Watford Relegated From Premier League

Watford's Moroccan-born Italian defender Adam Masina gestures to supporters after the English Premier League football match between Crystal Palace and Watford at Selhurst Park in south London on May 7, 2022. Daniel LEAL / AFP
Watford’s Moroccan-born Italian defender Adam Masina gestures to supporters after the English Premier League football match between Crystal Palace and Watford at Selhurst Park in south London on May 7, 2022. Daniel LEAL / AFP

 

Watford were relegated from the Premier League after just one season back in the top-flight as Wilfried Zaha’s penalty earned Crystal Palace a 1-0 win on Saturday.

A sixth consecutive defeat left the Hornets still 12 points adrift of safety with just three matches to play.

Roy Hodgson was welcomed back to Selhurst Park a hero for his four years in charge of Palace, but the former England manager’s record of never suffering relegation has ended with his final job before retiring at the end of the season.

READ ALSO: Chelsea Blow Two-Goal Lead Against Resilient Wolves

Hodgson was unable to rescue Watford after replacing the sacked Claudio Ranieri in January to become the club’s third manager this term following Xisco’s dismissal in October.

He arrived with Watford two points from safety but has managed only two wins in his 15 games.

Watford’s owners the Pozzo family have a long history of churning through managers in ruthless fashion, but they have overseen two promotions to the Premier League during their reign and the club should be among the favourites in the second tier next term.

There were few highlights for Watford in a campaign that always looked destined to end with relegation, although they did thrash Manchester United 4-1 in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s final match in charge of the Red Devils in November.

“I think after missing our chances in those last three home games we realised we were making life extremely hard for ourselves,” Hodgson said.

“But anyone who’d like to say there was an inevitability about our outcome and that the players had resigned themselves to the fact that they’re going to go down then they haven’t watched today’s game.

“It gave no indication of that whatsoever and we were fighting right until the last minute to try to get an equaliser.

“It wasn’t the result we wanted but I think we were rather hard done by because the players are convinced that Hassane Kamara was pushed in the back and that’s what provoked the penalty decision.”

Hodgson admitted Watford’s confidence had plummeted during their slide towards relegation, but he believes they can bounce back.

“There are individuals in the team who can make a difference,” he said.

“Their confidence might not be at the highest but I still think this team and this club has a lot to offer in the Premier League, but they’ll first have to go through the Championship to get back.”

AFP

Jesus Scores Four As Leaders Man City Crush Watford

Manchester City's Brazilian striker Gabriel Jesus (R) celebrates with Manchester City's Ukrainian midfielder Oleksandr Zinchenko (L) after scoring the opening goal of the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Watford at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England, on April 23, 2022. Paul ELLIS / AFP
Manchester City’s Brazilian striker Gabriel Jesus (R) celebrates with Manchester City’s Ukrainian midfielder Oleksandr Zinchenko (L) after scoring the opening goal of the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Watford at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England, on April 23, 2022. Paul ELLIS / AFP

 

Pep Guardiola saluted “fantastic” Gabriel Jesus after the Brazilian scored four times as Manchester City crushed Watford 5-1 to move four points clear at the top of the Premier League on Saturday.

Jesus stole the show at the Etihad Stadium with the first Premier League haul of three or more goals in his career.

The forward had netted only once in the league since September, but he tore Watford to shreds with a predatory display of finishing.

He struck twice in the first half before Watford’s Hassane Kamara briefly reduced the deficit.

READ ALSO: Arsenal See Off Sorry Man Utd To Take Control Of Top-Four Battle

Rodri restored City’s two-goal advantage and Jesus bagged two more after half-time to complete the rout.

“It’s amazing. Sometimes you play so good and don’t score and sometimes it is like this and you score all the chances you have,” Jesus said.

“I’m happy it was my day. Now is the best moment of the season. When you decide the games and win the trophies. That’s what football is for us.”

After losing to Liverpool in the FA Cup semi-finals last weekend, Guardiola’s side have signalled their determination to retain the title.

They dismissed Brighton 3-0 on Wednesday and their demolition of second bottom Watford keeps the pressure on second placed Liverpool.

