'Forget the past’. That was one of Claudio Ranieri’s messages in his first pre-match conference as Fulham boss. The Italian replaced Slavisa Jokanovic going into the international break, with the Cottagers bottom of the league, with five points to their name, and a run of six successive league defeats. The West Londoners have the worst defensive record in the league, with 31 goals conceded – an average of almost three goals a game – and that’s something the club would have considered when they appointed Ranieri, and the manager spoke of tightening things at the back at his unveiling.

The former Leicester City boss has had more than a week to work with his squad – the players who didn’t head for international duty, at least – and the first look of the side comes when they host Southampton this weekend, although even the most optimistic believer in miracles wouldn’t expect things to automatically get better. ‘It’s not possible to change everything in one night,’ said Ranieri. ‘It’s important to get points but it’s important to maintain our mentality, never, never give up – not in the matches, or the season.’

That unwillingness to throw in the towel is one of the traits that made the veteran’s title-winning Leicester side formidable, that never-say-die attitude; and that’s the kind of attitude that Fulham have lacked this term. Once they’ve conceded in games, Fulham’s players’ heads tend to drop, and the floodgates tend to open, and the next goal is always likely to come from the opponents than from them. That’s what resulted in 31 goals being shipped, in a defence that has been constantly reshuffled and has seen the use of three goalkeepers already this season.

Ranieri – his reputation as the ‘tinkerman’ no longer news – has opted to ‘tinker clever’ with the squad, but the sooner he finds stability and a sense of constant in the side, the better. They face a Southampton side who are also far from being in good mould this term, the Saints in 17th place, and only three points off the foot of the table. Mark Hughes saw his side throw away a lead in their previous game, at home to Watford, a game notable for the manager’s and Charlie Austin’s rants over refereeing.

The reality, though, is that it leaves the Saints without a win since September, and keeps Hughes under pressure. This trip to Craven Cottage could be pivotal to the manager’s future at the club, defeat is unlikely to take them to the foot of the table – as a result of goal difference – but it could see them drop into the relegation zone, and Hughes position might become untenable, particularly if the Saints board see, from Fulham, the benefits of changing managers. And for Fulham fans it would be quite the sight, to be responsible for driving home the final nail in the coffin of a manager who ditched them back in 2011.

It’s more than just three points to play for at the Cottage this weekend, we’ve reached fire o’clock in the league, and as Ranieri begins his latest adventure, a good beginning for him might just signal the end for Hughes.

Elsewhere

  • It’s a first meeting against Manchester City for Manuel Pellegrini since leaving the Etihad in 2016. The Chilean is likely to get a nice greeting from the visiting City fans, but in the form the champions have been so far, it’s not far-fetched to suggest that’s the best the afternoon could get for him and West Ham.
  • Wolves halted their run of defeats with a draw at Arsenal before the international break, a game they were unfortunate not to win. They’ve also been unlucky in some of the games they’ve lost in that torrid run, but a home against Huddersfield surely presents a big chance for what seems like an overdue three points.

Fixtures

Brighton v Leicester

West Ham v Manchester City

Burnley v Newcastle

Everton v Cardiff

Bournemouth v Arsenal

Manchester United v Crystal Palace

Fulham v Southampton

Watford v Liverpool

Tottenham v Chelsea

Wolves v Huddersfield

 

Published in International Watch

‘Forget the past’. That was one of Claudio Ranieri’s messages in his first pre-match conference as Fulham boss. The Italian replaced Slavisa Jokanovic going into the international break, with the Cottagers bottom of the league, with five points to their name, and a run of six successive league defeats. The West Londoners have the worst defensive record in the league, with 31 goals conceded – an average of almost three goals a game – and that’s something the club would have considered when they appointed Ranieri, and the manager spoke of tightening things at the back at his unveiling.

The former Leicester City boss has had more than a week to work with his squad – the players who didn’t head for international duty, at least – and the first look of the side comes when they host Southampton this weekend, although even the most optimistic believer in miracles wouldn’t expect things to automatically get better. ‘It’s not possible to change everything in one night,’ said Ranieri. ‘It’s important to get points but it’s important to maintain our mentality, never, never give up – not in the matches, or the season.’

