Championship play-off final: Brentford and Fulham set for richest game
By Rob Stevens
BBC Sport

Brentford play Fulham on Tuesday for the chance to return to the English top flight for the first time in 73 years – and earn about £160m in the process.

The west London rivals, separated by just four miles, meet in the Championship play-off final at Wembley.

Fulham could seal an immediate return to the Premier League.

Victory in the match, often dubbed the richest game in football, would be worth £135m to Fulham and about £160m to Brentford over the next three years.

Brentford finished third in the table, one place above Fulham on goal difference, and won both league meetings during the regular campaign.

If they fail to win, the Bees will have taken part in more unsuccessful play-off campaigns in the English Football League than any other club, with this their ninth attempt.

Free-flowing Bees eye historic promotion
Brentford recorded eight straight victories either side of the coronavirus lockdown to give themselves a chance of automatic promotion, but narrowly missed out on a place in the top two following defeats in their final two matches of the season.

Head coach Thomas Frank, who was appointed in October 2018, has moulded an attacking side which finished as the top scorers in the Championship this season.

Including their play-off semi-final win over Swansea, their forward line of Said Benrahma, Bryan Mbeumo and Ollie Watkins have scored 59 goals between them – but the Bees also have the second-best defensive record in the division.

“We have big ambitions and big dreams,” Frank said. “We believe in ourselves but need to go to Wembley confident but humble.”

The Bees have enjoyed their best campaign since suffering relegation from the top flight in 1946-47 and will move into a new 17,500-capacity stadium before next season.

Opponents Fulham spent 13 consecutive seasons in the top flight before dropping back into the Championship in 2014, and Slavisa Jokanovic led the Craven Cottage outfit to promotion via the play-off final two years ago.

“They are a bigger club than us,” Frank said. “This is not a mind-game, this is a fact.

“They got relegated from the Premier League last year and have the parachute money.

“They have experience from the final two years ago and they have more experience in their squad to play a game like this than us.

“Yes, we beat them twice [this season] and that can maybe give us a bit of confidence. But the final is another story.”

Parker revives Fulham fortunes

When Scott Parker took over Fulham in February 2019, initially on a caretaker basis after the sacking of Claudio Ranieri, the Whites were heading for relegation from the Premier League.

He lost his first five games in charge, and the club had suffered 27 defeats and conceded 81 goals by the end of the top-flight campaign.

“I realised that this season was going to be a massive challenge for us,” Parker said.

“When teams get relegated there are big wounds, and we were in a low spell.

“The biggest challenge was obviously trying to implement a philosophy and install a real identity on the pitch.

“It’s been a rocky road this season because you can’t just have a magic wand to go from a weak mentality to fighting to win the division you are in.

“I see a massive improvement from where we were, and a team that is progressing and resilient.”

Whites have Wembley experience, Bees only play-off woes
Fulham have their 1-0 victory over Aston Villa at Wembley in 2018 to draw on, with captain Tom Cairney and 26-goal striker Aleksandar Mitrovic among nine members of the matchday squad that day who remain at Craven Cottage.

“We have got lads who have experienced it, been there with the pressure and got the job done,” Fulham midfielder Harrison Reed said.

“We can certainly use that to our advantage.”

However, Brentford captain Pontus Jansson thinks the fact the national stadium will be largely empty because of social distancing measures will level the playing field.

“If it was a full Wembley, it would be a little bit of an advantage for them,” the Swedish centre-back said.

“I can’t see any advantage for them, even if they have been there before. It will be a normal corona game.”

Brentford have never won promotion in their eight previous play-off campaigns, losing three finals.

Two of those defeats came at Wembley, with the most recent being the League One play-off final in 2012-13 – but there are no survivors from that team left in the Bees squad.

“I don’t know any results in the past that Brentford have had in the play-offs,” Jansson said.

“We have a lot of new players and none of those played in the play-offs with Brentford before.

“We just focus on this one. This is a game which lives its own life.”

