Alabama proves its No. 1 status in Iron Bowl romp — even without Nick Saban

No. 1 Alabama won in dominant fashion Saturday, a fairly common occurrence for this 2020 season. The Tide beat Gus Malzahn and No. 22 Auburn — another, albeit less common occurrence — avenging their close loss from 2019.

What wasn’t common was the fact Alabama did it without the most impactful person in college football. Nick Saban was forced to watch from home, in isolation with a COVID-19 diagnosis, as offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian led the team in his stead.

And still Alabama won 42-13.

“I think the coaching staff did a marvelous job today,” Saban told reporters from his home after the game. “They played the situation, we had a good plan. They stayed with the plan, they executed the plan. Sark did a nice job of managing things.

“I sat here and felt a little helpless, but I could see things and yell at things, listen to Mrs. Terry cheer downstairs, it is a little different. It still feels good to win.”

If Saban’s absence was the story of the Iron Bowl before Saturday, then quarterback Mac Jones was the story during — and after. It was his fifth game with at least four touchdown passes this year, which he began with a first-quarter 66-yard scoring pass to receiver DeVonta Smith. He made two Auburn defenders bite on a pump fake before connecting with Smith for the opening touchdown.

Jones proved he could manage the game as well as any quarterback in the country by completing 18 of 26 passes for 302 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions. He threw those scoring passes to three different receivers. Jones is just the second quarterback, following Tua Tagovailoa, to throw for five touchdowns in an Iron Bowl.

Not bad for someone who threw two pick-sixes in this game last year.

Meanwhile, Smith continued his run of dominance without Jaylen Waddle in the receiving corps, nabbing seven receptions for 171 yards and two touchdowns. He wasn’t the only receiver with a big game: John Metchie III (six receptions, 55 yards, two touchdowns) and tight end Jahleel Billingsley (two receptions, 33 yards, one score) also made their mark.

Najee Harris was impressive as well, rushing 11 times for 96 yards — an absurd 8.7 yard-per-carry average — for another score. He added two receptions for 34 yards to total 130 yards from scrimmage. That was possible, of course, thanks to one of the best offensive lines in the country.

But perhaps that’s to be expected, especially with Sarkisian taking full control of the offensive play-calling on Saturday.

What was less of a certainty was how well Alabama’s defense could play. Pete Golding’s unit provided an emphatic answer, playing with an urgency not often seen this year. Auburn’s six possessions in the first half resulted in four punts, an interception and a field goal. The play wasn’t perfect — Seth Williams dropped a sure touchdown pass late in the second quarter — but it was more than enough for the win.

The defense harried Auburn quarterback Bo Nix all night, sacking him three times and intercepting him twice. The sophomore completed 23 of 38 passes for 227 yards, adding a garbage-time touchdown late in the fourth quarter to end the Tide’s streak of no touchdowns allowed at 13 quarters.

In all, Alabama allowed just 347 yards and 9 of 19 third-down conversions. Tide fans should be the most excited about that as the season enters the home stretch.

The front seven is deep and talented. Players such as Phidarian Mathis, Tim Williams, Chris Allen, Will Anderson and more flew to the ball and gashed the Auburn offensive line througout the night. The secondary has steadily improved as well, starting with freshmen Malachi Moore and Brian Branch, who both nabbed a pick Saturday. Patrick Surtain II and Josh Jobe remain stalwarts.

To put it more succinctly: This isn’t the same unit that gave up 48 against Ole Miss earlier this year.

“I think that our entire defense has kind of improved and jelled together as a unit,” Saban told reporters after the game. “All 11 guys are playing better. I think we play a little better in the back end. I think we got a little better pass rush. I think we are using more players now, which I think enhances everybody’s opportunities to have a role and be able to go out there and contribute.”

So where does that leave Alabama (8-0, 8-0 SEC) after a cathartic Iron Bowl victory? As the clear No. 1 team in the nation. But that does raise another question: Who can challenge the Tide, who seem to be improving every week? The offense continues to hum along at lethal efficiency; the defense has improved vastly over the course of the season; the planning and coaching proved impeccable even without Saban prowling the sideline.

In short, there are no glaring deficiencies on this team, which aims to win its first title since 2017.

