Promotion Watch: Burnley on the cusp of Premier League return

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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.

Leicester City are already up, but they’ve yet to seal the Championship title as Burnley push them all the way. The Clarets haven’t yet sealed their automatic spot, but they’re ever so close to returning to the big-time.

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 42, points 90

The Foxes are in the Premier League, so they are allowed to party, right? It seems like Nigel Pearson’s men have been doing a little too much of it though. A heavy defeat to Brighton and a draw with Reading means they haven’t sealed the title, yet.

Almost automatic

Current position: 2 – Burnley – Games played 42, points 83

One more win could do it for the Clarets, as Sean Dyche’s men travel to Blackpool this weekend. If they win and Derby County don’t, the Champagne corker will be popping all the way back to Turf Moor.

Top six certainties

Current position: 3 – Derby County – Games played 42, points 75

Derby pummeled Huddersfield to stay in the hunt for automatic promotion, but it seems as though the Rams will have to settle for the playoffs. A tough trip to Doncaster awaits this weekend, will Steve McLaren’s men keep the fight going for another week?

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Will Redknapp’s men hold their nerve and clinch a playoff spot?

Current position: 4 – Queens Park Rangers – Games played 42, points 73

Rangers are finishing the season strongly, despite the obvious disappointment of missing out on the top two. Harry Redknapp’s side smashed five past Nottingham Forest last Saturday. If they beat Leicester away this weekend, and other teams below them slip up, the R’s will seal a place in the top six.

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

Wigan’s brave fight in their FA Cup semifinal defeat to Arsenal showed what a great team they are. Now they have to pick themselves up and go again in the league to seal a playoff spot. The chasing pack are gathering behind them, just one slip up from Uwe Rosler’s side could hurt them. They play Reading on Friday as whoever wins will give themselves a lot of breathing space.

Play Off pretenders

Current position: 6 – Reading – Games played 42, points 64

Reading are hanging on in there and pulled out a great draw against already-promoted Leicester on Monday. They now face a showdown with Wigan, as Nigel Adkins remains positive but his team are without a win at home in seven.

Current position: 7 -Brighton – Games played 42, points 64

Two wins in a row for Brighton, who are now edging closer to the top six. They are level on points with Reading and if they beat Huddersfield this weekend they will make up serious ground on Wigan and Reading ahead of them.

Current position: 8 – Ipswich – Games played 42, points 64

Mick McCarthy’s team are grinding out wins as they beat Doncaster and have won two on the bounce to put themselves level with Reading and Brighton. A trip to Vicarage Road to play Watford awaits on Saturday.

Current position: 9– Bournemouth – Games played 42, points 62

The Cherries slipped up a little away at relegation threatened Yeovil, but their sensational win-streak had to come to an end at some point. Eddie Howe’s team are playing superb stuff, and they should beat Sheffield Wednesday this Friday. They could be in the top six with three games to go.

Mexico captain Guardado suffers hamstring injury

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With the World Cup still half a year away, there’s plenty of time to heal from injuries and get the body right after tweaking things during the club season.

And yet, there will still be some concern among Mexico fans.

Team captain Andres Guardado suffered a hamstring tear, his club Real Betis confirmed on Monday, and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. That’s nothing to write home about when it comes to preparing for the big tournament, but with Guardado 31 years old and struggling with injuries in recent years, Mexico fans will be keenly aware that hamstring injuries can return with a vengeance if not given the right time to heal.

Guardado has shown his age in recent times, not necessarily with his play on the field, which has been critical to his country, but with his fitness. Guardado has just four full 90 minute performances for Mexico dating back to October of 2016, missing time with ankle, leg, and now hamstring injuries in that span.

The 31-year-old has had a fine season so far for Real Betis, scoring one goal and assisting six while appearing in all 15 La Liga matches for the club thus far. The club sits 12th in the La Liga table with 18 points.

Guardado will be fine with plenty of time to spare, but if not fully healed properly, there’s always the risk that muscle injuries can flare back up, and Mexico fans will hope that their captain’s club gives him plenty of rest to recover.

Mark Hughes wants Stoke City to “suck it up”

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Mark Hughes is under fire at Stoke City with the Potters firmly entrenched in the relegation battle, and with that he’s charging his players, staff, and himself to gut the rest of the season out.