Jurgen Klopp’s men can close the gap back to one point if they beat struggling Everton in the Merseyside derby at Anfield on Sunday.

In a thrilling title race that looks destined to go down to the wire, City have five league games left as they chase a fourth English crown in five years.

Their stroll against Watford was the ideal preparation for the Champions League semi-final first leg against Real Madrid in Manchester on Tuesday.

“If there’s one person who deserves the best in life, it’s Gabriel. It doesn’t matter what position he plays, we know how he fights for his mates. He’s fantastic,” Guardiola said.

“We had a ‘final’ today and we won it. Now we have an opportunity to play a ‘final’ against Leeds.

“Nothing changes. We have to win all five games to be champions.”

Guardiola made six changes from the Brighton game, with Ruben Dias replacing the injured John Stones for his first start since March 1 after a hamstring injury.

Incessant City

Since drawing 0-0 at the Etihad in 2006, Watford had lost on each of their previous seven visits, with an aggregate score of 25-2 to City.

They haven’t beaten City since 1989 and it took just four minutes for Guardiola’s men to assert their superiority.

Joao Cancelo’s cross reached Oleksandr Zinchenko and he picked out the unmarked Jesus, who timed his run to finish from close-range.

City’s early dominance was interrupted by a dangerous Watford counter as Emmanuel Dennis surged clear before Zinchenko made a superb last-ditch tackle to avert the danger.

The champions held 80 percent of the possession and that incessant pressure paid off in the 23rd minute.

Kevin De Bruyne was the creator with an inch-perfect cross and Jesus applied the finishing touch with a deft header.

Watford pulled one back against the run of play five minutes later.

Dennis flicked a pass into Kamara’s path and the Ivorian hit a low strike that should have been easy for City keeper Ederson, who somehow allowed it to sneak past his weak attempted save.

Rodri eased City’s sudden anxiety in the 34th minute as the Spanish midfielder smashed a blistering volley into the top corner from long-range.

City were back in the groove and they struck again in the 49th minute when Jesus seized on Kamara’s mistake and was brought down by Foster.

Jesus picked himself up to take the spot-kick and slotted past Foster to complete his treble.

The 25-year-old wasn’t finished yet and he netted for the fourth time after 53 minutes.

Jack Grealish, Jesus and De Bruyne combined in a blur of passes that left Watford bewildered before the Brazilian capped the flowing move with a lethal finish.

 

AFP

African Players In Europe: Emmanuel Dennis, Awoniyi, Mane Steal Show

A photo combination of Emmanuel Dennis and Sadio Mane.

 

Senegal talisman Sadio Mane scored two goals — one soft and one superb — at the weekend to take Liverpool into the FA Cup final with a 3-2 victory over Manchester City at Wembley.

The Reds will face Chelsea in the May 14 showpiece final — a repeat of the League Cup final won by Liverpool on penalties after a goalless final.

Apart from his Liverpool heroics, Mane helped Senegal win the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time in February and qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar one month later.

READ ALSOWorld Cup Qualifier: Nigeria Thrash Egypt In First Leg

Here, AFP Sport highlights Africans who starred in European leagues and cup competitions:

ENGLAND SADIO MANE (Liverpool)

Mane was the difference between Liverpool and Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-final as he struck twice in a thrilling win for the Reds. His persistence earned his first and Liverpool’s second goal of the day as he caught City stand-in goalkeeper Zack Steffen in possession to tackle the ball into the net. His second was as sweet as the first was scrappy as Mane volleyed in Thiago Alcantara’s pass to round off a stunning move from Jurgen Klopp’s men.

EMMANUEL DENNIS (Watford)

A 10th Premier League goal of the season for Dennis could not prevent Watford slipping closer to relegation after a 2-1 defeat by Brentford. The Nigerian’s fierce strike that flew in at the near post was controversially allowed to stand despite Senegal’s Ismaila Sarr appearing to be offside in the build-up. A 10th consecutive home defeat leaves the Hornets still six points adrift of safety with just six games to play.