That unwillingness to throw in the towel is one of the traits that made the veteran’s title-winning Leicester side formidable, that never-say-die attitude; and that’s the kind of attitude that Fulham have lacked this term. Once they’ve conceded in games, Fulham’s players’ heads tend to drop, and the floodgates tend to open, and the next goal is always likely to come from the opponents than from them. That’s what resulted in 31 goals being shipped, in a defence that has been constantly reshuffled and has seen the use of three goalkeepers already this season.

Ranieri – his reputation as the ‘tinkerman’ no longer news – has opted to ‘tinker clever’ with the squad, but the sooner he finds stability and a sense of constant in the side, the better. They face a Southampton side who are also far from being in good mould this term, the Saints in 17th place, and only three points off the foot of the table. Mark Hughes saw his side throw away a lead in their previous game, at home to Watford, a game notable for the manager’s and Charlie Austin’s rants over refereeing.

The reality, though, is that it leaves the Saints without a win since September, and keeps Hughes under pressure. This trip to Craven Cottage could be pivotal to the manager’s future at the club, defeat is unlikely to take them to the foot of the table – as a result of goal difference – but it could see them drop into the relegation zone, and Hughes position might become untenable, particularly if the Saints board see, from Fulham, the benefits of changing managers. And for Fulham fans it would be quite the sight, to be responsible for driving home the final nail in the coffin of a manager who ditched them back in 2011.

It’s more than just three points to play for at the Cottage this weekend, we’ve reached fire o’clock in the league, and as Ranieri begins his latest adventure, a good beginning for him might just signal the end for Hughes.

Elsewhere

  • It’s a first meeting against Manchester City for Manuel Pellegrini since leaving the Etihad in 2016. The Chilean is likely to get a nice greeting from the visiting City fans, but in the form the champions have been so far, it’s not far-fetched to suggest that’s the best the afternoon could get for him and West Ham.
  • Wolves halted their run of defeats with a draw at Arsenal before the international break, a game they were unfortunate not to win. They’ve also been unlucky in some of the games they’ve lost in that torrid run, but a home against Huddersfield surely presents a big chance for what seems like an overdue three points.

Fixtures

Brighton v Leicester

West Ham v Manchester City

Burnley v Newcastle

Everton v Cardiff

Bournemouth v Arsenal

Manchester United v Crystal Palace

Fulham v Southampton

Watford v Liverpool

Tottenham v Chelsea

Wolves v Huddersfield

Published in International Watch

Fulham fans are already planning a title parade, after the club appointed Claudio Ranieri as manager. Fulham appointed Ranieri as manager after the departure of Slavisa Jokanovic, and with the veteran Italian having won the Premier League title in surprise fashion with Leicester City in 2016, Cottagers fans are very confident of him repeating that feat with the Londoners this term, so much so that they’ve gone forth and made plans for a title parade at the end of the season.

‘I’m dead-certain that, with the appointment of Claudio as manager, the league title will be ours this season, no matter what Manchester City are currently doing at the top’, said a Fulham fan. ‘People will laugh at us for believing because we’ve lost games in a row’, the fan continued, ‘but they did the same at the thought of Leicester being champions two years ago. ‘We haven’t kept any clean sheet this season, but that will be fixed very soon, especially as Claudio will promise the players sandwiches after their first shut-out.’

Another fan also stated how upbeat he was of the team’s league chances. ‘I think, with Claudio coming in, the league is pretty much inevitable’, he said. ‘It’s only a matter of time before Man City start drawing games excessively, then we go on a consistent 1-0 winning spree that will make our defence so good, Paul Merson will wonder why our American centre-back Tim Ream hasn’t been called up to the English national team just yet.’

This feel-good factor is apparently spreading to the players and the rest of the staff as well, with reports circulating that the club’s training ground entrance has been re-designed to bear the message, ‘The home of the 2018/19 champions’, with many players also said to be looking forward to playing the Champions League next season, and owner Shahid Khan has allegedly made plans for members of the Jacksonville Jaguars NFL team, as well as Ashley Greene and Wesley Snipes, to appear at Craven Cottage, on the final home game of the season, where they’ll receive the league trophy.

Meanwhile, Sam Allardyce is rehearsing his speech for BEIN Sports on how British managers continued to get overlooked for British jobs, with phone calls to Alan Pardew, Tim Sherwood and David Moyes having gone to voicemail.

***This news article is absolutely and unequivocally not true. Purely satirical, it should go without saying.

Published in International Watch

 

 The Roman Abramovich London series: Season 16 (Sarri-Ball), Episode Three (Sarri-ball welcomes Arsenal).

