Promotion Watch: Leicester up, but who will join them?

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The final few weeks of the English Championship have arrived, and one team have already sealed promotion from England’s second-tier.

Congratulations, Leicester City.

That being said, it’s time to keep one eye on the Championship’s other promotion hopefuls and which two teams could be joining the Foxes in the Premier League next season. 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 grueling 46 game season.

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

They’re up!

Current position: 1 – Leicester City – Games played 41, points 89

The Foxes have done it! Leiecester beat Sheffield Wednesday last Friday and needed QPR to lose and Derby to not win, and both duly obliged to send Nigel Pearson’s side back to the top-flight after a 10-year absence. Solid as a rock all season, they have an exciting mix of youngsters and wily veterans and now the aim is to win the Championship title. That took a bit of a hit, as they lost 4-1 to Brighton on Tuesday. They now face playoff contenders Reading away on Easter Monday.

Automatic aspirations

Current position: 2 – Burnley – Games played 41, points 83

Injury-ravaged Burnley are almost over the line, as they have a 11-point lead over third placed Derby. Sean Dyche’s men grabbed four points from away trips to Watford and Barnsley to keep their automatic promotion charge on track. The Clarets are just a few points away from making it back to the PL. If they win against Middlesbrough on Saturday, they could be up.

Top six certainties

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Will Derby be playing Chelsea in the PL next season?

Current position: 3 – Derby County – Games played 41, points 72

The Rams lost at Middlesbrough last weekend and with that went their chances of sealing automatic promotion. Probably. Steve McLaren’s side are hard to break down, and now it’s all about preparing themselves for the battle ahead in the playoffs. A great season for Derby, but will it get better? They beat Blackpool 3-1 away in midweek, can they follow that up by beating Huddersfield?

Current position: 4 – Queens Park Rangers – Games played 41, points 70

Harry Redknapp‘s men have lost two in a row to playoff chasing Bournemouth and Blackburn, as the West London club are resigned to the lottery of the playoffs. Inconsistency has plagued the R’s all season, and their recent slump has come at precisely the wrong time. If ‘Arry doesn’t seal promotion this season, it could be ‘ta, ta’ to QPR for the crafty cockney. On their day, they can give most PL teams a game with the squad they possess, but with teams below them hitting form and QPR limping over the line, it could be more heartache for the Loftus Road outfit.

Current position: 5 – Wigan Athletic – Games played 41, points 67

Wigan perhaps had one eye on their FA Cup semifinal against Arsenal this weekend, as they lost 1-0 to Millwall in midweek. Playoff qualification is all but secure, nut can Uwe Rosler’s men reach the FA Cup final for the second-straight season and defend their title? That would be a bonus, albeit a huge one, as Wigan are focused solely on winning the playoffs. They are bag in-form but not in league action this weekend.

Play Off pretenders

Current position: 6 – Reading – Games played 41, points 63

The Royals won 1-0 away at Charlton last Saturday, as U.S. midfielder Danny Williams got on the scoresheet. But they failed to build on that away at Bournemouth, as the Cherries made it five wins in a row by dispatching of Nigel Adkins’ Royals. They are now just two points ahead of the chasing pack outside the playoffs with five games to go. Squeaky bum time.

source: Getty Images
Sun, Seagulls and top-flight soccer at the Amex next season?

Current position: 7 -Brighton – Games played 41, points 61

Oscar Garcia’s side got a morale boosting win against Leicester City in midweek, as the Seagulls won for the first time in six. They face relegation haunted Charlton at home this weekend, and could enter the playoff spots with a win. A good end to the season could see the campaign extended at the Amex.

Current position: 8 – Ipswich – Games played 41, points 61

The Tractor Boys keep chugging along, as the Suffolk side beat Huddersfield 2-0 in midweek. Only one defeat in five for Mick McCarthy’s side and they host Doncaster at the weekend. They are right in this.

