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PL Preview: Fulham vs. Watford

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  • Fulham has conceded at least 2 goals in its last 9 PL games
  • Watford has lost 8 straight PL matches in London
  • Fulham will become the 15th English team to reach 500 PL games

One team still sorting out the kinks, one team is off to a blistering start.

Fulham hopes to shore things up as the Whites host fourth-placed Watford at Craven Cottage Saturday at 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com. The hosts have been porous defensively, with 12 goals allowed through the first five matches of the season, the most in the Premier League.

[ WATCH LIVE: Fulham vs. Watford live on NBCSports.com ]

Still, manager Slavisa Jokanovic has rebuffed calls to set the tactics up more defensively, instead calling on his team to be “more brave” as the season rolls on, pushing forward with the “offense is the best defense” mindset. Jokanovic, who coached Watford to promotion in 2015 but left before Premier League play after failing to agree to a new deal, has been praised for his steadfastness in his tactical style but also criticized for the early results.

Watford took time to find true stability in the Premier League without Jokanovic, finishing one place above relegation last season, but under Javi Gracia the Hornets have sprung to life over the past few weeks. Gracia is the one with stability now, having named the exact same starting lineup for every Premier League game so far, and Watford could become only the fifth English club ever to name the same starting lineup for the first six games of a Premier League season. Gerard Deulofeu and Tom Cleverley are both long-term absentees, while Nathaniel Chalobah is the only real question mark as he recovers from a serious knee injury, and he is likely to return to the squad, Gracia said.

The Fulham squad, on the other hand, is a mess. Captain Tom Cairney is out with an ankle injury, a massive miss for a team that focuses on possession and build-up. American defender Tim Ream is also out with a knee problem, back in training finally but still yet to debut this season after winning the club’s Player of the Season award last year. Without Ream, Jokanovic has struggled to find his best defensive partnership, with Denis Odoi plus new signings Calum Chambers, Maxim Le Marchand, and Alfie Mawson all showing weaknesses. The Whites are also without winger Neeskens Kebano who suffered an ankle injury in a Cup match against Exeter City in late August.

What they’re saying

Fulham manager Jokanovic on his team’s attacking mentality: “People are asking if we can be a little more pragmatic but, for me, being pragmatic is being brave. The brave choice for me is the best way to win the game. I think we are still not brave enough. Why would we be scared, why are we not braver and trusting in ourselves?”

Watford manager Gracia on bouncing back from first loss: “They do not need good results to know the performances have been good and, in this moment, the players are confident they will be able to keep their performance levels up. We will try to keep our style of play, maintain our mentality and be aggressive.”

Prediction

Watford started the season with a bang, but have not kept a clean sheet since the second match of the year. That could pose problems facing a team that loves to push forward, and there should be goals in this match. It will likely end in a 2-2 draw.

Premier League Preview: Man City vs. Fulham

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  • Fulham has conceded 9 goals so far this season, one off the most in the league
  • Man City has scored 16 goals in its last 5 home league matches
  • Man City has beaten Fulham by a combined 10-0 over last 3 league meetings at the Etihad

Manchester City will host a discount version of itself as they meet Fulham at the Etihad Saturday at 10:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com in a highly-anticipated clash of similar playing styles. It will be fascinating to see how this game progresses, as Fulham manager Slavisa Jokanovic insists the Whites will attempt to play their possession-based style even against the reigning Premier League champions.

Fulham led the Championship in possession the last two years under Slavisa Jokanovic before promotion, and this season they sit fourth in the Premier League in completed passes, above teams like Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, and Arsenal. Saturday’s meeting with City sees them match up against the side that sits second in the Premier League with 2,726 completed passes through four matches, 497 more than Fulham.

[ MORE: Top Premier League storylines for Week 5 ]

Manchester City has its full compliment of players aside from Kevin De Bruyne and Claudio Bravo who are out with long-term injuries. Raheem Sterling left the England over the weekend with a back injury, but Pep Guardiola says the 23-year-old is healthy enough to return to selection for City. Danilo is back in training as well, but may not have the match fitness to play this weekend.

