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Three things we learned from Leicester vs. Arsenal

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Leicester City and Arsenal drew 0-0 at the King Power Stadium on Saturday as the top two teams from last season canceled each other out.

The game sprung into life in the final stages with Petr Cech denying Riyad Mahrez with a great stop and Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud adding extra impetus to Arsenal’s attack late on but neither team could find a way through as contentious calls stole the show instead.

Here’s what we learned from a tight, cagey encounter at the KP.


CONTENTIOUS CALLS

Referee Mark Clattenburg took center stage on Saturday surrounding multiple missed PK calls, red card controversy and more. It was not an easy afternoon for one of the top refs in the game who officiated the UEFA Champions League and EURO 2016 final this summer.

He did get the big decision in the first half correct as Danny Drinkwater looked to have been fouled in the box by Laurent Koscielny with Cech off his line. However, given the luxury of seeing several replays, Clattenburg got it spot on. You can clearly see from Koscielny’s tackle that he got a toe on the ball and the fact that the direction of the ball moved away from where Drinkwater was running says it all. Great call from Clattenburg.

What wasn’t great was that first he allowed Francis Coquelin to stay on the pitch and then somehow he didn’t award Leicester a penalty in the 90th minute.

When it comes to Coquelin, he had been shown a yellow card in the first half and then at the start of the second half the Frenchman clattered into Mahrez but somehow survived not getting a second yellow. The more contentious and perhaps pivotal call was Clattenburg not awarding a PK to Leicester after substitute Ahmed Musa raced into the box and clearly — I mean, clearly — had his heels clipped by Hector Bellerin.

Clattenburg had a great view of the incident and there’s no way that wasn’t a penalty kick. Those are the kind of decisions which seemed to go Leicester’s way so much on their march to the PL trophy last season. Luck was not with them on Saturday.


KOSCIELNY KEY

Koscielny was a monster at the heart of Arsenal’s defense. The French national team center back returned for the Gunners after his extended break following EURO 2016 and he skippered the team and led by example.

In the first half a point of contention arose surrounding his last-ditch tackle on Drinkwater in the box and on first viewing it looked like Koscielny had got it wrong. However, he didn’t put a foot wrong all game long and on a second and third viewing it was clear he got a toe on the ball just before Drinkwater. Sublime defending.

In the 69th minute Jamie Vardy raced clear and Koscielny cut off the angle expertly and even if he knew he couldn’t get to Vardy he made sure he wasn’t going to get a clear shot on goal. Youngster Rob Holding looked more assured to have Koscielny’s experience alongside him and Arsenal’s entire back line seemed to be back at ease after their horror show against Liverpool last weekend. Koscielny’s stock has risen considerably over the last few weeks and after Saturday’s display it underlines just how important he is to the Gunners.

Two other players returned to action for Arsenal following their EURO 20016 exertions as Mesut Ozil slotted back in seamlessly and Olivier Giroud made good runs but wasn’t found by his teammates. For all the doom and gloom which surrounded Arsenal following their opening weekend defeat against Liverpool, you have to remind yourself that when everyone is fit and available, they have a heck of a squad… even if they need to buy one more center back and a central striker.


SOLID LEICESTER RETURNS

With Robert Huth back at the heart of Leicester’s defense the reigning champs looked more solid defensively than they had been in his absence away at Hull City while he served the remaining game of his three-match ban.

Overall there was a better organization about the Foxes with Nampalys Mendy and Drinkwater providing a solid screen in front of the back four and the only time Leicester really looked like being unlocked was when Mendy hobbled off in the second half and Ozil arrived with his weaving runs.

At the heart of Leicester’s defense, Huth and Wes Morgan just understand each other and they always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. In the first half Alexis Sanchez slotted in Bellerin and as he raced into the box Huth fell down. But, who was there to block Bellerin’s cross and clear the danger? Yep, you guessed it. Morgan.

Claudio Ranieri lamented his Leicester side in their shock defeat at Hull on the opening day for not playing with togetherness. In front of a fired up home crowd, who still seemed to be in a celebratory mood from last season’s incredible title run, Ranieri couldn’t accuse his team of lacking togetherness against Arsenal. This was more like the old Leicester from last season in that on their way to winning the title, even when they didn’t win games they didn’t look like beating themselves either.

If they can stay solid at the back then Mahrez, Jamie Vardy and Co. will still score plenty this season to keep this journey going.

Do Man United need to sign Jadon Sancho?

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Jadon Sancho to Manchester United is set to be the transfer saga of the summer/fall and the big question is this: do Man United really need Sancho?

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Sancho, 20, is no doubt one of the top young players on the planet. So, in theory, every club needs Sancho.

Dortmund want $140 million for him and want a deal soon, while Man United are playing it cool despite talks of them already agreeing personal terms with Sancho and a breakthrough in negotiations being made with Dortmund.

Our partners at Sky Sports in the UK have the latest update, as they say Man United are determined not to be bullied over a deal for Sancho and will not agree to a Aug. 10 deadline.

It is believed United want to spend a lot less than $140 million for Sancho, especially given the current financial situation. I keep thinking ‘is their money better spent elsewhere on their squad?’ Perhaps on a center half or a holding midfielder?

The answer is somewhere between yes and no.

In their current front four they have a wonderful mixture of pace, trickery and creativity. Marcus Rashford flying off the left. Anthony Martial holding the ball up and running in-behind up top. Bruno Fernandes pulling all the strings just behind. Then there’s Mason Greenwood on the right, the prodigious talent who has burst onto the scene at the age of 18.

Greenwood’s emergence is the main reason we can question this deal for Sancho.

There’s no doubt Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wants to sign the former Man City academy star but Sancho is more of a luxury signing for Man United at this point. Nobody expected Greenwood to burst onto the scene the way he has this season and not allowing him to be a regular starter next season and beyond would be a harsh, and damaging move for Solskjaer.

Rashford and Martial are guaranteed starters at this point and the only other way Sancho would fit into this team is if Martial dropped to the bench and Rashford played centrally with Greenwood and Sancho on the wings.

Rashford, Martial and Greenwood are similar players and combine well but we saw how United’s attack stuttered a little against teams who defended deep and Sancho’s trickery would give them something slightly different.

Aside from United’s current front four they have Odion Ighalo (on loan until January 2021), Jesse Lingard, Daniel James and Juan Mata. That’s quite a drop off in terms of quality but those are also players who are happy enough to play 15-20 games a season and play supporting roles. Sancho is not and if he arrives he will obviously start most games.

Jadon Sancho to Manchester United will rumble on but he’s a luxury signing. Man United will be fine without him but better with him, even though it could cause a few headaches for Solskjaer.

Scott Parker’s first season as a manager ends in 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.

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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.

[ 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.