Hull City back in the Premier League; playoffs set after last day of England’s Championship

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Hull City may be one of the least-impressive teams to earn automatic promotion, but they have the summer to correct those problems, because after today’s draws at the KC Stadium and Vicarage Road, the Tigers are back in the Premier League, joining league-winners Cardiff City as automatic promotees from England’s Football Championship.

But Steve Bruce’s side practically volunteered to be pulled into a playoff. Hosting the already-promoted Bluebirds on the season’s last day, Hull went down early in the second half before goals from Nick Proschwitz and Paul McShane looked to have the Tigers promoted. One point up on third-place Watford ahead of today’s 12 simultaneous kick offs, Hull knew three points would send them up.

Yet in the 93rd minute, a handball by defender Abdoulaye Faye sent Nicky Maynard to the spot, a state that brought Hull’s horrible form back into perspective. In mid-April, the Tigers looked sure bets to join Cardiff in the Premiership, but one point in three games ahead of the Bluebirds’ visit brought Watford back into play. And when Maynard beat David Stockdale in the 95th minute, the Hornets had fate in their hands.

Unfortunately, Gianfranco Zola’s team couldn’t find the late goal that would have snatched automatic promotion. While a visit from Leeds United should have meant three points, the Whites were able to take a 1-1 draw from Vicarage Road, sending Watford into a four-team playoff for the last promotion spot. The result also allowed Hull to back into the Premier League.

The Tigers’ ability to get the league’s second-most points from a 46-match season is an obvious argument to their quality, one that precludes any claim (possibly inadvertently hinted here) they’re undeserving of their spot. Yet powered by a midseason, post-Bruce-hiring run, Hull bares a vague resemblance to last year’s Reading – a team with Championship mid-table talent that found a mid-season rhythm and rode it into the Premier League. Add in a pedestrian +7 goal difference, there’s more than one reason to think this is the beginning of another Hull yo-yo, even if there’s a shade of poor taste in bringing this up moments after the club’s secured promotion.

Hull were last in the Premier League in 2009-10, the end of a two-year run that began when a sixth-placed team went through the Championship playoff and into England’s top division. They were saved on the last day in 2008-09 before finishing 19th in 2009-10.

Now they’re back, and with the cash injection provided by Premier League broadcast rights, they’ll have the same shot given to every other promoted club. If they spend wisely and manage their season well (neither of which Reading did), they can stay up, their Championship run-in be damned.

source: Getty ImagesPlayoffs set

With their home draw, Watford’s route to the Premier League now does through Wembley. They’ll face Leicester City in one half of the bracket, while Crystal Palace and Brighton & Hove Albion meet on the other.

That makes Bolton the day’s big loser. The Trotters came into the day in sixth place and needed only a win over visiting, mid-table Blackpool to secure a playoff spot. But like Hull and Watford, they left their destiny in others’ hands, giving up two early goals to spot the Seasiders a lead they never gave up. With the 2-2 draw, the turnaround Doughie Freedman engineered after Owen Coyle’s dismissal fell short. A 91st minute goal by Leicester City’s Antony Knockaertat rival Nottingham Forest allowed the Foxes to secure the league’s last playoff spot.

Brighton and Palace both got home wins against relegated sides, confirming relegation for Peterborough United and Wolverhampton Wanderers. For Wolves, it was their second successive relegation. Bistol City, 10 points adrift of 23rd place Wolverhampton, join the duo in League One.

Reports: Mourinho to leave Paul Pogba out of Champions League lineup

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According to multiple reports across England, including the BBC, Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho is ready to leave Paul Pogba out of his starting lineup for Wednesday’s Champions League match against Sevilla despite utilizing a 4-3-3 formation with three central midfielders.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

The reports state that Pogba will be left on the bench in favor of youngster Scott McTominay, who will start alongside Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic. Mourinho has spoken highly of McTominay recently, saying three days ago, “I think Scott deserves more than what he is getting.”

“Maybe it’s because he’s this kind of kid profile: a normal haircut, no tattoos, no big cars, no big watches, humble kid, arrive in the club when he was nine or 10,” Mourinho said in what many perceived to be a thinly veiled slap at Pogba.

Mourinho has held back from publicly criticizing his $125 million midfielder in the media, but his actions on the field suggest otherwise. The 24-year-old has failed to record 90 minutes in three straight Premier League matches, seeing his manager yank him before the full-time whistle in two and failing to make the starting lineup in the other, leaving many to speculate a rift between the two.

The decision is especially surprising given Juan Mata‘s comments earlier Wednesday that suggested Manchester United is prioritizing the Champions League, given their 16-point deficit to Manchester City in the Premier League table.

Pogba missed the 2-0 FA Cup win over Huddersfield on Saturday due to illness, but it’s hard to imagine that four days later that keeps the French superstar on the bench, especially given his ability to make the trip to Sevilla with the matchday squad.