The visitors will be without playmaking force Tom Cairney, a big loss for a team that requires a centralized creator in the attacking half. Also missing for the Cottagers is winger Neeskins Kebano, who is dealing with an ankle problem. Finally, American defender Tim Ream is still absent with a nagging thigh injury that is taking longer to heal than initially thought, still yet to debut this season.

What they’re saying

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola on Fulham – “I’m really impressed. I had two weeks watching them. I saw three games. They have good players – [Jean Michael] Seri, and players in the front like [Aleksandar] Mitrovic. It’s not just long balls and channels, they want to make their own game. I’m pretty sure they’ll have a good season.”

Fulham manager Slavisa Jokanovic on Pep Guardiola – “No, I don’t use his style of football, I try use my style or use my players. He’s one of the most experienced and successful managers. He’s shown a similar style in different places, he’s shown it’s possible to play that way in different competitions. All the credit to him; he made really important steps in the game. But to copy people is not good. It’s not easy for us to match this level. We try to find our way, we try to adapt ourselves, we try to interpret what we have in our hands.”

Prediction

Fulham is going to take it to some teams, but in games like this, it’s hard to see them stepping up to the competition. These are the games they will struggle in – against teams similar to their style. The Fulham defense has been a work in progress in Ream’s absence, with new signings Maxim Le Marchand, Alfie Mawson, and Calum Chambers all still working to to settle into new roles. Manchester City should feast, and it could finish at an ugly 4-1.

Premier League Preview: Tottenham vs. Fulham

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  • Spurs have beaten Fulham in 8 of last 9 PL meetings
  • Fulham have played at Wembley just twice before, including Playoff Final last season
  • Harry Kane is still without an August PL goal in his career

There’s been plenty of off-the-field turmoil, but Spurs remain poised on the pitch, and take on a banged up Fulham squad in serious transition at Wembley Stadium on Saturday at 10:00 a.m. ET live on NBCSN.

After becoming the first Premier League team in history to log a summer transfer window without signing a single player, Spurs has seen its plans for moving into the new stadium backlogged by construction delays, throwing the team into a period of slight uncertainty. Still, that pales in comparison to the on-field uncertainty their opponents Fulham currently face.

[ WATCH LIVE: Tottenham vs. Fulham live on NBCSN ]

The Whites became the first newly promoted Premier League team to spend over $100 million in a transfer window, but the squad is still working itself out after so many changes. Top signing Jean-Michael Seri looked fantastic in last week’s season-opening loss to Crystal Palace, but defensive midfielder Andre Zambo Anguissa has yet to make his team debut after signing on Deadline Day. In addition, center-backs Tim Ream and newly acquired Alfie Mawson are both injured and yet to return, leaving Calum Chambers and Maxim Le Marchand the only ones fit to start.

The Fulham goalkeeping situation is seriously in flux as well. Last year’s starter Marcus Bettinelli saw himself third-string in the season-opener, left out of the squad completely. Many speculated he was injured, but he earned the ire of manager Slavisa Jokanovic by publicly declaring himself fit. Starter Fabri, another new acquisition from Besiktas, was miserable on his debut, and it’s possible Sevilla loanee Sergio Rico could get his chance in net.

With Spurs spending nary a penny this summer, one thing in their favor is cohesion. They are missing Erik Lamela and Harry Winks with injury, while Heung-Min Son plays internationally with South Korea, but otherwise the main men are ready to go after their season-opening win over Newcastle last weekend. The only lineup changes from that match would be tactical, with Lucas Moura likely to retain his place in Son’s absence, while Kyle Walker-Peters could get a shot at right-back after Serge Aurier‘s so-so performance.

What they’re saying

Fulham manager Slavisa Jokanovic on his goalkeepers: “I have three goalkeepers and I will choose only one – one of them will be in the stand, one will be on the bench and one will be in the goal. It’s the same situation, we created the competition and it’s the same situation for Bettinelli and other keepers as it is for other parts of the squad. When you ask me why Bettinelli is not in the goal, I am talking about we make some investment for another player, and this is a player who has experience in higher level and has some experience in the Champions League and Europa League. For another side, the [injury] situation with Marcus Bettinelli during the pre-season forced us to bring in another keeper too, and this other keeper is a quality keeper who has similar experience to be a Champions League keeper and has won some European trophies. This is a fantastic situation for a head coach like me, the three keepers are in the same situation and they must fight for the position and in my hands is the decision what I believe is best for my team.”

Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino on stadium delay: “Three stadiums in one season would be too much, we might have to find a way to play at Wembley, if that’s the day after the NFL, maybe the pitch is not in the best condition but we have to find a way. We need to be all together. Our fans understand it’s a massive, huge project that will be forever for them and for the club and it’s not possible for different things that happen, it’s not in our hands. The most import thing is to be positive. I understand the problems with tickets and money and I feel sorry for them. I want to say sorry, but we will try to reward them by winning games.”

Prediction

Fulham has a fantastic squad after an exciting summer, but with injuries and new signings not fully fit, the squad is severely weakened. In addition, the Fulham style under Jokanovic does not suit itself to a match against a pressing team such as Tottenham. This match could swing quickly towards the home side with an early goal, and a rout would be understandable in this situation despite the optimism surrounding Fulham’s overall prospects this coming season. Spurs will win 3-0, maybe even deserving of a more flattering scoreline.

PST’s Premier League 2018-19 preseason roundtable

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It’s the start of a major tournament, the Premier League’s 2018/19 season, and that means it’s time to rally the ProSoccerTalk staff to answer the key questions ahead of Friday’s opener between Leicester City and Manchester United.

[ MORE: 2018-19 PL season preview hub ]  

1) The PL season is upon us. What’s the first storyline that pops into your head?

Joe Prince-Wright: How crazy the battle against relegation will be this season. 10-12 teams very similar and likely to be in the battle.

Nick Mendola: Liverpool. There are no more reasons to believe this team shouldn’t contend for the Premier League title, outside of Manchester City’s brilliance. Finishing anywhere short of second is an outright failure, and it’s sad that at times Jurgen Klopp has stopped short of declaring his squad a favorite.

Kyle Bonn: Can Manchester City dominate like they did last year? Has to be the surrounding aura for the entire season, at least at this point.

Andy Edwards: The battle for second place should be very fun and extremely fluid this season — any one of Man United, Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal could realistically finish one spot (and 15 points) behind Man City.

Matt Reed: Honestly it should be the race between Liverpool and City at the top, but I’m more interested in the newcomers this season. We’ve never seen promotion sides this active in the transfer market, and both Wolves and Fulham are spending at record rates to bolster their squads.Meanwhile, Cardiff has completed some underrated moves as well, so I want to see what sort of product the three newcomers put out on opening weekend.

Dan Karell: Can Manchester City defend its title after a record-setting season? A close second is the same for Mo Salah…can he repeat?

2) Man City’s chances to repeat, 1 being no chance and 10 being a virtual certainty.

JPW: 9. They’re so much stronger than anyone else in terms of their squad and Pep’s methods are now embedded into these players.

NM: 8. One more year in the system for most of the key pieces, Riyad Mahrez is an upgrade, and Ederson, Laporte, Stones, Mendy, Sane, Sterling, Bernardo Silva, and Gabriel Jesus are all 24 or younger.

KB: 6. They’re absolutely the favorites, but Liverpool, Chelsea, and Arsenal all got better.

AE: 9/10. There are two scenarios in which it doesn’t happen: 1) injuries decimate the squad; 2) Guardiola goes all-in on winning the Champions League and rests the entire starting 11 for PL games. Even then, they’ll likely win it.

MR: 8. I’m still very high on this team, but Liverpool is no joke and this season will be a lot different from how City breezed through matches a season ago. The depth is there. Guardiola is there. However, teams will show more of a willingness to pack numbers in defensively and go for a point against the Citizens. That opens the door for a team like Liverpool to not only close the gap but contend for the Premier League.

DK: 8. I’m preeeettttty positive Man City will be champions again, they’re just so good and they play at a level most teams cannot even get close to. But, their backline is aging, with Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi both 30 and over as well as Fernandinho. If they show their age, it could be a different Man City this season.

3) Liverpool has spent big and kept almost everyone who contributed to their CL run. What’s the bare minimum success needed from Jurgen Klopp this season?

JPW: Finish second and win some silverware, even if it’s the League Cup.

NM: Second in the Premier League and a trophy somewhere. Champions League is a bit more dicey, as the Reds really bucked their performances in going as far as they did, so I’d say winning a knockout round would be enough there.