It’s been quite a ride, Chelsea and Abramovich; the ups and downs, the heartbreaks and the heart-warming moments, the Andriy Shevchenko and the Didier Drogba, and a lot of mails that say ‘you’re fired’ (we assume). The Russian’s ownership of the club has torn through 10 managers (yes, including Avram Grant), and Maurizio Sarri is the 11th at the helm. And this weekend, Sarri and his Sarri-ball, still at its infancy stage at Stamford Bridge, welcome Arsenal to SW6, his third game of the season (if you include the Community Shield).

So, because we here have nothing better to do, we take a look at the past 10 managers of the Blues and their first (league) games against the Gunners:

Note: This is the first game of Chelsea’s managers against Arsenal, not the first game of their managerial tenures at the Bridge, hence Jose Mourinho circa 2013 and Guus Hiddink circa 2016 won’t be included.

Claudio Ranieri- Arsenal 1-1 Chelsea (January 2001)

Claudio Ranieri was appointed as Chelsea manager on the 18th of September 2000, 12 days after Chelsea’s first meeting with Arsenal that season, when the Blues conceded twice in the final 14 minutes to throw away a two-goal lead. Hence, the Tinkerman’s first game for the Blues against Arsenal was in January of the following year, when Robert Pires gave the Gunners the perfect start at Highbury, with a goal inside three minutes. But Chelsea roared back to leave with a point, thanks to an equaliser from John Terry just past the hour mark. One-all it finished, and Chelsea finished the season in sixth place, earning a then-commendable UEFA Cup spot.

Jose Mourinho- Arsenal 2-2 Chelsea (December 2004)

Ranieri didn’t last long under Emperor Roman, just one season and the Italian was binned. In came a young Jose Mourinho, fresh from running the length of the Old Trafford sidelines, as well as winning the Champions League with Porto. His first game against the Gunners also came at Highbury, in December of 2004, when the league leaders visited the champions. Arsenal wasted little time in flying out of the blocks, Thierry Henry with an immaculate control and finish, past a standing Petr Cech, to give the Gunners an early lead. Chelsea didn’t take long to respond, though, John Terry again, his header from Arjen Robben’s corner restoring parity, but Arsenal would go into the break ahead, Henry with a quick free-kick that caught Cech and Chelsea out. Again, the Blues would hit back, early in the second half, through Eidur Gudjohnsen. Chances and attempts weren’t non-existent afterwards, Robben struck the side-netting after a mazy run, while Henry skied a shot over, eight yards from a gaping goal, but it would finish level, Chelsea steamrollering their way to the league title with 95 points, 12 ahead of the Gunners in second place.

Avram Grant- Arsenal 1-0 Chelsea (December 2007)

Mourinho too would be gone, by September of 2007, with Avram Grant quite inexplicably put in charge until the end of the season. Grant’s first game against the Gunners would come at the Emirates three months later, a game which was decided by a header from former Chelsea defender and then-Arsenal skipper William Gallas on the stroke of halftime, thanks in no small part to an error from Petr Cech. Arsenal spent most of the embers of the second period passing up chances to kill off the game, but held out for the win which kept them as pacesetters in the league then. Chelsea would eventually finish above them, but both had to settle for a spot below champions Manchester United.

Luis Felipe Scolari- Chelsea 1-2 Arsenal (December 2008)

Just about a year later, Chelsea’s newest manager, World Cup winner Luis Felipe Scolari, was to come face-to-face with Arsenal for the first time. Up until a month earlier, Chelsea had a record of been unbeaten at home in the league for four years, a run that spanned 86 games, and was ended by Liverpool. Chelsea made the breakthrough against the Gunners, Johan Djourou unfortunate enough to score an own goal, but a double from Robin van Persie ensured an Arsenal turnaround and Arsene Wenger’s side left with all three points. For Scolari, that was his only meeting with the Gunners as Chelsea boss, the Brazilian got his p45 in February of the following year.

Guus Hiddink- Arsenal 1-4 Chelsea (May 2009)

Dutchman Hiddink was Scolari’s replacement at the Bridge, juggling his responsibilities with the Russian national team alongside his temporary role at Chelsea. Hiddink had met, and beaten, Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final less than a month before their league meeting at the Emirates. In what was Arsenal’s last chance to have a shot at third place that season, Chelsea entered the break with a two-goal lead, a header from Alex and a pile-driver from Nicolas Anelka giving them a margin for error. Two became three in the second half, Kolo Toure turning Florent Malouda’s cross into his own net, while Malouda himself would add a fourth, either side of Nicklas Bendtner grabbing a goal back for the Gunners.

