Manchester City, Arsenal up for the fight but where will Premier League title go?

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LONDON — With Manchester City close to their swashbuckling best in the first half, they looked to be head and shoulders above Arsenal on Saturday.

But then in the second period, their panache and swagger drained away as the Gunners fought back valiantly to seal a 1-1 draw. In those two halves, we saw reasons why both sides have been title contenders for the entire season. City with their wonderful array of attacking talents culminating in a fluid move that led to David Silva’s opener, then Arsenal’s new found grit and determination which has helped them grind out results time and time again. But despite City’s obvious advantage of being two points behind current Premier League leaders Chelsea with two games in hand, we are no closer to finding out who the PL champions are.

That’s just the way we like it.

“We have to fight until he end of the season because everybody can beat everybody,” Wenger warned. “Chelsea lost today at Crystal Palace, that means all of us have to be careful and all of us have to be consistent.”

This enthralling match between two title contenders under the lights at the Emirates summed up how this PL season has gone. Just when we thought we knew the script, the plot twists. Manchester City knew before their late kick off against Arsenal that a win would see them top of the PL standings with two games in hand over everyone else. Speaking to the press afterwards, Manuel Pellegrini felt that factor gave both teams an extra edge but he still believes the title race is wide-open, as we head into the final few weeks of the season.

“I think all four teams have the chance to win the title in the future, but all four teams will drop points between now and the end of the season,” Pellegrini said. “It is very difficult at the end of the season, because there are a lot of teams fighting relegation. Ask Chelsea today, look at what happened to them away at Crystal Palace. I think we must continue to just think about the next game.”

(MORE: Arsenal 1-1 Manchester City – Gunners fight back thwarts City’s title charge)

City had the chance to cement themselves at the top of the table, but let their early promise slip by the wayside against Arsenal after a sloppy second half display. Credit must go to the home side for stepping things up, getting stuck in and Mathieu Flamini’s equalizer was reward for his superb display which cajoled his teammates into life.

The scenario at the top of the PL standings seems to be changing game by game, as  the topsy-turvy situation at the top makes it hard to predict which team will lift the crown on May 11. Chelsea have led the way for the last few months, and with their win away at Manchester City earlier this year and a 6-0 demolition of Arsenal last weekend, they looked to be clicking into top gear ominously.

source: Getty Images
Both Arsenal and City showcased why they can win the PL title, but will this season take yet another unexpected turn?

But away day defeats at Aston Villa and now Palace have curtailed the Blues, just as slip ups in the middle of the season cost Manchester City and Arsenal after their stunning start to the campaign. Then you throw Liverpool into the mix, and with a win against Tottenham on Sunday, the Reds can go top of the table on 71 points with six games to go and both City and Chelsea still to play at Anfield.

(MORE: Latest Premier League standings)

Wenger, known as the professor, and Pellegrini, known as the engineer, both pointed to an academic field we’ll all become more familiar in the final few weeks of the season: mathematics. At this time of the season, number crunching is the name of the game.

“In football, if the mathematics allow you to win, then you have the chance to do it,” Pellegrini said. “I think in this moment, we will see what happens tomorrow with Liverpool. Arsenal are only four points behind the leader, it’s not too much.”

After seeing his side held by Arsenal, Pellegrini believes the Gunners are still  title contenders. What about Wenger? He’s not so sure, but he’s still got his calculator by his side, just in case others continue to slip up.

“Mathematically we are still in there, but it is not in our hands,” Wenger said. “We have to look above us and behind us. Because behind us they are coming too.”

That’s the beauty of it, even though Arsenal are still, mathematically, in the title race, Everton are seven points behind Arsenal in fifth place, but have two games in hand and they host Arsenal next weekend. The race for the top four, and the title, has yet to be decided with just over a month of the season remaining.

Manchester City and Arsenal both showed why they are top class teams on Saturday, City in the first half, and the Gunners in the second. But who can claw themselves over the line in the race for the Premier League title? Arsenal? Manchester City? Liverpool? Chelsea?

With a handful of games to go, nobody knows. City are the favorites, but you can’t help but feel there’s another twist in the tale as they have to visit Liverpool and Everton before the season is over. This campaign, the Premier League really has delivered its claim as the world’s most exciting league.

Plus, there’s still plenty of drama ahead.

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

Fulham promotion
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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
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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
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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
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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+