LSU, Arkansas and Florida presumably are next in line to take on the Tide. Neither LSU nor Arkansas looks like it can truly contend with them; Florida has the offense to get into a shootout but hasn’t been quite as dominant as Alabama in its last two outings (a 38-17 win over Vanderbilt and a 34-10 win over Kentucky, respectively).

Perhaps that challenge comes in the Playoff, where Alabama looks to end the season after missing out in 2019 for the first time since its 2014 inception. Notre Dame, Clemson and Ohio State appear to be the top candidates to challenge the Tide there.

Until then, Alabama is the clear top team in the country.

That much was obvious on Saturday, with or without Saban.

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Man Utd ‘deepen interest’ in long-term transfer target Ousmane Dembele

Manchester United have reportedly 'deepened' their interest in Barcelona winger Dembele with a view to a move in the January transfer window.

The Red Devils were keen on Dembele in the summer as the likelihood of signing priority target Jadon Sancho got less and less.

In the end, United landed unproven pair Facundo Pellistri and Amad Diallo on deadline day.

Neither have made a senior appearance though, with Diallo due to join the club in January from Atalanta, meaning there is still a gap on the right wing.

And Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could plug that with France international Dembele, according to Mundo Deportivo.

The 23-year-old is believed to be unsettled at the Nou Camp, leading United to “deepen their interest” in the player.

The Red Devils would prefer a loan deal, but Barca are keen to get him off their wage bill due to their financial situation.

The Catalan giants are believed to be looking to raise cash after recently agreeing huge wage cuts with players which save the club €122m.

A statement read: "The representatives of the club and the players that make up the negotiation table for FC Barcelona salary adjustments, aware of the great interest and concern with which all of Barcelona follow the work of this commission, make this joint statement public to inform of the following:

"Today, the parties have reached an agreement in principle that allows an adjustment to salaries for the current season, for an amount of 122 million euros fixed remuneration, to which is added the deferral for 3 years of variable remuneration from this season, budgeted at an approximate figure of 50 million euros.

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"This principle of agreement is pending ratification in the coming days by the group of players and coaches affected.

"The agreement, if it is ratified, will be a milestone of great importance to redirect the current economic situation.

"That both parties recognise the great effort that has had to be made to reach this principle of agreement and congratulate themselves for it."

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer plans move to sign ex-Man Utd star on free transfer

Manchester United are targeting a move for Jonny Evans on a free transfer from Leicester City, according to reports.

Louis van Gaal allowed Evans, who had initially made his debut under Sir Alex Ferguson in 2007, to leave United for West Brom in a £6 million deal in 2015.

The 32-year-old has impressed since his departure from United and has been one of Brendan Rodgers’ key men at Leicester City.

But Evans’ current contract is due to expires at the end of the season and the centre-back has not yet reached a new agreement with the Foxes.

According to The Sun, United’s team who are involved in transfers have shortlisted Evans as a potential signing and are keeping tabs on the Northern Ireland international’s situation.

The report claims that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is keen to bolster his defensive options but has just £20m to spend in the upcoming January transfer window.

It’s also claimed that both Solskjaer and his assistant Mike Phelan are big admirers of Evans’ ability.

‘Johnny’s name has come up in conversation,’ a source at United told The Sun.

‘There are still a lot of people here who have plenty of time for him – and that includes Ole and Mike Phelan.’

Earlier this year, Rodgers described Leicester’s move for Evans as the ‘deal of the century’.

‘I think for me, where I was at an advantage, I’ve known Jonny as a young player, obviously from back home, and saw him move across to Manchester United with his family,’ Rodgers told the Belfast Telegraph.

‘But I have to say, Leicester City got the deal of the century for £3.5m to bring in a player of that level.

‘And when I came in I had an understanding that he was a good player.

‘I saw one of his first games for Manchester United down at Chelsea at Stamford Bridge when he was up against Didier Drogba and he was absolutely immense that day, I think he was around about 19, and I thought, ‘God, he can be a player’.’

And speaking in September, Rodgers was adamant that he is keen for Evans to extend his stay with Leicester.

‘He is clearly a player I would love to keep here,’ said the Leicester City manager.

‘He has been absolutely brilliant, not just in the games but in training with setting the standards and the mentality.

