Clint Dempsey to Fulham: A fake FAQ with real answers about the U.S. captain’s loan

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Let’s pretend you didn’t know Clint Dempsey was going back to Fulham. Or maybe you’re a Premier League fan that doesn’t follow Major League Soccer, an MLS fan that can’t be bothered with England, or a United States Men’s National Team diehard that just wants to know what “Deuce” has gotten himself into. You may even be the one person who still loves a good FAQ.

Regardless, we’re here to help. With the U.S. captain returning to Fulham, this is as good a time as any to take inventory of what it means, what to expect, and what each party gets out of the deal. How does this benefit Dempsey? Fulham? Seattle, the U.S., and Major League Soccer? There are so many parties to this one, it’s hard to keep track of who has skin in the game.

In what’s likely a futile attempt to address all the issues in one place, here’s a list of real answers to imaginary questions. We start with the basics:

Who this Clint Dempsey you speak of?

Get out.

Well, I know who Clint Dempsey is. But I’m trying to make a point. Why should I care about this loan?

Nobody’s asking this, but you don’t have to go far to find somebody in Electron Land who referencing Dempsey’s struggles with Seattle the throw shade on the importance of this move. To that, we retort:

  • This is the captain of a confederation champion, a team that will be at World Cup 2014. Did we have to point this out? And if we were writing for a Japanese audience, you’d be certain we giving Keisuke Honda’s move to Milan more attention. (Seriously: I should have written something more on that.)
  • That team happens to be the U.S.A. People tend to pay attention. Especially around these parts.
  • Over Dempsey’s final three years Premier League season, he averaged 12 goals per campaign. And it’s not like this guy’s a No. 9. That’s 12 goals from what’s essentially a supporting striker/attacking midfielder. That’s a goal every 234 minutes or 14.6 during a full 38-game season. So yeah, he was kind a good at goals, and stuff.
  • This is a Cottagers legend returning home. Nobody’s scored more Premier League goals for Fulham. The especially bitter Fulham faithful may remember him forcing a move to Tottenham. Most are relishing the chance to get some goals back, because …
  • Fulham needs help. The Cottagers are in 19th. They’ve scored 17 goals in as many games, and their best attacker (Dimitar Berbatov) is a daily feature in rumor roundups in three countries.

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How many games should we expect to him play?

Fulham’s announcement doesn’t specify an exact date Dempsey will return to Seattle, but let’s take them at their word and assume Feb. 24 will be his last day in West London. That makes him eligible for a whopping 11 games, starting with Fulham’s visit to Norwich on Thursday:

  • Dec. 26, at Norwich City*
  • Dec. 28, at Hull City*
  • Jan. 1, vs. West Ham
  • Jan. 4, at Norwich City (FA Cup)
  • Jan. 18, at Arsenal
  • Jan. 28, at Swansea City
  • Feb. 1, vs. Southampton
  • Feb. 9, at Manchester United
  • Feb. 12, vs. Liverpool
  • Feb. 22, at West Bromwich Albion

There are also FA Cup dates on Jan. 25 and Feb. 15. Maxed out, Dempsey could play 13 games for Fulham, though that means making an appearance at Carrow Road on Boxing Day.

* – It’s unlikely Dempsey will be registered to play these two games, with the transfer window officially opening on Jan. 1. The video below (spoiler) is iffy on it, with the interviewer hinting it’s a possibility while Dempsey only discussion traveling to the games. As one commenter astutely pointed out, however, one English outlet (the BBC) is reporting he will be ineligible until 2014, so asterisks for all!

Assuming he’ll play, where here will he play?

Interesting assumption. Where you trying to slip that past me, Imaginary Question Asker? Regardless, let’s put that aside for a second and revisit how Dempsey was being used when he left Craven Cottage.

Over his last two years at Fulham, Dempsey went from an almost exclusively wide role to somebody who began seeing more time through the middle, especially later in games. He’d start on the left, play wide until Mark Hughes or Martin Jol started making changes, then move in. Once it became clear Andy Johnson was out of gas, Pavel Pogrebnyak or Bobby Zamora weren’t going to get goals, or the Cottagers just needed Dempsey’s presence in the middle of the park, “Deuce” became as much as a focal point out coming of the back as an opportunist in the final third.

source: Getty Images
If Dimitar Berbatov stays at Fulham, Dempsey’s natural place would be one of the Cottager’s other two attacking roles. If the Bulgarian moves in the January window, however, Dempsey could find himself as an option through the middle. (Photo: Getty Images)

But with Martin Jol gone, it’s unclear how Fulham will play, let alone how they’ll use Dempsey. Over their last three games, Fulham’s use one forward and two wide attackers on top of a three-man midfield, and while Dempsey would be best-suited for one of the wide roles, René Meulensteen’s selections hint he could play through the middle. With Darren Bent still getting limited time while Dimitar Berbatov’s hurt, Dempsey could occupy the lead attacker’s role Adel Taarabt played this weekend, with small army of players (Kieran Richardson, Ashkan Dejagah, Alexander Kacaniklic, Pajtim Kasami, Bryan Ruiz, and Taarabt) as flanking options.