Team news
Fulham striker Mitrovic won the Championship’s golden boot this season, but the Serbia international missed both legs of the semi-final win over Cardiff City through injury.

However, Parker says he has a fully fit squad for the final.

Whether Mitrovic and forward Neeskens Kebano, who was withdrawn in the second leg against the Bluebirds with a hamstring issue, are fit enough to start remains to be seen.

Bees boss Frank has chosen a largely settled side during the run-in, with his biggest decision seeming to be a choice between Emiliano Marcondes and Josh Dasilva over who will start in midfield.

The Parrott has flown the Coop

Parrott: “I want to be a part of something at Millwall”

Troy Parrott is ready to “work hard and give everything for the fans” after signing a season-long loan deal with Millwall.

The 18-year-old striker will spend the 2020/21 campaign in SE16 after making the temporary move from Tottenham Hotspur, and has bolstered The Lions’ attacking options ahead of the new season.

After the signature of Ryan Woods, Parrott becomes Gary Rowett’s second summer signing – and the Irishman credited the club’s fanbase as one of the reasons behind his decision to make the transfer from North to South London.

“I’m buzzing to get straight into things, I’m really looking forward to it,” Parrott told millwallfc.co.uk. “The crowd, the club itself – I’ve heard a lot of good things. When I’ve watched games, the littlest of things gets them going, and I want to be a part of something like that.

“It’s not hard to see from the outside that all [the fans] are looking for is someone to give 100% every game. When I was growing up playing football, that was the player I always was, so I feel as though I can fit it very well. I’m really excited to get going, work hard and give everything for the fans.”

Parrott hopes to follow in the footsteps of successful former Lions loanee Harry Kane, who spent time at The Den in 2011/12.

“I’m really grateful to Spurs for letting me go out on loan and get some regular football. Hopefully I can improve a lot whilst at Millwall.”

Rowett on “important” Parrott capture

Gary Rowett has expressed his pleasure at getting a season-long loan deal for Troy Parrott over the line – and is looking forward to the striker showing “a little bit of everything” on the pitch during the 2020/21 campaign.

The exciting prospect arrives at The Den with Premier League and international experience and adds to the manager’s striking options ahead of the new season.

Speaking to millwallfc.co.uk, the boss explained how securing the signature of the youngster was an important one “for a number of reasons.”

“I’m really happy to get the deal over the line,” he said. “It took a lot of work, and Alex [Aldridge] and Steve [Kavanagh] have worked really hard to get it done.

“There were a lot of clubs in The Championship, and beyond, who wanted Troy – that’s how highly he is regarded. We’re pleased that Tottenham, and Troy himself, chose us as the preferred option. I think that shows what we think we’ve got to offer, a) as a club, b) with fans, when they’re back, and c) the way the team is developing.

“For a number of reasons, it’s a really important signing for us and I’m pleased to get it over the line.”

When describing what the frontman will bring to The Lions’ squad, Rowett explaned Parrott’s attributes, but also added caution to the age of the loanee and subsequent dips in form.

“He’s got lots of ability, that extra bit of quality we’re looking for – especially in his finishing – and he is mobile, hungry, aggressive and athletic. I think he’s got a little bit of everything. But, he’s a young player, and like any, you might not see that straight away.

“We’ll have to work with him throughout the season. He can play anywhere in the front three areas, which is important to us to add goals, flexibility and options in those types of positions. We’ll have to be patient with him, though – he’ll have some really strong parts but also some dips. We’ll do our work and see him through it. Hopefully he can have a real impact.”

Good luck to Troy Parrott, I hope he has a fantastic season in Bandit Country!

Inside Spurs with Alasdair Gold – Talking Tanguy

Good evening everyone,

Today we’re going to talk about Tanguy Ndombele and settling in at Tottenham Hotspur.

A week rarely goes by without the Frenchman being linked to a new club. This week, it’s Inter Milan with claims that Spurs are in talks with the Serie A outfit over the young midfielder’s departure.

