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Fulham boss Ranieri acknowledges fan unrest amid relegation fight

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Claudio Ranieri is losing the battle against relegation at the helm of Fulham, but that’s not all he’s losing. The fans are turning on him as well.

Fulham fans jeered Ranieri’s substitutions during the 3-0 defeat to Manchester United, and he recognized their unrest in his post-match media availability.

“I know the fans were not happy but I had two players with flu in the week, including Andre Schurrle,” Ranieri said. “I can understand the fans always want their players to play but it’s not always possible. We will work to try and win our next two games. We’re always positive.”

While Fulham fans have taken to Schurrle – winner of January’s Premier League Goal of the Month award for his stunner against Burnley – that’s not all they’re upset about. Fan favorites Tom Cairney and Ryan Sessegnon were both unused substitutes against Manchester United, even with the team playing from behind early on.

Ranieri has said publicly he wishes to play far more direct than his predecessor Slavisa Jokanovic, who became well-liked for his free-flowing, possession-based style of play, to which Cairney and Sessegnon were vastly important. Now, with Ranieri’s style far from that which saw Fulham win promotion to the Premier League under Jokanovic, he has left Cairney and Sessegnon on the bench for multiple matches, causing Fulham fans to question the Italian’s decision-making.

While those two are ball-playing midfielders who are less useful in a more direct setup, they are vital players to the club for the last three seasons, leaving fans wondering whether the manager should adapt more to the squad’s best players. Fans also have become attached to Jokanovic’s style of play, and many opposed the decision to let him go in November, fairly or unfairly giving Ranieri an even shorter lead, and coupled with just one win and five defeats in the last six matches under the new style of play, fans are beginning to lose patience quickly.

What’s more, the club’s porous defense – the worst in the top five European leagues by goals conceded – has capitulated early in matches, conceding inside the opening half-hour in four of their last five matches, including a 14th-minute goal by Paul Pogba that began the Old Trafford defeat on Saturday, with Anthony Martial scoring nine minutes later to double the lead. Cairney and Sessegnon both came off the bench in that game, but not until the final 13 minutes.

Claudio Ranieri on Fulham’s relegation battle

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Claudio Ranieri‘s Fulham lost 2-0 at Crystal Palace and are now seven points from safety in the Premier League.

The Cottagers missed a big early chance as Aleksandar Mitrovic headed wide, and they never recovered from Cyrus Christie handling in the box to give away a cheap penalty kick.

Speaking after the game, Ranieri made a point of saying Fulham were in trouble when he arrived back in November.

“The first half was good until the penalty, we had the match in our hands. We controlled the match. The penalty changed the match. They deserved to win in the second half, they were better than us. They had three or four chances – well done to Roy.

“The service to Mitrovic was not good enough. We spoke a lot about crosses, crosses, crosses. I tried to do something – I put another striker on but it wasn’t good. We were in trouble from the beginning but we will continue to be positive, be strong. It’s important to be optimistic. We have a target in our mind.”

That last part just sounds like Ranieri trying to remind everyone that Fulham were in deep trouble when he replaced Slavisa Jokanovic. And they were.

But Fulham have only picked up three wins in Ranieri’s 13 PL games in charge and although they had plenty of the ball at Selhurst Park they couldn’t penetrate Palace’s defense at all. Going forward, for once, they struggled but it was the same story at the back as defensive mistakes are costing them dear.

With games against Man United, West Ham, Southampton, Chelsea, West Ham, Liverpool and Man City in their next seven, it is tough to see where the points are coming from for Fulham to get themselves out of trouble.

Fulham skipper Tom Cairney bemoaned their mistake in the first half against Palace and summed up the magnitude of the task ahead.

“A sloppy penalty gave them something to hold on to, that’s frustrating. They were as desperate as us for the points,” Cairney said. “We need wins. Quite a few wins. I think it will be less than 40 points to stay up this year. I am confident we can do it, we have got to believe.”

Midseason grades for each PL club

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Boxing Day in the Premier League marks the halfway point of the season.

19 games down, 19 to go.

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With that in mind, now seems like the perfect time to grace each PL club on their displays so far in the 2018-19 campaign.

Some will be spitting their Christmas dinners out reading this, others will not be able to wipe that smug grin off their faces for the rest of the day.