‘I believe the discussion will go on between Jonny’s agent and the club, and hopefully we can find a solution to keeping him here.’

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Jake Paul vs. Nate Robinson live fight updates, results, highlights from 2020 celebrity boxing match

YouTube star Jake Paul and former NBA player Nate Robinson are engaging in a boxing match as an undercard to Mike Tyson’s return fight vs. Roy Jones Jr.

Paul, who is 1-0 as a professional boxer, has been trying to make a name for himself in the boxing world. Before becoming a professional boxer, he fought as an amatuer on his brother Logan’s first fight against KSI. In that fight, Paul took on KSI’s brother Deji and won.

When asked why he went from YouTube into boxing, Paul told The Daily Beast it’s partly because he loved sports in high school.

“For me it made perfect sense, because it took me back to my competitive high-school self, and I’ve fallen in love with boxing over the last three years,” Paul said. “I’ve had two fights already, and it’s something that’s really helped me stay focused on becoming the best version of myself.”

As for Robinson, his career change from retired NBA player to boxer also seems strange. But similar to Paul, Robinson is trying to prove himself as an athlete.

“I’ve been a fan of boxing my whole life. Me and my brother, we used to slap box and use boxing gloves in the backyard with my dad. So, it’s nothing new, it’s just real business now,” Robinson told ESPN. “I’ve played in front of thousands of people my whole life hooping, so just being able to step into a realm that I’ve never been in before is challenging for me, but it’s also fun to try to see how far I really can go with this.”

Sporting News is tracking live updates and round-by-round highlights from the Jake Paul vs. Nate Robinson boxing match. Follow below for complete results from the 2020 fight, which is part of the Mike Tyson vs. Roy Jones Jr. undercard.

Jake Paul vs. Nate Robinson live updates, results

Jake Paul vs. Nate Robinson is expected to start around 10 p.m. ET.


8:53: Irvin Gonzalez and Edward Vasquez put on quite the show in the first fight of the night. The announcers called it a “Fight Of The Year” candidate due to how many punches each boxer threw. According to the stat sheet, they threw 545 punches apiece in an 8-round fight.

Vasquez ended up winning, moving his record to 9-0.

8:00: Jake Paul might have another challenge for Nate Robinson after their fight.

7:30: Jake Paul’s brother Logan has a bold prediction ahead of the fight.

Jake Paul vs. Nate Robinson start time

The full event (seven fights) will start at around 8 p.m. ET, or 5 p.m. local time in Los Angeles where the fight in taking place. There are two undercard fights before Paul vs. Robinson, which is expected to start around 9-10 p.m. ET. Paul vs. Robinson will be the fight before Tyson/Jones Jr.

How to watch the Jake Paul vs. Nate Robinson fight

Jake Paul’s fight against Nate Robinson will be streamed live through Triller. Triller is a social media app, but you’ll be able to watch the fight in a number of different ways such as through a computer, smart phone, tablet or a smart TV. The fight will be available through the FITE apps on Apple TV, Android TV, Roku, and Amazon Fire.

The fight will also be made available for PPV purchase through traditional cable providers such as Xfinity, Spectrum, Cox, Verizon, DirecTV and Dish. It costs $49.99.

Mike Tyson vs. Roy Jones Jr. card

Main card

Preliminary card

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Mike Tyson vs. Roy Jones Jr. live fight updates, results, highlights from 2020 boxing comeback

A 54-year-old Mike Tyson fighting a 51-year-old Roy Jones Jr.? It’s 2020, so yes, of course that’s happening.

The two legendary boxers will meet Saturday night for an eight-round bout. Each round will last two minutes, and Tyson and Jones will be wearing 12-ounce gloves but no headgear. California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) executive director Andy Foster wants to make it clear this is not supposed to be a knockdown, drag-out battle.

“Let’s call it an exhibition. That’s what it is,” Foster said (via MMA Fighting). “I want the public to know what this is because I don’t want people to be disappointed. As long as they know this is an exhibition, I’m fine for everybody to earn.”

Foster also noted that, while the newly created World Boxing Council “Frontline Battle Belt” is on the line, official judges will not be present to score the fight, and no winner will be declared. Instead, the WBC will have Chad Dawson, Christy Martin and Vinny Pazienza judge the bout remotely and award unofficial scores.

