Category Archives: Football (Soccer)

Premier League Preview: Fulham F.C.

<p class="wp-block-syntaxhighlighter-code">The final team to be promoted to the EPL is a club run by an American businessman with a great, rags to riches story eager to give Fulham and its fans a similar tale. <a href="https://fbref.com/en/squads/fd962109/Fulham-Stats">Fulham F.C.</a> is a squad with much to prove in England’s top division.</p>

The Khan Family:

<p class="wp-block-syntaxhighlighter-code">As an Immigrant to America from Pakistan <strong><a href="https://fbref.com/en/squads/fd962109/Fulham-Stats">Shahid Khan</a></strong> wasn’t afforded many privileges. He washed dishes and stayed in less than ideal living conditions while attending the University of Illinois. Khan graduated with an engineering degree, became a business owner, and his company Flex-N-Gate is a top 50 U.S. company according to Forbes. With That money, Khan bought an American Football team, The Jacksonville Jaguars in 2011 before acquiring Fulham just a couple years later in 2013.</p>
<p class="wp-block-syntaxhighlighter-code">Shahid’s son <strong><a href="https://www.jaguars.com/team/front-office-roster/tony-khan">Tony Khan</a></strong> serves as Fulham’s Co-Owner and Vice-Chairman, but he’s anything but a trust fund kid. Tony’s passion for sport includes Pro-Wrestling, growing up on WCW and WWF in the attitude era, one of the most iconic times to be a wrestling fan. He created his promotion in 2019: All Elite Wrestling which airs on TNT and FiteTV. At Fulham, he is the Director of Football operations and is responsible for all scouting and player personnel that walk the halls of Craven Cottage.</p>

Fulham’s Path to the Premiership

Since Khan’s takeover in West London, Fulham has had their hardships but hope to be trending in the right direction as the season gathers speed this fall. In the first year under the American businessman’s leadership, the Cottagers finished 19th in the EPL during the 2013-14 campaign, a mark equaled in the 2018-19 season as well.

Last season Fulham recorded 23 wins and 11 losses along with 12 draws, good enough for fourth in the Championship, and advancing to the League play-offs. In the Finals, they faced a tremendous foe in the Bees from Brentford. After 90 minutes the score was level at nil-nil. It would take two goals from Englishman Joe Bryan to secure the victory. Bryan had only scored one goal in the entire season previous to the championship game. Finishing with a score of 2-1 Fulham was on their way back to England’s top division.

The Squad

The 2020-2021 Fulham squad should be stronger than the last team that made it a couple of seasons ago but will still need to be in the top form most of the year if they have any chance of escaping relegation in this campaign.

Most of the previous contributors remain on the club, including Tim Ream, Marek Rodak, and Aleksandar Mitrovic. Tim Ream is one of a long line of Americans who have had success for the Fulham squad. Clint Dempsey and Brian McBride all-time National team greats for the Americans also made the fan list for the top starting 11 in the 21st century. Ream has been a constant fixture in defense for the last five seasons, starting in 169 of the 178 contests he’s been in.

Marek Rodak was a solid Goalie from Slovakia last year for the club, but he will need to be nearly perfect to stop the best international strikers that make up a stacked Premier League. In 33 appearances he allowed 33 scores with 14 clean sheets. The manager Scott Parker will be keeping a close eye on Rodak to see if he can cut it or if the newly acquired PSG goalie Alphonse Areola will overtake him sooner rather than later.

Arguably the most important piece for the lineup is the continued form of Serbian striker Aleksandar Mitrovic. With 26 goals last year Mitrovic has the talent to keep Fulham in most contests, but a 20 goal season against the back-lines of Liverpool, Man City, and Man United should prove more difficult.

Premier League Promotion Preview: West Bromwich Albion

The second automatic promotion from the mires of the Championship to the hallowed throngs of the Premier League is the “Baggies” of West Bromwich Albion. West Brom is no stranger to the Premier League and top-level competitions. They’ve spent over 80 seasons in England’s top promotion; winning a title in 1920 along with 5 FA cup wins. They’ll look to keep their spot in the premiership and regain some accolades of previous squads.

West Bromwich Albion Promotion Preview

The History of West Bromwich 

West Brom’s legacy and the origin story of English football are intertwined. The Baggies were one of the first 12 professional soccer teams in the world. In 1878 they debuted in the Football League. The club has enjoyed tremendous successes, but in more recent history they’ve struggled just to stay in the premiership. Their last trophy was a FA title but that was in 1968 over 50 years ago. This is the fourth promotion for West Brom in the 21st century with their most successful season being only good enough for an eighth-place finish when they were led by Romelu Lukaku. A dynamite talent to be sure, but the club only managed to hold onto his contract for one lone season.

The Squad Today

The team in navy and white is a diverse collection of rising talent, overlooked contributors, and even a possible future Premier League superstar. Their squad consists of key players such as the forward tandem of Charlie Austin and Hal Robson-Kanu, Goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, and Midfielder Matheus Pereira.

