Promotion Watch: Leicester City on the brink, as play off push heats up

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The final few weeks of the English Championship have arrived, with everything still to play for in England’s second-tier.

That being said, its time to keep one eye on the Championship and the teams at the top, three of which will be playing in the Premier League next season if they manage to secure promotion. In case you’re not familiar with how this works, the bottom three from the PL at the end of this season get relegated to the Championship, and the two teams who finish first and second in the Champions gain automatic promotion to the world’s most-watched league.

(MORE: Latest Championship standings)

Then, as if that wasn’t enough excitement, teams who finish third through sixth in the Championship battle it out in the playoffs, with the winner of the final at Wembley securing a place in the PL in what’s been dubbed as ‘soccer’s richest match’ with the cash windfall for promotion exceeding $150 million. Wowza.

Each week from now until the end of the season, will check in on the Championship to see the ecstasy and agony of those teams fighting to make it to the big-time after a gruelling 46 game season.

Some massive teams are on the brink of promotion, can they get themselves over the line?

Automatic aspirations

Current position: 1 – Leicester City – Games played 38, points 85

The Foxes have one hand on the Championship trophy, as they beat second-placed Burnely 2-0 away at Turf Moor last weekend with two stunning goals in the sunshine. Tough trip to FA Cup holders and in-form Wigan Athletic awaits in midweek, before the Foxes host Sheffield Wednesday on Friday. Pivotal three day stretch coming up.

Current position: 2 – Burnley – Games played 39, points 79

After defeat to Leicester, the Clarets are starting to wobble a little and losing star striker Sam Vokes for the rest of the season will hurt them. A tricky game away at playoff hopefuls Watford awaits this week. Can Sean Dyche’s side hold onto second spot? They have a nine point cushion over QPR with seven games to go, but anything can happen…

Current position: 3 – Queens Park Rangers – Games played 39, points 70

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QPR’s stable of stars has struggled in recent weeks. Can they pull it together and snatch an automatic promotion spot?

Harry Redknapp’s men have recovered after a blip which saw them lose four in seven but now QPR are three games unbeaten. Possessing the best squad in the Championship, by far, it has been a disappointing season for Redknapp’s men who were relegated from the PL in 2012-13. However, they’re still in with a shot of automatic promotion if they can finish strong. Playoff chasing Bournemouth away this weekend for the R’s.

Top six certainties

Current position: 4 – Derby County – Games played 39, points 69

Steve McLaren has turned Derby into playoff certainties and they have an outside chance and nicking second place. The American and Canadian ownership group who run the Rams have this week stated the club is no longer in debt to them, as good times are ahead for the Pride Park outfit. Middlesbrough away this weekend.

Current position: 5 – Wigan Athletic – Games played 38, points 63

New manager Uwe Rosler has had a tremendous start to life at the DW Stadium, with the Latics in the FA Cup semifinal and making a strong surge towards the playoffs. Last weekend Jordi Gomez missed a last minute spot kick which would’ve sealed victory over Lancashire rivals Bolton, but Wigan remain on course for the playoffs as they aim for an immediate return to the PL. Big week, as they host Leicester and Leeds.

Play Off pretenders

Current position: 6 – Reading – Games played 39, points 60

The Royals have been wobbling under Nigel Adkins, as they could only draw at home to Huddersfield on Saturday. It is now six games without a win at the Madejski Stadium at precisely the wrong time of the season. Only three wins in their last 10 games could scupper Reading’s chances of making a return back to the PL at the first time of asking. They face relegation haunted Charlton Athletic away this weekend.

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U.S. international Danny Williams is helping Reading battle towards the playoffs.

Current position: 7 -Nottingham Forest – Games played 39, points 58

Managerless Forest have made a right pig’s ear of the final few months of the season. For so long this season Forest were flying under Billy Davies, but the Scotsman was relieved of his duties last week as the two-time European champions slid down the standings. However, they are only two points and one place below the playoffs so all is not lost. Rumors of Stuart Pearce taking over at the City Ground are rife, a big win against lowly Millwall could be exactly what they doctor ordered.

Current position: 8 – Ipswich – Games played 39, points 58

The Tractor Boys have had a fine season under Mick McCarthy and are threatening to make a late run to the playoffs. Portman Road has become a fortress and Ipswich are one of the toughest teams to play against. Organized and solid, they will be hoping to beat Blackburn at home this weekend.