Current position: 9– Bournemouth – Games played 41, points 61

What is going on down in the seaside resort of Bournemouth? Five wins on the spin for Eddie Howe’s men has them flirting with the playoffs, as the Championship’s form team have beaten QPR and Reading in their last two games. Even if they don’t make the top six, incredible season from the newly promoted side.

Cristiano Ronaldo could face tax-fraud charges in Spain

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MADRID (AP) Spanish prosecutors are considering whether Cristiano Ronaldo should face charges over allegations by the country’s tax agency that he defrauded the authorities of 15 million euros ($16.7 million) between 2011 and 2014.

Prosecutors said Thursday they have until the end of June to decide whether to charge the Real Madrid star, based on evidence from an investigation by tax officials.

The alleged irregularities were mostly related to money that Ronaldo had in the Virgin Islands.

Tax officials said Ronaldo adjusted his tax declarations and paid an extra 6 million euros ($6.7 million) in 2014.

Prosecutors said that if they decided to charge him, and if the Portugal captain was subsequently found guilty by a court, he would face a prison sentence of at least 15 months. However, it would be unlikely he would go to jail as a first-time offender.

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi was convicted of tax fraud last year.

Terry: “I couldn’t care less” about 26th-minute farewell criticism

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John Terry is a man who… well, let’s just say, does things his way.

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For instance, remember the time Chelsea won the UEFA Champions League, by beating Bayern Munich, in penalties? Remember Chelsea’s post-game celebrations, which saw Terry, who was suspended for the final at the Allianz Arena, joyously jumping around with his teammates wearing his full kit, shin guards and all?

Was it over the top and a bit silly? Sure it was, but was anyone hurt or genuinely upset by it? Of course not. On Sunday, as Terry said goodbye to the only club he’s ever known (apart from a six-game loan spell at Nottingham Forest in 2000), he toed the line between what’s acceptable and what’s outlandish. Just like in 2012, Terry caused a minor uproar, and just like in 2012 he “couldn’t care less” — quotes from the Guardian:

“I couldn’t care less, I promise you. All I care about is celebrating with my Chelsea fans. Me and them have a wonderful rapport and have done for 22 years. Nothing that people write or say can ever get in the way of that.

“If that’s the way I want to go out, that’s the way I go out because I’ve been here 22 years, I’ve won so many trophies — so if I wanted to play one minute and come off, I would have done.

“I wanted to play 26 minutes because the shirt number means a lot to me and the supporters so as long as they are happy – and I was over the moon with the reception – I promise you I could not care less.”

“It was an unbelievable send-off from the supporters to help me to celebrate 22 years at the club.

“I’m very grateful to them, and it was something I will never forget. It was so emotional after the game, I was in bits.”

There’s something to be said about the success that Chelsea have had as a club, and the way its recency leads them to feel they are perceived by the outside world. Other clubs, “bigger,” most historic clubs — Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal, for example — have been winning trophies pretty regularly for decades, while 70 percent of the major trophies (14 of 20) won in the club’s history have come since Roman Abramovich bought the club 14 years ago, in 2003. Chelsea is a 112-year-old football club.

[ MORE: Pogba, Mkhitaryan fire Man United to Europa League trophy ]

Chelsea’s players and fans are so clearly away of their bought-and-paid-for status, thus everything is celebrated on the grandest scale, almost as if to legitimize their accomplishments (which stand up just fine on their own two feet) and standing within the hierarchy of English football. “Contrived” (and admittedly so) is the word that comes to mind and best describes Terry’s send-off.

No one in this space is saying there’s anything wrong with that, but everyone connected to Chelsea must realize and accept that it looks silly to supporters of the aforementioned long-time giants, and they’re going to be pointed at and laughed at every time they do it.

FA Cup: Three key battles between Arsenal, Chelsea

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The FA Cup final usually brings out terrific entertainment for the fans, and this Saturday’s finale should be no different.

When Arsenal and Chelsea take the field at Wembley Stadium, it will be the last chance this season for some of the Premier League’s stars such as Eden Hazard and Diego Costa for Chelsea and Alexis Sanchez and Mezut Ozil for Arsenal to bring glory to their club.

