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Ranieri’s task at struggling Fulham: Getting back to basics

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Before burgers must come the basics.

The arrival of Claudio Ranieri as Fulham coach should ensure an end to the chaotic selections, loose defending and naive approach that marked the promoted team’s turbulent first three months back in the Premier League under his predecessor Slavisa Jokanovic.

Soccer is a simple game to Ranieri, who values hard work, togetherness and typically a straightforward 4-4-2 formation more than anything else.

They were the enduring virtues of his Leicester team that pulled off the most improbable title triumph in English soccer history in 2015-16, so expect Fulham to show similar characteristics under the amiable Italian as he bids to steer his new side to safety.

Ranieri has taken over a team that is bottom with five points from 12 games and that has the worst defensive record of any professional side in English soccer – with an average of nearly 2.6 goals conceded per match. Jokanovic sent out Fulham to play in an expansive and open style that allowed them to be picked off with ease. He never fielded the same back four.

No wonder Ranieri said his priority was to sort out the defense and finally keep clean sheets, with the reward for the players a trip to fast-food chain McDonald’s for burgers. Famously, pizzas were his gift to Leicester’s squad for shutouts.

“Today I said this: Restart every time,” Ranieri said Thursday. “We can win, lose, clean and restart tomorrow. Forget the past.”

Compared with masterminding a title success for Leicester over the superpowers of the league, keeping Fulham up should be child’s play for the 67-year-old Ranieri.

Fulham, after all, is only three points from safety. It has 26 games left to play. It has a squad containing more than $113 million worth of new talent bought in the offseason. In theory, there are at least three rival teams less equipped to stay up.

“This Fulham squad has exceptional talent that is contrary to its position in the table,” Ranieri said.

He could hardly have a kinder first match either, a home game against a Southampton side that has failed to score in half of its league games and has only one victory.

Ranieri needs to settle on a goalkeeper — Jokanovic played three in 12 — and a fixed back four. He also requires a central midfield combination that provides better protection for his defense and must get more out of 18-year-old Ryan Sessegnon, who was Fulham’s standout in the second-tier Championship when playing on the left wing but has sometimes featured at left back this season.

In attack, can Aleksandar Mitrovic and Andre Schuerrle be Fulham’s version of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, Leicester’s attacking pair that excelled under Ranieri? The combinations have different — where Vardy had sheer pace, Mitrovic has presence and strength; where Mahrez was all about touch and technique, Schuerrle has a lethal shot and an eye for goal — but their importance is similar.

Can the coach once nicknamed “The Tinkerman” when in charge of Chelsea provide some stability at Fulham?

“I am Tinkerman,” he said, “but I tinker clever. It’s important to maintain the same lineup for some matches but you never know. I want everybody available and then I can choose.”

Ranieri must also instill a new mindset.

“I think now it is important to not think about miracles, but think about a lot of battles and be ready together,” he said. “I repeat, together. The club, the players, the fans.”

Hudson-Odoi reportedly agrees to huge new Chelsea deal

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Callum Hudson-Odoi‘s promise and performance have earned him a very rich five-year new deal, especially given his young age, according to the BBC.

Oh, and his agent certainly deserves some credit, given the rumored and continued pursuit of the Chelsea star from Bayern Munich and other clubs.

[ MORE: Who is Newcastle’s new $50M forward? ]

The Englishman turns 19 in November, and plays primarily on the left wing. Rumors of his departure were rooted in his desire for playing time, and Maurizio Sarri gave him a little more than 1000 minutes in which Hudson-Odoi produced five goals and five assists.

Hudson-Odoi must feel assured of a faster track to regular playing time under new manager Frank Lampard, and Chelsea must feel his ruptured achilles tendon will heal up properly.

None of his 2018-19 goals were in the Premier League, but Hudson-Odoi struck four times in Chelsea’s run to the Europa League trophy.

He missed the last month of the system of the season the aforementioned tendon injury, and he’ll earn close to $125,000 a week on his new deal at Stamford Bridge.


That would’ve been the highest salary on nine Premier League teams last season, a tied for 47th in the Premier League last season (Spotrac).

Exactly who is Newcastle’s new $50M striker?

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Newcastle United’s club record signing of Joelinton is raising plenty of eyebrows, as fans try to grasp what they have in the $50 million Brazilian.

Suffice it to say that there isn’t an easy comparison.