With Stoke heading to Turf Moor to take on Burnley, they sit just three points above the drop. The players were faced with jeers from angry fans at the train station following this past weekend’s 5-1 disaster against Tottenham. The fiery Hughes is hoping to use this jarring moment to jolt his squad.

[ PREVIEW: Tuesday’s Premier League action ]

“That is still resonating. It’s good we have a game because it is still fresh in their ears probably, and they can use it as a motivating factor,” said Hughes during his pre-match press conference.

“You either suck it up and do ­something about it or you go under, and we can’t accept players like that. I don’t feel we have players like that.”

With managers nowadays often reaching into the excuses barrel as they hope to save their own skins, Hughes refuses to do just that, instead placing the decision firmly on the players shoulders, telling them they are the only ones who can save the club.

“Maybe some hadn’t ­confronted that before – but sometimes you need a reality check, and understand how our results and ­performances affect people,” Hughes said. “When people criticize you, you have to grow a thick skin in this industry. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong place.”

Louis van Gaal calls Mourinho’s United “far more boring”

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Louis Van Gaal has picked just the right time to pipe up.

The former Manchester United manager, who took flak while in charge for his side being hideous to watch, has now taken shots of his own at his successor Jose Mourinho, kicking Manchester United while they’re down after a 2-1 derby defeat at home.

The Dutchman told Fox Sports Netherlands, “If you ask me how did I do at United, I will say it was my best year ever, given the circumstances I was working under. We played football that was quite alright. But it’s not football that is appreciated in England. And yet, right now, looking at United, I have to conclude Mourinho is not being criticized while it’s far more boring football.”

[ PREVIEW: Premier League Tuesday matches, including Chelsea vs. Huddersfield ]

Van Gaal was blasted consistently for playing a boring style, especially in front of the home crowd, and now Mourinho is being criticized for the same concept. Mourinho was denounced for similar reasons while in charge of Chelsea, but with the club winning multiple titles under his leadership, the noise was always less while the team was winning. With Manchester United still unable to crack the top 4, Mourinho is feeling the heat.

“What United produce now is defensive football,” van Gaal said. “I always played attacking football. The proof is that the opposition were always parking the bus. They don’t do that now because Jose Mourinho plays so defensive.”

To van Gaal’s point, Manchester United is seventh in the Premier League in possession, holding 51% possession this season. They were out-possessed by Manchester City 65-35 at Old Trafford over the weekend. Meanwhile, van Gaal’s last full season with Manchester United, the 2015/16 season, saw the Red Devils hold 54%, which ranked third in the Premier League, just a percentage point behind leaders Arsenal. However, van Gaal’s United ranked 15th in the Premier League in total shots, while Mourinho’s United this season ranks sixth at this point.

Van Gaal made sure to point out he prefers their cross-town rivals.

“I would rather watch City play than United. You need quality in a squad and it’s clear City have a better squad.”

Conte blames fatigue for dip in Chelsea form

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Antonio Conte has figured out what is plaguing his Chelsea side as they sit 14 points back of Premier League leaders Manchester City.

“I think when you play every three days, it is impossible to have a training session and to work on the physical aspects,” Conte said in his pre-match press conference as the Blues get set to play Huddersfield Town on Tuesday. “It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you have to prepare with the players for a game every three days.”

Chelsea has yet to find itself eliminated from a single competition, drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League while navigating fixtures across all four competitions.

And yet, this is nothing new for Conte. The Blues boss is more than familiar with fixture congestion, having taken charge of Juventus and regularly competing at a high level on multiple fronts. In 2012/13, he won the Serie A title, won the Supercoppa Italia, and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

However, this is new for Conte at Chelsea. Last season, the Blues did not take part in a European competition thanks to their disastrous season the previous year. While they reached the FA Cup final, they were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the 4th round.

“We have to try to do our best,” Conte said. “For sure, some players can be tired, that’s normal because some players are playing from this summer and our tours in China and Singapore. It’s normal. But I repeat we have to find the best solution. We have to find more rotations. I’m doing this, we will try and do our best with hunger and desire. We will fight.”

As an example, Conte said Alvaro Morata will miss the match on Tuesday against Huddersfield Town due to fatigue, with the Spaniard battling a slight back injury. “Morata is out. He is a bit tired and he has a problem in his back.