Getty Images

Top PL storylines: Matchweek 2

Leave a comment

The Premier League season is officially under way and already Manchester City is on top of the table after just one week, having taken down West Ham by a blistering 5-0 scoreline that could be even more.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ] 

With the first week under our belt, here are the top storylines as clubs look to keep the ball rolling, or in the case of teams like the Hammers, Norwich City, or Watford, turn their fortunes before falling too far behind.


Chelsea looks to build on midweek showing

  • Chelsea v. Leicester City, Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN

For long stretches of the midweek Super Cup, Chelsea looked the better side against Liverpool. While the Champions League title holders eventually won the match on penalties after a 2-2 draw, the Blues look much improved from their opening week drubbing at the hands of Manchester United.

Frank Lampard still has improving to do as a manager, indicative of his slow reaction to a second half surge by Liverpool, but the Blues boss could hand Christian Pulisic his full Premier League debut after leaving the American on the bench against Manchester United. It’s not perfect, and Chelsea has a long way to go to be a truly competitive force at the top of the Premier League table, but marketable improvement at this stage in the season is always a welcome sight.


Spurs gets crack at defending champs

  • Man City v. Tottenham, Saturday, 12:30 a.m. ET on NBC

Tottenham began its new season with a 3-1 comeback win over newly promoted Aston Villa, and while it took time for the Champions League finalists to gain a foothold in the match, the final result will encourage Spurs fans as they get an early shot at Manchester City. It’s likely a little too early for Giovani Lo Celso or Ryan Sessegnon to make a full debut, but Tanguay Ndombele got off to a good start with a goal against Villa and the new-look Spurs will likely provide Man City a serious test.

City was explosive against West Ham as Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus were both spectacular, but Bernardo Silva could be brought into the side after finding the substitutes bench in the opener, as could Sergio Aguero.


Early relegation six-pointer?

  • Norwich City v. Newcastle United, Saturday, 10:00 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold

Many Premier League projections, including some of our own here at Pro Soccer Talk, have Norwich City and Newcastle both in various stages of the relegation picture. It’s possible that this early match could prove vital in helping shape the bottom of the table.

If so, the matchup could be an entertaining one. While these two sides combined for just one goal between them last weekend, they were both positive going forward in spells. The last four matchups between these two teams have produced a total of 24 goals, and the last time they faced off in Premier League competition, they were both eventually relegated. It may be early, but they all count the same.


Arsenal stars could return

  • Arsenal v. Burnley, Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN

Mesut Ozil and Sead Kolasinac still have safety and security issues to sort out – a worrying prospect for players just looking to ply their trade on the pitch – but they’re back in Arsenal training and could return to the matchday squad after missing out on the opening weekend.

With the pair potentially in the fold, it will give the Gunners a boost after looking bright but wasteful in the early 1-0 win over Newcastle. Ozil could come in for Reiss Nelson while Kolasinac would replace the deputizing Nacho Monreal. David Luiz could also make his Arsenal debut with Calum Chambers possibly making way, giving Arsenal a much more complete lineup than last week. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored the game’s only goal in the season opener, and he is tipped to strike many more times this season in a likely Golden Boot challenge.


Wolves looks to again trouble Manchester United

  • Wolverhampton Wanderers v. Manchester United, Monday, 3:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Manchester United looked stellar in the opening weekend against Chelsea, but they’ll take on a pesky foe in Week 2 as they look to keep the momentum going. Wolves picked up four points off Manchester United last season as they proved difficult for many top sides to deal with throughout the season.

Most importantly, the Red Devils will need to deal with Raul Jimenez who has picked up where he left off last season with four goals in Europa League play to start the campaign, although he – along with the rest of the Wolves squad – was held off the scoresheet in the Premier League opener against Leicester City. That 0-0 draw was drab as Wolves appeared tired after early European play, but the home side will feel they can hit Manchester United on the counter Monday as they did a number of times last season.

Scott Parker’s first season as a manager ends in Fulham promotion

Fulham promotion
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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
Leave a comment

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
Leave a comment

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
Leave a comment

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+