Current position: 9 -Brighton – Games played 38, points 56

Oscar Garcia has seen his side slip towards midtable after a run of three-straight defeats. The South Coast club are an attractive side to watch, but too often this season they’ve come up against teams who’ve out battled them. If they lose to Blackburn in midweek, they can almost kiss their playoff dreams goodbye.

Bayern beats Bremen 4-2 to go 16 points clear in Bundesliga

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BERLIN (AP) Robert Lewandowski scored twice as Bayern Munich stretched its considerable Bundesliga lead even further Sunday with a 4-2 win over visiting Werder Bremen.

It’s the sixth consecutive round in which Bayern has extended its lead since a defeat at Borussia Moenchengladbach in the 13th round – Jupp Heynckes’ only blot in 17 games across all competitions since he returned as coach.

[ MORE: Javi Gracia named new Watford manager ]

Bayern moved 16 points clear after 19 games.

Despite facing a relegation fight and aware of the side’s terrible record in Munich – Bayern scored at least five goals in each of Bremen’s last five visits – the visiting players showed they weren’t overawed and started brightly.

Max Kruse struck the post early on, and the visitors duly went ahead in the 25th minute when Kruse timed his pass perfectly for Jerome Gondorf to squeeze the ball past Sven Ulreich, through the goalkeeper’s legs.

But Bayern struck back with its first real chance minutes before the break. Thomas Mueller controlled Jerome Boateng’s cross on his chest with his first touch and profited from defender Milos Veljkovic‘s loss of balance as he scored with his next.

Lewandowski, who skipped Bayern’s previous game with a knee problem, put the home side in front with a powerful header from James Rodriguez’ corner with a half-hour remaining.

An own-goal from Niklas Suele gave Bremen renewed hope, but Lewandowski grabbed his league-leading 17th goal of the season minutes later with another header, this time Mueller providing the cross.

Mueller then sealed it late with his second of the game off a ball over the top from James. It was the 28-year-old’s 100th Bundesliga goal.

Mueller suggested Bayern’s nine-day break between games had a negative impact as the team had an even tougher week than usual in training.

“Perhaps that’s a small reason (for Bayern’s lackluster start),” Mueller said. “We certainly have to work on a few things, like we do after every game. We’re not yet where we want to be. But the team’s attitude and condition are excellent.”

SCHALKE DISAPPOINTS

Niclas Fuellkrug scored late for Hannover to grab a 1-1 draw at Schalke, denying the home side the opportunity to go second.

Much of the Schalke supporters’ attention was focused on Leon Goretzka, the Germany midfielder who agreed to join Bayern on a free transfer at the end of the season.

There were whistles for Goretzka as his name was called out before kickoff, and there were more any time he touched the ball before he was eventually taken off for Weston McKennie.

Some fans held a large banner declaring: “Neither money nor titles are worth more than our club.”

Marko Pjaca scored early on his first Bundesliga start after joining Schalke from Juventus, but the home side did not press its advantage and Fuellkrug earned the visitors a deserved share of the points. Hannover’s Felix Klaus hit the post in the first half.

Transfer rumor roundup: Auba to Arsenal, Man City target Evans, Fred

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With less than 10 days remaining in the winter transfer window in England, and other leagues not too far behind, teams are looking to bolster their rosters in an attempt to make title pushes come May.

[ MORE: Spurs, Saints play to 1-1 stalemate at St. Mary’s ]

Pro Soccer Talk takes a glance at some of Sunday’s biggest transfer stories and rumors, with an emphasis on those pertaining to the Premier League.


Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang looks to be on his way to the Emirates Stadium this month, as Arsenal aims to revamp its attack in the wake of Alexis Sanchez’s departure.

Goal is reporting that Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis is in Germany to help close the deal for the Gunners, who are also nearing a move for Manchester United attacker Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan have a history together, having featured together in the Borussia Dortmund lineup.

Various reports still state that Dortmund is holding out for nearly $73 million in order for the Gunners to obtain Aubameyang’s services this window.


For awhile it seemed like Manchester City were the favorites to acquire Sanchez, but now the club has turned its attention elsewhere.

Goal is reporting that the Cityzens will instead go after West Bromwich Albion defender Jonny Evans and Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Fred.

Pep Guardiola‘s side is reportedly seeking a deeper bench heading into next month when the UEFA Champions League picks back up.