Austin and Robson-Kanu  

The dynamic duo of Charlie Austin and Hal Robson-Kanu is a tag team that could potentially give defenses some real trouble as both players of the Premier League. Some hardcore and longtime fans of British soccer might remember Austin from his QPR days. Queens Park Rangers finished dead last in the league but Austin recorded an impressive 18 goals in the 2014-2015 campaign. Previous to joining West Brom the Englishman played four seasons for Southampton where he scored 16 goals but struggled to get in the lineup, never starting more than 11 matches as the striker in any year. 

Robson-Kanu has also been up with two different clubs: Reading and his current club West Brom. The Welshman scored 7 goals for Reading in 2012-2013 but after their 19th place finish and a relegation Reading still hasn’t recovered from. it would be another 4 years before he appeared on the pitch for West Brom and returned to the Premier League in 2016. Now 31 Robson-Kanu hopes he and Austin have enough firepower to inspire their squad to a possible top finish. In the Championship both players netted 10 times each, leading the team. 

Sam Johnstone

For any team to be consistent and more importantly, consistently good there may be no more important role than the goalkeeper. Sam Johnstone has been a solid brick wall in the Championship. In six seasons of experience split between Yeovil Town, Doncaster, Preston North End, Aston Villa, and of course West Brom, Johnstone has saved over 500 shots and had a clean sheet in nearly a third of all competitions. 

Johnstone was one win away from promotion in 2018 amidst his best season ever. Playing for Aston Villa he had a staggering amount of clean sheets, 20 in total. He was in top form heading into the final against Fulham. He only conceded one goal but it would be the difference in the game despite Villa playing with a man advantage for close to 25 minutes to close the game. His move to Albionon Johnstone was a large part of what helped secure automatic promotion for the club. He started every game for West Brom for the past two years. 

Matheus Pereira

There is an ingredient that has been absent from West Brom for a very long time: a superstar. If the club has any aspirations to finish in the top half Matheus Pereira needs to become that for his squad. He has been praised by many as having the passing ability of Mesut Ozil while also possessing the rare dribbling ability comparable to that of his countrymen Neymar. 

The hype is not misplaced, or overdramatized. Matheus Pereira is the real deal. Do yourself a favor, watch a highlight compilation of this young Brazilian. His vision and instincts are enough to leave even the most seasoned fan in shock. If there is an opening for a pass or even a momentary hesitation by a good defender Pereira will exploit it. At 24 and under contract for the next four years after recently signing an extension the future looks very bright indeed for West Brom Albion.

Premier League Promotion Preview: Leeds United

It’s been close to two decades since Leeds United collapsed and was relegated from the Premier League. The club and fan-base are desperate to shake off the image most soccer fans have when thinking about the Leeds squad that was relegated in the 2003/2004 season.

Leeds United Premier League Promotion

The Collapse:

At the start of the 2,000’s, the club was having fantastic form from year-to-year. Leeds finished in the top five of the EPL every season starting in 1997 spanning through the 2001-2002 campaign. In that time the club also enjoyed semi-final appearances in both the Europa League and Champions League. The excitement was at a premium and the chairman Peter Ridsdale wanted to take advantage of it. 

With income for the club and an all-time high, Ridsdale took out enormous loans that he was unable to repay promptly and subsequently sent the team spiraling into debt that harmed more than just United’s bottom line. The squad lost a great deal of its luster very quickly due to key players being shipped off just to try to salvage a sinking ship. What was once a formidable and historic club became the laughing stock in all of England after being demoted just one year after an appearance in the Europa League. A 19th-place finish in the 2003-2004 Premier League season would be the final nail in the coffin in what one of the most stunning collapses in the sporting world. So much so there is even a phrase used called “doing a Leeds” that means financially mishandling a soccer team so poorly it causes ruin. 

The Road Back:

Leeds’ freefall wouldn’t stop just because they were sent to the Championship. In 2006, the club was one win away from re-entering England’s top tier of competition, however, the club was still in dire straits financially. The loss to Watford and failing to get into the Premier League were painful moments, but they paled in comparison to what was still in store. The following season Leeds would finish 24th league competition and be relegated again. This time the drop would land them in League One, due in large part to the 10 point deduction from filing for administration; similar to bankruptcy in the US.

With the cupboards completely bare for Leeds after years of turmoil, they had finally, if not mercifully reached their lowest point. Momentum for the club began to change in 2010 when they narrowly escaped League One with a second-place finish. The big highlight for the club was a young striker named Jermaine Beckford who had scored 75 goals in all competitions for the club in just three short years. The team also had a signature win, beating the behemoth Manchester United one-nil in their FA Cup showdown. Despite this feat, it would be another decade before they clinched a Premier League birth. This past season, Leeds has had a near immaculate run to end the elongated season finishing first in the championship with 93 points a full 10 clear of the nearest challenger. The squad won the last six matches and will hope to capitalize on that momentum with a short turn around before the beginning of the 2020-2021 campaign. 