Those inside Tottenham are bewildered by all the speculation, claiming that not only are talks not on the agenda but the club is well aware that the player needs time to adapt to a new country, moving away from his family and an understanding that he’s been beset by injury issues.

There’s a real belief inside the club that Ndombele can become a superstar and that initial teething problems were always anticipated, which is why he was handed a six-year deal with the intention of him being a long-term signing for the club.

It’s easy to forget that the young Frenchman is only 23, having arrived a year ago to a fast and physical league that is very different to Ligue 1. 

He has also had to pick up the language. I was in a group of three journalists who conducted the first interview with Ndombele last July, during the first few days of the pre-season tour in Singapore.

With the new club record signing still uncomfortable with his use of the English language, we roped in Moussa Sissoko to help with the translation.

It worked well – the two enjoy a brotherly relationship which kept things light – and I managed to get the only two words of English Ndombele has uttered all season to the British media.

“Very hard”, he said with a laugh when I asked how he was finding Mauricio Pochettino’s infamous pre-season training sessions.

While he was perfectly amiable with us on a baking hot afternoon in Singapore, Ndombele does not appear to be a fan of interviews or the media.

Unless I’ve missed one, he has not spoken to the English press since that day a year ago and only stopped once or twice for French journalists in the mixed zone in the stadium during Pochettino’s era.

Even interviews with the club’s in-house media channels are rare, one he did midway through the season came again with Sissoko by his side.

That quiet persona, away from the limelight, perhaps adds to the enigma that is Ndombele.

Those within the club believe that, unlike the midfielder, the people around him are quick to go to the media in France whenever the opportunity arises, often when he’s left out of a starting line-up, which results in all of the speculation surrounding his future.

At the end of the day though it comes down to a young player settling in and adapting to a new country.

There’s a belief – we’re all guilty of it – that the bigger the fee, the more likely a new signing should hit the ground running.

Maybe it’s governed by us all playing games like FIFA or Football Manager or perhaps it’s just a by-product of the excitement a club record signing brings.

However, in the real world it just doesn’t work like that and a large number of new signings need varying lengths of times to settle and show their best.

Spurs know that very well. Son Heung-min asked to leave the club at the end of his first season to return to Germany after struggling to get in the team regularly and adapting to the country. It was only a chat with Pochettino that changed his mind.

At Tottenham, the likes of Luka Modric, Hugo Lloris. Erik Lamela, Davinson Sanchez and Sissoko have all been high profile signings given time to adapt, the latter coming with Premier League experience.

That’s because there’s also an adaptation period for new signings who aren’t coming from foreign climes.

Players from abroad have the culture adaptation on top of it, and often have to do it without their family.

Even a Welshman in Gareth Bale took a while to settle at Spurs, holding a record in his first year or so of having never played in a winning team before eventually becoming one of the world’s best.

Ultimately it’s down to that word ‘patience’, one that can be hard to find in football.
It’s not only the fans and the clubs that lose sight of it, but often also the players.

They’re young and they think things won’t change, they won’t get better and they’ll never feel at home but as Son found out, it happens as long as you commit to it.

Pochettino knew it about Ndombele just two months into the season, even if it was something the fans did not want to hear.

“We cannot assess him enough to say he is doing well or not so well,” said the Argentine.

“For me it’s fantastic the things he adds to the team, I am so happy with him like I am so happy with different players.

“Still for me, when you sign a player, despite the amount you pay, with the profile of Tanguy Ndombele or Giovani Lo Celso or Ryan Sessegnon you need minimum one year and a half, or two years.

“Look at what happened with Son or Sissoko, they started to perform in year two, year three. That is why when you are so young, today the market is the market, you cannot judge the player because you paid some kind of amount.

“He played two years in Lyon and moved to England where everything is new, but the quality is there. They need time to show their real quality.”

Tottenham believe they have a potential world class talent in Tanguy Ndombele and that he will come good. Hopefully the young Frenchman realises it as well.

