The 3-0 victory at St. James last April not only proved vital to the Black Cats’ survival but helped temporarily consolidate Di Canio’s position. Hindsight may see that as a steep price of a year’s survival, but it illustrates the power of the Tyne-Wear Derby. One win will gloss over a slew of evils.

Gus Poyet is riding that wave today, his second half sacrifice of Adam Johnson for Fabio Borini paying off when the Italian attacker fired home a late game-winner, giving Sunderland their first win of the year (2-1 over Newcastle). Only the second goal of his Premier League career, Borini rewarded Poyet’s risky move, the new Black Cats boss electing to play Borini, Steven Fletcher and Jozy Altidore together. But having seen Johnson’s defensive error lead to Newcastle’s only goal, perhaps the former Brighton boss felt there was nothing to lose.

It’s not unlike the broader state Poyet’s inherited. If he fails, people will blame Di Canio. If he succeeds, he’ll be viewed as a savior. He has nothing to lose, and given the depths to which Sunderland has descended, the new boss may be wise to take these kind of chances.

For the kind of momentum that can be claimed in a debry? It’s certainly worth it.

4. MOYES SUMMONS FERGUSON MAGIC IN UNITED’S WIN

Last week he was the anti-Ferguson, David Moyes seeing his team allow Southampton to come back and take a point at Old Trafford. Mid-week in Champions League, Manchester United tried to reproduce that result, though Real Sociedad never played their part. Between two close matches and their former manager’s naval-gazing book tour, it was another week that reminded Red Devils fans of what once was.

That’s why Saturday’s was such a breathe of fresh air. Instead of a day that reminded fans their team’s best performances can’t put teams away, the Red Devils came back from 2-1 down, rekindling hope some of Alex Ferguson’s mentality lingers in their DNA. If the squad can still turn water into wine, there may be hope for a title push.

It goes without saying that a team of United’s talent shouldn’t have this much trouble with Stoke City, particularly at home, but all clubs have off days. Whether this was a momentary downturn or part of a larger pattern is a bigger, more murky debate, but in isolation, the result wasn’t that bad. Three points rarely is.

Coming off a mid-week match in Champions League, United had more trouble than expected at home. They needed a late comeback to salvage a performance where they didn’t look themselves. If you had a nickle for each time that description could be applied in the Ferguson era, you’d might have enough money to buy his latest book.

5. ENDS JUSTIFY THE MEANS AT NORWICH

Saturday saw a Premier League goal disallowed despite no justification from the game’s laws, yet nobody seems concerned. It was a blatant abuse of an official’s power — the game’s lead arbiter taking it upon himself to fill a gap in the rules — yet the offended manager only made a minor complaint. Letter of the law, Chris Houghton’s Norwich City should have won on Saturday, Leroy Fer’s 94th minute shot into an empty net giving the Canaries a 1-0 win.

Thankfully, Mike Jones didn’t let that happen. Although the match’s lead official had no codified justification for his decision, the ends justified his means. WIth Cardiff City expecting the ball back after an injury saw them intentionally play the ball into touch, Jones wasn’t going to stand for Fer hitting Ricky Van Wolfswinkel’s throw-in into David Edwards’ open net. Helping to quell a potential melee at Carrow Road, Jones simply made it so Fer’s indiscretion never happened. The throw-in was retaking with the understanding Jones would have no part in Fer’s errant passes.

Putting aside Fer’s intent, the more interesting debate centers on the man in the middle. The injury pact between teams that sees possession restored after playing into touch is an implied agreement. If one team doesn’t want to be part of it, that should be within their right. It’s rude, obnoxious, potentially dangerous and counter productive, but so is Joey Barton, and we haven’t banned him. There’s a wide range of behaviors that are both possible and allowed by the rules.

Still, if I were in Jones’s shoes, I wouldn’t have done the same thing, though I wouldn’t be certain it was the right thing to do. I would wonder if a more nefarious official would abuse that discretion. Regardless, at some point, teams should be permitted to do what’s allowed within the rules.

Yet as long teams are expected to maintain this gentleman’s agreement, it’s nice to have a few Mike Joneses around.

6. SOUTHAMPTON CONTINUES FLASHING CONTENDER’S METTLE

Last week we highlighted Arsenal’s dominance of Norwich City as a sign of their maturation. In the same light, Southampton’s control of Fulham can be seen as a meaningful benchmark of their progress, even if the result wasn’t unexpected. If Arsenal’s ability to steer clear of potential pitfalls can be lauded, Saints’ ability to put the likes of Fulham out of reach can also be seen as a sign of the staying power.