GERMANY KEVIN-PRINCE BOATENG (Hertha Berlin)

The 35-year-old made his first start since October and bossed midfield as Hertha climbed out of the relegation zone with a 1-0 win at Augsburg. “We needed a figure like Prince. He has shown how important he is for us,” said Hertha coach Felix Magath as the Ghana midfielder threw himself into tackles.

TAIWO AWONIYI (Union Berlin)

Awoniyi shrugged off his marker and banged in his 18th goal for Union this season to open the scoring in a 2-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt. The Nigeria striker is a fans’ favourite at Union and threw his playing shirt into the home crowd after being substituted with 10 minutes remaining.

FRANCE KARL TOKO-EKAMBI (Lyon)

The Cameroon forward, who starred in his country’s run to the Africa Cup of Nations semi-finals on home soil this year, scored twice in Lyon’s 6-1 mauling of Bordeaux. His first goal was a gift after a farcical miskick by the Bordeaux goalkeeper, while his second goal was a delightful chipped finish. Toko-Ekambi has 16 goals this season, including 10 in Ligue 1. Lyon are eighth, four points outside the European qualifying spots.

JODEL DOSSOU (Clermont)

The Benin international equalised in a 1-1 draw at fellow strugglers Metz. It was his second goal in as many games, after Dossou netted in last week’s 6-1 home hammering by Paris Saint-Germain. Clermont are in the relegation play-off place, five points above bottom side Metz and one point from outright safety.

ITALY M’BALA NZOLA (Spezia)

The Angolan international featured in probably the strangest moment in the weekend’s Serie A action. He was subbed on and then off again just 10 minutes later in Spezia’s 3-1 defeat to Inter Milan because he couldn’t take off his earring. Brought on in the 60th minute with his team a goal down, the 25-year-old was almost immediately stopped by match officials and ordered to remove the jewellery, a task which was beyond both Nzola and the Spezia coaching staff. Eventually he had to admit defeat and coach Thiago Motta was forced to bring on Janis Antiste in his place.

AFP

Premier League Glory Is Priority, Liverpool’s Klopp Says After Watford Win

Liverpool's German manager Jurgen Klopp looks on during the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Watford at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on April 2, 2022. Paul ELLIS / AFP
Liverpool’s German manager Jurgen Klopp looks on during the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Watford at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on April 2, 2022.
Paul ELLIS / AFP

 

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said winning the Premier League is his priority after the Reds went top of the table for the first time this year thanks to a 2-0 win over Watford.

Diogo Jota and Fabinho got the goals at Anfield as Klopp’s men moved two points ahead of Manchester City, who travel to Burnley later on Saturday.

The visit of the Hornets kicked off a huge month for Liverpool as they remain in the hunt for a historic quadruple of trophies.

READ ALSO: Liverpool Reel In Man City For Another ‘Insane’ Title Tussle

A potential title decider away to City next weekend falls in between both legs of a Champions League quarter-final against Benfica before another meeting with City in the FA Cup semi-finals.

“The Premier League is the most important competition,” said Klopp, whose side lifted the League Cup in February.

“A big two months (ahead) hopefully. This week can decide a lot about how May will be.

“The boys created a top-class basis and now we have to use it.”

Klopp could afford the luxury of leaving Luis Diaz and Sadio Mane on the bench after their exertions on international duty, alongside Trent Alexander-Arnold on his return from injury.

However, the hosts did not have the easy afternoon Klopp would have hoped for with tougher tests to come.

Watford are in desperate need of points for their own battle to beat relegation.

Ismaila Sarr was a major threat for the visitors as he nearly caught Alisson Becker off his line early on.

Liverpool needed the Brazilian goalkeeper to be at this best for a few seconds that decided the game midway through the first half.

Alisson stood his ground to parry Juraj Kucka’s powerful low effort when the Slovakian was played through on goal.

The home side swiftly broke up the other end and Alexander-Arnold’s deputy, Joe Gomez, swung in a cross and Jota nipped in ahead of Ben Foster to head in his 20th goal of the season.

But there was a nervousness around Anfield as Watford refused to wilt and even had a glorious chance to equaliser in the second half.

