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.

UEFA: Wales in trouble; Spain dominates; Buffon hits 1000

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Friday’s matches mark the midway point of the main round of qualifying in UEFA, and the tables remain tight near the top of Groups D and G.

[ MORE: Smalling hurt, Gibson called up ]

Group I, however, is seeing some distance between first and second thanks to Croatia’s result versus Ukraine.

Republic of Ireland 0-0 Wales

Neil Taylor was sent off in the 69th minute for Wales, whose World Cup hopes are in trouble.

Seamus Coleman was stretchered off after the tackle, with a scary-looking injury that will leave Everton fans sick in more ways than one. Coleman’s leg was broken, and left dangling by the challenge.

Ireland couldn’t take advantage of the sending off, and failed in a bid to overtake Serbia for first in Group D. The Irish trail on goal differential, and will host Serbia on Sept. 5.

But Wales will rue the result more, remaining four points back of second-place Ireland. Chris Coleman’s side drops a point behind Austria as well, and will not have Taylor or Gareth Bale (card accumulation) in its next match. That comes against leaders Serbia.

Italy 2-0 Albania

Daniele De Rossi scored a 12th minute penalty kick won by Andrea Belotti, and Ciro Immobile scored late to provided the goals in Gianluigi Buffon’s 1000th appearance for club and country. Fittingly, it ended in a clean sheet. The match was briefly delayed after flares were thrown onto the field.

Spain 4-1 Israel

David Silva, Vitolo, and Diego Costa stakes the Spaniards to a three-goal lead, with Lior Refaelov ruining David De Gea‘s clean sheet with 11 minutes to play. Isco scored the match’s final goal.

Spain remains atop Group G on goal differential, eight better than second place Italy. Israel is four points behind both.

Croatia 1-0 Ukraine

Fiorentina’s Nikola Kalinic’s 38th minute goal was enough for the hosts, and Croatia is now five points clear at the top midway through qualifying.

Elsewhere
Austria 2-0 Moldova — RB Leipzig’s Sabitzer nabs winner
Liechtenstein 0-3 Macedonia — Ilija Nestorovski bags brace
Kosovo 1-2 Iceland — Sigurdsson PK the match winner
Georgia 1-3 Serbia — Mitrovic, Tadic lead the way
Turkey 2-0 Finland — Brace for Cenk Tosun

Boro’s Gibson called to England after injury to Man Utd’s Smalling

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Scoring goals has been the biggest problem for Middlesbrough in its return to the Premier League, and that overshadows how well the Northeast club has defended its own goal.

Ben Gibson has been a huge part of that, and now he’ll earn the chance to represent his nation thanks to an injury to Chris Smalling. Gibson will join England ahead of Sunday’s home World Cup qualifier against Lithuania.

[ MORE: Podolski leads Germany past England ]

Gibson has far and away been Boro’s best player, leading the side in blocked shots and clearances. The blocked shots total is tied for ninth in the Premier League, 11 behind current leader and new England teammate Michael Keane.

Smalling’s undisclosed injury is a bigger problem for Manchester United, which had already lost center back depth on England duty when Phil Jones was hurt.

Dele Alli to miss next three European matches, UCL or UEL

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Tottenham Hotspur is primed to qualify for a second-straight UEFA Champions League campaign this year, and will have to start that sophomore run without Dele Alli.

The 20-year-old playmaker has banned for his next three matches. If Spurs finish fourth, that would mean both qualifying matches and an additional match.

[ MORE: Five questions for USMNT ]

If they finish higher, Dele will miss the first three group stage matches.

Dele was shown red for a tackle on Brecht Dejaegere in Spurs’ 2-2 draw with Gent in the UEFA Europa League Round of 32, as Tottenham left the tournament.

Men in Blazers podcast: Man City-Liverpool review, USMNT preview

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Rog and Davo recap the Top Four battle between Manchester City and Liverpool, ask (again) whether it’s time for Arsene to go, and break down two of the most important USMNT games in modern history.

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