Catch you next week,

Alasdair

Palace v Spurs, Match report

By Steve Sutcliffe

BBC Sport

Jose Mourinho says he intends to get Tottenham back “where we belong” after they qualified for the Europa League with a hard-fought draw at Crystal Palace.

The result saw Spurs leapfrog into sixth place above Wolves, who lost at Chelsea.

“When all the players are available, we showed in this last period where we belong,” Mourinho said.

“I don’t know, maybe in this period, after lockdown, we finished third or fourth in the table. So that’s where we belong.

“I want to have my team, my players, not a medical room full of players. I want a pitch full of players.

“Of course as a squad, the main thing is to keep our very good players and after that improve the squad.

“Are we going to buy 10 players? No. Are we going to buy players for £100m? No. We are going to improve.”

Harry Kane opened the scoring for Spurs, dispatching a low finish into the bottom left corner after collecting Giovani lo Celso’s pass.

However, Jeffrey Schlupp levelled for Palace with a close-range finish after some poor Tottenham marking at a corner.

It was no more than Roy Hodgson’s side deserved, as they ended a run of seven straight defeats.

They matched their London rivals for endeavour and could have snatched all three points, with Scott Dann heading a late effort wide.

Mission accomplished for Spurs

It appeared to be a case of mission accomplished for Mourinho and his staff at the final whistle as they celebrated the prospect of playing in Europe next term.

The result means that Spurs are guaranteed to earn a minimum of around £10m for their involvement in European competition next season.

However, few Tottenham supporters could have imagined such a difficult campaign – or that the Portuguese boss would take charge less than six months on from their appearance in last season’s Champions League final.

When Mourinho succeeded Mauricio Pochettino as manager, the club were languishing in 14th in the table.

“Of course everybody that one day plays Champions League doesn’t want to go back and play Europa League – but it was the only thing possible after such a difficult season for the club,” Mourinho added.

“Arriving 14th and handling things is not bad at all. I am quite happy that next season we play in the Europa League and it’s just a question to motivate ourselves for that competition and try to motivate the fans to support us and do something beautiful.”

While Mourinho has overseen an upturn in results and the number of goals they have scored, he is yet to remedy their problems in defence.

Eric Dier put in an accomplished performance alongside Toby Alderweireld on his return from suspension, but Palace’s equaliser is likely to have infuriated the Spurs boss.

His defenders stood like statues as Dann headed a deep corner back across goal, with Schlupp converting after Ayew had diverted the ball into his path.

Until then, Tottenham had looked capable of extending their lead via the pace and power of Son Heung-min and Lucas Moura, on the break.

Man of the match – Lucas Moura (Tottenham)

Capital joy for Kane – the stats

  • Crystal Palace are unbeaten in their past five final-day Premier League games played at home (W4 D1).
  • Tottenham Hotspur registered just eight clean sheets in their 38 Premier League games in 2019-20, their lowest tally of shutouts in the competition since 2010-11 (also eight).
  • Crystal Palace have become just the eighth team to go through an entire Premier League season without scoring more than twice in a match and are the first side to do so without being relegated.
  • Tottenham have finished the Premier League campaign in the top six for the 11th consecutive season, after managing to do so just twice in their previous 17 seasons in the competition.
  • Only Andy Cole (nine), Les Ferdinand (nine) and Matt Le Tissier (eight) have scored more Premier League goals on the final day than Tottenham striker Harry Kane (seven in six final-day games).
  • Giovani lo Celso’s two Premier League assists for Tottenham have come in his past three appearances in the competition (28 games in total).
  • Tottenham striker Harry Kane netted his 31st goal in Premier League London derbies, with only three players managing more (Thierry Henry got 43, Teddy Sheringham and Frank Lampard each got 32).

The Longish Bloeug Goodbye to This Longest of Seasons

Although I’m the first to admit that parts of this season have felt about as interesting as watching Blur fall asleep, there’s an element of frustration that we face our final game just as Mourinho seems to have found a way to make the most of the talent at our disposal. Continue reading “The Longish Bloeug Goodbye to This Longest of Seasons”