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Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Premier League round-up: Another loss for Manchester United, Fulham relegated

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is going through his toughest period as Manchester United manager, just days after getting the job on a full-time basis. United slumped to a third defeat in its last four matches after squandering an early lead to lose 2-1 at Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Premier League on Tuesday. Two of those losses have come at Molineux, with Wolves winning by the same score in the FA Cup quarterfinals last month.
Solskjaer was initially hired as United’s interim manager in December and lost just one of his first 17 matches in charge, making his permanent appointment inevitable. United made that decision during the international break _ despite successive losses by the team, at Arsenal and Wolves _ and since then it has earned an unconvincing 2-1 home win over Watford on Saturday and now lost to Wolves again.
With momentum lost, Solskjaer has work to do to get United into the top four and back into the Champions League. It is in fifth place, behind fourth-place Tottenham on goal difference and two points adrift of third-place Arsenal having played a game more than both rivals.
“I said we needed 15 points from the last seven games (to make the top four),” Solskjaer said. “We now need 15 in the last six, so we don’t have room for many more losses.”
United fell away after going ahead in the 13th minute through Scott McTominay’s first goal for the club. Diogo Jota equalized in the 25th after Fred was caught in possession, United captain Ashley Young was sent off in the 57th for two quick bookings and Chris Smalling scored an own goal in the 77th to seal another memorable win for Wolves in its first season back in the top flight.
They have now beaten United, Tottenham, and Chelsea in the league, were the first team to take points off Manchester City, and claimed draws at Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge and Emirates Stadium. They have also beaten United and Liverpool en route to the FA Cup semifinals.
While Wolves’ return to the Premier League couldn’t really have gone better, Fulham’s has been dreadful from day one.
The team from southwest London succumbed to the inevitable and was relegated with five games to spare after a 4-1 loss at Watford in Tuesday’s other game. Fulham’s demotion came three days after last-place Huddersfield became the first team to go down.


Solskjaer said United “created our own downfall” and it was easy to see why, with both goals coming from United errors and Young’s red card also proving a turning point.
United was in control when Fred misjudged a pass out from the back by goalkeeper David De Gea and was dispossessed by Joao Moutinho. Raul Jimenez slid the ball to Jota, who fired past De Gea.
For Wolves’ winner, a bundled effort from Jimenez was creeping toward goal but Smalling still had a chance to clear. Instead, the center back feathered the ball into his own net from inside the six-yard box.
As for Young’s second booking, which came five minutes after his first and for a studs-up challenge on Jota, Solskjaer had no complaints. “It’s a yellow card,” he said. “It was probably a bad decision (from Young).”


Fulham’s American owner, Shad Khan, certainly went all out to keep Fulham in the Premier League. He backed an offseason spending spree of around $130 million and changed managers twice in an attempt to reinvigorate the team. Nothing worked.
The loss at Watford was Fulham’s 24th this season. Its goal difference of minus 46 is the worst of any team in the five big leagues in Europe. The 76 goals conceded is also a Premier League high, 17 more than any other team.
Relegation was sealed with a heavy beating by a side with one eye on an FA Cup semifinal match at the weekend.
Watford took the lead through Abdoulaye Doucoure in the 23rd minute and responded to a 33rd-minute equalizer by Ryan Babel by scoring three times in a 13-minute span from the 63rd, through Will Hughes, Troy Deeney and Kiko Femenia.
“That’s just us in a snapshot _ if you haven’t watched us this season but then saw that period when two, three and four went in, that’s us,” Fulham caretaker manager Scott Parker said. “I’m sure there’s a mental issue.”

Solskjaer seeks Champions League solace after Wolves setback

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is looking to the Champions League for some cheer after suffering away defeats by Wolverhampton Wanderers in the FA Cup and Premier League. Tuesday’s 2-1 loss at Molineux was a rare blemish on a stunning start to Solskjaer’s reign at Old Trafford and a win against Barcelona in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final next week would be the best remedy.
“We will use one or two days to analyse and recover and then we will prepare for Barcelona, which will be a fantastic challenge for the club,” said Solskjaer, who scored a famous injury-time winner in United’s 1999 Champions League triumph.
The Norwegian was also weighing up how to ensure his team make it into next season’s Champions League after the defeat at Wolves left them in fifth place on 61 points, still behind Tottenham on goal difference but now having played a game more.
“We need 15 points in the last six games so we don’t have room for any more losses,” he said, assessing United’s chances of a top-four finish before their next Premier League game at home to West Ham United on April 13. “It is a difficult run, but then we are a very good team as well so it will be difficult for others who play against us as well.”
Having criticised his team after the 2-1 win over Watford at the weekend, Solskjaer was forgiving about Tuesday’s setback, United’s second 2-1 defeat at Wolves after last month’s FA Cup sixth-round loss, saying United created enough chances to win.
“Very good start. Should have been three up. Or could have. We created our own downfall really … But for their keeper (Rui Patricio), we should have won this game,” he said.


It was painful viewing for Solskjaer, who was appointed the club’s permanet manager on Thursday, as United squandered chances to improve on their 1-0 early lead before Wolves hit back through Diogo Jota and a late Chris Smalling own goal. “That’s football for you and that’s why it’s the game we all love, it’s not like maths,” said the Norwegian.
But he was delighted with midfielder Scott McTominay’s performance and rasping 13th-minute goal from outside the box – his first in 41 appearances for the club in all competitions.
“Scotty has never, ever let us down. He never disappoints us when he plays. Today was another very fine performance by Scotty… It won`t be hard to see him play many, many games for Man Utd… I was very, very pleased with him,” he said.
Solskjaer was also forgiving of England international Ashley Young, who was sent off in the second half for a reckless tackle on striker Jota. “He reached the ball, and it was just a little bit too high… It made it a bit more difficult,” he said.
After his second game since being given the Old Trafford job permanently, Solskjaer was asked if the shine might be coming off his incredible start. “I don’t think there is any kickback or re-setting. I was very pleased with the amount of chances, with the intent in the way we started the game and played,” he said.