The CSAC may be trying to temper expectations, but the punching power in the ring means it’s not completely out of the realm of possibility that boxing fans will see Tyson and Jones trade a few haymakers. It should be an entertaining showdown — even if they only go at each other with “exhibition” intensity.

Sporting News is tracking live updates and round-by-round highlights from the Mike Tyson vs. Roy Jones Jr. fight. Follow below for complete results from the entire card.

Mike Tyson vs. Roy Jones Jr. live updates, results

Tyson and Jones are expected to make their ring walks around 11 p.m. ET. Updates will begin at that time. 

Tyson vs. Jones undercard results

8:55 p.m. ET — Edward Vasquez scores a split-decision win over Irvin Gonzalez after an incredible eight-round battle. Vasquez and Gonzalez combined to throw over 1,000 total punches and 600 power punches. That one is going to be hard to top.

Tyson vs. Jones fight start time

The pay-per-view event begins at 8 p.m. ET with the main card scheduled to start at 9 p.m. ET. Tyson and Jones are expected to make their ring walks around 11 p.m. ET, depending on how long the other fights last.

How to watch Tyson vs. Jones

FITE has the rights to broadcast Tyson vs. Jones in the U.S. and Canada via their various platforms ( and its streaming apps). Triller, a social media platform, will stream the fight at

The PPV can also be ordered via major cable/satellite providers in the U.S. and Canada for $49.99.

Tyson vs. Jones fight card

Main card

Preliminary card

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Muller makes surprise 'windy night in Stoke' comparison after 3-1 win

Thomas Muller surprises reporters after making ‘windy night in Stoke’ comparison following Bayern Munich’s comeback win against Stuttgart to increase their narrow at the Bundesliga summit to two points

  • Thomas Muller was speaking after Bayern Munich came from behind to win 3-1
  • Kingsley Coman, Robert Lewandowski and Douglas Costa scored for the visitors  
  • Borussia Dortmund suffered a shock defeat and are now third behind RB Leipzig

Thomas Muller may have spent his whole career in Germany with Bayern Munich, but his knowledge of ‘windy nights in Stoke’ caught reporters off guard after the Bundesliga champions’ 3-1 win over Stuttgart. 

The 31-year-old, who has played 551 games for the German giants and scored 205 goals, came out with the unexpected reference during his post-match interview after strikes from Kingsley Coman, Robert Lewandowski and Douglas Costa saw Hansi Flick’s men come from behind after Lassana Coulibaly’s opener to increase their lead at the summit to two points. 

Asked how satisfying it was to get another win given Borussia Dortmund’s shock home loss to strugglers Koln, Muller replied: ‘How do the British people say it? “You have to show it on a windy night in Stoke?”

Thomas Muller demonstrated that the ‘windy night in Stoke’ saying has spread far and wide

Robert Lewandowski is the top scorer in the Bundesliga this season after scoring his 12th goal

‘It was not windy and Stuttgart is not Stoke, but Stuttgart is a team that has played very well during the last few weeks, so we knew it could be tough. 

‘We did not have a good start in the first half. Lewy [Robert Lewandowski] hits the post and then we conceded the goal, but we turned it around, we put everything in that we had and in the end, we won. 

‘It was not our best performance. It was not our easiest style of football, but yeah, in the end, three points in the pocket and the show must go on!’ 

RB Leipzig are now two points off Bayern Munich ahead of their match on Saturday evening

Bayern’s fellow title contenders RB Leipzig kept the pressure on the Champions League winners after beating Arminia Bielefeld 2-1, moving up to second in the process and displacing Dortmund. 

Flick’s side next travel to Madrid to face Atletico on Tuesday having already guaranteed themselves top spot in their Champions League group, before facing Leipzig in a mouthwatering top-of-the-table clash at the Allianz Arena on Saturday. 

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Spotlight on Grealish as he returns to West Ham

Spotlight on Jack Grealish as Aston Villa star returns to the scene where he steered the club to safety on the final day of last season – with Dean Smith set to keep him as captain for West Ham trip despite midfielder pleading guilty to driving charges

  • Jack Grealish will captain Aston Villa for Monday’s return trip to West Ham
  • Grealish will keep the armband despite pleading guilty to charges last week 
  • He has fond memories of London Stadium after their relegation escape last term

Jack Grealish will be under the spotlight as Aston Villa return to the scene of their most important game in recent history.