Man City currently holds a 12-point lead at the top of the PL table.


Chelsea has had some interest recently in some… interesting…. PL strikers, and now the Blues have apparently turned their attention to another lesser-known commodity.

It seems that the Blues have turned their attention to Burnley forward Ashley Barnes to serve as a secondary option in Antonio Conte‘s lineup.

Alvaro Morata remains the club’s go-to option up front, along with attackers Eden Hazard and Willian, but Chelsea has been seeking another forward to compliment the Spaniard for some time.

Additionally, Belgian striker Michy Batshuayi is in the mix as well for the Blues, despite only having scored two PL goals this season (eight in all comps).

Depay strike downs PSG, brings Lyon second in Ligue 1

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Memphis Depay‘s time in England may not have gone according to plan, but the young Dutchman is tearing it up in France.

[ SPAIN & ITALY: Bale, Real Madrid soar with seven-goal outburst and more ]

The former Manchester United winger scorched the game-winner into net on Sunday, as his Lyon side went on to defeat league leaders Paris Saint-Germain, 2-1, at the Stade des Lumières.

Stunning first-half strikes from Nabil Fekir (15th goal of the season) and Layvin Kurzawa had the two clubs level at 1-1 going into the halftime break, but there was more action to be had after the mandatory stoppage.

A straight red card from Dani Alves in the second stanza put the Parisians at a major disadvantage, and Lyon would capitalize down the stretch with the extra man.

The hosts putting the finishing touches on the match four minutes deep into second-half stoppage time when Depay struck a beauty of a shot past goalkeeper Alphonse Areola.

Depay is now up to 10 goals on the season in all competitions for Lyon, including eight in league play.

PSG may have suffered its biggest loss though in the first half when Kylian Mbappe was taken off the field on a stretcher after a rough collision with Lyon shot-stopper Anthony Lopes.

The victory brings Lyon up to second place in France’s top flight, while PSG still holds an eight-point  lead over the runners’ up with 16 matches left in Ligue 1 play.

La Liga & Serie A: Bale leads Real to seven-goal outburst and more

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A roundup of Sunday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Real Madrid 7-1 Deportivo La Coruna

Now, this is more like it from the defending European champions. Zinedine Zidane’s side went behind on Sunday when Adrian put the visitors in front, however, Real Madrid woke up and scored seven unanswered goals at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Gareth Bale was the star on the day with a brilliant curler that kicked off the first of his two goals (below). After Cristiano Ronaldo appeared to go down inside the penalty area, Bale carried on and put the ball onto his left foot before sliding his shot in off the inside of the far post.

Meanwhile, Ronaldo picked up a brace of his own on the day, both of which came off of headers for the Portuguese international. The veteran goalscorer also got bloodied on the day, but that didn’t stop him from adding to his impressive goal total.

Real Betis 0-5 Barcelona

A slow start to the match was aided by a Barcelona team that came out for blood in the second stanza. Ivan Rakitic and braces from Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi paced the road side in the second half, keeping their unbeaten La Liga record in tacked.

Although Rakitic was the first to find his name on the scoresheet, it was his assist to Suarez that later on that proved to be a thing of excellence from both parties.

The first half was mildly uneventful for the Blaugrana, however, the Catalonians suffered another injury blow as Thomas Vermaelen left the match after pulling up in the first half with what appeared to be a hamstring pull.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Alaves 2-2 Leganes
Real Sociedad 1-2 Celta Vigo


Lazio 5-1 Chievo Verona

Lazio moved into third place in Serie A after a convincing victory at the Stadio Olimpico. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic’s double for the hosts helped propel them to the win, after Luis Alberto kicked off the scoring in the 23rd minute.

Chievo found a brief response two minutes later, but from there it was all Lazio as they closed to within 11 points of league leaders Napoli.

Cagliari 1-2 AC Milan

Franck Kessié scored twice in six minutes to pull Milan back into the match on the day, and that was exactly what they needed to secure three points at the Sardegna Arena. AC Milan sits seventh in Italy’s top flight through 21 matches, 23 points behind Napoli.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Inter Milan 1-1 Roma
Udinese 1-1 SPAL
Sassuolo 1-1 Torino
Sampdoria 3-1 Fiorentina
Bologna 3-0 Benevento
Hellas Verona 0-3 Crotone
Atalanta 0-1 Napoli