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Premier League

Iwobi’s  Everton’s 69-year top-flight run hanging by a thread

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Everton have spent more years in England’s top flight than any other club and have not been outside it for 69 years, but that pedigree will count for nothing and relegation will look almost inevitable if they lose at Leicester City on Monday.

Thursday’s 4-1 home defeat to Newcastle United left Everton 19th on 28 points after mustering one win in 10 games. Their only realistic hope of survival is to claw their way above two of Leicester (29), Nottingham Forest (30) and Leeds (30).

Defeat at Leicester would pile on the pressure for their remaining fixtures against Brighton (away), Manchester City (home) and Wolves (away) so that by the time they host Bournemouth on the final day, it might already be too late for another great escape.

Last season a late surge hauled them to safety, with the team inspired by raucous support from the Goodison Park fans.

They were at it again to create a great early atmosphere against Newcastle but the passion drained alongside the paucity of performance and by the end the ground that has hosted more top flight games than any other was half empty.

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How it has come to this is something of a mystery for a club which has spent an astonishing 700 million pounds since being taken over by Farhad Moshiri seven years ago. Although the David Moyes era of regular top six finishes seems ancient history, Everton still finished seventh, eighth and eighth from 2017-19 and were 10th in 2021.

The club’s recruitment strategy has seemingly been to target middling players not deemed good enough by their Premier League rivals, who then fail to flourish at their new club.

The goals of Brazil striker Richarlison played a key part in keeping them up last season but after the club were forced to sell him to stay within the league’s financial rules, the failure to find an adequate replacement has been the number one factor in their struggles.

ONE GLIMMER

Forward Neal Maupay has scored one goal in 26 games, to the surprise of nobody at his previous club Brighton where he was considered surplus to requirements.

Everton’s leading scorer is attacking midfielder Demarai Gray with six and the team’s total return of 25 in 33 games is comfortably the worst in the league.

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The one glimmer of hope is the return of injury-ravaged striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin, but even if he plays, his uninspired midfield team mates look woefully ill-equipped to provide him with the chances he needs.

Everton fans had hoped that, under Sean Dyche, at least their defence would hold up, but even that has crumbled in recent weeks, reaching a new low on Thursday as Newcastle’s pacey attackers made Ben Godfrey look like a Sunday league pub player.

This is not what supporters of Everton are used to. Founder members of the Football League, they have spent only four seasons outside the top flight – 1930-31 and three in the early 1950s.

Only Arsenal (1919) have a longer unbroken run in the top flight and in the mid-1980s the Toffees had a legitimate claim to be one of the very best sides in Europe.

However, the last of their nine league titles came in 1987, their last trophy was the 1995 FA Cup and since the Premier League began in 1992, they have finished in the top four only once.

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Even against that decline, however, relegation would still be a huge blow for such a distinguished club, and could not come at a worse time as they prepare to move to a new 700 million pounds stadium in 2024 while simultaneously fighting off a probe into their finances.

“At a club like Everton the stakes should be high, that’s what the players need to remember,” Dyche said of the Leicester game.

“If we take on the game and win then it creates a different atmosphere and the belief floods back in very quickly. It’s strange how quickly it can turn around.”

-Reuters

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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Premier League

June 12 relief for Ten Hag…to stay at Old Trafford

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Manchester United Can Still Finish Fourth, Says Erik Ten Hag -

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag will remain in the job for next season and has entered into talks with the Old Trafford club over a contract extension despite the team’s lowest ever Premier League finish of eighth, British media reported.

The decision comes after an end-of-season review by the club’s board for the 2023-24 campaign, which finished on a high with a shock FA Cup final win over favourites Manchester City.

Ten Hag’s contract runs until the end of next season, with the club having the option of extending it a further 12 months.

Former Ajax Amsterdam coach Ten Hag had come under increasing pressure after 20-times English champions United suffered their worst start to a season since 1962-63 with eight defeats in their first 15 matches in all competitions.

They ended up eighth after 14 defeats in their 38 league games and bowed out of the Champions League in the group phase.

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Ten Hag’s job security had been the subject of speculation all season and many pundits believed the FA Cup final would be the Dutchman’s last game with the team, win or lose.