Carlo Ancelotti- Arsenal 0-3 Chelsea (November 2009)

It was the last day of November in 2009, and the first game against Arsenal as Chelsea boss for Carlo Ancelotti, who took his league leaders to the Emirates. In what had become archetypal of this fixture at that time, despite Arsenal having dominated proceedings and getting the lion’s share of possession, it was Chelsea who’d take the lead, Didier Drogba turning home Ashley Cole’s cross. Chelsea doubled that advantage soon after, another Cole cross, this time it was Thomas Vermaelen who diverted the ball into his own goal, before Drogba added the gloss on the scoreline with a superb free-kick after halftime, as the eventual champions of that season strolled to a comfortable victory.

Andre Villas-Boas- Chelsea 3-5 Arsenal (October 2011)

Ancelotti also headed for the door marked ‘Do One’ soon enough, and like in 2004, an Italian was replaced by a young Portuguese coming off the back of European success. Andre Villas-Boas was the new man at the Bridge then, and less than three months into the new league season, the 33-year-old gaffer was playing host to Arsenal in the league. The Gunners had started to pick themselves up at that point after a rotten start, winning two league games in a row, after achieving that same number of wins in their previous seven games, the most notable of those an 8-2 thrashing at Old Trafford. Chelsea, meanwhile, hit a reef of their own, coming into this game off the back a defeat to West London rivals Queens Park Rangers, but got on the front foot early on here, and took a deserved lead through the head of Frank Lampard. Arsenal responded soon after through Robin van Persie, but Chelsea would go into the break in front, John Terry bundling home a Lampard corner. Arsenal responded again, in the second half, via Andre Santos, before Theo Walcott put the Gunners in front, then Juan Mata dragged the scoreline to 3-3 with 10 minutes left. Chelsea sensed a win, but an over-hit pass from Florent Malouda and a slip by Terry let in Van Persie, who rounded Petr Cech and rolled the ball into an unguarded net. Van Persie would complete his hatrick in stoppage time, for a 5-3 win, that marked the beginning of the end at Chelsea for AVB, who would be sacked in March.

Roberto Di Matteo- Arsenal 0-0 Chelsea (April 2012)

AVB’s assistant at the start of the season, Di Matteo took temporary charge after the Portuguese was binned, and the Italian’s highlights included that stunning second leg comeback in last 16 of the UEFA Champions League against Napoli, that famous 2-2 draw in the semi-final second leg against Barcelona, and of course the triumph in the Champions League final against Bayern Munich in their opponents’ own stadium. But his first game as Chelsea boss against Arsenal is one that lives in the memory of few. In fact, the only thing Spotkick can recall from this game was that Robin van Persie was booked for a foul on Michael Essien. That’s enough about that.

Rafael Benitez- Chelsea 2-1 Arsenal (January 2013)

Di Matteo would be given the Chelsea job on a permanent basis after his triumph in Munich, and if that was a ploy for the manager to be sacked, it worked out perfectly, as the former Chelsea midfielder was gone by November. In came, much to ire of Blues fans, Rafa Benitez, until the end of the season. Less than two months in, on a pouring afternoon at Stamford Bridge, Benitez faced Arsenal. Goals from Juan Mata and Frank Lampard- from the spot- gave the Blues a 2-0 halftime lead, and despite Theo Walcott pulling one back for the Gunners after the interval, Chelsea held out for the win, on their way to finishing the season in third, one place and two points above Arsenal.

Antonio Conte- Arsenal 3-0 Chelsea (September 2016)

Two months into the new Premier League season, and it had begun to look uncomfortable for Antonio Conte at Chelsea, a draw at Swansea was followed up by a defeat at home to Liverpool. Next up, a trip to the Emirates. Conte’s first game against the Gunners had just about the worst first half you could think of, Gary Cahill’s error letting in Alexis Sanchez, who dinked one Thibaut Courtois and gave Arsenal the lead; then Walcott added a quick-fire second minutes after. Mesut Ozil added a third, just before halftime. In the second half, Conte reverted to a back-three, and Chelsea didn’t concede in the league again until late November, and went on a run of 13 straight wins, on their way to the title; so in hindsight, that first-half hammering was a good thing.

Published in International Watch