The soon-to-be 23-year-old scored seven goals with five assists in Bundesliga play for Hoffenheim last season, adding four and two from Champions League and German Cup play.

[ MORE: Man Utd chase Pepe, Fernandes ]

He’s a unit, to be sure, at 6-foot-1 with tremendous leaping ability and a powerful stride. Joelinton certainly has the ability to dominate in the air and hold the ball up like Newcastle’s loan star Salomon Rondon in 2018-19, but he brings better passing than most center forwards.

There’s a temptation to compare him to Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino, another Premier League import from Brazil via Hoffenheim, as Joe Prince-Wright wrote in his morning post about the impending deal.

Firmino was on another level in 2014-15, coming off a remarkably complete seasons for a center forward. He also shoots more often than Joelinton.

What Newcastle supporters will like from Joelinton, what makes him unique for his size, is that he’s a tremendous dribbler. He has trickery to go with his pace, not strictly a locomotive.

His season didn’t have the goals, the Toon will hope, because he was supplying wingers Andrej Kramaric (17 goals) and Ishak Belfodil (16). That could be music to the ears of Miguel Almiron and… whoever else Steve Bruce has to deploy (Yoshinori Muto? Jacob Murphy?).

Joelinton also played less than minutes than the following three comparables: West Ham import Sebastien Haller, Watford target Ismalia Sarr, and Wolves star Raul Jimenez.

Will he be worth the spend? The six-year deal promises profit potential — something Mike Ashley and chief scout Graham Carr are clearly targeting — if he explodes and earns the admiration of bigger sides. As for now, he should be able to provide what Rondon did in 2018-19.

Filipe Luis signs for Flamengo after leaving Atletico

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Brazilian veteran left-back Filipe Luis has signed for boyhood club Flamengo after leaving Atletico Madrid on a free transfer.

The Rio de Janeiro club and the player confirmed the move Tuesday on social media.

Flamengo said the 33-year-old Luis has signed a deal until 2021.

Luis has played in Europe for 14 years but left Atletico on Sunday after his contract expired.

The left-back was a starter for Brazil during its recent run to the Copa America title.

With Atletico, Luis won the Copa del Rey in 2013, the Spanish league in 2014, and the Europa League in 2012 and 2018. He also had a brief spell with Chelsea in between, winning the Premier League in 2015.

Flamengo is third in the Brazilian championship after 11 matches, five points behind leader and defending champion Palmeiras.

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MLS expansion side Austin FC name Wolff as first-ever head coach

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Former USMNT forward  Josh Wolff has become the first-ever head coach of Austin FC, as the MLS expansion franchise crack on with their expected entry into North America’s top-flight in 2021.

Wolff, 42, was the assistant coach for D.C. United before moving to the Columbus Crew were he worked as Gregg Berhalter’s assistant for the past five years. Wolff was then hired as Berhalter’s assistant when he took charge of the USMNT.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage

Austin FC say that Wolff will start his new job after the international window in November as he will continue with his current job with U.S. Soccer until then.

“I know that Austin has a true love of soccer, and it is the opportunity of a lifetime to be part of the first ever major league team of any kind in the Capital of Texas,” Wolff said. “Our stated ambition is to establish ourselves quickly within MLS as a vibrant, attacking side and we want to reflect the diverse, competitive, and passionate makeup of our club’s home, both on and off the field.”

This move makes total sense as former Columbus Crew owner, Anthony Precourt, knows Wolff from their time together in Ohio. Precourt excercized his option to move his MLS franchise from Columbus to Austin which was confirmed in January 2019.

The Crew have since been kept in Columbus and Precourt is now the chairman and CEO of Two Oak Ventures, the entity which owns the rights to operate Austin FC and its stadium, while also holding the title of chairman and CEO of Austin FC. Austin FC’s new stadium at McKalla Place (the stadium and the complex around it looks pretty incredible) is privately funded and will hold 20,500 fans when it is completed.

Hiring a former MLS and USMNT star to lead the team makes a lot of sense and Wolff’s name has been mentioned plenty when MLS jobs have become available in recent years. He was on both the 2002 and 2006 USMNT World Cup squads and his experience across MLS and in Europe have given him a unique coaching style.

There is a lot of respect for Wolff among the American soccer community and his playing philosophy is very similar to Berhalter’s. Wolff becoming a head coach is good news for young domestic players.