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PL Sunday preview: Man Utd travel to Watford; Mourinho’s Tottenham host Lampard’s Chelsea

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With seven Premier League fixtures on Saturday, two more remain in Matchweek 18.

Watford v. Manchester United  — 9 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

If this had not been said already: Watford are in trouble.

The Hornets have yet to win a home match this season, with their last win at Vicarage Road dating back to April. Over 17 games this season, Watford have registered one win – a 2-0 win over Norwich City in November – conceding 32 goals along the way. At home, Watford have scored four goals this season – a Premier League-low.

With the odds definitely against him, it is tough seeing recently-appointed Nigel Pearson overturning, possibly even if club owner Gino Pozzo commits to revamping the squad over the winter transfer window.

“It’s stating the obvious – it’s clear to everybody we need to affect our fortunes as soon as possible,” the 56-year-old said ahead of Sunday’s match.

“We’ve got another difficult game and when you play against Manchester United you know they’ve got quality, they’ve got players who are very capable of being match winners, so the most important thing for us is to raise our own levels of performance and find a level of consistency that will generate a better feeling within our fan base.”

Meanwhile, over in Manchester, the aura is overwhelmingly unrecognizable. United are riding a six-game unbeaten streak in Premier League play, and are in their best shape this season.

As a result, the talk at Old Trafford has been the first team’s ascendance over the past few months, but it’s quickly becoming the January transfer window.

Is Erling Haaland reuniting with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at the Theatre of Dreams? Are Paul Pogba‘s days numbered with the Red Devils? These are the type of questions that the Norwegian manager is taking on.

“As a manager, you always hope you can do something but, then again, it’s not something that’s nailed on,” he said regarding United’s potential signings over the winter transfer window.

“It has to be the right player, the right age, he’s got to fit into this squad and for the right value. We’re always looking and the transfer window will be open but it might not happen.”

Getting three points at Vicarage Road doesn’t pose as a daunting task, obviously.

INJURIES: Watford —  OUT: Cleverley (calf), Holebas (ankle), Janmaat (knee), Prödl (knee), Welbeck (hamstring) | Manchester United — OUT:  Bailly (knee), Fosu-Mensah (knee), Pogba (ankle)

Tottenham v. Chelsea — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

For the first team in a Premier League match, Jose Mourinho and Frank Lampard will square off as managers.

And if Derby County’s win against Manchester United via penalties in the Carabao Cup last year told us anything it’s that the student learned a lot from his master.

“I am happy to go up against Jose [Mourinho], it was a big deal last year [with Derby against Manchester United],” Chelsea boss Lampard said when asked about playing against a Mourinho-led Spurs.

“I have a big respect for him,” he added. “The big thing is Chelsea versus Spurs, it is what the rivalry means to my players.”

For a second time in his storied managerial career, Mourinho will take on Chelsea – the club he managed for nearly six years – representing a different English club. For the first time ever, however, the match will be a derby.

So, is the Portuguese in any sort of emotional quandary going up against his former team and his former standout player?

“I am 100% Tottenham,” he stated. “I am 100% my club always. No space at all for my previous clubs. I gave everything to all of them, but they are my previous clubs.”

“My club is Tottenham so it’s so, so easy for me,” he said. “Not difficult from the emotional side of things.”

Now that sound like the Mourinho, who knows that there’s a clear pathway to dethrone Chelsea from the fourth position with a win.

INJURIES: Tottenham —  OUT: Lamela (hamstring), Lloris (elbow), Davies (ankle) | Chelsea  — OUT: Loftus-Cheek (achilles)

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

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.

[ 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
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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
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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+