KB: For Liverpool, anything below finishing second in the table and reaching the Champions League quarterfinals would be a disappointment given the money spent and the positive chatter around the club this summer.

AE:  It’s still about continued progression. As long as there are signs of moving forward — closing the gap between themselves and the Manchester clubs, or maybe even passing United, while integrating the new pieces and setting themselves up for a legitimate title challenge next season — Klopp will be happy. They’re still a season away, probably.

MR: This squad is too talented to not win anything. I think the move for Alisson, in particular, changes a lot of things for the club because Loris Karius was a massive scapegoat after the UCL final. Obviously losing Mohamed Salah in that match was massive, but Liverpool had every chance to beat Real Madrid, and now I think they should be firmly in the mix again both domestically and in Europe.

DK: Second place and a trophy, whether it’s League Cup or FA Cup. I think Liverpool is a legit contender for the Champions League again too. You never know what luck has in store for them, such as drawing Roma after Roma beat Barcelona.

4) Spurs haven’t spent like the other title contenders. You worried for them?

JPW: A little, but they always prove us wrong. Moving into a new stadium, no new signings and a bit of a World Cup hangover for a lot of their stars could be detrimental to their progression once again. Pochettino is pound-for-pound the best manager around, so I’m sure he will figure out a way to get the best out of what he has until January.

NM: Yeah, but Harry Kane. The question not being asked enough is whether Dele Alli is the superstar of 2016-17, or simply the pretty good talent of the surrounding campaigns.

KB: I am not. Spurs’ depth is already quite strong, and they have some young players that will contribute as well.

AE: Yes and no. There’s something to be said for continuity and the momentum generated by three straight seasons finishing in the top-three. It’s still an incredibly young squad, and theoretically, there’s another level (or two or three) that a number of established stars can still reach. That said, further development isn’t a guarantee, and it was a thin squad last season. To not address any of the above concerns feels like criminal negligence.

MR: I actually am. It’s not even the fact that they didn’t spend, but more the fact that some of their best players didn’t look themselves in Russia and I’m concerned that so many matches over the course of the last 12 months catches up to them.

DK: Not really. They will likely have a slow start, with so many stars just coming back from their post-World Cup break. But with continuity, I expect they’ll be just fine come the end of the season.

5) Better bet to land in the Top Four: Chelsea or Arsenal?

JPW: Probably Arsenal. I expect Aubameyang to have a wonderful season and if Emery’s side can shore things up at the back they have a decent chance. Who knows how quickly Chelsea will gel under Sarri. Whenever they do it will be great to watch, but it could take a long time.

NM: Chelsea, if only because many of their players have largely done this turnaround thing once during their time at Stamford Bridge. Jorginho and N'Golo Kante should be a no-pass zone in the midfield. Arsenal will also be prolific, but it could take time for its back line to gel. The Gunners need bounce back seasons from Hector Bellerin and Laurent Koscielny.

KB: Good question. Very good question. I think Chelsea has the better squad and the manager with the higher floor, so I give them the edge at this point. Arsenal could absolutely surprise under Emery and I like where they’re headed, but Chelsea looks much more improved this summer.

AE: Arsenal, ever so slightly.

MR: The turmoil surrounding Chelsea has been an obvious distraction, but for whatever reason they seem to thrive under new managers. It happened with Mourinho. It happened Conte. This team is still very, very talented and the additions of Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic makes this one of the top midfields in the PL when considering N’Golo Kante’s presence. It’s easy to forget this team is just one season removed from winning the title.

DK: Arsenal. By appointing Unai Emery and bringing in new signings early, Arsenal has a leg up over Chelsea, which is now replacing its starting goalkeeper days before the start of the season. That type of chemistry will take months to form between Kepa and the backline, and aside from Jorginho, Chelsea didn’t do much of note.

[ MORE: Full list of Thursday’s deals ]

6) More goals in league play: Kane, Salah, Lukaku, Aubameyang, other?

JPW: Kane

NM: Aubameyang is going to be the best in terms of goals-per-minute, but will be spelled more often by Lacazette. Same could happen for Salah. It’s between Lukaku and Kane, and Lukaku’s success depends on too many variables from his playmaking corps, though his and Alexis Sanchez’s combined goals and assists total could be higher than any other club tandem. Kane, but only just.