But we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves. First, Dempsey has to show up and work his way into the team, something that may require him getting back into playing shape. Fulham may be struggling for points, but they’re not short of options in Dempsey’s spots. Although his history at Craven Cottage hints Dempsey will likely get playing time, that history may prove irrelevant with a new squad playing under a new coach.

What should we expect, production-wise?

This should really be the last question, right? Screw it. I’m skipping to it. Fulham fans are hoping for the player who scored 29 goals in 74 games over his final two seasons in West London. Others will remember Dempsey scoring a more modest seven times in 29 games for Spurs, while true pessimists are looking at one goal in 12 games for Seattle and projecting a face plant for Deuce’s Premier League return.

For a number of reasons, we can throw the Seattle numbers out the window. Dempsey was never truly healthy, he was playing a role that doesn’t exist at Fulham (tip of a midfield diamond), and the Sounders were in chaos.

A better “guestimate” would look at last Fulham seasons as the best case scenario, note it was two years ago, and see his Tottenham days as a slight return to earth. But that even return to earth (a goal every 285 league minutes) wasn’t such as big drop off from his Fulham heights (a goal every 221 minutes during his final two seasons).

If Dempsey plays 10 games, averaging 75 minutes per, and performs to his capabilities, we’re looking at around three goals. At least, that’s the kind of output his final three Premier League seasons suggest.

So what does this all mean for Dempsey …

Remember: The goal here is to stay sharp, getting some playing time at a top level in during a World Cup year. In that respect, the numbers don’t matter. Whether he scores eight goals or none, the point is to build toward Brazil.

If he gets regular playing time, that’s practically mission accomplished. While keeping his spot means he’ll probably have to produce, the merits of those numbers are for René Meulensteen to decide. The most important number when gauging this loan’s success will be minutes played.

… the U.S. National Team,

Given Jurgen Klinsmann wants his MLS players to stay active, this looks like plus for the national team. But there’s another way to look at it. Fulham’s loan spell gives Dempsey, a 30-year-old not lacking in professional experience, two months worth of injury exposure.

source: Getty Images
U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has encouraged his MLS-based players to go out on winter loans, with Dempsey having negotiated a clause in Seattle contract that allowed this winter’s move.. (Photo: Getty Images)

Is that worth it for a player unlikely to improve during the loan? Let’s hold on to that thought.

You always have to balance training against risk, but MLS would give Dempsey three months of competition before the national team assembled for Brazil. Add in the January national team camp and preseason training in February, and Dempsey wasn’t looking at much of an offseason to begin with. This whole idea that players have to go to Europe to stay fresh during the winter break should really get more scrutiny.

Now, back to that thought. Dempsey’s situation is slightly unique. He needs to get his groove back, and for a player that went through a rough return to MLS, West London is Jamaica. And Fulham may be Taye Diggs.

Dempsey doesn’t just need to stay in shape. He’s a key to U.S. success in Brazil. He needs to recapture his form, and in that sense, given what he did in 2009-10 and 2010-11, there was no better offseason destination than Craven Cottage.

… Fulham,

This is a low-risk chance for a team to get the club’s most productive Premier League back for two months (insert non-existent “no duh” emoji here). Worst case scenario: He takes playing time from somebody contributing to the team’s 19th place standing. Best case scenario: He goes on another tear, scored five or six times, and helps his former club snare points that could save them from the second division.

… Major League Soccer,

Nothing. At least, it’s unclear this means anything good or bad for MLS. Some will see this as a talent  wanting to test himself against competition the league can’t provide. Others will see it as MLS having players the rest of the world still covets. More likely: This is a very specific situation for a somewhat unique player, rendering any broad conclusions meaningless.

… and the Seattle Sounders?

Nothing good, but they knew what they were getting into. They won’t see their most important attacking player until late February. When he returns, he’ll be plopped into a role he didn’t play at Fulham – the most important position in Seattle’s attack (assuming Sigi Schmid stays with a diamond midfield). In a role he struggled with last season, Dempsey will out of practice and unfamiliar with a number of new players around him.