It’s one thing to motivate yourself for derbies, and if you’re a middling side, getting up to face the league’s contenders is never a problem. But having the quality to consistently transcend the reach of the league’s talented-but- lesser teams is rare. While a team like Aston Villa can occasionally take down an Arsenal, they still stumble against the league’s mere morals.

With their win, Southampton’s now unbeaten in six, winning four in that span while climbing to fifth in the Premier League. Although they also posted multiple-goal victories over Swans and Palace, those results didn’t come after Saints claimed a result at Old Trafford. After getting an unexpected point on the road, Southampton didn’t hiccup. They kept on keeping on.

By now, their loss at Norwich seems so long ago. So does their draw with Sunderland. While those blemishes to relegation candidates are alarming, they’re also from August. Since, Southampton’s moved on. And up.

Scott Parker’s first season as a manager ends in Fulham promotion

Fulham promotion
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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Fulham are headed back to the Premier League after just one season in the EFL Championship, and that means Scott Parker has worked something of a minor miracle in west London.

[ MORE: Promoted! Fulham back in PL after 1 season in Championship ]

Parker took on a hefty challenge when he accepted his first senior managerial job last year. Fulham were a virtual lock to be relegated from the Premier League when he was named interim boss in February, and their place in the second division had long since been confirmed by the time he was named Claudio Ranieri’s permanent successor in May. The squad was expensive, bloated and full of players who had no intention of sticking around after relegation.

Given the club’s wealth of resources relative to the rest of the Championship, promotion at the first time of asking was more an expectation than a hope at Craven Cottage. Fast-forward 15 months, and the 39-year-old has quickly proven himself the right man for the job after doing just that — taking Fulham back to the PL by way of Tuesday’s Championship promotion playoff final.

Promotion may have been sealed on Tuesday, but Parker believes it was earned over a long period of transition and self-reflection by the players, beginning when he first took the job — quotes from the BBC:

“We’ve done what we’ve done tonight, but there’s still improvement, and that’s what makes me so proud and happy.

“For all of the good players and everything you see, what makes me so happy is I see a group of players who only a year ago were struggling psychologically, didn’t have a mindset or mentality.

“I’ve driven this team every single day and what makes me proud is I stood on the touchline tonight and seen a team that represents what I’ve been saying over the last 12 months.”

Now comes the the truly difficult challenge for Parker: after winning Fulham promotion he must assemble a squad of players not only good enough to stay in the PL, but also one full of individuals who want to be at his club and not simply any club that just so happens to be in England’s top division.

Promoted! Fulham back in PL after 1 season in Championship

Championship promotion playoff final
Photo credit: @FulhamFC
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Fulham are headed back to the Premier League after claiming west London derby delight at the expense of local rivals Brentford in Tuesday’s Championship promotion playoff final at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Ranking the new Premier League kits for 2020-21 ]

It was an incredibly cagey affair — as the Championship promotion playoff final tends to be — that saw the two sides combine for just 17 shots (four on target) through 90 minutes of regular time. In the end, it was the most unlikely of restarts halfway through extra time that sent the Cottagers on their way.

Brentford were nearly the architects of their own downfall early in the first half. FirstIt was a poor back pass from Henrik Dalsgaard that left David Raya in worlds of trouble in the 10th minute, though Fulham were unable to find a proper chance amid the chaos inside Brentford’s box.

Fulham were perhaps fortunate not to go a man down in the 29th minute, when Harrison Reed slid through Christian Norgaard and put studs into the Dane’s ankle. Reed came over top of the ball in a 50-50 challenge and, despite first making contact with the ball, came in with borderline excessive force and in a reckless fashion. Nonetheless, only a yellow card for the on-loan Southampton youngster.

[ MORE: Christian Pulisic issues injury update ]

The start of the second half looked like more of the same from the first half: Fulham with an early chance and Brentford scrambling to stay level. Neeskens Kebano curled a free kick around the wall in the 48th minute, likely beating Raya if it was on frame, but only managed to rippled the outside netting.

Championship Golden Boot runner-up (25 goals) Ollie Watkins had the final scoring chance of regular time in the 70th minute as he fired from the edge of Fulham’s penalty area, but Marek Rodak was able to comfortably palm the ball over the crossbar. Still, the first threatening signs of life from the Bees.

