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Iwobi and Everton colleagues seek another emotional last-day escape

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Everton go into their final-day fixture at home to Bournemouth on Sunday with their proud 69-year presence in the top flight of English football depending on a repeat of the two last-day escapes of the 1990s that are part of the club’s folklore.

Victory at Goodison Park will ensure a 121st top-flight season – a record unmatched anywhere in the world – while a draw or even defeat will see Everton safe if Leicester City and Leeds United fail to beat West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur respectively in the simultaneous 1530GMT kick offs.

Everton are currently on 33 points to the 31 of their relegation rivals. The previous lowest total to avoid the drop was the 34 of West Bromwich Albion in 2005 but Everton fans won’t care a jot about that if they survive, having averted the danger of the drop only on the penultimate weekend last year.

Things looked bleak again this season as the introduction of Sean Dyche for the sacked Frank Lampard brought only a hint of “new boss bounce” until the astonishing 5-1 win at high-flying Brighton & Hove Albion two weeks ago transformed the league table and the Merseyside club’s whole mindset.

The 99th-minute equaliser in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Wolverhampton Wanderers, fittingly scrambled home by a combination of three centre backs, supplied a massive injection of belief and edged them marginally clear of the drop zone.

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The only sour note was yet another injury for striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who has missed most of the season.

His brief return coincided with Everton’s upturn in form as they finally had a focal point in attack and fans will pray that he can recover from a hamstring strain for Sunday’s game.

GREAT ESCAPES

The atmosphere at Goodison will be febrile, with no doubt much talk of the club’s other two great escapes from the early days of the Premier League.

The first came in 1994 when needing to win their final game at home to Wimbledon to have a chance of staying up, they looked dead and buried as they trailed 2-0, only to scramble a 3-2 win that, thanks to other results going their way, saved them.

A year later they won the FA Cup and finished sixth in 1996 but in 1998 it was another nail-biting finale as, 1-0 up in their final game at home to Coventry City, they missed a penalty and conceded a last-minute equaliser only for their rivals to falter elsewhere and allow them to survive on goal difference.

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These relegation flirtations, however, have been the considerable exception, rather than the rule.

As founder members of the league in 1888, Everton have spent just four seasons outside the top flight – 1930-31 and three in the early 1950s. Their 69-year unbroken run since 1954 is second only to Arsenal’s (1919) but the last of nine league titles came in 1987 and their last trophy was a fifth FA Cup 28 years ago.

The mid-1980s was their most successful period, with the European Cup Winners’ Cup claimed alongside two league titles, an FA Cup and a host of near misses.

Recently, though, clubs such as Bournemouth, Brentford, and Brighton, who for over a century were distant blips in the rear-view mirror, have suddenly caught and quickly overtaken Everton, despite The Toffees continuing to spend eye-watering amounts.

POOR RETURNS

Since Farhad Moshiri bought the club six years ago over 700 million pounds ($883.47 million) has been spent on players with almost laughably poor returns.

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A similar outlay is going on a new stadium, with chairman Bill Kenwright and board member and former crowd hero Graeme Sharpe still advised by police to stay away from home games for their own safety, against the backdrop of reports of new investors ready to step in.

That supporter anger will be put to the side for a few hours on Sunday, though, as the faithful give their all to help lift the players to the win that guarantees keeping them up.

“When I became manager here we wanted to connect with the fans, we wanted an on-pitch connection,” Dyche said.

“I think the commitment to the cause is evident and the fans are playing their part. That’s the connection we want, and we’ll need that this week.”

-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.

Premier League

Ten Hag credits United’s leadership for proactive transfer moves

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Pre Season Friendly - Rangers v Manchester United - Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh, Scotland, Britain - July 20, 2024 Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag Action Images via Reuters/Ed Sykes

Manchester United are on the front foot in the transfer market thanks to the club’s leadership making quick and decisive moves to secure new players early, manager Erik ten Hag said after the signing of Leny Yoro and Joshua Zirkzee.

Since British billionaire and INEOS chairman Jim Ratcliffe took control of football operations at Old Trafford, acquiring a 25% stake in February, United has not only witnessed a new hierarchy but also benefited from new ideas.

United signed French defender Yoro on a five-year contract for a fee of 62 million euros ($67 million) on Thursday, the 18-year-old had been pursued by several top European clubs prior to his move to Manchester, including Real Madrid.

Another crucial signing was striker Zirkzee, who had an excellent season with the Serie A club Bologna last season and played for Netherlands in the European Championship. United paid 42.5 million euros for the 23-year-old for a five-year deal.

“It is very good that we are also there on the front foot, we are very proactive,” Ten Hag said on Saturday. “So, (the) leadership is doing a great job in this moment and that’s how we want to act as United.”

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“We are highly ambitious and you have to be on the front foot and be ready for the season. The earlier you get your players in then (the faster) you can work on your team.”

Yoro made a strong impression in his United debut during their 2-0 pre-season friendly win over Scottish side Rangers

on Saturday, while Zirkzee, who has been given time off after the European Championship, is expected to join the squad in August.

-Reuters

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Super Eagles’ Cyriel Dessers fires blank as Rangers crumble to revamped Manchester United

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Rangers FC endured their second pre-season defeat in a row, falling to Manchester United at Murrayfield Stadium.

Super Eagles star Cyriel Dessers started the clash for Philippe Clement’s squad but failed to score in his 76 minutes of action, much to the disappointment of the Scottish fans in attendance.