KB: Kane based on prior performance, but I really like Aubameyang this year. Salah will inevitably regress but that doesn’t mean he will be bad, Liverpool will be right there in the mix.

AE: Kane

MR: Simply considering his value to the team, Harry Kane has to be at the top of this list.

DK: Aubameyang. He’s fresh off a World Cup-free summer and should be raring to go for Arsenal, especially on the counter attack.

7)  Everton, Leicester City, and Crystal Palace have reasons to hope to build on 2017-18. Who will finish higher?

JPW: Everton. So many good additions over the summer and Silva’s tactics will excite the fans.

NM: Everton for sure, though Palace will tempt the Top Seven. The Toffees have a chance to slide in front one of the Top Six times still adjusting to a new boss (though Everton is, too!).

KB: Everton did some very solid business this summer and I like them to have a finish somewhere between 8-10 with a good view towards the future as well.

AE: Everton might finish 7th, they might also finish 15th. The former is probably the more likely scenario, so I’ll go with them, but it’ll be truly fascinating to watch how that squad comes together — or doesn’t — over the first couple months of the season.

MR: Late moves for Yerry Mina and Bernard only complete the strong transfer window that Everton had. I expect them to be firmly the seventh-best team once again in the PL, and potentially have the opportunity to contend for top 6.

DK: Everton. After deadline-day signings of Mina, Bernard and Andre Gomes, the club is poised for another jump back into the top 10. Crystal Palace should struggle again, while Leicester City has a Riyad Mahrez-sized hole to fill.

8) Burnley is contending with Europa League in addition to the PL. More likely: A repeat top half performance, or relegation?

JPW: More likely a relegation battle. Burnley haven’t strengthened that much this summer and it would be a miracle to replicate last season.

NM: Relegation. I promised not to bet against Sean Dyche after last season saw my relegation prediction with a laughably low total proven very, very wrong, but I wouldn’t bet on them to be top half.

KB: Relegation, unquestionably. This squad needed help this summer and got nothing. Burnley is incredibly well-coached, but they will be run to the ground. Losing Nick Pope is a huge blow, and one or two more poorly placed injuries will destroy that squad given how paper thin it is.

AE: Relegation, but only because finishing in the UEL places last season was totally absurd (in a good way).

MR: I just don’t see where the goals come from within this team. Everyone knows that Sean Dyche has instilled a tremendously effective defensive style that stifles opponents, but when it comes to playing the big clubs in a European competition I’m not sure they’ll have enough attacking firepower.

DK: Relegation. It’s always tough for a team the first time (or first time in a while) in the Europa League, and it’s difficult to expend so much energy early in the season. Look at Everton, crashing out of the Europa League last year and slumping basically into the relegation zone.

9) Which promoted team will finish highest, and how high?

JPW: Wolves. 8th or 9th. Tremendous squad assembled and plenty of momentum.

NM: After today, I find it hard not to say Fulham. If Aleksandar Mitrovic stays in his shoes and Jean Michael Seri quickly adjusts to England, they may finish 9th. If Andre Schurrle is Andre Schurrle, they may be in the Top Six discussion.

KB: Fulham will finish 10-12, and Wolves may be right there with them. Those two teams have done some fabulous business this summer, more than their fanbases could have possibly dreamed. They’re here for the long haul.

AE: Wolves will finish in the top-12; Fulham a place or two behind them; Cardiff will likely be in the Championship this time next year.

MR: I like Wolves and Fulham to both finish top 10 this season, and I think it’s very doable when you consider what other mid-table clubs did (or didn’t do) this summer. Both teams were ambitious, and I think that pays off in a big way with Wolves finishing ninth and Fulham rounding out the top 10.

DK: Wolves. They’ve basically signed current and former members of the Portuguese National Team this summer, which adds to Ruben Neves and the core of the squad that was promoted. I could easily see a mid-table finish.

10) How many managers will be fired this season, and which manager will be fired first?

JPW: Eight. And I’m going with Javi Gracia.