Sarr again created the danger with a burst down the left and his cut back was slotted wide by Joao Pedro.

Liverpool had to wait until a minute from time to get the two-goal cushion they desired when Kucka wrestled Jota to the ground from a corner.

Mohamed Salah had already been subbed by Sadio Mane at that stage so Fabinho took responsibility from the spot and smashed into the top corner to secure Liverpool’s 10th consecutive Premier League win.

“I don’t think after the international break I ever see the best game of the season,” added Klopp. “We were very mature and very controlled.”

Defeat leaves Watford still in the bottom three, still three points behind Everton, who also have three games in hand.

 

AFP

Arsenal Defeat Watford, Surge To Champions League Spot


Arsenal’s Brazilian striker Gabriel Martinelli (L) celebrates after scoring his team third goal during the English Premier League football match between Watford and Arsenal at Vicarage Road Stadium in Watford, north-west of London on March 6, 2022. Adrian DENNIS / AFP

 

Bukayo Saka starred as Arsenal leapfrogged Manchester United into the Premier League top four on Sunday with a 3-2 win at struggling Watford.

Martin Odegaard struck early for the visitors before Cucho Hernandez equalised with a stunning overhead kick minutes later.

England international Saka put Arsenal back in front after half an hour and Brazilian winger Gabriel Martinelli increased the visitors’ lead early in the second half.

A late goal from Moussa Sissoko against the run of play gave Watford hope but the Gunners held out for a crucial win.

READ ALSO: Chelsea Boost Top-Four Bid, Leeds Beaten In Marsch’s First Game


Watford’s Colombian striker Cucho Hernandez (L) fights for the ball with Arsenal’s French striker Alexandre Lacazette (C) and Arsenal’s Scottish defender Kieran Tierney during the English Premier League football match between Watford and Arsenal at Vicarage Road Stadium in Watford, north-west of London on March 6, 2022. Adrian DENNIS / AFP

 

The victory lifts Mikel Arteta’s men into fourth place in the Premier League — one point ahead of United, who are in action in the later kick-off against leaders Manchester City.

Watford had the ball in the net a few seconds after kick-off but Emmanuel Dennis’s effort was ruled offside.

Arsenal settled quickly after their early scare and were in front in the fifth minute after neat work down the right, with Saka cutting back to Odegaard, who finished with his left foot.

But the Gunners’ advantage was cancelled out in the 11th minute when Hernandez produced an acrobatic overhead kick from near the penalty spot after a cross from Kiko Femenia.

Arsenal restored their advantage just after the half-hour mark with a cleverly crafted goal finished by Saka.

The England man dispossessed Tom Cleverley just outside the Watford box before passing to Alexandre Lacazette, who held the ball up then backheeled it back to Saka, who fired in.

Arsenal extended their lead early in the second half with a delightful third from Martinelli, who hammered home from the edge of the box after a neat layoff from Lacazette.


Watford’s Nigerian striker Emmanuel Dennis reacts after scoring a goal that will be cancelled due to an offside position during the English Premier League football match between Watford and Arsenal at Vicarage Road Stadium in Watford, north-west of London on March 6, 2022. Adrian DENNIS / AFP

 

Watford still offered a threat despite Arsenal’s superiority and Dennis should have narrowed the gap but miscued a chance at the far post with about 20 minutes to go.

Arsenal substitute Eddie Nketiah hit woodwork with 10 minutes to go and Sissoko gave the visitors a late scare when he bundled the ball home in the 87th minute.

The win makes Arsenal strong favourites to finish in the top four and qualify for next season’s Champions League — a competition they have not played in since the 2016/17 season.

They have 48 points after 25 games, one ahead of United, who had played two games more ahead of the Manchester derby.

Roy Hodgson’s Watford remain second from bottom of the Premier League table, three points from safety.

AFP

Watford Sack Ranieri After Just 14 Matches 

In this file photo taken on April 01, 2018, Italian coach Claudio Ranieri attends the French L1 football match between Nantes and Saint-Etienne at The La Beaujoire Stadium in Nantes.  LOIC VENANCE / AFP

 

Watford manager Claudio Ranieri was sacked on Monday after only 14 games in charge of the Premier League strugglers.