Then, Seattle will lose him again for chunk of the middle of the season. When he returns from Brazil, Dempsey will have played soccer in 21 of the previous 24 months, with the three-month MLS homestretch coming into view. And given the U.S. National Team doesn’t use the same setup as the Sounders, Dempsey will again have to re-adjust to his place behind Seattle’s strikers (assuming he doesn’t master the role between March and May).

That sounds bad, and it’s even worse when you consider how much Seattle’s paying Dempsey this year. Still, MLS’s is a long season. Assuming they can make the playoffs, the Sounders only need to get things together November. Dempsey’s absence (along with Brad Evans’) met force them to focus on that goal.

As their run to first in the West last season showed, a slow start need undermine the campaign. And as their October collapse affirmed, it’s more important to be playing well at the end of the season than in the middle.

Do you have a video of Clint talking about the move? Maybe one where they make him say something awkward and Texas-y at the end?

Kinda. This is via Fulham’s YouTube account:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ioiOygWqgU]

Real Madrid on brink of La Liga title; record ninth-straight win

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MADRID (AP) Real Madrid is on the verge of reclaiming the Spanish league title, after its ninth straight win following the pandemic break.

Madrid defeated Granada 2-1 on Monday to move within two points of winning the La Liga title.

[ MORE: La Liga scores, schedule

Ferland Mendy and Karim Benzema scored first-half goals to keep Madrid four points ahead of second-placed Barcelona with two rounds to go.

Madrid can clinch its first title since 2017 on Thursday with a win at Villarreal, or if Barcelona loses points when it hosts Osasuna. Two draws in the final two rounds will also be enough to secure Madrid a record 34th league trophy.

“We are a step closer but we can’t relax, we haven’t won anything yet,” Madrid captain Sergio Ramos said. “There are still points to be won. We depend on ourselves and we have a game at home coming up, hopefully we can win it and celebrate the league title.”

Madrid was in control early in Granada and Mendy’s first goal since joining the Spanish club this season came from a beautiful angled shot into the top corner after getting past a defender inside the area in the 10th minute.

Benzema added to the lead six minutes later by scoring his 19th league goal with a right-footed strike into the far corner.

Granada, which was 10th in the standings, got on the board with a goal by Darwin Machis in the 50th and pressured to the end.

The hosts came closest to the equalizer with about five minutes left, when Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois had to make a difficult save and Ramos cleared a shot at the goal line.

Madrid had not conceded a goal in its last five league matches.

Sevilla secured the final Champions League spot after Villarreal lost to Real Sociedad 2-1.

The loss left Villarreal nine points behind fourth-placed Sevilla with two rounds to go. Sevilla beat Mallorca 2-0 on Sunday for its fourth straight win.

Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid have the other berths in the Champions League.

Sevilla last featured in the Champions League in 2018 when it was eliminated by Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals. It played in the Europa League in 2018-19 and this season, where it will face Roma in the round of 16.

Villarreal needed a win to keep alive its hopes of making it to the Champions League. It has won six of its nine matches following the pandemic break, but the home setback against Sociedad ended its chances of qualifying. It remains in good position to grab a Europa League spot, though, as it kept fifth place.

Sociedad also stayed in contention for the Europa League with its third win since the break, moving to seventh place. Willian Jose scored in the 61st minute and Diego Llorente in the 75th, while the hosts pulled closer through Santi Cazorla in the 85th.

Getafe stayed in sixth place after drawing at relegation-threatened Alaves 0-0.

A late goal disallowed by video review kept Getafe from earning its second win since the league resumed after the pandemic stoppage.

Alaves has also won only once since the break and is winless in seven straight league matches. It is four points above the relegation zone.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

Man United: ‘We will put it right’ and not feeling pressure in top 4 race

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Manchester United insist they will put their draw against Southampton right and the reaction from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his players was clear that they aren’t feeling the pressure of the top four race.

Leading 2-1 in the 96th minute at home against Southampton, they conceded a late equalizer from a corner and Solskjaer looked understandably frustrated with two points dropped.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Within a few seconds they went from moving up to third with three games to now sitting in fifth, behind both Leicester City and Chelsea in the top four race.

Speaking to reporters via Zoom after the game, Solskjaer was asked if he believes in the mentality of his players to put things right.

“I have to say the mentality of the boys has been absolutely brilliant. We’ve had a few setbacks and this is another challenge for us. I’m very confident in the mentality of them,” Solskjaer said. “Very disappointed, of course, but you have to take the disappointments as well as the positives when you win games. Disappointment because one of the last kicks of the ball you concede a goal and you lose two points, that’s just part of football. We’ve learned a hard lesson today, hopefully. We will make it right and put it right. The boys, I trust them in that respect.”

