Johnny Heitinga

Premier League Preview: Fulham vs Norwich

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  • Fulham are unbeaten vs Norwich in last five meetings
  • Norwich are winless in last 13 matches against bottom-six teams, with six losses
  • The sum of the table positions of Norwich’s remaining opponents is 14. Fulham’s is 42.

An enormous relegation battle takes place at Craven Cottage Saturday at 10:07am ET on NBCSN or live online at NBC Sports Live Extra.

18th vs 17th is as crucial as it gets, and neither team can afford anything less than three points.

Neil Adams will debut as Norwich’s caretaker manager, taking over for the recently fired Chris Hughton.  It’s still somewhat surprising that Norwich would make such a drastic move with this enormous fixture looming, but nonetheless the managerial change was made.

Fulham sit five points behind Norwich, but with the Canaries’ brutal remaining schedule, a win would presumably put the Whites in control of their own destiny.

WATCH LIVE AT NBC SPORTS LIVE EXTRA

After this match, Norwich must finish their season against Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, and Arsenal.  Meanwhile, Fulham’s stretch run consists of Tottenham, Hull City, Stoke City, and Crystal Palace.

Injuries will play a part in the match no doubt. Fulham will be sweating a pair of central defenders, with Dan Burn likely out and Johnny Heitinga a question mark after coming off early in last week’s win over Aston Villa.  Norwich, meanwhile, will still be without Leroy Fer who remains sidelined with a bum hamstring.

What they’re saying:

Robert Snodgrass on Norwich relegation fight: “People speak about five cup finals. We’ll approach every single game believing we can win the game and it’s our cup final. There’s no hiding place. Let’s go and have a go.”

Norwich majority shareholder on Adams: “He was always one of my favourite players,” Smith said. “He was the best penalty taker, the best pundit when he retired and now he’s the best manager – he is wonderful.”

Fulham manager Felix Magath on Norwich: “For us it doesn’t matter who is the opponent because we have only important games now, but Norwich have a very bad schedule. They have very, very difficult games ahead. They’ve changed manager now and that will give them new energy and so we have to be careful. They will fight for 90 minutes.”

Prediction:

There’s no doubt that a new manager can give a team a boost, but such a critical change at such a critical time is hard to back. Norwich struggles against Fulham historically, and the Whites are beginning to settle under their new boss.  With so much on the line, it’s easy to see lots of attacking play and lots of struggling defenses.  3-2 to the home side is a tempting play.

Premier League Playback: Liverpool’s title charge for real? Chelsea implode, resilient Manchester City

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LIVERPOOL TITLE FAVORITES?

Since the Premier League began in 1992, Liverpool have never lifted the glistening silver trophy. This year is their best chance of doing that. A stunning 3-0 win Sunday at Manchester United sent Liverpool into second. They now sit four points behind leaders Chelsea with one game in hand.

With nine games to finish the season, talk of winning the title has finally left the lips of Liverpool’s leading man.

“We’ve showed that we are genuine contenders and we are going to fight to the end for this,” said Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, after his two penalty kicks helped the Reds win the Northwest derby. “We believe that we can win the league.”

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Click to enlarge: Gerrard’s heat map vs. Manchester United. Source: Opta

Honest or misguided … call it what you will, but hearing Gerrard state Liverpool’s intent win the PL crown is as refreshing as it is likely.

The England national team captain, 33,  knows other teams are flagging to get over the finish line, while his side are cruising. One of the things that’s impressed me so much about Liverpool is the relentless high-pressure approach imposed by manager Brendan Rodgers. United couldn’t deal with the visitors’ hunger to win the ball, as a midfield trio of Jordan Henderson, Joe Allen and Gerrard provided, once again, a steady and inspiring base.

(MORE: Latest Premier League standings)

If you look at Gerrard’s heat map on the left, Liverpool’s captain plugged the gaps vs. Man United superbly, as well a netting two penalties, which allows the other midfielders to pour forward and hold higher lines up the pitch to dispossess the opposition.

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Click to enlarge: Average position of Liverpool’s players vs. Man United. Source: Opta

One player whose excelled at that is Henderson. The England international is channeling his sublime guile and determination in a hugely constructive way. Allen started alongside those two, with the tiny Welshman knitting everything together superbly well, as intricate passing brought a calming influence to proceedings and helped the Reds win the midfield.

