Claudio Ranieri is working his magic at Fulham

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LONDON — Claudio Ranieri is back in the Premier League and the much-loved Italian is already working his magic at Fulham.

Without a Premier League win since August, Fulham beat Southampton 3-2 at Craven Cottage on Saturday in Ranieri’s first game in charge.

Wearing a broad smile and applauding the home fans at the final whistle, it just feels right to have Ranieri back in England. In only a few days he lifted the mood at Fulham, who hadn’t won a game since August before edging past Saints in a topsy-turvy game.

And this game showed us not only the size of the task ahead for the former Chelsea and Leicester manager at Fulham, but also that Ranieri has already had an impact on his current squad after just 10 days in the job.

Speaking after the thrilling encounter, Ranieri wasn’t happy with the way his team defended but he has already seen something he likes: his players fighting until the end.

“For us it was an important match, Everyone is very pleased but it is a little step because it is not easy job for everybody. But I believe until the end,” Ranieri said. “I ask the players to fight until the end. We played a good match but we conceded too many chances to the opponent. We have to improve a lot. We have to work hard to improve tactically.”

Similarities will no doubt be drawn to the job Ranieri did at Leicester as he took them from relegation favorites to Premier League title winners in the incredible 2015-16 season.

The way Fulham took their chances when they arrived (three goals from five shots on target) and sat back and tried to hit Saints on the counter was reminiscent of a Ranieri side.

And while nobody is expecting Fulham to emulate Leicester this season, Ranieri knows he faces a huge battle to improve the Cottagers defensively.

Is improving Fulham’s defense (the leakiest in the top-flight this season with 33 goals against) the toughest task he’s had?

“Yes, yes, yes. All the team have to maintain the right position,” Ranieri said. “It is very, very important. In this case they run less and they are always in a good position and for the opponent it is more difficult.”

There’s no doubt that shoring up this Fulham side which was assembled to be free-flowing and attacking will take time, and Ranieri said it would take all season and probably next season to figure that out.

That said, the character they showed to fight back from 1-0 down and then being dragged back to 2-2 was certainly befitting of the fight we’ve seen from Ranieri’s teams in the past.

“Fantastic character. Fantastic fighting spirit. I ask just this. Never, never give up,” Ranieri said. “Work hard until the end and at the end we see the result. After the first goal I wanted to see our reaction, it was amazing. At 2-2 we again wanted to score a goal. I think it was a good match because Southampton also had the chance to score a goal and Sergio Rico made a fantastic save. That is not good because I want less chances for the opponent. Too many chances.”

Similar to his time at Leicester, Ranieri has two star attackers who will improve his chances of keeping Fulham up this season: Aleksandar Mitrovic and Andre Schurrle.

Mitrovic scored twice and Schurrle added the other, and Ranieri was full of praise for his powerful Serbian striker.

“For me Mitrovic is one of the best strikers in Europe, and when I say Europe I mean all of the world,” Ranieri said. “he is only 24 years old. He is a fantastic player and it is important to give the ball to him because he can play and give us a platform and he’s also a goalscorer when the ball arrives in the box. When he is very close to the goal it is important to give him a lot of chances to score.”

Praising Mitrovic and building up his confidence in this way is a shrewd move from Ranieri.

Mitrovic told Sky Sports after the game that the gameplan from the new manager is clear: get balls into the box.

“Two terrific goals for me. This is what the manager wants – the balls into the box,” Mitrovic said. “We have worked hard. There has been just 10 days with the manager and we need to continue like this.”

Scurrle added that Fulham have “worked a lot on tactical and shape and the way he [Ranieri] wants to play” and although they must improve “today was all about winning.”

Fulham got the win in Ranieri’s first game in charge, even if it wasn’t perfect, and next up he has games against the two Premier League teams he formerly managed: Chelsea and Leicester in the space of four days.

The Italian is a happy man to be back in the thick of things in the Premier League.

“The emotion was high. I make this job because I live for emotion,” Ranieri said. “For me to come back to Premier League is an emotion. For me to come back to Fulham is an emotion, because it is one of the most historical clubs. I’m at a good family club at Fulham and I am very, very pleased.”

The Premier League seems pleased to have the Italian back on the sidelines after a near two-year absence.

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.

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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.

Live, UCL: PSV v. Basel headlines second qualifying round

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The UEFA Champions League qualifying rounds continue to roll on, and there are some mouthwatering clashes across Europe on Tuesday.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

That’s right, the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons pretty much rolled into one.

The pick of the second qualifying round first leg ties on Tuesday sees Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven host FC Basel in the Netherlands, with Mexican national team stars Hirving Lozano and Erick Guttierez hopeful of playing in the UCL group stage this season.

Welsh champions The New Saints host Danish champs FC Copenhagen, with TNS the heavy underdogs but their illustrious opponents will not relish their trip to Wales amid sweltering conditions in the UK.

Dinamo Zagreb will fancy their chances of advancing past Georgian minnows Saburtalo, while Olympiacos head to Czech giants Viktoria Plzen in another tasty encounter.

The third qualifying round sees the likes of Ajax, FC Porto and Dynamo Kiev enter the competition, so things will continue to get tougher for any minnows who sneak through this round.

Below is the full schedule for Tuesday’s games, with the second legs played next week. Click on the link to follow all of the action live.

UCL second qualifying round, first leg – Tuesday, July 23

Plzen v. Olympiacos – 1 p.m. ET
Saburtalo v. Dinamo Zagreb – 1:30 p.m. ET
The New Saints v. Copenhagen – 2 p.m. ET
PSV Eindhoven v. FC Basel – 2 p.m. ET
FK Sutjeska v. APOEL Nicosia – 2:15 p.m. ET

Five Premier League teams listed among most valuable sports franchises

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The rich are getting richer. Literally.

Forbes has released its latest list of the top 50 most valuable sports teams on the planet, with eight soccer teams in the top 50 as 52 teams are worth at least $2 billion.

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Five Premier League teams make it, with Manchester United in sixth with a value of $3.81 billion, Man City in 25th at $2.69 billion, Chelsea 32nd at $2.58 billion, Arsenal in 42nd at $2.27 billion and Liverpool in 45th at $2.18 billion.

Real Madrid and Barcelona lead the charge of most valuable soccer teams, sitting in third and fourth respectively with values of just over $4 billion, while Bayern Munich are in 17th with a valuation of $3.02 billion.

In previous years Man United topped Forbes’ list and they were the only team in the world to be worth over $2 billion back in 2012.

Real Madrid were the last soccer team atop Forbes’ list but the Dallas Cowboys have now been in top spot since 2016 with the NFL dominating this list.

26 of the top 50 most valuable teams are from the NFL, with eight soccer clubs, nine MLB franchises and seven NBA teams making up the rest.

Below is the list of the value of the top 10 sports franchises on the planet.

1. Dallas Cowboys – $5 billion
2. New York Yankees – $4.6 billion
3. Real Madrid – $4.2 billion
4. Barcelona – $4.02 billion
5. New York Knicks – $4 billion
6. Manchester United – $3.81 billion
7. New England Patriots – $3.8 billion
8. Los Angeles Lakers – $3.7 billion
9. Golden State Warriors – $3.5 billion
10=. New York Giants – $3.3 billion
10=. Los Angeles Dodgers – $3.3 billion