Marquee win proves van Gaal’s Manchester United on the right track

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LONDON — Manchester United are finding a way to get it done. They proved that in a spirited 2-1 win over Arsenal on Saturday.

The Red Devils have rebounded from injuries, poor form and a huge turnover in players to be in the top four of the Premier League at the end of November. That’s no mean feat.

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As Wayne Rooney raced in on goal and dinked the ball into the net for United’s second goal late on at the Emirates Stadium, manager Louis van Gaal jumped up from his seat and punched the air with glee.

Slowly but surely, United are turning things around. This win at Arsenal proved it. But van Gaal wasn’t happy is forever a perfectionist.

“No I was not pleased with the way we played in the first half,” van Gaal said. “Of course you mean it was an away game against a top team. So it was good that we have won. Also it was the right  moment to win this game. I have to say the first 25 minutes we gave the ball away easily, that is not possible. Because of that Arsenal created a lot. Fortunately we have a very good goalkeeper. After the first 25 minutes you saw that we are coming back in the game.”

After being dominated in the first half, van Gaal urged his players to be braver on the ball and slammed his fist on the table of the conference room at the Emirates Stadium when making that point.

“I said at half time. When we keep the ball and show confidence then we shall create many, many chances,” van Gaal said. “We created at least three big chances. Di Maria could have finished the game, but two times the pass was easily to give to Di Maria and Wayne Rooney and the pass was not alright. So we have to improve that. But I am very happy of course.”

source: Getty Images
Rooney bagged what turned out to be the game-winner as United go fourth.

Injuries were again the key word around United’s squad as they started in a 3-5-2 formation that have not used since Aug. 30 when they faced Burnley. Early on they looked shaky and struggled to get to grips with Arsenal’s fluid frontline. Van Gaal has not featured his favored formation for quite some time with injuries in defense and had to try it once again as the Red Devils’ injuries persist.

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“First I hope there are players coming back from injury because it is unbelievably difficult to create consistency in the team because I have to change every week my lineup,” van Gaal said. “When you are a coach you have the same lineup and maybe change one or two. I have changed many players and changed the formation. That is not always good to create consistency in the team.”

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That said, United’s players adapted well on the fly with young center backs Paddy McNair and Tyler Blackett standing up tall in the face of adversity away at Arsenal with over 60,000 baying for their blood. Asked if it was risky to play such a young backline, van Gaal had the following to say.

“I said this before the match that I made the right decision. To make this decision before the match. Okay… that is a quality decision. I can say that now,” van Gaal laughed. “But at the same time I say that, that’s the life of a manager or a coach. The result is always giving you the reason. I have to say that I cannot do other things because I don’t have many players.”

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United have now now lost just once in their last 15 matches against Arsenal while Wayne Rooney has scored 11 goals against the Gunners during his career. That is more than any single player in Premier League history, as the stars aligned to hand United a marquee win they will hope to build off.

“We rode our luck at times, our goalkeeper was fantastic,” Rooney admitted. “We felt they were vulnerable on the break and we hit them with two good goals, which was our game plan.”

As for the Gunners, they are heading in the opposite direction as Arsenal now have 17 points from their opening 12 games which is their worst start to a PL season.

“We had the best chances and we could have finished better,” Wenger said. “At 1-0 we should have been more cautious not to give the second goal away. There was plenty of time to come back and that’s where we made the mistake. In our job when you don’t win, you’re very concerned but there are a lot of positives in this team. If we can keep this going with the quality and the energy levels we have, we can bounce back very quickly.”

This match was billed as a top four clash before it began. After grinding out a crucial win United look more likely to qualify for the Champions League than Arsenal on this showing, simply because they adjusted and dug deep to get what they wanted. Rather than wilting and looking unable to seize the moment, like the Gunners have now down time and time again this campaign. Last season United finished 15 points and three places behind Arsenal. That shows how far van Gaal’s men have come in a relatively short space of time but the Dutchman isn’t getting carried away.

“It is the first away victory and the players are very excited but it is just one victory,” van Gaal said. “We have to confirm that with further victories and then we can say we have the spirit and can start looking upstairs and not downstairs.”

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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+