Ranieri was hired in October to replace Xisco Munoz after the Spaniard’s dismissal.

But the 70-year-old Italian was unable to improve Watford’s fortunes, with the Hornets taking just seven points during his brief reign.

Just 112 days after his appointment, Ranieri paid the price for Watford’s slump into the relegation zone following last week’s 3-0 defeat against relegation rivals Norwich.

READ ALSO: Liverpool Close On Man City As Arsenal Draw Blank

“Watford Football Club confirms the departure of Head Coach Claudio Ranieri,” a club statement said.

Watford are second bottom of the table, two points from safety, after losing seven of their last eight league games.

They are without a victory in nine games in all competitions, their longest winless run since 2013.

Watford’s owners, the Pozzo family, felt they had to act now to give the team a chance as they battle to avoid relegation after last season’s promotion from the Championship.

“The Hornets’ Board recognises Claudio as a man of great integrity and honour, who will always be respected here at Vicarage Road for his efforts in leading the team with dignity,” the statement said.

“However the Board feels that, with nearly half of the Premier League campaign remaining, a change in the Head Coach position now will give a new appointment sufficient time to work with a talented squad to achieve the immediate goal of retaining Premier League status.

“No further club comment will be made until this new appointment is confirmed in due course.”

Ranieri famously won a fairytale Premier League title with Leicester in 2016, but his spells in the English top-tier have been far less successful since then.

At Fulham, he was axed after just 106 days in charge in 2019, with the club eventually relegated from the Premier League after his dismissal.

Ranieri’s Watford reign started ominously after Liverpool thrashed them 5-0 in his first game.

Amid talk of player unrest at his methods, Watford’s 4-1 win against Manchester United in November was Ranieri’s second and final victory with the club.

The former Chelsea boss departed Vicarage Road having lost 11 of his 14 matches.

Since Javi Gracia’s exit in 2019, Watford have now sacked further five managers.

The Hornets are looking for their 15th manager since the Pozzo family bought the club in 2012.

Watford will hope to have a new manager in place in time for their crucial showdown at fellow strugglers Burnley on February 5.

They have been linked with Diego Martinez, a Spaniard who left his job as Granada boss last May.

AFP

Watford Release Sarr For AFCON After Row

File photo: Watford’s Senegalese star Ismaila Sarr (C) celebrates after he scores the team’s first goal against Liverpool. JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP

 

Winger Ismaila Sarr joined up with the Senegal squad for the Africa Cup of Nations on Tuesday following a row about his selection with his English Premier League club Watford.

The Senegalese football federation (FSF) said 23-year-old Sarr “had taken an Air France flight from London at 11.30 am and will arrive in Dakar in the evening”.

Sarr’s participation in the tournament that kicks off in Cameroon on Sunday had been in doubt after the FSF claimed Watford were blocking his release.

The FSF claimed last week Watford had displayed “disrespectful, pernicious and discriminatory behaviour”.

Watford believe Sarr, who has not featured in a Premier League match since November and was not even named among the substitutes in their last two games, is not fit enough to feature at the AFCON.

Senegal’s other Premier League stars, Sadio Mane of Liverpool and Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, joined up with the squad at their training base outside the capital Dakar on Monday.

Senegal, runners-up in 2019, are one of the favourites for the African title.

AFP

Watford Deny Stopping Sarr From Playing At AFCON

File photo: Watford’s Senegalese star Ismaila Sarr (C) celebrates after he scores the team’s first goal against Liverpool. JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP

 

Watford refuted accusations from the Senegalese football federation (FSF) on Sunday of preventing forward Ismaila Sarr from playing in the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations.

The FSF claimed Watford had displayed “disrespectful, pernicious and discriminatory behaviour”.

However, Watford believe Sarr, who is currently sidelined with a knee injury and has not featured for the Premier League club since November, is not yet fit enough to feature at the tournament in Cameroon later this month.