The shape of Liverpool’s midfield is also interesting, if you look at the average position map on the right (handed to me by our good friends at Opta) you can see Gerrard’s deep-lying lynchpin role allowing full backs Johnson (2) and Jon Flanagan (38) to push on and almost play like wing backs. With Henderson and Allen tucked inside, the channels are covered and stop teams from pumping one ball into the corner to get in behind the Reds.

The passing matrix on the left, which totals how many times each players passes to each other, shows plenty of passes between both full backs and the midfield trio, with Henderson exchanging passes with Glen Johnson 14 times and Gerrard picking the ball up from the center backs 12 times. That ease of taking the ball from defenders and dictating the flow of the game has served Liverpool well, and with Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez ready to pounce and finish whenever they get a sniff of goal.

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Click to enlarge: Liverpool’s pass matrix vs. Man United. Source: Opta

Liverpool, as Stevie G said, are real title contenders. So get used to the idea of seeing the PL crown draped in red ribbons at the end of this season. Chelsea and Manchester City visit Anfield in April, with the Reds remaining fixtures looking extremely manageable aside from those two monster clashes.

Their remaining games are against: Cardiff (away), Sunderland (home), Tottenham (home), West Ham (away), Man City (home), Norwich (away), Chelsea (home), Crystal Palace (away), Newcastle (home).

Could the title be on show at Anfield on May 11 when Liverpool host Newcastle? Now, more than at any point this season, that seems like a distinct possibility.

Premier League Schedule – Week 30

Result Recap & Highlights
Aston Villa 1-0 Chelsea Recap and watch here
Everton 2-1 Cardiff City Recap and watch here
Fulham 1-0 Newcastle Recap and watch here
Hull City 0-2 Man City Recap and watch here
Man United 0-3 Liverpool Recap and watch here
Southampton 4-2 Norwich Recap and watch here
Stoke City 3-1 West Ham Recap and watch here
Sunderland 0-0 Crystal Palace Recap and watch here
Swansea 1-2 West Brom Recap and watch here
Tottenham 0-1 Arsenal Recap and watch here

CHELSEA LOSE THE PLOT

In stoppage time Saturday at a fired up Villa Park, Chelsea were two-men down, one goal down and then lost manager Jose Mourinho, who was sent to the stands. They also lost for the first time in 15 games.

During Villa’s 1-0 win, Fabian Delph’s superb late goal (“I just Cruyff-ed it into the corner”) compounded with Willian’s sending off to ensure Chelsea’s frustration boiled over as Ramires stomped on Karim El Ahmadi. In the melee that ensued right in front of the benches, Mourinho and Villa manager Paul Lambert were both on the pitch as well as their backroom staff. Mourinho, of course, stayed on the pitch for a little longer than everyone else and after asking referee Chris Foy a question (according to Mou) he was sent off.

(MORE: Mourinho hints that Chris Foy should not be allowed to ref future Chelsea matches)

Chelsea’s implosion came after another display which saw them fail to carve out many clear cut chances, as Fernando Torres cut a forlorn figure as a lone forward. After the final whistle, Mourinho failed to open his mouth in fear of being banned for his comments, but the Portuguese boss was clearly upset with the way his side were treated. The pivotal moment came when Willian was sent off for a pretty ridiculous second yellow card. The Brazilian winger chased Delph back in 68th minute and hardly touched Villa’s midfielder. Yet Willian was shown another yellow amid jeers of the 40,000 plus home fans. To compound Mourinho’s misery, he was just about to substitute Willian one minute earlier but decided to take off Oscar instead. Luck was against Chelsea on Saturday.

So, after going down to 10-men Chelsea couldn’t handle the heat and promptly shot themselves in the foot several times, as their charge for the PL crown took a hit. For so long they’ve seemed to thrive on the pressure this season and come through it, but at a sold out Villa Park on Saturday evening they failed to assert their dominance. Another title contender fared far better after having a man sent off, though. Step forward, Manchester City.

MAN CITY’S SPIRIT, SPITTING, STUD MARKS

At the end of a week which saw them crash out of the FA Cup to lower-league opposition and then dumped out of the UEFA Champions League by Barcelona, the last thing Man City needed was to go down to 10-men away at Hull City on Saturday. But it happened, very early.