This marks the former US Cremonese striker’s fourth consecutive appearance without a goal for the Glasgow-based club since his strike in Rangers’ 5-2 victory against Dundee FC.

During the game, Ivorian forward, Amad Diallo, capitalized on a clever pass from Mason Mount, firing the ball into the bottom left corner of Jack Butland’s goal.

In the 70th minute, Polish prodigy Maximiliano Oyedele, who has a Nigerian father, delivered a superb pass to Joe Hugill, who unleashed a thunderous strike past Butland.

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Another player of Nigerian descent who shone was Habeeb Ogunneye, making an impressive appearance for Erik Ten Hag’s side during his 45 minutes on the pitch.

Meanwhile, Dessers will be eager to end his goal drought as Rangers continue their preseason tour, with a match against Birmingham City up next.

On the side of Manchester United, Leny Yoro, made his first appearance just two days after the French centre-back signed his contract, Yoro was thrown into the starting lineup in Scotland, starting alongside veteran defender Jonny Evans while Lisandro Martinez remains away after his Copa America triumph with Argentina.

Just ten minutes into the game, Yoro caught the eye with an impressive block to deny striker Dessers.

Yoro’s composure on the ball played its part in United’s dominating possession in the first half, but the Red Devils were made to wait until the 39th minute to open the scoring.

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It was the impressive Amad Diallo who curled a delightful effort beyond Jack Butland, with Mason Mount grabbing the assist for United’s first goal of pre-season.

Yoro was removed at the break alongside nine other outfield starters. Only Jadon Sancho, making his first appearance for United in nearly 11 months after his clear-the-air talks with manager Erik ten Hag, remained for the second half.

United went incredibly young for the second 45 and predictably lost their dominant control of proceedings, while the heavy rain did not help either side play their best football.

The Red Devils added their second goal with 20 minutes remaining as Joe Hugill thundered home a glorious effort, removing the shred of doubt about the result which had started to creep in.

Just five minutes later, Rangers brought out their own wholesale changes, but the Scottish side continued to struggle in the final third as United managed to hold out for a solid win.

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Nigerian-born Man United’s new striker promises  creativity and unpredictability to fans

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Manchester United newcomer Joshua Zirkzee said fans can expect to see a creative, unpredictable player who developed his skills in cage football, and idolised Ronaldinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

He is a Dutch, but has Nigerian mother.

The 23-year-old striker signed for the Red Devils on July 14 after an excellent season with Italian Serie A club Bologna, where he scored 11 goals and made five assists and helped them secure a place in the Champions League.

“Yeah, it’s been a roller-coaster the past few weeks, but some very good experiences. I’m very happy to be here,” Zirkzee said in an interview for United’s website on July 17.

“Obviously, (I’m arriving) at a good point, making a transfer to Manchester United is something very positive. So yeah, I just can’t wait to get started and continue what I basically did last season.”

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The 1.93m-tall Dutchman is technically gifted for a player his size, which he attributes to his childhood in Spijkenisse, in the south of the Netherlands where he developed his skills in Johan Cruyff cages – enclosed football pitches named after the Dutch football great.

“As a young boy growing up, playing mostly with tougher, bigger guys who are older than you makes you adapt, so I think that’s something that you learn at a young age in Holland, especially where I grew up,” Zirkzee added.

“(I’m a) creative player, good with the ball, I’m just a bit unpredictable at times.”

He laughingly recounted the countless times he got in trouble with his mother for coming home late.

“I hope she forgives me now for all the times I came home late, or if I broke something in the backyard,” he said.

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“Eventually, it all worked out pretty well… that was just life back when I was younger, playing football, forgetting about the time and getting back home late.”

Zirkzee also said that having a Dutch manager in Erik ten Hag is a “privilege” and the added presence of Ruud van Nistelrooy – the former Netherlands and United striker who joined ten Hag’s coaching staff earlier this week – will help him adjust to his new team.

But they are not the only reasons he made the move to United.

“Manchester United is a great, huge club so it’s just an extra privilege,” he said.

“Having some Dutch people around obviously makes it a bit easier, (but) to be fair I’m not too difficult adapting.

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“When I was younger, watching the Dutch national team, Manchester United, watching (van Nistelrooy) play, he was one of the guys who you pretend to be when you were playing with friends. So, having him out here is a bit special.

Zirkzee was a late addition to the Netherlands squad for the European Championship, making his senior debut in the quarter-final victory against Turkey.

On the heels of Euro 2024, he will be given some time off and is not expected to link up with his new teammates until early August.

Following his arrival at Old Trafford for a fee of about £36.5 million (S$63.6 million), United are set to sign Lille’s promising teenage defender Leny Yoro in a £52 million swoop, according to reports on July 17.

The 18-year-old had been linked with a move to European champions Real Madrid, but he has since travelled to England and has undergone a medical test with the Red Devils, before putting pen to paper.

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United will reportedly pay £52.7 million as an initial fee, with add-ons worth a further £6.7 million.

Yoro, who made his Lille debut at the age of 16, has been ranked as one of the best young players in Europe.

Ten Hag has been keen to land a new centre-back after Raphael Varane left at the end of last season.

Varane and Lisandro Martinez were United’s starting centre-backs in their FA Cup final victory over Manchester City in May, with Harry Maguire missing the showpiece due to an injury that also ruled him out of Euro 2024.

United have also been chasing Bayern Munich’s Dutch defender Matthijs de Ligt and is understood to have had two offers rejected for Everton’s Jarrad Branthwaite.

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Reuters/AFP

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