The Hornets handling of Sarr’s fellow forward Emmanuel Dennis has also been controversial, with Nigeria saying the English club were “baring fangs” when refusing to release him for international duty.

READ ALSO: Premier League Stars Set For ‘Exceptional’ Africa Cup Of Nations

The tournament gets underway on January 9 and runs until February 6, clashing with the European club season.

“The Senegalese Football Federation wishes to express by this press release its deep condemnation of the disrespectful, pernicious and discriminatory behaviour of the leaders of Watford who seek by all means to prevent a player from playing with his national team,” an FSF statement said.

Watford responded with their own statement, inviting the FSF to have Sarr checked by their “own independent surgeon to confirm the diagnosis and rehabilitation period.”

“In early December, the Club wrote to the Senegal Football Federation outlining the clinical diagnosis of Ismaila’s injury and immediately followed that up by supplying the MRI scans detailing the extent of the injury,” Watford’s statement said.

“After further consultation with medical experts, we informed the Federation of Ismaila’s rehabilitation process and likely timeframe of recovery.”

Sarr has impressed for struggling Watford this term, scoring five goals in 12 Premier League appearances.

His presence has been badly missed as Claudio Ranieri’s men have lost all six games since he was injured.

Having to free African stars is a sore point with some managers.

Napoli boss Luciano Spalletti labelled the Cup of Nations an “invisible monster”.

However, former England and Arsenal striker Ian Wright labelled complaints over the tournament as “tinged with racism.”

“Is there ever a tournament more disrespected than the Africa Cup of Nations?” Wright said in a video posted on Instagram this week.

“Loads of the best players in Europe right now are African and if we love them at club level, why can’t we love them at international level like their counterparts from across the globe? Why can’t we?”

Senegal, runners-up in 2019, are one of the favourites for the African title.

AFP

‘The Email Arrived Late’: Ranieri Doubtful Of Dennis’s AFCON Participation

Emmanuel Dennis has been in fine form for Watford this season. Photo: Facebook/Emmanuel Dennis.

 

Super Eagles forward Emmanuel Dennis’s participation at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) is in doubt following comments by his coach Claudio Ranieri. 

The Watford hitman, who was named by manager Austine Eguaveon in Nigeria’s 28-man squad for the Cameroon party,  had taken to social media to celebrate the feat which he described as a “proud” moment.

But Ranieri recently claimed that Dennis’s invitation letter for the competition did not arrive on time, raising fears that the striker may miss the tournament.

“I’m not so sure I’ll miss Dennis now, and if he goes to the national team, we have to wait,” the coach told The Athletic.

“The email didn’t arrive at the right moment. The national team has a time to send a pre-call. They didn’t respect the days, and I want to see.

“The email arrived late. They have a time when they need to send a pre-call; if they don’t send it, we can choose.”


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AFCON 2021: Eguavoen Names Musa, Osimhen, 26 Others For Super Eagles Squad


File photo: Nigeria’s players line up before the 2022 Qatar World Cup African qualifiers group 3 football match between Nigeria and Central Africa Republic at the Teslim Balogun Stadium, in Surulere in Lagos State, on October 7, 2021. PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP

 

Ranieri’s comments, however, appear like a contravention of FIFA’s rules mandating clubs “to release their registered players to the representative teams of the country for which the player is eligible to play on the basis of his nationality if they are called up by the association concerned. Any agreement between a player and a club to the contrary is prohibited”.

His remark will also be a source of worry for the Nigerian team seeking a fourth continental title.

Earlier, the NFF had noted that the Eagles’ camp will open in Abuja on Wednesday, December 29th with the UK-based players billed to arrive in the country on Monday, January 3.

The three-time African champions are in Group D of the competition alongside record winners, Egypt, Sudan, and Guinea Bissau. Eguavoen’s first test will be against The Pharoah’s on January 11th.