Leicester City settles Financial Fair Play dispute with Football League

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Leicester City will owe the Football League a reduced fine after coming to an agreement with the English lower-league governing body over a dispute regarding the 2013/14 season.

The Foxes, who won the Championship that season and were promoted to the Premier League, were handed an official breach of Financial Fair Play rules after accruing a loss exceeding the allowed $11 million amount. However, Leicester City argued that the deficit was due to “allowable” amounts regarding promotion and academy costs.

After talks between the two parties, the EFL announced Leicester City will owe a reduced amount of $4.33 million. They could have owed up to $18 million, the differential between the allowed amount and their actual posted loss of $20.8 million.

In an official release, the EFL announced, “The EFL acknowledges that [Leicester City] did not make any deliberate attempt to infringe the Rules or to deceive and that the dispute arose out of genuine differences of interpretation of the Rules between the parties.”

After initially receiving word of the notice back in 2014, the Foxes had legally challenged the fine, but that had been put on hold after litigation began in 2015 between the EFL and Queens Park Rangers for a similar dispute. Bournemouth was also fined after incurring a significant loss in their 2014/15 promotion season. Teams that breach rules but are not promoted face transfer bans, such as Fulham, Bolton, and Nottingham Forest received through the 2014/15 season.

Who’s to blame? A closer look at Chelsea’s blunder late vs. Barcelona

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As our very own Joe Prince-Wright explained yesterday in the aftermath of Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Barcelona in the Champions League Round of 16, Antonio Conte could not have set his team up better for success at Stamford Bridge.

And yet, they walked away from the first leg with a disappointing result, one that could set up Barcelona with the advantage as they head to the Camp Nou in two weeks time.

So where did it all go wrong? That pass from Andreas Christensen, obviously – the one that gifted Lionel Messi a late goal. But is Christensen to blame? Or were there other culprits?

Clearly, the pass was ill-advised. Christensen sends the ball across his own box parallel to the goal mouth, which Andreas Iniesta easily pilfers and sends to Messi for his first goal against Chelsea. It was a pass they teach 7-year-olds not to make, one that even the youngest of dedicated soccer players knows to avoid.

Christensen makes an easy target, given that he is just 21 years old, has only just recently earned his way into the Blues starting lineup, and was the most obvious culprit having made the fateful pass.

However, upon closer inspection, it may not have even been meant to reach the far side of the field.

Christensen’s exasperated reaction suggests the pass was likely intended for Cesc Fabregas who sat at the top of the box under little pressure. Christensen was closed down on the far touchline with little room to operate, and his outlet to Fabregas in the middle of the field was a good option, even if the general idea of a pass in that direction is usually frowned upon. However, Christensen’s pass was just slightly behind Fabregas, and the Spaniard ultimately decided to let the ball go instead of chasing it down, leaving it for a less populated area of the field.

Unfortunately, with his back turned to the eventual destination of the pass, Fabregas was unaware that Iniesta had anticipated its flight path and was already making a run to steal the ball. When the veteran Barcelona midfielder reached the ball, he was challenged by a sliding Cesar Azpilicueta, who completely whiffed. While Christensen and Fabregas were culpable of putting the team in a dangerous situation, Azpilicueta’s tackle was an abomination. Azpilicueta actually reached the ball first, but inexplicably failed to make contact with the ball, allowing Iniesta to easily evade the slide and still take charge of the ball.

Andreas Christensen is the clear perpetrator, but Fabregas and Azpilicueta both contributed negatively to the situation, leaving Chelsea at a slight disadvantage heading into a hostile environment despite Antonio Conte’s best efforts. Sadly, Conte will be the one to shoulder the accountability at the end of the season if Chelsea goes out of the Champions League, even though he received top marks for the match, and his players let him down.

Mata seems to confirm Champions League is Man United’s priority

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With the Premier League title all but wrapped up, English top flight teams are beginning to put their true focus onto competitions they still have a realistic shot of winning.

Manchester United sits in second place in the Premier League table, but they are a full 18 points back of rivals Manchester City, as so with a Champions League match against Sevilla on Wednesday afternoon, Juan Mata all but confirmed that the Red Devils are putting their main efforts into Europe’s largest competition.

[ MORE: Messi pegs back Chelsea despite winning tactics ]

“If we had less of a gap with respect to the Premier League leaders and we had a chance to fight for it, it wouldn’t be so tough to be eliminated from the Champions League, but now our aim is to progress from every round,” Mata said to Spanish radio station Cadena Ser. “It would be a big blow to be eliminated in the last 16.”

Last season, a similar story played out. Manchester United was out of reach of a top four finish in the league, so manager Jose Mourinho publicly admitted they were putting their main focus on the Europa League due to the automatic berth the competition’s winner received into next year’s Champions League. The gamble paid off, as Manchester United won the competition and earned their spot in the Champions League this season.

Sevilla has not progressed past the Round of 16 since 1958. Manchester United, meanwhile, has not made it past the Champions League quarterfinals since their runners-up finish in 2011, when they lost to Barcelona in the finals at Wembley Stadium.