[ MORE: Man United, Dortmund in talks over $140 million Sancho transfer ]

The decisive moment finally arrived in the 105th minute, and it came from absolutely nothing — less than nothing, one might credibly argue. Joe Bryan was tasked with restarting play following a foul roughly 50 yards from goal. Rather than lofting the ball high and to the back post, as Raya so clearly expected him to do, Bryan wrapped his left foot around the ball and whipped it toward the near post — as “near” as it can be from 50-plus yards. Raya was painfully slow to recognize the shot and tried to scramble across the face of goal, but never had a chance of getting anywhere near the ball.

Bryan doubled Fulham’s lead in the 117th minute. It was fast and fluid one-two atop Brentford’s penalty area and the left back tucked it away to seal promotion back to the top flight, and it turned out to be hugely necessary after Dalsgaard poked home a late consolation goal for the Bees with virtually the last kick of the game.

Fulham spent the 2018-19 season in the Premier League but finished with just 26 points in 19th place and were relegated back to the Championship after one season. Only time will tell if they’re able to stay in the top division this time, or if they’re a full-time yo-yo club.

Transfer confirmed: Ferran Torres to Man City for $26 million

Ferran Torres to Man City
Photo credit: Man City
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Reports sending Valencia youngster Ferran Torres to Man City have been burning red-hot over the last 24 hours.

[ MORE: Ranking the new Premier League kits for 2020-21 ]

Man City confirmed their capture of the 20-year-old — one of the brightest prospects in all of Europe — on Tuesday.

Torres, who came through the Valencia academy, tallied six goals and seven assists in 43 appearances (all competitions), including two of each in the Champions League, for Valencia this season.

He broke into Valencia’s first team back in November of 2017, at the age of 17, before establishing himself as a regular over the last two seasons.

[ MORE: Man United, Dortmund in talks over $140 million Sancho transfer ]

Reports out of the UK claim it will reportedly cost just $26 million to bring Ferran Torres to Man City, plus possible add-ons, as he had just one year remaining on his contact with Valencia. Torres reportedly met with City sporting director Txiki Begiristain earlier on Tuesday, adding further fuel to the fire that a move was imminent.

Torres seems an obvious replacement for recently departed winger Leroy Sane. He’ll join Raheem Sterling as one of only two natural wingers in Pep Guardiola’s squad, offering more tactical flexibility — not to mention, width — after City were fairly limited in the wide areas during the 2019-20 season.

Championship playoff final: How to watch, start time, odds, prediction

Brentford - Fulham
Photo byJacques Feeney/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images
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Fulham – Brentford: Team news is in with the two West London sides set to do battle for a place in the Premier League in the Football League Championship promotion playoff final at Wembley Stadium.

We can hardly wait to find out who’ll claim the 20th berth in the 2020-21 Premier League season in the richest game on earth.

[ MORE: Predictions, Odds for Europe ]

Kickoff is at 2:45 pm ET Tuesday at Wembley Stadium.

Team news


Key players

Fulham leading scorer Aleksandar Mitrovic’s 26 goals were the joint-most in the Championship and more than three times as many as Tom Cairney, second amongst the Cottagers. He’s healthy for the first time after missing the semis with a hamstring injury.

Brentford’s Ollie Watkins scored the same amount of goals as Mitrovic, tying for the league lead, and he’s joined by Said Benrahma’s 17 goals (fifth in the league) and Bryan Mbeumo (eighth). The latter have combined for 16 assists, too. The Bees can sting.

Their seasons

Brentford won a even-straight league games to surge into the mix for automatic promotion but lost their last two, meeting Fulham on 81 points.

As for the Cottagers, Fulham finished the season on a seven-match unbeaten run which included five wins

Their playoffs

Brentford overcame a 1-0 first-leg deficit to oust Swansea City in the semifinal, while Fulham’s first leg win was enough to outlast Cardiff City’s strong second leg in their semi.

Odds and ends

Brentford beat Fulham twice, 1-0 at Griffin Park and 2-0 at Craven Cottage.

The Bees are favored to win the match at +108 odds, while Fulham carries +265 odds of a win.

Prediction

Mitrovic’s availability is huge for a Fulham side hoping to break down the league’s second-stingiest defense. Brentford feels like it’s the superior side but Fulham has been here and Cairney even scored the goal to beat Aston Villa in the 2017-18 playoff final. That experience is an X-factor, but we’ll still call Brentford 2-1 winners.

How to watch Fulham – Brentford

Kickoff: 2:45 pm ET Tuesday
Stream: ESPN+