But moments after their thrilling triumph, the 54-year-old insisted he had no doubt he would be back and said he had received the backing of the club’s owners all season.

“I’m in a project and we are exactly where we want to be. We’re constructing a team. When I took over it was a mess at United, and we are on our way to construct a team for the future,” he told reporters at Wembley.

“The team is developing, the team is winning and the team also plays to an identity. What you need to play is to be available, you need a strong squad in top football, and especially when you play in England, the Premier League is so competitive.”

INJURY WOES

Ten Hag pointed to United’s revolving door of injuries last term, the most of any Premier League team and concentrated in key positions such as central defence.

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He also spoke about the breakout seasons of young players such as midfielder Kobbie Mainoo, who is part of England’s Euro 2024 squad in Germany, and Argentina winger Alejandro Garnacho.

In Ten Hag’s two seasons in charge, United have played in three Wembley finals and lifted two trophies, having also won last season’s League Cup.

Media reports said that all eventualities were considered in the club’s post-season review and the clear preference was for Ten Hag to remain in charge at Old Trafford.

Among coaches linked to the job as potential replacements were Thomas Tuchel and England manager Gareth Southgate.

Ten Hag is United’s fifth permanent manager since Alex Ferguson retired in 2013 as the club have searched for someone to lead them back to the heights of their glory years.

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He guided United to third in the league in his debut season

-Reuters

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Another Nigerian blood to flow in Chelsea veins

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Carabao Cup - Quarter Final - Everton v Fulham - Goodison Park, Liverpool, Britain - December 19, 2023 Fulham's Tosin Adarabioyo celebrates after the match REUTERS/Carl Recine

Chelsea have signed centre back Tosin Adarabioyo from fellow west London club Fulham on a free transfer, the Premier League side announced on Friday.

Adarabioyo, a former England youth international is of Nigerian descent. He is the latest Nigerian linked with Chlesea after Celestine Babayaro, Mikel Obi and Victor Moses among others.

The 26-year-old Adarabioyo who will join the Stamford Bridge side on a four-year contract beginning on July 1, has made one appearance for the England Under-19s and has played 78 times in the Premier League.

He is the first player to join Chelsea since they announced the arrival of new head coach Enzo Maresca, opens new tab earlier this week, and will bolster their options at centre back following the departure of veteran Thiago Silva.

“We are delighted to bring Tosin to Chelsea,” Chelsea co-sporting directors Laurence Stewart and Paul Winstanley said.

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“Throughout his career, he has showcased his maturity and defensive qualities and has gained a wealth of experience in the Premier League in recent seasons.

“He is ready to make the step up to Chelsea and work alongside the talented players in our squad. We look forward to Tosin joining up with us for pre-season.”

Chelsea are looking to revive their fortunes under Maresca after finishing sixth in the standings last season.

“I’m looking forward to starting work with Enzo and I’m sure the boys are too,” Adarabioyo said.

“It’s going to be exciting. We’re going to play good football and win a lot of games. There are top players in this squad and I’m eager to play with them all.”

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-Reuters

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Nigerian-born Ogbonna leaves West Ham after nine-year stay

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Premier League - West Ham United v Luton Town - London Stadium, London, Britain - May 11, 2024 West Ham United's Angelo Ogbonna applauds fans as he is substituted REUTERS/Tony Obrien/File Photo

West Ham United centre back Angelo Ogbonna is leaving the club after nine years in east London, the Premier League side said on Wednesday.

Ogbonna was born to Nigerian parents who emigrated to Italy from Nigeria in 1983, settling in the city of Cassino in the central part of the country, but managed to obtain Italian citizenship only after his 18th birthday. He is now 36.

The  Italy international made 201 Premier League appearances for the club and was part of their Europa Conference League-winning side last year.

The former Juventus player struggled with several injuries during his time at West Ham, including a cruciate ligament tear suffered in 2021 that kept him out for almost a year.

“When he was not playing, Ogbonna was always a willing supporter of the club’s community work,” West Ham said in a statement. “He will always be a beloved member of the West Ham United family

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-Reuters

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