Grealish, who scored the goal at West Ham that kept Villa up on the final day of last season, is expected to keep the captain’s armband for Monday’s return trip to The London Stadium despite pleading guilty last week to separate charges of careless driving and driving without due care.

He will be sentenced on December 15 and been warned he could face a driving ban.

Jack Grealish will keep the captain’s armband for Aston Villa’s trip to West Ham on Monday

Grealish will be sentenced on December 15 after pleading guilty to separate charges of careless driving and driving without due care – he crashed his Range Rover back in March

Smith wouldn’t answer questions on his star player on Saturday but facing West Ham again brings back happy memories of an emotional day in July when Villa drew 1-1 to finish a point outside the relegation zone.

‘It was probably a bigger achievement than promotion the previous season,’ reflected Smith.

‘There was an awful lot on our shoulders that day because the everybody’s hard work would have been put back 12 months had we got relegated.

‘It was a one-off game and I knew the enormity of it but I can become quite analytical in those situations and stayed fairly calm.

‘If I’d brought that enormity into the game, I’d be putting it on the players as well. I told them not to think about the effects of what could happen and went into the game fairly confident because of our performances in the games before.

‘Having said that, I definitely didn’t look calm on the touchline!’

Asked whether Grealish had tried to slip in some “dodgy shots” in that night’s celebrations, Smith quipped: ‘He certainly tried!’

Villa have been able to build on their great escape. They spent £75million on Ollie Watkins, Matt Cash, Bertrand Traore and goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez though loanee Ross Barkley misses this weekend with a hamstring injury.

‘We are definitely better now,’ said Smith, whose side have a 100 per cent away record though they have lost three in a row at Villa Park.

Villa boss Dean Smith wouldn’t answer questions about his star player Grealish on Saturday

Grealish played a pivotal role by scoring as Villa stayed up on final day of last term at West Ham

‘I feel we’ve got eight or nine top players and others who can grow into that. It takes time to do that. You have to be in the Premier League for a few years before you have a squad of experienced top players.

Villa have kept a settled side this season but Barkley’s absence for three weeks gives Bertrand Traore or Conor Hourihane a chance to step up. ‘Players aren’t stupid, they will sniff a chance and as a manager you want a lot of hungry players,’ said Smith.

It will also be a good time for Egyptian international forward Trezeguet to find his first goal of the season having struggled in comparison with the ultra-talented Grealish.

‘Trezeguet is very important and it’s important he doesn’t get categorised alongside Jack because there is only one Jack and a lot of other clubs would like a Jack Grealish.

‘But his work rate is second to none. The lads joke that he runs in every day from his house! His work ethic and attitude is tremendous. The one thing he is disappointed at is that he should have more goals for Aston Villa than he has so far (7 in 51 appearances). He is creating chances and I start getting worried when he’s not getting opportunities.’

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No. 1 Alabama needs no magic or Nick Saban to shut down No. 19 Auburn in Iron Bowl

There are times when the Alabama-Auburn game lives up to the hype, with amazing plays and unexpected twists and, if the game is In the carnival fun house atmosphere of Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn wins its fair share and then some.

There’s another side of the coin, though. Those are the games when the hammer meets the nail with blunt force and predictable results. No one has to send a search party into the hedges to find missing fans, no fines are imposed by the SEC for the field being stormed. The main excitement, such as it is, comes from guessing when the backup quarterback will go into the game. 

When it is one of those games, Alabama wins.

Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith (6) and wide receiver John Metchie III celebrate Smith's touchdown in the Iron Bowl game with Auburn Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020. (Photo: University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa News)

The fans go home happy, a few snapshots of the scoreboard are taken and the Crimson Tide keeps climbing inevitably toward goals at higher altitudes. No one talks about it for the next decade. 

Saturday was one of those games.

The final score was 42-13. The game was not “closer than the score indicated.” The margin was descriptive. The game, in Sabanese, was what it was. Auburn had no more chance of winning than it did of containing DeVonta Smith, perhaps not a Heisman winner but as deserving as any non-quarterback in America.

