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.

source: Getty Images
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.

Wenger: Sanchez, Giroud will both be with Arsenal next year

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Arsene Wenger thinks Alexis Sanchez will sign a new deal at Arsenal this summer, whether the manager changes or not.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s visit from Leicester City, Wenger did not offer any clues as to his future with the club. He also said it does not hinge on how the Gunners finish the current campaign, and that he is working on transfers for the benefit of Arsenal regardless of his future.

[ MORE: Will Real open door for Barca? ]

That’s no surprise, given his reputation and fidelity to the club. What may surprise some is Wenger’s confidence that Sanchez will stay at the Emirates Stadium.

From Sky Sports:

“I personally think he will stay and sign. First of all he is happy here, his desire is to stay, that is what I deeply believe.

“I don’t think you would sell him to any Premier League club, that is for sure. The question is why would you sell him to another club? You want to be as strong as you can be and not strengthen the other teams.”

Wenger said both sides want to work out a deal and that the hold-up resides in agent-related matters. He also said Arsenal does not have interest in selling Olivier Giroud, who backed Wenger just over a month ago.

Title fight in Spain: Will Real slip up again?

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Barcelona’s dramatic 3-2 win over Real Madrid has set La Liga’s title race on its ear, with both clubs level on points with 75.

Real still controls its own destiny in a bid for its first league title since 2011-12, but a single loss puts Barcelona in pole position for its fourth title in five seasons.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

The tiebreaker is head-to-head, which Lionel Messi lifted from Real with his thrilling stoppage time thriller on Sunday at the Bernabeu.

Here are the run-ins for both sides, with Real facing a more congested schedule thanks to its status as a UEFA Champions League semifinalist.

Real Madrid

Only two of Real’s remaining five La Liga matches are at home, a boon for Barcelona considering Real boasts a strong home mark. The loss to Barca was Real’s first at the Bernabeu this season, and the Merengues only drew three matches at home (Villarreal, Eibar, Atletico Madrid).

Those home matches, however, are against teams that beat Real in the sides’ other league meetings this year, Sevilla and Valencia.

Wednesday – at Deportivo de la Coruna (16th)
Saturday – vs. Valencia (12th)
May 2 – vs. Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 6 – at Granada (19th)
May 10 – at Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 14 – vs. Sevilla (4th)
May 21 – at Malaga (14th)

Barcelona

Barca is home for three of its remaining five matches. The Blaugranas drew Villarreal and blew out Osasuna and Eibar ahead of the return visits.

As for the road matches, Barca has the Derbi barceloni with Espanyol, having taken the Camp Nou meeting 4-1, as well as a trip to Las Palmas (5-0 at home).

Wednesday – vs. Osasuna (20th)
Saturday – at Espanyol (9th)
May 6 – vs. Villarreal (5th)
May 14 – at Las Palmas (13th)
May 21 – vs. Eibar (8th)
May 27 – vs. Alaves (Copa del Rey Final)

The verdict

Any whiplash Real faces from schedule congestion should be offset by Barcelona’s much tougher schedule. Real could lose again, perhaps versus Sevilla, but Barca will likely finish second thanks to dropped points against Espanyol, Eibar, or Villarreal.

Premier League Weds. preview: Desperation on display

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Two London powers face a race to stay alive for their lofty season goals, while two Northeast sides see their last chances to claim hope for another year in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: All PL games here ]

That’s what’s on the docket for Wednesday’s PL matches, one day after Chelsea buried Southampton 4-2 t0 move seven points clear of Spurs in the race for the league’s 2016-17 crown.

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

No team has looked better than Spurs lately, though Palace won’t be bowed by a big name or good form. Sam Allardyce‘s Eagles boast wins at Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as a home defeat of Arsenal. Those have all come in 2017, as Palace has leapt to within striking distance of the top half.

Spurs need to win at Selhurst Park to keep pace with Chelsea and sit four points back of the No. 1 spot with five matches to play. Lose, concede, and feel like last April all over again. It was a year from Tuesday that Spurs coughed up a home lead to Leicester and saw any hopes of catching Leicester fade into the sunset.

Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET

This Tees-Wear Derby oozes desperation, with Sunderland knowing it needs to win its matches-in-hand on Hull City and Swansea to have any hope of staying up, and Middlesbrough nearly as desperate.

Boro’s 24 points is three more than Sunderland, who has played one less game. Hull sits 17th with 33 points while Swansea holds 31.

Middlesbrough hasn’t won in the Premier League since Dec. 17, a run of 16 matches. Their only wins of the year are over lower league opposition, a trio of victories against Sheffield Wednesday, Accrington Stanley, and Oxford United.

Sunderland has just one league win since that same date in December, and that came at Crystal Palace. The Black Cats have lost six of eight, and look destined to join Boro in the second tier as Northeast neighbors Newcastle comes up.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images )

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — 2:45 p.m. ET

Did Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Manchester City snap Arsenal out of its funk, or was it just a matter of Alexis Sanchez’s class squeezing a bit of excellence out of the tube?

Arsene Wenger will hope for the latter, because Arsenal’s Top Four hopes hinge on winning its matches-in-hand on Liverpool and getting significant help from Man City and Manchester United. Their opposition will also be rested, having rested since bowing out of the UEFA Champions League on April 18.

Leicester’s five match winning streak, part of Craig Shakespeare’s new manager bounce, has died down a bit. The Foxes lost at Everton and drew at Palace, and get a third tricky road test in a row at the Emirates Stadium.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

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“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”