The New Squad:

The new faces of Leeds are for the most part not wide-eyed youngsters with unlimited potential. Instead, the club is composed of scrappy and experienced veterans with much still to prove to England. If Leeds wants to succeed and stay in the top division, it will have overcome what haunts the club to this day: money. Leeds United is no longer insolvent but their budget is much smaller than the average team, and with holes still to fill it will be interesting to see if the club can do more with less. 

What Leeds has in abundance is experience. The center midfielder, Pablo Hernandez is a former Spanish national team member. He has spent time with top clubs previously and has had great successes over his long professional career. His compatriot Francisco Casilla made goalkeeping appearances for legendary La Liga club Real Madrid. The top goalscorer for Leeds has returned, at least for the time being. Patrick Bamford, while not currently seen as an elite striker contributed greatly to Leeds’ success scoring 16 goals for the club. The 25-year-old Englishman has already played for four different Premier League squads despite just now entering the prime of his career. The captain and starting center back Liam Cooper is the glue that holds together this squad. The Scottish national has been a member of Leeds since 2014. 

Management will have to be creative in the transfer window to address the needs at scoring and a possible replacement for Casilla. The top defense in the championship will have to carry this squad through the early portions of this season and hope a youngster or a transfer steps up to help Bamford carry the load in the form of goals. For the sake of Leeds’ image, this may be the most important season in their history.

5 Storylines to Watch for the Return of the Premier League

It has been three months since the last match was played and even the most loyal of Premier League fans may have forgotten some of the main plot points of this season. Here are the top five reasons to watch the remaining fixtures of the 2019-2020 season.

5 Storylines to Watch When the Premier League Returns

1. Does the season finish?

While the first three weeks of action between clubs have been announced, there is no guarantee all 92 lingering matches will be played. Every indication is the players, owners and the fans desire a season completed with no asterisks. The first three weeks of action have been all but guaranteed, with dates, times, and venues all announced. After that, everything will have to be played by ear.

If players, managers, and training staff remain healthy the Premier League should wrap up without issue. It’s unknown the status of the remaining fixtures if there is a secondary spike in cases in the UK or worse infections happen to members of clubs. The worst-case scenarios must be playing out in everyone’s heads. Let’s hope this becomes a very under the radar story-line, one forgotten after a couple of weeks.

2. Liverpool Finally Receives Their Trophy

Despite nearly two full years of dominance, Liverpool still has one goal to check off their nearly immaculate squad resume. During the 2018-2019 campaign, they accrued 97 points suffering only one defeat to the eventual victors, Manchester City. Since that time Liverpool has shockingly upped its form, winning all but two games in this year’s elongated season. Their lead in the table is an awe-inspiring 25 points. For reference, Aston Villa is sitting in 19th place with 25 points total. In 29 matches Liverpool has allowed only 21 goals, thanks in large part to Virgil van Dijk’s presence and the native Brazilian Allison’s 10 clean sheets.

3. Who is the Last Team to Escape Relegation?

In most years with a runaway champion, the next most competitive race is the fight at the bottom. West Ham, Watford, and Bournemouth all sit at 27 points and are tied for the final relegation spot with Aston Villa and Brighton just above or below that mark. All teams will have to play with the utmost form to secure their position in next season’s premiership. Most matches will be featuring top-half opponents. Brighton has the inside track to escape, with only a minus eight-goal differential despite only winning six of their 29 matches.

4. Who Wins the EA Player of the Season?

The Premier League’s version of the MVP award is hotly contested this year. Scoring, as always, is valued very highly in England’s top football division. Jaimie Vardy, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Sergio Agüero, and Mohamed Salah round out the most likely strikers to win based on total goals scored. If the voters are split between the deep field of worthy forwards, it’s very likely a Liverpool player snatches up the award right under their noses. Virgil van Dijk is the most likely of the Reds to win from a dark horse position.

5. Can Sheffield United Qualify for the Champions League

Sheffield United has been playing professional football since 1892. They have only been in the Premier League for a total of four seasons, including this year. The Blades returned to the Premier League for the first time since 2007; eager to change their fortunes. Sheffield had unbelievable momentum before COVID forced lock-downs, winning three of their last four matches and drawing the other.

Their team has no true superstar, no player has more than five goals. They are captained by the veteran forward Billy Sharp, featuring a stout defense only allowing 25 goals. That’s less than a handful more than top squad Liverpool. The anchor of the Blades is keeper Dean Henderson. On loan from Manchester United, the 23-year-old is tied for second in the league with 10 clean sheets.

Sheffield is five points from the club’s first-ever Champions League appearance and only two away from the Europa League consolation prize. If Sheffield has any hope of securing international competition, Christopher John Wilder will have to manage the club through a difficult last 11 matches. Seven of the remaining fixtures are against opponents in the top half of the table.