PL roundup: Race for 2nd gets tight; Swans’ sad song

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Get caught up on all eight of the Premier League’s Boxing Day fixtures…

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Liverpool 5-0 Swansea CityFULL RECAP

No team in the PL (this side of Manchester City’s rabid pursuit of an unbeaten 38-game season) routinely overwhelms and engulfs opponents so casually as Liverpool. They did it to Arsenal last Friday (before giving it all back in five minutes’ time), just as they did to the Gunners back in August, just as they did it to a hopeless, destined-for-relegation (20th place, five points adrift of safety) Swansea side on Tuesday. Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino (twice), Trent Alexander-Arnold and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain bagged the goals and extended the Reds’ unbeaten run to 11 PL games (seven wins). More importantly, due to another result in the northwest of England, Jurgen Klopp‘s side is now just five points back of second-place Manchester United. The gap between second and sixth is now just nine points, and would shrink to six if Arsenal beat Crystal Palace on Thursday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

Tottenham Hotspur 5-2 SouthamptonFULL RECAP

Harry Kane‘s calendar year of 2017, following Tuesday’s hat trick:

  • 39 PL goals (in 36 games) — top PL scorer in a calendar year
  • 8 hat tricks (all competitions)
  • 6 PL hat tricks — five more than any other player
  • 1st player since David Villa (2009) to score more goals than Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in a calendar year

For those keeping track at home, he’s now just seven short of the century mark in the PL — his stated goal for the 2017-18 season — and the ETA isn’t moving forward in weeks anymore, but months instead.

Chelsea 2-0 Brighton & Hove AlbionFULL RECAP

Somehow, Chelsea appear to be the side to which no one is paying much attention right now — with the headlines being dominated Man United’s failed challenge to Man City, and the three-way battle for fourth, it would appear being comfortably the third- (coming for second-)best team in the PL this season is a bit of a non-story for some. Alas, Antonio Conte‘s side is cruising right along and moved to four games unbeaten with a comfortable victory over Brighton on Tuesday. Alvaro Morata and Marcos Alonso got the goals, and the Blues now trail United by just a single point for second.

Manchester United 2-2 BurnleyFULL RECAP

In an attempt to distract the public from his side’s failed PL title bid, Jose Mourinho, who this summer became the first manager in world football history to spend 1 billion pounds on players throughout his managerial career, has taken issue with the way Man City have gone about spending to build arguably the best squad in PL history. This, of course, occurred only moments after United came back from 2-0 down to draw Burnley at Old Trafford. Mourinho remains as predictable as his sides are expensive and stodgy.

Bournemouth 3-3 West Ham UnitedFULL RECAP

Bournemouth and West Ham began the day in 18th and 17th place, respectively, and that’s exactly where the two sides finished after a thrilling 3-3 draw at the Vitality Stadium. The game swing back and forth for the whole of 90 minutes, as the Hammers went 1-0 ahead early on, the Cherries responded and jumped out to a 2-1 lead then fell 3-2 behind, and the points were ultimately split following a controversial, 92nd-minute equalizer.

Watford 2-1 Leicester City — FULL RECAP

Watford’s bid for a top-half finish got a big boost on Tuesday, as Marco Silva‘s 10th-place side beat Claude Puel‘s 8th-place Leicester City at Vicarage Road and snapped a four-game losing skid that saw the Hornets drop from top-six contention down to the double-digit places. Leicester went ahead through Riyad Mahrez in the 37th minute, but Molla Wague equalized just before halftime and Kasper Schmeichel scored an own goal in the 65th. When you’ve lost four in a row, you’ll take a victory any way you can get it.

Huddersfield Town 1-1 Stoke City — FULL RECAP

Speaking of top-half dreams — no, not Stoke — 11th-place Huddersfield dropped a pair of points against relegation-threatened Stoke. Tom Ince put David Wagner‘s Terriers ahead after just 10 minutes, but Ramadan Sobhi equalized for the Potters right on the hour mark. At this point of the season, both sides will take every point they can get as the march toward 40 continues.

West Bromwich Albion 0-0 Everton — FULL RECAP

After a torrid start to the season, Everton are suddenly seven games unbeaten in the PL (four wins) and miles clear (up to 9th) of the relegation zone. Who says “the Sam Allardyce effect” isn’t real? Speaking of which, that’s back-to-back 0-0 draws for the Toffees — against Chelsea, and now West Brom. 18 games without a win for West Brom.

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+