[ MORE: Maguire reacts to draw ]

Solskjaer was then asked if the pressure of the situation, watching Chelsea and Leicester both get hammered at the weekend and giving them the chance to jump up to third, played on the mind of his players.

“Absolutely not,” was Solskjaer’s reaction. “I don’t think any of our players have been thinking what have Chelsea done this weekend. Not at all. It is just the way the games go. We all play against the same teams and we all have 38 games to go through. It will even itself out during a long season and you will deserve the position you get in the end.”

That position for Manchester United will still probably be in the top four but they have made it harder for themselves now.

From the start they looked sluggish against Saints, with Paul Pogba giving the ball away on the first goal, then they sat back and looked tired in the second half.

Although Solskjaer said tiredness wasn’t an issue, it looked like midtable Southampton were chasing third place and not Manchester United. Maybe a busy few weeks caught up with United but they now have an FA Cup semifinal and huge games against Crystal Palace, West Ham and Leicester City to finish the season.

Going forward they looked slick and they should have just about enough in the tank to finish in the top four. However, this will be tight and could go to the final game of the season at Leicester.

WATCH: Akinfewa’s inspires after verbal abuse, Wycombe promotion

Adebayo Akinfenwa speech
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Adebayo Akinfenwa is living the life right now.

The 38-year-old striker has helped Wycombe Wanderers into the Football League Championship for the first time in their existence after the club beat Oxford United 2-1 in the League One playoff final on Monday.

If Akinfenwa’s name sounds familiar, it should. The muscular 38-year-old “Beast” shot into the spotlight when he used Wimbledon’s promotion to broadcast that managers should “hit him up on Whatsapp” because he wasn’t done playing the game.

[ MORE: Maguire, Solskjaer rue late Man Utd draw ]

The striker mentioned Whatsapp again on Monday, saying “The only person who can WhatsApp me tonight is Klopp so we can celebrate together. ”

He was recently in the news for vile reasons, reporting that he had been called a “fat water buffalo” in Wycombe’s semifinal win over Fleetwood Town. Akinfenwa says that if the barb wasn’t intended as racial abuse, then his opponents need to be educated on racism.

He didn’t want to speak about that on Monday.

“Today is about, listen, for me, life in football is all about opinions. Four years ago someone gave an opinion about me and that was their opinion. I hope my story shows that the only opinion that matters is the opinion you have about yourself. I was lucky and blessed to find a manager and players who believed in me. I’ll say it for the people in the back: Wycombe is in the Championship. Wait, wait, I’ll say it one more time. Wycombe’s in the Championsh- WAIT! The people in the back didn’t hear me: Wycombe is in the Championship.”

Akinfewa played the final 28 minutes of Monday’s win and his next league appearance will be the first above League One in his long career that started with Watford’s academy in 2000.

He scored 10 goals and added six assists this season, giving him 200 professional goals in more than 650 appearances.

Solskjaer, Maguire react to disappointing Manchester United draw

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The 18th game of Manchester United’s unbeaten streak isn’t going to leave a good taste in the Red Devils’ mouths.

United threw away a late lead and third place on Monday, drawing Southampton 2-2 on a stoppage time goal from Michael Obafemi that came after Red Devils defender Brandon Williams left United with 10 men thanks to a head injury.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

“Well it’s the worst time to concede a goal but that happens in football,” said United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

“You’ve gotta be strong and take it because we’ve won so many games that way. It’s part of learning for this team to be sat there really disappointed after you thought you’ve got the three points in the bag. We probably didn’t deserve the three points today. … They’re a physical, very very fit side. We never got the rhythm in our passing today especially after we got 2-1.”

Solksjaer was baffled that United didn’t play half the match up a man after Oriol Romeu clattered into Mason Greenwood.

“I know my ankle wouldn’t take that challenge. It’s a nasty one, but we’ve said enough about VAR.”

United failed to claim a top four place for the first time since September and remains behind fourth-place Leicester City on goal differential. Both sides trail Chelsea by one point with three to play.

Red Devils center back Harry Maguire was upset at the failed opportunity to pass his former side.

“Playing at Old Trafford you want to win every game you play for Manchester United. We go for three points. We didn’t get three. We’re disappointed at the moment but we know we’ve gotta dust ourselves down tomorrow. We’ve got some big games coming up and we’ve gotta go get three points.”

United has Crystal Palace, West Ham, and Leicester City on the schedule in its bid for a top four spot.