[ MORE: Follow all the FA Cup scores here ]

The match features two teams heading in different directions. Chelsea, the Premier League champions are in the ascendency after a one-year hiatus out of European competition, while Arsenal finished outside the top-four places in the Premier League for the first time in 20 years under manager Arsene Wenger.

In addition, there’s plenty of other storylines to watch on the field, from whether it’s Costa, Sanchez and Ozil’s potential last matches with their respective teams to how Arsenal will deal without two of its three regular centerbacks they’ve used this season.

Here’s a look at three key battles on the field ahead of the FA Cup final:


Arsenal’s centerbacks vs. Diego Costa

Diego Costa may be a thorn in Chelsea’s side off the field when it comes to the constant speculation of a move away from Stamford Bridge, but on the field this season he’s been brilliant. Costa scored 20 goals in the Premier League and another goal in FA Cup action, and he contributes off the ball as well, drawing the defense in towards him while opening up space for teammates including Hazard and Willian.

Heading into Saturday, it’s unclear who on Arsenal will be tasked with marking Costa. Laurent Koscielny was issued a straight red card in Arsenal’s 3-1 win over Everton and will miss the FA Cup final due to suspension while fellow centerback Gabriel left the field on a stretcher after suffering a knee injury. In addition, Shkodran Mustafi is still recovering from a concussion and is a doubt for Saturday.

That leaves Wenger with just Per Mertesacker and Rob Holding as healthy centerbacks, which could force Wenger to revert back to his usual four-man backline from the more recent three-man backline that’s been used.

Regardless of who Arsenal put out there, expect Costa to be at his best, attempting to physically dominate his opponent and get under their skin.


Nemanja Matic and N'Golo Kante vs. Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez

Arsenal are at their best when they play through the middle of the field before finding runners out wide, setting up crossing attempts into the middle or perhaps another chance to play through the lines in the center of the field.

Standing in Arsenal’s playmaking duo of Mezut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez’s way are Nemanja Matic and N’Golo Kante. Kante, as Riyad Mahrez saw last year, does so much of the dirty work defensively that he allows his teammates including Matic and Hazard to bomb forward and either create or finish goal-scoring opportunities.

Kante will have his hands full dealing with Ozil and Sanchez in midfield, and Matic may need to sit a bit deeper to cut off the passing lanes, potentially taking him out of Chelsea’s counter attack.


Eden Hazard vs. Hector Bellerin

For all the speed that Hazard possesses on the ball, there’s at least one player on Arsenal who can keep stride pace-for-pace.

With Hazard likely lining up on the left wing, Arsenal’s right wing back Hector Bellerin will likely face Hazard up one-on-one at both ends of the field, setting up a fun encounter. With Bellerin’s speed and ability to track back, he may be open to a few 40-yard springs into space down the right wing, knowing that Hazard probably won’t be in hot pursuit.

But if Bellerin doesn’t end up with the ball and there’s an Arsenal turnover, Hazard on his own or against a centerback on the left wing could be a nightmare for Arsenal to deal with.

Man United, Man City come together to support terror victims

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The Manchester derby is known as one of the world’s fiercest rivalries, but in the wake of a devastating terrorist attack this week, both sides are joining together to support the city of Manchester and victims of the attack.

Manchester United and Manchester City announced Thursday they pledged together nearly $1.3 million into the We Love Manchester community fund. The fund was set up to assist the families of the 22 people who died and 64 people who were injured in the attack.

“The barbarism of Monday evening’s attack has shocked everyone,” Manchester United executive vice chairman Ed Woodward said in a statement. “Our clubs are right at the heart of our local communities in Manchester and it is right that we present a unified response to this tragedy. The money will help of course but the work of the two clubs and their respective foundation and community scheme can build on the fantastic spirit that Mancunians have shown in the immediate aftermath.”

Folks who want to donate to the fund can visit http://www.redcross.org.uk/manchester or http://www.justgiving.com/campaigns/charity/redcross/ManchesterEmergencyFund.

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