'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

First, a sense of level-headedness: Not scoring in August has ultimately always meant very little to Harry Kane’s season as far its entirety is concerned; goal tallies of 21, 26, 29 and 30 in the past four campaigns are practically redundant proof of that. The Englishman had registered 108 Premier League goals, none of which had come in the eighth month of the year, the first of the new season.

Until this weekend, that is. And when Kane was played in by Erik Lamela, cut back inside and placed a finish past Fulham goalkeeper Fabricio and into the top corner, the look on his face bore semblance to relief. That, and the fact that Kane talked post-match about getting that stat over with and moving on was perhaps proof that it was starting to get to him. His stumble when through on goal in the first, which led to Mauricio Pochettino’s fury in an appeal for a penalty and resulted in a Stage One yellow card for the gaffer, was probably proof of that. Perhaps he’s starting to try too hard, trying to put that stat to bed, but with 13 minutes to go, he succeeded.

Not that it should take the shine off what was a thoroughly enjoyable game at Wembley, or the fact that for the first time in four seasons, Spurs have won their opening two league games, the latter of which Kane was keen to point out afterwards, citing its importance: after all, their past three seasons have been ultimately affected by the fact that they started sloppily. There was no such sloppiness at the start on Saturday against Fulham, only 76 seconds had gone and Spurs had pressured the visitors into giving the ball away in their defensive third three times. Openings were being created, but that final piece in the puzzle was always lacking, Lucas Moura spurned two good opportunities, while Christian Eriksen flashed a shot wide.

Fulham were back at the scene of the triumph that took them to the top-flight some three months ago, and as this game grew, so did they. The Cottagers started making forays, Ryan Sessegnon and Aboubakar Kamara were threatening on the wings, while skipper Tom Cairney tested Hugo Lloris in the Spurs goal. But on the stroke of halftime, the breakthrough would come, Moura with a delightful curling effort with his weaker foot, which went in via the post, and the hosts went into the break ahead.

Only seven minutes into the second period, though, and parity would be restored. Aleksandar Mitrovic has an eventful history against Spurs before this game, two goals and one red card in two games against them with Newcastle, and now in Fulham colours, he was their scourge again, as after Sessegnon miscued a brilliant Joe Bryan cross into his path, the Serbian headed from less than five yards. Signed from Newcastle after a successful loan spell last season, Mitrovic had hit the base of the post moments before his goal, and moments after it, really should have put Fulham in front, but scuffed his shot after being played in by Kamara.

Then Pochettino rang the changes, and Spurs upped the ante. Kane hit the bar from close range, from Kieran Trippier’s cross, as it looked like his August hex would continue. But it wouldn’t; moments after seeing Trippier put Spurs back in front with a superb free-kick, Kane would get his foot.

Stepping inside Calum Chambers, and beating Fabricio, England’s captain wheeled away in celebration. Inconsequential as it may have seemed, he’s finally kick-started his goal-scoring engine early. More importantly, Spurs haven’t taken their foot off the gas.

Chaos at the Bridge

It was the definition of bedlam at Stamford Bridge on Saturday evening, when Chelsea and Arsenal met in West London. It was dubbed as a game between two sides still adapting to their managers’ systems, so a lot of defensive lapses were expected. And, boy, was it quite a feast of defensive munificence. For Chelsea’s opening goal, Marcos Alonso had the freedom of the capital, before setting up Pedro, same went for their second, by Alvaro Morata, Arsenal opting to play a line so high there was no outfield player in their own half when Cesar Azpilicueta played his pass towards Morata.

But anything generous the Gunners could do, the Blues could match in their own magnanimity. First, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was left in a lot of room just outside Chelsea’s six-yard box, just before Morata’s goal, a chance the striker inexplicably skied. Then- after Henrikh Mkhitaryan did his best Aubameyang impression, and then made amends with a goal later on to halve the deficit- Alex Iwobi was the next Arsenal man to find himself in acres of space, and it was from that opening the Nigerian who dragged Arsenal level before the break.

No such flurry of goals in the second period, the game was settled late on by Alonso’s simple finish, as Chelsea bagged a second win in two league games, while Arsenal have begun the season with two straight losses. 3-2 it finished at the Bridge; it could have easily been six-all.

Elsewhere

  • There were few eyes watching Manchester City as they hosted Huddersfield Town, their first game since Kevin de Bruyne got ruled out for three months, against a side they failed to score against at home just three months ago. So, naturally, the champions put six past the Terriers, with Sergio Aguero registering a hatrick. There will be sterner tests than this for City, but this was a signal of what they could do even without their best player around.
  • Two wins in two for Watford, whose opponents Burnley may well be starting to feel the exertions that come with European commitments. Or at least that’s a ready-made excuse for one goal and one point in their opening two games.
  • So, Brighton did a number on Manchester United again, with the Red Devils putting in a hapless performance. One for the Grumpy Jose chronicles.
  • No single pass completed in the second half, a yellow card and penalty miss in stoppage time. It’s not a good weekend to be Kenedy.
  • It’s a rosy start for Richarlison at Everton so far, as the man who supposedly ruined the transfer window this summer scored another in the Toffees’ win over Southampton, his third goal in two games.

Results.

Manchester City 6-1 Huddersfield

Tottenham 3-1 Fulham

West Ham 1-2 Bournemouth

Leicester 2-0 Wolves

Burnley 1-3 Watford

Brighton 3-2 Manchester United

Chelsea 3-2 Arsenal

Cardiff 0-0 Newcastle

Everton 2-1 Southampton

Monday Night Football: Crystal Palace v Liverpool

 

Published in International Watch