NM: Less than we think. The ones who have the least hold on their gigs entering the year are Cardiff’s Neil Warnock, Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe, Leicester’s Claude Puel, Watford’s Javi Gracia, Saints’ Mark Hughes, and Man Utd’s Jose Mourinho. Rafa Benitez of Newcastle could also resign, but I’ll go with five.

KB: We’ll go with 6 managers fired, and the first will be Jose Mourinho.

AE: Given the massive financial investments made in virtually every squad in the PL, owners will expect immediate return on investment. Since there’s only so many points to go around, the number of managers fired will be high. It could be half of the league, based upon the ebbs and flows of a 38-game season. Neil Warnock’s return to the PL (with Cardiff) could be a brief one.

MR: I think as many as five coaches could be sacked midseason because of the fact that so many mid-table clubs were almost stagnant this summer in the transfer market. Southampton manager Mark Hughes immediately comes to mind because of the team’s struggles last season in survival, and I’m not sold that the team improved significantly.

DK: I’ll put the odds at 7.5 and take the over. I think Jose Mourinho is likely to be fired this season but he won’t be the first. That may go to Neil Warnock or Claude Puel.

11) Which team goes deepest in the CL: Man City, Man Utd, Spurs, Liverpool?

JPW: Man City. They’re the real deal this season.

NM: Of course it depends on the draw, but Man City is ready for prime time.

KB: Manchester City is built for a league season as we saw last year, but they’ll do better in the knockout environment this year as well. I like Pep to make the semifinals. If they don’t, it’s a huge disappointment even if they win the Premier League.

AE: Man City are one of two or three sides with a strong chance of winning it.

MR: The Citizens simply have so much depth, and in a competition like UCL you need a full compliment of players to make up for fixture accumulation. Guardiola will learn from his mistakes in last season’s UCL, and be one of the heavy favorites to hoist their first title in the competition.

DK: Manchester City. I think this year they have a legit chance for a title. Real Madrid is weaker, Barcelona didn’t improve in a major way. PSG may be better, but who knows where Neymar’s head is. Bayern appears in flux. Now is Man City’s chance.

12) Which American has a better season: DeAndre Yedlin, Tim Ream, or Danny Williams?

JPW: Probably Yedlin. He will play every single game for Newcastle, while the other two may not be guaranteed starters. Despite Ream’s heroics, Fulham have bought plenty of new center backs and Williams had a lot of competition at Huddersfield.

NM: Yedlin. Believe it or not, I’ve seen buzz in Newcastle fan circles worrying he’ll be sold to a contender.

KB: Tim Ream is suddenly surrounded by competition for minutes with the additions of Alfie Mawson, Calum Chambers, and Maxim Le Marchand. DeAndre Yedlin has no competition and has flourished under Rafa Benitez, and I like him to be one of the few bright spots at Newcastle.

AE: Yedlin.

MR: Ream should be the choice, but with some of the moves that Fulham has made this summer, the American likely won’t see regular minutes for the club as he did a season ago in their promotion run. That said, DeAndre Yedlin had a very strong season for the Magpies in 2017-18, and I think he’s key for them on a defensive unit that conceded the seventh-fewest goals last year.

DK: DeAndre Yedlin. He’s the only of the trio that is a regular

13) Make one outlandish — like crazy — prediction for the season.

JPW: Leicester City will be in the top four for much of the first half of the season.

NM: Here are three: N’Golo Kante wins the Ballon d’Or, Paul Pogba is named Premier League Player of the Year, and Newcastle’s Jonjo Shelvey misses a game after getting lost in an aquarium.

KB: Jose Mourinho will never get another top job after being fired at Manchester United.

AE: Jose Mourinho doesn’t finish the season at Old Trafford.

MR: The massive spending from Wolves and Fulham pays off… and they both qualify for Europa League, knocking Manchester United and Spurs out of Europe next season.

DK: Everton makes the top 4.

14) Who gets promoted from the Championship for the 2019-20 season?

JPW: Leeds. Swansea. Aston Villa.

NM: Brentford, Nottingham Forest, Hull City (Stoke just misses out).

KB:  Middlesbrough, Derby County, and Brentford

AE: Middlesbrough, Aston Villa, Brentford.

MR: Middlesbrough, Leeds and West Brom

DK: Aston Villa