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RECORD-SETTER: Buffalo's Jaret Patterson sets mark with eight rushing touchdowns

Auburn had one viable chance at a touchdown while the game was still a game, and it slipped through Seth Williams’ hands. When it missed such a chance, Auburn had little chance to generate another.

Bo Nix did not have his best effort. Running back Tank Bigsby might not have been at 100 percent. Allowed to tee off, the Alabama defense disrupted the Tigers all afternoon. If it wasn’t the defense’s best game, it was certainly the most disruptive.

Credit Auburn for a fourth-quarter touchdown drive that might as well have been listed as 100-yards plus as Nix narrowly avoided a safety as the drive started. By that point, though, Alabama probably wasn’t entirely upset at the Tigers grinding out a six-minute march. 

The sole unique feature on Saturday was the absence of Nick Saban, stuck at home while quarantining due to coronavirus. His physical presence wasn’t exactly needed. Alabama was the machine he has built, functioning smoothly even with someone else pushing the buttons.

His quarantine should be over in time for a return when the Crimson Tide play in Baton Rouge next weekend. Will things be different? Probably not, although it might actually be a more emotional game than Saturday’s was.

The intriguing question that is starting to arise in the Alabama-Auburn cycle is this: why does Auburn look so overmatched one year, only to pull a rabbit, a rooster and the occasional rhinoceros out of its hat the next year? Various theories try to explain it. One is that Alabama recruits at such a dominant level that its talented roster rarely suffers any fluctuation. Auburn recruits well, but not at the elite national level every year, so maybe some blips are inevitable.

Another theory is that Auburn “cares more” because the game is “its whole season,” while Alabama aims for the College Football Playoff. If that is true, though, why doesn’t it show up more than 50 percent of the time? Does Alabama care more in those years?

Regardless, all signs point to Alabama steaming on course to a three-game postseason. Beating Florida in Atlanta will be a chore, but the Crimson Tide showed that it is more than willing to win efficiently if that’s what it takes.  

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Parker brushes off concerns of Khan's record of letting managers go

‘I’m not the owner…only he can decide that’: Scott Parker brushes off concerns over Shahid Khan’s track record of letting managers go as Fulham sit inside the relegation zone ahead of tricky run of fixtures

  • Fulham sit inside the relegation zone on four points after their first nine games
  • Scott Parker’s side have a tricky run of games starting on Monday with Leicester 
  • Fulham owner Shahid Khan has said farewell to eight managers since 2013 
  • Parker displays no immediate concerns that he could be the ninth to leave 

Fulham owner Shahid Khan has said farewell to eight managers since he bought the club in 2013 and Scott Parker has no intention of becoming the ninth name on the American’s hit list – just yet.

Former England international Parker has shone in his first managerial role, leading Fulham back into the Premier League this summer.

But he takes his side to Leicester on Monday night rooted in the relegation zone with only one win this season and the worst defensive record in the top flight.

Scott Parker doesn’t show off any signs of concerns despite Fulham’s start to the season

Owner Shahid Khan has a track record of letting managers go since he took over the club

Parker comes over confidently and not remotely under pressure nine games into the season, but he is aware of Khan’s track record – despite their magnificent working relationship.

He explained: ‘I can’t answer how the chairman is but, in terms of our relationship, it is spot on. With the chairman (Shahid Khan) and (Khan’s son) Tony, the dialogue is constant.’

With Leicester followed by games against Manchester City and Liverpool, there is every chance Khan will see little more for his investment in the next week or two.

And Parker is aware of the threat. He added: ‘That’s down to one individual, how they see the football club and how they want their football club to move forward.

‘I’m not the owner. Only he can decide that. If he feels and understands where we are this year, the things we are doing and where that can lead us then, hopefully, we become stronger for that.

Things don’t get easier for Parker with Leicester, Manchester City and Liverpool coming up

‘He’ll make those decisions, of course. I understand that in my position. First and foremost we have to try and win games.’

Parker’s ambition is to re-establish Fulham as a Premier League club, not unlike Leicester, and help Khan achieve stability on the bank of the river Thames.

‘In my head – it’s not down to me – of course, I want a bigger project and that bigger vision, to set some boundaries and pathways.

