Saudi-owned Newcastle into CL positions amid speedy rise

Newcastle’s rise to becoming a team ready to compete in the Champions League seemed inevitable following the buyout of the northeast club by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund a year ago.

Few predicted it would happen this quickly.

With a 2-1 win at Tottenham on Sunday, Newcastle climbed into fourth place in the Premier League — the final Champions League qualification position — in another statement of intent by the soccer team with the world’s richest ownership.

Newcastle’s only loss all season has come at Liverpool, and that was after a stoppage-time goal. There have been draws against Manchester City and, just last weekend, Manchester United.

This, then, is no fluke by a team that doesn’t have any real superstars — yet — but is extremely well-drilled under manager Eddie Howe and has the best defensive record in the league.

“When you associate us with money, it takes away the credit for the players,” Howe said. “I will stand up for them and say a lot of these players were here anyway and the ones we have recruited, we have recruited wisely.

“But let’s give the credit for the performance, not look at how the team has been put together.”

Newcastle has an unlikely scoring sensation, too, with Miguel Almiron — one of the players at the club in the old regime under Mike Ashley — grabbing what proved to be the winner for his fifth goal in as many games.

That came in the 40th minute when the Paraguay forward shrugged off Ryan Sessegnon, skipped past another defender, Clement Lenglet, and slipped a finish under goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.

Lloris played a central role in Newcastle’s opening goal nine minutes earlier, after he was blocked off by Callum Wilson after coming out to intercept a ball played forward. With Lloris on the ground, Wilson collected the loose ball and chipped a left-footed shot over Lloris and Eric Dier into an empty net.

Harry Kane pulled a goal back in the 54th for Tottenham, which also was beaten by Manchester United 2-0 in midweek.

“We are keeping our feet on the ground,” Wilson said, “but it’s slowly but surely falling into place.”

When Saudi Arabia’s PIF bought out Newcastle, the team was winless and in 19th place last season.

Now, Newcastle is fourth and seven points behind leader Arsenal, which drew 1-1 at Southampton to bring its eight-match winning run in all competitions to an end. It was only the second time Arsenal had dropped points in the league in 11 games.

Arsenal went ahead through Granit Xhaka in the 11th minute, only for Stuart Armstrong to equalize after the break.

Arsenal’s lead now stands at two points from Manchester City, with Tottenham a further three points back. It has been a good weekend for City, which beat Brighton 3-1 on Saturday.

MARSCH UNDER PRESSURE

American coach Jesse Marsch is the latest Premier League manager feeling the heat from his own fans.

Leeds’ 3-2 loss at home to Fulham sparked jeers from its supporters at full time. There were chants against Marsch and the club’s board in the final minutes of the game, with Leeds in the relegation zone and on a four-match losing run.

“We are unified here, from the board to the staff and the players,” said Marsch, who has been in charge since replacing Marcelo Bielsa in February.

Goals by Aleksandar Mitrovic, Bobby De Cordova-Reid and Willian put Fulham 3-1 ahead after Rodrigo’s 20th-minute opener for Leeds. Crysencio Summerville got a stoppage-time consolation for the hosts.

VILLA’S REACTION

Just imagine what Steven Gerrard was thinking as Aston Villa raced into a three-goal lead over Brentford after just 14 minutes.

Gerrard was fired Thursday after a year in charge, soon after a 3-0 loss at Fulham, with his team in poor form and largely ineffective in attack.

Interim coach Aaron Danks quickly got something out of the forward line, with all three players — Leon Bailey, Danny Ings (2) and Ollie Watkins — scoring in a 4-0 win at Villa Park that marked the team’s biggest victory of the season.

“We owed the fans that performance and result,” Ings said.

“Naturally you always see a reaction from a team when something happens like it has this week with the gaffer leaving. For what we have in the dressing room it was quite simply not good enough and hasn’t been for a long period of time.”

IMPROVING LEICESTER

Leicester is out of the relegation zone. Wolverhampton has dropped deeper into it.

With their second 4-0 win in their last five games, Leicester’s players are putting behind them a dreadful start to the season that left Brendan Rodgers under big pressure.

Now it’s Wolves — playing under an interim manager following the firing of Bruno Lage at the start of the month — which is the crisis club after its heaviest defeat of the season. No team has more losses than Wolves’ seven.

Youri Tielemans smashed in the goal of the day, a first-time effort from 25 meters that crashed in off the post, to set Leicester on its way in the eighth minute. Harvey Barnes, James Maddison and Jamie Vardy — with his first goal of the season — added the others at Molineux.

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AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80

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