Watford Hammer Man Utd To Leave Solskjaer On The Brink

CLOCKWISE BOTTOM LEFT: A photo combination showing a distraught Cristiano Ronaldo, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and Watford's Brazilian striker Joao Pedro (C) scoring his team's third goal during the English Premier League football match between Watford and Manchester United at Vicarage Road Stadium in Watford, southeast England, on November 20, 2021. Ian KINGTON / AFP
CLOCKWISE BOTTOM LEFT: A photo combination showing a distraught Cristiano Ronaldo, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and Watford’s Brazilian striker Joao Pedro (C) scoring his team’s third goal during the English Premier League football match between Watford and Manchester United at Vicarage Road Stadium in Watford, southeast England, on November 20, 2021. Ian KINGTON / AFP

 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s job was hanging by a thread after 10-man Manchester United slumped to a 4-1 defeat against Watford on Saturday.

United’s fifth defeat in seven Premier League matches ramps up the pressure on the Norwegian manager to extreme levels as club bosses decide whether to pull the plug on his reign.

They were out-fought and out-thought by Claudio Ranieri’s feisty Watford side, who came into the match after losing four out of their past five Premier League matches.

READ ALSO: Chelsea Cruise As Kante Rocket Inspires Leicester Rout

Watford dominated the first half and thoroughly deserved their two-goal lead at half-time, courtesy of goals from Joshua King and Ismaila Sarr.

The visitors pulled a goal back early in the second half through substitute Donny van de Beek but could not find an equaliser and captain Harry Maguire was sent off with just over 20 minutes to go.

Substitute Joao Pedro finished off United’s hopes with a late third and Emmanuel Dennis rubbed salt into Solskjaer’s wounds, making it 4-1.

Vicarage Road was gripped by early drama when referee Jonathan Moss pointed to the penalty spot in the sixth minute after United midfielder Scott McTominay bundled King over in the box.

Sarr’s weak penalty was saved by the Spaniard but Kiko Femenia fired home from the right side of the box only to see his goal ruled out by VAR for encroachment into the box.

Sarr retook the kick but De Gea again saved to keep the score goalless.

Watford looked the more dangerous side as the half wore on, with United struggling to establish any semblance of control despite playing two holding midfielders in McTominay and Nemanja Matic.

King opener

They took the lead they deserved when King side-footed home a cross from the impressive Dennis.

King should have doubled the lead with a free header from the centre of the goal but De Gea made a straightforward save.

Watford got the second goal they so richly deserved just before the half-time break when Sarr made up for his earlier penalty miss to slot past De Gea from the edge of the box.

Solskjaer waked down the tunnel at the break assailed by chants of “You’re getting sacked in the morning” as he desperately plotted a way back into the match.

He threw on Van de Beek and Anthony Martial for Marcus Rashford and McTominay and United suddenly found some rhythm.

They were level in the 50th minute when Van de Beek headed home from close range after a headed pass from Cristiano Ronaldo.

Suddenly United were playing with more freedom and fluency. Bruno Fernandes fired wide before Watford goalkeeper Ben Foster produced a superb save to deny Ronaldo when he was through on goal.

But they could not find another goal and Magiure was sent off in the 69th minute for a challenge on Tom Cleverley.

Pedro scored from a tight angle to beat De Gea to make it 3-1 and Dennis struck home from the right side of the box to send the Watford fans into ecstasy.

The Red Devils are now 12 points behind leaders Chelsea and risk losing touch with the top four.

Solskjaer was without 20-year-old Mason Greenwood, who has tested positive for coronavirus. He will now have to undergo a period of isolation during a crucial period for United.

United face a crunch Champions League trip to Villarreal on Tuesday before travelling to Premier League leaders Chelsea next weekend.

But there are now serious doubts over whether Solskjaer will remain in charge.

 

AFP

Former Chelsea Boss Ranieri Appointed As Watford Manager

Claudio Ranieri, Leicester City
A file photo of Claudio Ranieri.

 

Claudio Ranieri is back in the Premier League after being hired as Watford’s new manager on Monday. 

Former Chelsea boss Ranieri, who led Leicester to the Premier League title in 2016, agreed a two-year contract with the Hornets to replace the sacked Xisco Munoz.

“Watford FC is delighted to confirm the appointment of Claudio Ranieri as the club’s new head coach, on a two-year contract,” a statement on the club’s website announced.