However the way the Citizens reacted to losing captain Vincent Kompany after just nine minutes of their 2-0 win over Hull City was quite remarkable. David Silva bent in an unstoppable shot into the top corner four minutes later to put City 1-0 up, then Manuel Pellegrini’s men regrouped marvelously well and defended superbly against a stubborn Hull side who whipped countless crosses into the box, but marshaled by a determined Martin Demichelis they kept a high line to keep Hull at bay. A late clincher from Edin Dzeko sealed the win, which means if City win their games in hand, they will go above Chelsea and sit top of the standings.

I was at KC Stadium to witness City’s superb resilience, 0rchestrated by the incredibly calm Silva, as they kept the ball for long periods and at times looked like they were playing against 10-men rather than the other way around. After a fiery Yorkshire-Lancashire clash, a rivalry which runs much deeper than these two teams, there are plenty of things to clean up.

First, Kompany may be facing a longer ban after his sending off. City’s Belgian skipper seemed to make an obscene gesture then kicked the brick wall in the tunnel leading from the pitch. After leaving his stud marks behind (proof below from the BBC team in the tunnel) and dishing out insulting gestures, Kompany could be facing an FA ban to go on top of his one-game suspension for taking down Nikica Jelavic as the last man. If he’s disciplined for making the gesture, Kompany could miss City’s derby with Manchester United on March 25.

Other City players were involved in the thick of things after he’d departed, with goalkeeper Joe Hart squaring up to Hull attacker George Boyd after the Tigers man appeared to dive in the second half. What happened next wasn’t originally caught by TV cameras at the KC, but from a different angle you can clearly see Boyd spit at Hart during a heated confrontation. For that, he should get a ban and a fine from the FA. It wasn’t a penalty kick as Boyd went over and was looking for contact, which is bad enough, but there’s no place for that kind of behavior in the game. At all. That clash personified a niggly affair which threatened to boil over throughout.

(MORE: Pellegrini questions Kompany’s red card, praises Manchester City’s resilience)

Afterwards both managers were asked about the incident, to which Manuel Pellegrini stated he felt Kompany was fouled by Jelavic and referee Lee Mason missed it. Then Hull manager Steve Bruce defended Boyd for his dive when nudging the ball past Hart, and brought up an interesting point to the gaggle of journos piled into the cramped press room at the KC stadium.

“Let me tell you, there’s a difference between simulation, diving, cheating if you like, and trying to get out the road,” Bruce said. “Boydy is not going to stand there with Joe Hart hurtling towards him. He is going to try and get out the road, and stay on his feet. Obviously he has gone over, how many times have we seen it. But the referee was on the spot, and I think he made the right decision [to not give a penalty].”

TOP FIVE GOALS: HAVE WE HAD A BETTER WEEK THIS SEASON?

We are into the 30th matchday of the PL campaign, and I can’t remember seeing a stronger top five goals video than the one compiled below. From Silva’s stunning long-range bender to Delph’s deft-flick and Tomas Rosicky’s howitzer, we had a plethora of top strikes to choose from as our favorite from the weekend. Sit back, get some popcorn and watch “reem” goals fly in from all angles.

Your favorite? Let me know in the comments below. Mine? I love Silva’s strike. The way he shifted the ball onto his left and bent and unstoppable drive into the top corner was sublime, especially given the importance of the moment as City had just gone down to 10-men and needed a boost after a tricky stretch. But whichever goal you pick from the five below, you can’t go wrong.

FINALLY, PERFECT EXAMPLE WHY GOAL-LINE TECH IS NEEDED

In the grand scheme of a hectic PL season, these kind of calls matter. No wonder millions of dollars was spent on bringing goal-line technology in, but until now it hasn’t had too many close decisions to call. Scratch that, on Saturday Fulham were a fine horse hair away from taking the lead against Newcastle.

In the past, it all went down to the judgement of the match officials to determine whether or not a ball went over the line. With the Goal Decision System (GDS) in place for the 2013-14 season, now technology makes it easier for the officials. When Johnny Heitinga smashed an effort off the underside of the crossbar, it looked like the ball was clearly over the line. But to the amazement of everyone, the entire ball didn’t go over.