‘He’s been in tenure for eight years, he’s probably had about eight or nine managers.

‘But listen, that’s down to the owner. I have the full support from the owner.

‘But, like in any walk of life, it’s down to the owner when they feel like we are no longer progressing – or, certainly in their eyes, that it’s not progressing. And I am sure that’s the same here.’

Fulham sit 19th in the table after taking just four points from their opening nine fixtures

Facing Parker in the opposing dug out will be Brendan Rodgers, a youth coach at Chelsea when he was a player there. They last met as managers in March 2019, both in the second matches of their new roles.

Leicester won and Fulham ended up going down, but Parker argues things have changed since then.

He said: ‘It IS different because it’s another group of players. I can’t remember exactly the line-up the last time we played Leicester but I don’t think we’re talking about the same players.

This is another new team. What comes with new teams and new players is that time to work out where we’re vulnerable, where we need to improve and then to work out exactly what is acceptable under me, what isn’t, and how we want to play.

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DANNY MURPHY’S MANAGERIAL REPORT CARD: Frank Lampard is over-performing at Chelsea while Mikel Arteta’s total rebuild is making slow progress… but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer knows Man United must aim higher

  • Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal have turned to their former players 
  • Old heads are now in the dug-out and taking charge of first team duties 
  • Frank Lampard and Mikel Arteta made a final in their first year in charge 
  • Presently Lampard is over-performing while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has work to do

One of the most fascinating aspects to this season is how the Big Six are divided by the managers they have chosen.

Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho are titans who have all won the Premier League, Champions League and major leagues across Europe. In contrast, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Mikael Arteta and Frank Lampard have an FA Cup and a couple of Norwegian league titles between them.

You can understand why the biggest clubs often go for experienced managers because they understand the pressures of expectation and any problems that come with handling big-name internationals.

Mikel Arteta and Frank Lampard are examples of some of the ‘Big Six’ trying new things

But it’s refreshing to see Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal think outside the box and pick leaders who used to play for the club and know their DNA rather than possessing a glittering trophy cabinet.

In any case, there is no exact science to getting success and all of the newbies have enjoyed great moments as well as some ups and downs.

It shouldn’t be forgotten Arteta and Lampard ended their first campaigns by facing each other in the FA Cup Final while Solskjaer, who started his coaching career with United’s youngsters, has beaten Paris St Germain away, twice.

I suspect the trick to succeeding as an inexperienced manager is sticking to your beliefs and not over-thinking things when you come up against a legend like Guardiola. It can’t be easy though because you are competing against the best in the world.

This is a big day for all of them. Lampard faces his former boss Mourinho with Chelsea riding high and of the three, he looks in best shape. Arteta and Solskjaer need results against Wolves and Southampton to escape the middle of the table.

That’s not good enough for the clubs they represent and Solskjaer in particular faces a big few weeks in order to secure his job.



Frank understands the mentality of top players because of what he achieved in the game and won at Stamford Bridge. His man-management skills are excellent and you rarely hear disgruntled noises from inside the Chelsea camp, even from those stars frustrated at not playing.

Without the squad believing in your philosophy, you’ve got no chance regardless of how talented they are. I can tell by watching Chelsea everyone is on board with Lampard and enjoying what they’re doing – not always easy big egos fighting for places in the team.

Frank has also shown he is capable of taking tough decisions. When he decided £73million goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga was costing the team, the club backed him to sign Edouard Mendy. For me it was a pivotal moment in showing the manager is trusted by the hierarchy.

Lampard is strongly backed at Chelsea and this was shown with his axing of Kepa Arrizabalaga


Despite Lampard’s skills in handling players, keeping everyone happy will still be tough over the long-term when everyone is fit. You can’t squeeze Tammy Abraham, Timo Werner, Olivier Giroud, Hakim Ziyech, Christian Pulisic, Mason Mount, Kai Havertz and Callum Hudson-Odoi into the same team. Lampard will need to have a few honest conversations with his players so they continue to feel part of it.

Having options is positive in one sense but can’t distract from finding the right team balance. So far, Lampard has managed it very well, but perhaps he’s been helped some weeks by Ziyech, Pulisic or Havertz not being available.