“The Italian arrives at Vicarage Road boasting a wealth of experience in charge of some of Europe’s biggest clubs, with Premier League, Coppa Italia and Copa del Rey titles among his managerial highlights.”

READ ALSO: Beijing Winter Olympics Organisers Admit ‘Great Pressure’ Over COVID-19

Ranieri takes over with Watford in 15th place in the Premier League after earning seven points from their opening seven matches.

The 69-year-old Italian left Sampdoria at the end of last season and had been looking to return to the game since then.

Xisco had led Watford to promotion from the Championship last season, but he was axed on Sunday after only 10 months in charge.

Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at Leeds prompted Watford’s owners, the Pozzo family, to act, with the club claiming a “negative trend” in performances had convinced them to move on from Xisco.

Ranieri is Watford’s 13th permanent manager since the Pozzo family took control of the club in 2012.

He boasts a wealth of experience, with clubs such as Napoli, Fiorentina, Valencia, Juventus, Roma, Inter Milan and Atletico Madrid also on his CV.

Ranieri established Chelsea as a Champions League club during his spell from 2000 to 2004, but he was axed by Roman Abramovich to make way for Jose Mourinho.

His greatest triumph came when he masterminded Leicester’s stunning title success five years ago.

The Foxes were 5,000-1 outsiders and had battled relegation the season before Ranieri arrived in a move that was widely panned by pundits.

Despite Leicester’s incredible success, he was sacked just nine months after the title glory following a poor run that left the club just outside the relegation zone.

Ranieri last worked in the Premier League during a brief stint at Fulham in 2018-19.

He lasted just 106 days at Fulham after being unable to steer them away from relegation trouble.

Watford’s first match with Ranieri in charge will be against Liverpool at Vicarage Road on October 16.

Ranieri will be joined at Watford by Assistant Coaches Paolo Benetti and Carlo Cornacchia, as well as Fitness Coach Carlo Spignoli.

smg/lp

© Agence France-Presse

Watford Join Norwich Back In The English Premier League

Watford’s English striker Troy Deeney (L) celebrates with Watford’s French midfielder Abdoulaye Doucoure scoring his team’s third goal on February 29, 2020. Justin TALLIS / AFP

 

Watford bounced back to the Premier League at the first time of asking after Saturday’s 1-0 win over Millwall sealed promotion.

Brentford’s win at Bournemouth earlier in the day meant that only three points would be good enough for Xisco Munoz’s men to be promoted alongside Norwich, who came down with them last season.

Ismaila Sarr’s early penalty gave Watford the perfect start, but they had to withstand a nervy finale to guarantee their place back in the prestige and riches of the English top-flight.

READ ALSO: Liverpool Not Playing Like Champions League Team – Klopp

Prior to Munoz’s appointment on December 20, automatic promotion looked unlikely after dip in form under Vladimir Ivic.

However, 17 wins in just 24 games under the Spaniard helped amass a 10-point lead over Brentford, who have just three games left to play.

The Bees are now at least guaranteed a playoff spot with Bournemouth, Barnsley and Swansea almost certain to join them in the battle for the final promotion place.

Barnsley moved nine points clear of seventh-placed Reading with a hard-fought 1-0 win over struggling Rotherham thanks to Carlton Morris’s early goal.

A week after securing their promotion, Norwich closed in on the Championship title with a 3-1 win at Queens Park Rangers to maintain their five-point lead over Watford with two games to go.

Xavi Quintilla, Max Aarons and Emiliano Buendia were on target for Daniel Farke’s men at Loftus Road.

At the other end of the table, all of the bottom three lost to give Wayne Rooney’s Derby a reprieve despite the Rams losing 2-1 at home to Birmingham.

Rotherham and Sheffield Wednesday, who lost 3-1 at Middlesbrough, are still four points behind Derby, although Rotherham have two games in hand to try and overturn that gap.

Bottom-of-the table Wycombe were realistically relegated by a 2-1 defeat at Cardiff.

The Wanderers are six points adrift of Derby but have also have a 13-goal gap to bridge on goal difference.

AFP