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Below we grade each team. Let us know if you agree in the comments below…


(AP Photo/Tim Ireland)

Arsenal: B+
Unai Emery has transformed the DNA of this Arsenal team and a 22-game unbeaten run in all competitions proved he has them heading in the right direction. Defensive injuries have decimated their backline in recent weeks, but shoring up their defense remains the long-term goal. Going forward the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (the PL’s leading scorer) and Alexandre Lacazette continue to deliver, while Lucas Torreira and Mateo Guendouzi have been stars in midfield. The big issue: can Mesut Ozil fit into Emery’s 3-4-3 system? A really good start for the Spaniard in north London.


Bournemouth: B+
The Cherries have been hovering around the top six for most of the season and Eddie Howe has successfully taken them to the next level. Jefferson Lerma and David Brooks have been inspired signings, with the latter complementing the pace and power of Josh King, Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser perfectly. They are in the hunt for Europe.


Brighton & Hove Albion: C
A weird season so far for Chris Hughton‘s Seagulls. Big home wins against Man United, West Ham and Wolves have them in midtable, but they continue to struggle on the road and that must change if they’re going to stay clear of being sucked into the relegation zone. Glenn Murray is their main man, again, but after his injury Pascal Gross is struggling to regain his form from last season.


Burnley: D
Awful start to the season for Burnley and Sean Dyche‘s men are deservedly in the bottom three. Yes, their run in the UEFA Europa League qualifying rounds didn’t help their small squad at the start of the season but that was a long, long time ago. After finishing seventh last season, the expectation levels at Turf Moor have changed. The only thing we can expect from Burnley in the second half of the season is an almighty scrap against being relegated. Their main issue has been a leaky defense, which is so unlike them.


Cardiff City: C+
Better than we all expected would sum things up nicely for the Bluebirds and Neil Warnock after their promotion. They are hard to beat, especially at home, and they can hit teams on the counter and cause problems from set pieces. Picking up big wins at home against teams around them has kept them out of the relegation zone, but they must start winning games on the road. A relegation dogfight coming up, and this squad will relish that challenge.


(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Chelsea: B
A bizarre season so far. At times, Maurizio Sarri‘s men have been unstoppable, but like Eden Hazard‘s form they flitted in and out of games and shock defeats to Wolves and Leicester underline just how far they have to go to be called genuine title contenders. A top four finish is on, which was the goal before the season, but Sarri-ball has yet to take the PL by storm. Wins against Arsenal and Man City at home proved they can outplay the best, but getting the best out of Hazard and N'Golo Kante will be key to kicking on in the second half of the season. Also, their defensive line needs to step up in games against the so-called smaller teams.


Crystal Palace: C
Average start to the season, but that big win away at Man City boosts their grade a little. Roy Hodgson‘s side dig deep in each game and are hard to beat. Wilfried Zaha‘s pace on the breaks causes big problems but having him out injured for a few spells has hit Palace hard. Scoring goals remains an issue, but maybe the shackles will come off if they can sign a new striker in January.


Everton: C+
Signs of promise for Marco Silva, but perhaps this grade is a little harsh considering the hammering they took at the hands of Tottenham. Everton are at least going for it in games and new signings Richarlison, Lucas Digne and Andre Gomes have all been very good so far. The Toffees are still well placed to finish seventh, but Silva must sort out their defensive issues (not helped by injuries) which have hampered their progress. In fairness, defending has never been a strong point for the teams he has managed.


Fulham: F
Bottom of the table after spending over $150 million on new players in the summer, the Cottagers are a bit of a  mess. Claudio Ranieri arrived to take over from Slavisa Jokanovic, and with him came a complete 180 in terms of their playing philosophy. Fulham were lovely to watch in the early weeks of the season but were opened up easier than a tin of beans by opposition attacks. Ranieri has brought some solidity to their play, but there’s a long way to go. Relegation favorites, as things stand, and that will remain unless this squad is freshened up in January.


Huddersfield Town: D
Another favorite for the drop, as the Terriers just can’t score goals. David Wagner‘s men have had some great performances and have lost so many games narrowly, but the euphoria over promotion seems to have evaporated this season. Losing the likes of Aaron Mooy and Danny Williams through injury were big blows, and if Huddersfield are serious about staying up this season they have to bring in an experienced striker in January. Simple.


Leicester City: D
Another team who have been a real Jekyll and Hyde so far, as Claude Puel had been under intense pressure to be fired. That was before Leicester won away at Chelsea over the weekend. With the tragic situation off the pitch at Leicester, many would forgive the Foxes for letting their season peter out, but a strong second half of the campaign should see them battle for seventh and Europa League qualification. Puel’s system doesn’t really suit this Leicester squad though, and it is probably best for everyone if he moves on in the summer.


(Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

Liverpool: A+
Pretty much perfect. Liverpool have got better in almost every department and especially in defense, where Alisson and Virgil Van Dijk have kept things together and they’ve let in just seven goals in their first 18 games of the season. Up top the usual suspects are firing with Mohamed Salah almost back to his best and Xherdan Shaqiri helping Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino with their workload. Fabinho has been key in recent weeks and this squad is strong and dealing with injuries well. Jurgen Klopp‘s men remain the only PL team unbeaten, and their huge clash at Man City on Jan. 3 will likely determine if the PL trophy is finally heading to Anfield. Lot of pressure for the second half of the season.


Manchester City: B+
Some funny displays mixed among sheer brilliance for Pep Guardiola, as City have now dropped further behind Liverpool in the title race after that shock defeat against Palace. Kevin De Bruyne, Benjamin Mendy and Sergio Aguero missing for large chunks of this season has hurt, but the form of Raheem Sterling and reemergence of Leroy Sane has been a plus. Keeping David Silva and Fernandinho fit is key to them getting back on top as the reigning champs are feeling the heat.


(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Manchester United: D
Should probably be lower than a D, but given all of their issues and Jose Mourinho being fired, the fact United still remain in sixth and are eight points off the top four points towards the quality players they possess. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s arrival as caretaker boss will help rebuild the confidence of Pogba, Rashford, Lukaku and others, as this team has woefully underperformed in the rigid defensive style Mourinho wanted them to execute. United should be challenging for the title with the squad they have, but a top four finish would be a wonderful achievement and could just land Solskjaer the job on a full-time basis.


Newcastle United: C
They are where they should be after spending little cash and Rafael Benitez working wonders. The Spaniard has said it will be a “miracle” if they stay up again, and the only way they will do that is by staying solid in defense and getting crosses into the box for Salomon Rondon to finish. Newcastle could easily get sucked into a relegation scrap if, as expected, they don’t reinforce in key areas in January. Mike Ashley’s long-awaited sale of the club still hasn’t happened and it needs to happen if the Magpies are to realize their true potential.


Southampton: D-
The only reason this isn’t a big fat F is because of the last few weeks under new manager Ralph Hasenhuttl. The Austrian took over from Mark Hughes as Saints had won just once all season and were devoid of any confidence going forward and were leaking goals galore. That is not a great combo. Hasenhuttl has galvanized this young side and given them a high-pressing style which already has the fans back on board after a few years of drifting along. Hiring the former RB Leipzig manager was a massive coup for Saints and the equation for him is quite simple: keep Danny Ings fit and Saints will pull well clear of the relegation zone.


(Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

Tottenham Hotspur: A-
Spurs have been superb in recent weeks and despite so many struggles off the pitch, Mauricio Pochettino has kept his squad focused. Six points off the top of the table, in the last 16 of the Champions League after recovering from an awful start and in the last four of the League Cup suggests this team is moving forward. All of that was done without signing a single player in the summer and having the move to their new stadium delayed several times as they’re still at Wembley. With Harry Kane getting better, Son firing on all cylinders and Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen back to their best and several squad players stepping up admirably, Pochettino’s well-oiled machine shows no signs of slowing down. Spurs are genuine title contenders, while their manager is wanted by both Man United and Real Madrid this summer. If Tottenham win a big trophy, that seems like the only way Pochettino would stay.


Watford: A
Javi Gracia and Watford have proved everyone wrong in the opening half of the season and I for one hold my hand up and say I didn’t see this coming. At all. They’ve beaten Tottenham at home and pushed plenty of other big clubs all of the way as they sit in seventh and have dreams of qualifying for Europe. Gracia was handed a new long-term deal and that suggests the Hornets may buck their trend of getting rid of managers each and every season. Gerard Deulofeu and Roberto Pereyra have been sublime on the wings and the duo of Abdoulaye Doucoure and Etienne Capoue dominant in midfield, with Ben Foster rolling back the years in goal. Overall, a wonderful season so far.


West Ham United: C+
Manuel Pellegrini has definitely turned things around at West Ham, but it will still take a bit more time for the Hammers to push up the table. Four wins on the spin had them flying into the festive period, and that was based mainly on their new defensive reinforcement settling in. Fabianski, Diop and Balbuena have made a big difference and without Arnautovic, Lanzini and Yarmolenko at the other end of the pitch (the former with a small injury, the latter out for the season) Felipe Anderson, Robert Snodgrass and Javier Hernandez have stepped up. West Ham will aim to finish in the top 10 and that should easily be attainable in the second half of the season.