Look at the image below from GDS, and you’ll see that a smidgen of the ball is on the line which proves just how precise and incredible this technology is. No goal. Fulham, who in the end beat Newcastle United fair and square 1-0, are scrapping for survival and although in the past a goal like that may have been awarded without GDS to their advantage, they can rest easy knowing no incorrect goals will be given to opponents or relegation rivals down the stretch.

The old saying that close calls “even themselves out over the course of the season” no longer applies. GDS is here to make sure everyone gets a fair crack of the whip. To see close calls, red cars, stunning goals and controversy, an enthralling weekend of PL action is below.

Premier League Playback takes an alternative look at all the weekend’s action from the PL, it comes out every week.

Premier League Roundup: Fulham, West Brom finally win; Chelsea lose game and composure

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After beating Newcastle, are Fulham now on course to right the ship?

Will Pepe Mel’s reign on the West Brom bench become a successful one?

And just how much of an effect will Chelsea’s loss have on the Premier League title?

Read the quick rundown of Saturday’s Premier League action, then feel free to give us your thoughts.

Hull 0-2 Manchester City
It looked like Hull were set to get a surprise win at the KC Stadium after Vincent Kompany was sent off ten minutes in. But David Silva scored just four minutes later, and Edin Džeko added an extra in stoppage time. The win lifted Manchester City into second – at least until Liverpool and Arsenal both play tomorrow.

Everton 2-1 Cardiff City
It looked like 19th placed Cardiff were set to sneak away from Goodison with a point. Gerard Deulofeu broke the deadlock at the hour mark, but Cala responded with the equalizer in the 68th minute. But the Bluebirds’ songs were cut short in stoppage time, when Seamus Coleman put in the winner for Everton. They’re temporarily in sixth, pending the outcome of tomorrow’s match between Liverpool and Manchester United.

Fulham 1-0 Newcastle United
Yes, you’re reading that right. Fulham beat Newcastle, thanks to a 68th minute goal from substitute Ashkan Dejagah. It helped, too, that Howard Webb ignored a clear handball from Johnny Heitinga in stoppage time, so Felix Magath should really think about sending the referee some flowers tomorrow. The win doesn’t pull the Cottagers out of the bottom three, or even off the floor, but it’s at least a start.

Southampton 4-2 Norwich City
The day’s thriller saw Southampton race to a 3-0 lead, thanks to goals from Morgan Schneiderlin, Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez. But when Robert Snodgrass followed Johan Elmander’s goal with one of his own just a minute later, it looked like the Canaries might find a point. Instead, Southampton grabbed another with the last play of the match.

Stoke City 3-1 West Ham United
You were expecting a goalless draw? No, you’ll find Tony Pulis in the match below. Instead we had Andy Carroll opening the scoring after five minutes, only to have Peter Odemwingie score a brace on either side of a goal from Marko Arnautović. Stoke are now up to 10th, with 34 points, three points above West Ham.

Sunderland 0-0 Crystal Palace
This game happened. This game did little to help either side in their dreams of safety. Sunderland are now 18th, Palace are three points ahead in 17th.

Swansea 1-2 West Bromwich Albion
Pepe Mel finally has his first win, after eight games in charge at West Brom. The Swans took the lead after just two minutes thanks to a goal from Roland Lamah, but Stéphane Sessègnon put the Baggies level in the second half. Then, in the 85th minute, Youssouf Mulumbu slipped the ball through Jordi Amat’s legs, and the visitors were in front. The win puts West Brom three points above the drop, while Swansea are just four above.

Aston Villa 1-0 Chelsea
Villa ended Chelsea’s 14-game unbeaten run – and caused them to lose their composure in the process. Nemanja Matić had a goal ruled out in the first half after he was adjudged to have handled it, but that was nothing compared to the second. After Willian was sent off with a second yellow, Fabian Delph scored with a fantastic backheel to put Villa out in front. After Delph nearly doubled his side’s lead in stoppage time, Ramires was sent off with a straight red, and José Mourinho followed for protesting too much.