Thiago Silva has bolstered Chelsea’s back and given Lampard’s side a stronger spine


I think Frank will see this as a wonderful opportunity to win the league. I wouldn’t have predicted that a few weeks ago but with Liverpool’s injury problems and Manchester City having a small hangover from their Champions League disappointment, it really is up for grabs.

Chelsea have some dazzling individuals but have a really strong core as well. The leadership of Thiago Silva has been a wonderful addition at the back while someone like Mason Mount does so much work in midfield, it can allow Frank to play with only one holder and carry a greater attacking threat as a result.


Chelsea have great individuals working as a team. They look in great shape.



There is a likeability about Solskjaer. He conducts himself well and understands the club he represents. It’s not more important than results but it still matters for a club like Manchester United to have someone who looks after the badge properly.

Some of the results have shown tactical awareness. You don’t fluke wins against PSG, Manchester City, Chelsea and Spurs. It takes smart planning. It’s just consistency United are lacking.

The problem for Solskjaer is that a roller-coaster ride isn’t good enough for United in the long run. Fans and owners will demand to be fighting it out for the biggest trophies. You can’t achieve that not knowing which United will turn up.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has shown some signs of progression but is lacking in consistency


I think the next six weeks are crucial for Solskjaer because I fear for him if things don’t go well before the New Year.

His first big decision is who to trust as his first-choice centre-forward for this critical period – the transfer window will be too late for him if United fall away now. I’d be tempted to give Edinson Cavani a run but Solskjaer also has alternatives with Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford. It’s too big a responsibility for someone like Mason Greenwood right now, even if fully charged.

The trouble for United is there are more questions than answers wherever you look. I am bemused by the lack of game time given to Donny van de Beek. Is Paul Pogba ready to be the saviour or can’t he be relied upon for this intense period? I’ve suggested before United are too fragile defensively if he plays in the same midfield as Bruno Fernandes.

United are performing well in European this season but struggling with domestic matters


A club of United’s size have to aim high. Anything short of the semi-finals of the Champions League is not a success. Likewise in the Premier League, finishing outside the top four is unthinkable. Those are the minimum requirements for a club like United.

I know they have gone three years without a trophy but realistically I don’t think lifting the FA Cup or League Cup in isolation will mean much for Solskjaer if the team finishes fifth or sixth. We saw that with Louis van Gaal.


Has done enough to stay in job so far but any drop from here will be dangerous. I hope he makes it.



I’m sure Arteta would love Arsenal to play like the Manchester City team built by his mentor Pep Guardiola but he’s had the intelligence and savvy to identify the first priority was to fix the team’s defensive problems.

When Arsenal play, there is a clear game plan which has been worked on in training, and that has taken strength of character from the manger because he walked into a club 12 months ago that was really struggling for identity.

To win a trophy already can not be underestimated so he has credit in the bank despite Arsenal hitting a recent wobble and the goals drying up recently. Even Guardiola and Klopp had to take steps back in establishing their dynasties.

After working with Pep Guardiola, Arteta knows the fundamentals of a total rebuild of a team


Arteta introduced wing-backs to tighten Arsenal up and it worked well in winning the FA Cup last season. They remain much harder to beat as they showed last weekend by getting a hard-fought draw at Leeds last weekend despite Pepe’s red card.

The dilemma facing Arteta is he always seems tempted to revert to a back-four when he wants an extra forward-thinking player on the pitch. He tried it against Aston Villa and Leeds, but Arsenal were poor in both games.

Adaptability is fine to a point but I think the most successful teams are those who stick to their best system and don’t chop and change. The Liverpool and City teams that won the league did that and it became second nature to their players.

I think Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s little scoring drought has affected Arteta’s thinking. Aubameyang switched from the left to centre-forward at Elland Road but it didn’t change his luck. I am a believer that consistent team formations builds stability and momentum.


Arsenal should still fancy their chances of finishing in the top four and also look at the Europa League as a trophy they can win. Having lifted the FA Cup, silverware would start to become a habit.

I don’t think Arteta is under pressure like Solskjaer. The recruitment looks solid with Gabriel and Thomas Partey both excellent long-term acquisitions.


Real signs of progress and a trophy in the first year. This is a minor blip – don’t panic Gooners fans!

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