Wolverhampton Wanderers: B+
Right in the hunt for seventh place, Wolves have been one of the stories of the season so far. Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side have played without fear and recovered from a bit of a wobble after their stunning start to the season. Raul Jimenez, Ruben Neves, Matt Doherty and Rui Patricio have all been superb, while the fluid 3-4-3 formation has worked wonders in opening up opponents on the counter. This team has a clear identity and when they decide to take their chances they can beat anyone in the league. European qualification is possible if they can kick on in 2019.

PL Preview: Manchester United vs Fulham

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  • Man United has won 21 of 23 home matches against Fulham
  • Fulham has won just once at Old Trafford in any competition
  • Fulham has lost six straight PL road games

Manchester United returns home a wounded animal as the Red Devils host Fulham on Saturday (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

The Red Devils have not won in Premier League play in over a month, without victory since a visit to Bournemouth in early November. They are set to take on an opponent they have had much success against in the past, having lost just once at home against Fulham in 23 matches.

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With pressure heaped on Jose Mourinho – needing a vote of confidence via the boss’s own agent to quiet the noise – Fulham could do significant damage to the Portuguese manager should they achieve a rare result at Old Trafford. It would also be a significant boost to the Whites’ relegation battle, currently sitting bottom of the table with nine points, below Southampton and Burnley on goal differential.

Claudio Ranieri has come on board in place of the departed Slavisa Jokanovic and done well to steady the ship, earning four points in his first three matches in charge, instilling a greater defensive discipline within the squad. Still, the Whites have the league’s worst defensive record by a considerable margin, and could be just what the doctor ordered for a Manchester United team that has scored five goals over the four-match winless run.

Manchester United comes into the match with significant questions on the injury front, with Anthony Martial, Luke Shaw, Chris Smalling, Eric Bailly and Phil Jones all facing an uphill battle to prove fit. Alexis Sanchez and Victor Lindelof have both already been ruled out with longer term problems. Fulham, meanwhile, looks likely to have both Kevin McDonald and Floyd Ayite back fit, although Timothy Fosu-Mensah is not eligible to face his parent club.

What they’re saying

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho on Fulham: “The game is not eleven versus zero, it’s going to be eleven versus eleven, with good players on the other side, the position and points [total] don’t say much about [the] potential of the team. They have one of the two most important managers in Premier League history, they have the potential to come here and give us a difficult match.”

Fulham manager Claudio Ranieri on Jose Mourinho: “He was the first who sent me a message to say welcome back. He is a very friendly friend. I know him for a long time, when he came to Chelsea and in Italy, and he was very polite with me. He’s a great man, coach, manager.”

Prediction

This is a tough one to predict, as many possibilities are in play. Manchester United could succumb to its most embarrassing defeat of the season if Ranieri can devise a plan to take advantage of a wounded squad, or the talent of the Red Devils could prove too much for a Fulham side that is only recently beginning to build confidence. The latter is more likely, and the young internationals at the head of the United attack will hold serve at home for a 2-1 victory and leave Fulham still with more work to do in the relegation battle.

Report: Ranieri blew Fulham away in job interview

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Claudio Ranieri told reporters in his opening press conference that he was “mad but not stupid” to take the Fulham job. Now we know he wanted it from the start.

According to a report by the Daily Mail, Claudio Ranieri didn’t need any convincing to take over the managerial position for the team at the bottom of the Premier League table – in fact it was quite the opposite.

The report states that Ranieri was by far the most prepared for his Fulham job interview, and that he blew away those across the table with a detailed report of the Fulham squad and his plan to turn things around. “Some of the others who were interviewed were unprepared but Ranieri was very impressive,” the report quoted a club source as saying.

[ MORE: Fulham made difficult, but right decision ]

“When I went to Parma, all my friends said you are mad to go there,” Ranieri said in his opening press conference. “When I was at Cagliari, they were bottom and everyone said we were out – I love this kind of battle. It’s my character.”

Fulham has the leakiest defense in all the European top five leagues, having conceded 31 goals through the opening 12 matches. The Whites spent a record amount of money this offseason for a newly-promoted side after Championship playoff glory, but recently fired manager Slavisa Jokanovic failed to integrate the new signings with those who had just come off success in the lower league.

Ranieri also made a promise to the Fulham squad based off one he became famous for at Leicester City – he vowed to buy the players fast food on him for clean sheets. “Pizza is not enough now,” Ranieri said, referencing a promise he became famous for while at the Foxes. “I have to promise something more. It’s better everybody to McDonald’s. I look always forward. I’m an ambitious man. I believe I have good players. Now I have to choose players who show me fighting spirit. With quality, fighting spirit and unity, the players help each other.”