Championship Sunday Focus: West Bromwich Albion

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Story so farMired in the bottom half of the table for most of the season, it never truly appeared that the Baggies would be faced with relegation until a few weeks ago, all of a sudden you blink and they’re in 17th.

However, unless they find a way to lose a 17-goal lead in differential, they won’t have to worry about playing in the Championship next season.

Let me rephrase that…they won’t have to worry about playing in the Championship next season.

However, finishing 17th isn’t anything to write home about, and if West Brom would like to give themselves a bit of a boost going into the offseason, they’ll look to finish out with a win over Stoke City.  This wasn’t the way Jeremy Peace envisioned the season ending up when he appointed Pepe Mel as manager, but at least they’ll have another Premier League fixture list next season.

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The club has a lot of work to do if they want to give supporters a sense of safety next season, but finishing the season on a high note will also do a bit towards that.

Who do they play and where can I watch it?
The Baggies close out at the Hawthornes against Stoke City, a club that’s taken points off them a whopping 13 of the last 14 times, including five wins in the last six meetings for the Potters.

For Stoke, there’s a bit more riding on the match, with the club searching for its first-ever top-10 finish in the Premier League, but neither have any serious implications on its final match.

The two teams will collide at 10am ET Sunday live on Oxygen, or live online at NBC Sports Live Extra.

Form guide:

April 12: D vs. Tottenham 3-3
April 21: L @ Manchester City 3-1
April 26: W vs. West Ham 1-0
May 4: L @ Arsenal 1-0
May 7: L @ Sunderland 2-0

When the final whistle blowsWest Brom supporters will check the scorelines furiously before seeing Norwich didn’t beat Arsenal by 16 goals. Then they’ll wipe the sweat from their brows. It’s been a season of lots of pressure and little results, but the ones they got were timely enough.

Pepe Mel hardly fared better than his sacked predecessor Steve Clarke, and the club very well could make another change this coming offseason. That won’t be the only change if it happens, either. Zoltan Gera is likely to leave at the expiry of his contract, and a lack of goals recently will see them likely reassess the current striking options of Saido Berainho, Matej Vydra, and Victor Anichebe. Berainho is a good talent for the future, but likely will need help if the club is to put together a consistent attack.

VIDEO: Marco Verratti plays a brilliant pass to Eder for Italy goal

PALERMO, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 06:  Marco Verratti of Italy in action during the UEFA EURO 2016 Qualifier match between Italy and Bulgaria on September 6, 2015 in Palermo, Italy.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
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Italy took a 1-0 lead over Azerbaijan through the in-form Eder in the 11th minute, but the true leg-work (see what I did there) came from bite-sized midfielder Marco Verratti.

The PSG playmaker pinged a beautiful long ball over the top of the Azerbaijan defense that fell right at the feet of Eder, who let the ball settle itself and touched home confidently past Kamran Arhayev for a 1-0 lead.

The goal is the second of Eder’s national career in just five caps, having scored on debut against Bulgaria back in March. He has six goals in seven matches for Sampdoria so far this Serie A season.

Italy needs three points in this match to ensure qualification to Euro 2016. A win would guarantee them a place in the field, while anything less would mean there is work to do in the final match on Tuesday against Norway.


Later in the match, Stephan El Shaarawy gave Italy a 2-1 lead just before halftime, his second career international goal and his first since September of 2012 which came in his third career start.

Agent: Liverpool contacted Klopp only after Rodgers firing

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 09:  Jurgen Klopp arrives to be unveiled as the new manager of Liverpool FC at a press conference at Anfield on October 9, 2015 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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As soon as Brendan Rodgers was dismissed by Liverpool on Sunday, Jurgen Klopp’s name was tossed around as the likely successor to the then-vacant Liverpool managerial position.

However, according to Klopp’s representatve Marc Kosicke, Liverpool did not make contact with the German until after Rodgers had been officially let go.

“The first call from Liverpool came after the dismissal as coach of Rodgers,” Kosicke told Bild. “Before Liverpool there were naturally quite a few inquiries. But Jurgen always asked me not to take it any further.”

Club management was less committal than Klopp’s rep, but did say they had their eye on the German for some time. “We have learned to keep certain matters confidential. We had a meeting recently with Jurgen that he has talked about and I don’t want to talk too much about these conversations. But we have thought about him for a long time and everyone who knows football knows he is an outstanding manager.”

It’s relatively hard to believe Liverpool would have canned Rodgers without knowing for sure that a top-level target such as Klopp or Carlo Ancelotti were on board to replace him. It also would mean discussions of the contract terms and logistics would have moved at lightning speed, with just four days between the Rodgers dismissal and Klopp’s official unveiling.