Fulham’s Felix Magath pleased at progress

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Felix Magath has his first win as Fulham manager and it was just as tough as it could’ve been against Newcastle, which was denied a late penalty kick off a handball by Johnny Heitinga.But don’t tell Magath about being fortunate, or how his team is still four points from safety.

Because this one’s sweet.

“You can imagine how glad I am,” Magath said. “We are very proud and happy. For us, it is a turning point.”

“If you have no results you have to change something. I told that to the players, so I changed some positions and it worked.

“It was a first win since New Year’s Day and now we are on the way and I’m very hopeful. Next week it will be a little bit difficult at Manchester City.”

Surely it will, but credit where it’s due. Magath mixed things up against in the Cottagers set up, and nearly took the lead earlier when Heitinga dinged the crossbar. They then watched as the ball crossed 95 percent of the goal line only to bound out, with Cauley Woodrow’s rebound goal deemed offsides.

“I had to change something. You never know whether you are right or not but Johnny Heitinga played very well.”

Ashkan Dejagah’s 68th minute goal may’ve been a mistake from Magpies keeper Tim Krul, but it was well-struck and sent home. And Fulham fans can breathe just a little easier, hoping against relegation that momentum has swung their way.

Cardiff City 3-1 Fulham: Bluebirds win the relegation dogfight

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New manager, same results for Fulham, who still sit dead last in the Premier League table after losing 3-1 to Cardiff City. The Bluebirds aren’t out of the relegation battle yet, considering Sunderland will have three games in hand by the end of the weekend, but the win should boost morale – and help Ole Gunnar Solskjaer rest easier at night.

As almost everyone with even one eye on the Premier League expected, the first half between Cardiff and Fulham was rather dire. Although the visitors have the worst defense in the league, the hosts hadn’t scored in their last four league matches, and boasted just 19 goals from 28 games. So it came as little surprise that, although the Fulham back line seemed to be constantly struggling, the Bluebirds just couldn’t capitalize.

Until injury time rolled around, that is. Maarten Stekelenburg, with so little to do for the first 45 minutes, had just saved a shot from Kenwyne Jones. Fulham were unable to clear their lines following a corner, and this time the goalkeeper wasn’t so lucky. Craig Noone put the ball back into the center, where it deflected off Sascha Riether, bouncing into the path of Steven Caulker. The Bluebirds captain needed just a touch to knock it into the back of the net.

(MORE: Premier League Roundup – Chelsea extend lead, Man United click, huge win for Cardiff)

Fulham came out after halftime looking much livelier, and Lewis Holtby quickly produced a save from David Marshall. The Spurs loanee got on the end of a cushioned header from Cauley Woodrow, who was marking his first appearance in the Fulham kit, but Marshall did well to preserve Cardiff’s lead.

But the Bluebirds hadn’t kept a clean sheet in their last thirteen league matches. So, in a script almost so predictable it could write itself, Fulham managed to find an equalizer. Johnny Heitinga got on the end of a corner, flicking on for Holtby. The midfielder needed just a tap to score his first for the Cottagers.

It was just ten minutes before the hosts pulled ahead once more, the captain bagging a brace. After a series of corners, Caulker, unnoticed by the hapless Fulham defense, rose up to head in his second.

Fulham’s misery was compounded a few minutes later, when Riether, who’d inadvertently set Caulker up for the first goal, put the ball into the back of his own net. Stekelenburg  did well to keep out a shot from Jordan Mutch, but the rebound hit the Fulham defender and bounced back into the net.

Felix Magath tried to stage a comeback by replacing the young Woodrow with veteran striker Darren Bent, but, despite fighting for their survival, the Cottagers could barely threaten. Kostas Mitroglou, unimpressive in his Premier League debut, put a tame shot at Marshall, followed moments later by an equally tame effort from Bent.

Cardiff City: Marshall; John, Caulker, Turner (Theophile-Catherine 90) John; Medel (Eikrem 81), Kim, Mutch; Noone, Jones, Campbell (Daehli 72)

Goals: Caulker 45′, 67′; Riether o.g. 71′

Fulham: Stekelenburg; Riether, Heitinga, Hangeland, Riise (Kacaniklic 45); Dejagah (Karagounis 50), Sidwell, Holtby, Richardson; Mitroglou, Woodrow (Bent 76)

Goals: Holtby 59′