AP Photo/Matthias Schrader

Bayern wins sixth straight Bundesliga crown – with help from Heynckes

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BERLIN (AP) Bayern Munich coach Jupp Heynckes has earned his retirement at the end of the season.

Again.

After returning to the helm in October, Heynckes’ Bayern won its record-extending sixth straight Bundesliga title on Saturday with a 4-1 win at Augsburg.

No other team has come close since Bayern claimed the treble in 2013 under Heynckes, who has said he will go back into retirement at the end of this season – despite Bayern’s attempts to keep him on.

Bayern sealed its record 28th German championship, including the solitary pre-Bundesliga title in 1931-32, with five rounds to spare.

Here’s a look at why Bayern keeps winning in Germany:

HERO HEYNCKES

Bayern’s lackluster start to the season is all but forgotten due to the rapid turnaround instigated by Jupp Heynckes on his return for his fourth stint as coach in October.

Bayern was five points behind Borussia Dortmund after slipping to two draws and a defeat in its opening seven league games, but Heynckes started with a 5-0 win over Freiburg, led the side back to the top and claimed the title with 18 wins in 21 games, including the victory in Augsburg.

A perfect record in the German Cup – four wins from four – and Champions League – seven from seven – sees Bayern well placed in both competitions for a possible repeat of the treble achieved in Heynckes’ previous stint in 2013.

The only issue Bayern has with Heynckes is that he won’t continue. The 72-year-old former striker has long maintained that he will go back into retirement once the season is done.

Bayern coach Heynckes and Franck Ribery (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

TACTICS

Jupp Heynckes reverted to the 4-2-3-1 system he favored in the treble-winning season for most games this time round, but he has also shown willingness to tinker with the system depending on the opponents.

He also coaxed a better work-rate from his players, starting with league top-scorer Robert Lewandowski, who pressurizes defenders for the ball and helps to win back possession.

Heynckes returned to the wide areas as key facets of the side’s attack. Franck Ribery, despite celebrating his 35th birthday against Augsburg, has enjoyed a renaissance on the left wing. Kingsley Coman (before his injury) and Arjen Robben have also excelled, helped by overlapping pace from David Alaba and Joshua Kimmich.

IMPROVEMENT

Arturo Vidal was criticized by Jupp Heynckes shortly after returning, saying the combative midfielder wasn’t working hard enough and that others were ahead of him in the pecking order.

But the Chile midfielder, familiar to Heynckes from their days together at Bayer Leverkusen, responded as Heynckes undoubtedly knew he would and has since emerged as one of the team’s key players in fighting for midfield possession. Vidal has also chipped in six goals.

James Rodriguez is another player to have blossomed under Heynckes, returning to the form that prompted Real Madrid to pay a reported 80 million euros for his services in 2014. Madrid could yet regret letting him go.

MONEY

Bayern is by far the richest club in Germany thanks to lucrative sponsorship deals, TV money, ticket sales and other sources of revenue. Last season the club posted a record turnover of 640.5 million euros ($759 million) with profits up 22.2 percent on the season before.

Borussia Dortmund, the next nearest challenger, lags well behind with turnover of 405.7 million euros for 2016-17.

Bayern’s financial clout means it can afford to turn down mega-money advances for its best players. Chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge recently ruled out Robert Lewandowski moving to Real Madrid. Bayern can also cherry-pick the best of what the rest of the Bundesliga has to offer.

Schalke’s Leon Goretzka is joining for free next season.

COMPETITION

Bayern had no challengers for the title after Borussia Dortmund’s early promise collapsed. Schalke, the best of the rest, is clearly not at the same level, despite its improvement under new coach Domenico Tedesco. Bayern has scored almost twice as many goals.

Faced with the added strain of European football, last year’s runner-up Leipzig was unable to mount a challenge.

Dortmund faces another summer of rebuilding, while Bayer Leverkusen has been too inconsistent to mount a challenge under new coach Heiko Herrlich.

“It looks like we’ll also be German champions next year,” Heynckes said last month.

Sessegnon scores 15th as Fulham equals Man City unbeaten mark

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Fulham equalled the longest unbeaten run in the English top four tiers this season as it defeated sixth-placed Millwall 3-0 on the road to increase its streak to 22 games without a loss and moving the club into position for automatic promotion.

The Whites have not lost since December 16th when they fell 1-0 to relegation-threatened Sunderland. The unbeaten streak matches Manchester City’s run of 22 games to start the Premier League campaign before a 4-3 loss to Liverpool in mid-January broke the spell.

Highlighting the match was the game’s opening goal from 17-year-old Ryan Sessegnon, the young defender’s 15th goal of the Championship season. Just a week ago, Sessegnon was named a finalist for PFA Player of the Year alongside Harry Kane, Leroy Sane, and Raheem Sterling. Also scoring in the win was Newcastle loanee Aleksandar Mitrovic who has bagged 11 goals in 15 matches since moving to Craven Cottage on Deadline Day of the winter transfer window, sparking talk of a possible permanent move should the Whites find themselves promoted at the end of the season. Fulham has not trailed a single second since he stepped on the field for his club debut.

Manager Slavisa Jokanovic has the team firing on all cylinders, outscoring opponents 49-14 during the unbeaten streak and racking up 56 out of a possible 66 points, with just five draws blemishing an otherwise perfect record. The club has scored first in 15 straight matches, and has not trailed since drawing level in the closing minutes of a 2-2 draw with Hull City on December 30th.

USMNT defender Tim Ream has been arguably the club’s most valuable player during the streak, locking down a defense that has picked up 11 clean sheets during the unbeaten run. Ream has played in all but two league matches this season, completing the full 90 minutes in all 41 of his appearances thus far. He has been voted Man of the Match five times this season by the fans on the team’s official website, most recently in a 1-0 victory over Reading on April 10th. He also grabbed the award in a 2-0 win over Championship title winners Wolves on February 24th, a game that saw the Whites out-possess and out-shoot the league champions.

Fulham still has work to do in the Premier League promotion picture, despite the spectacular form. They sit in 2nd position as it stands, leading Cardiff City by two points, but Cardiff has yet to play this weekend, giving them a massive two games in hand. Fulham could ultimately be done in by a slow start to the season that saw them win just twice in the first nine matches of the season as the squad adjusted to a host of new additions. In addition, Fulham suffered a disappointing draw last time out against Brentford as the Bees scored in the 94th minute to deny Fulham all three points, a massive blow to their automatic promotion hopes. Still, Fulham would be considered favorites in any potential playoff run, with Aston Villa, Middlesbrough, and Millwall currently the other teams in playoff positions.

There’s plenty on the line for the club over the next few weeks. Should Fulham fail to gain promotion, it could be a massive blow to the club as Sessegnon could be lured away from Craven Cottage, with Jokanovic and playmaker Tom Cairney also likely to garner speculation of a departure over the summer if the club was to remain in the Championship.

Espanyol fires former Watford manager Quique Sanchez Flores

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Espanyol says it has fired manager Quique Sanchez Flores with the club slumping in the Spanish league and in danger of facing a relegation fight to end the season.

Espanyol announced the decision on Friday, adding sports director Jordi Lardin has also been let go.

Sanchez Flores, a former manager of Atletico Madrid, Valencia and Watford, among other clubs, coached the Barcelona-based club for the past two seasons.

Reserve team coach David Gallego will take over for the remaining five rounds of the season, starting with a visit to Girona on Sunday.

Espanyol hasn’t scored a goal in five matches, and has only two wins in the last 15 rounds. It is in 16th place, nine points from the drop.

Brooks yanked after 29 minutes on return from injury

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USMNT defender John Brooks, whose season has been largely ruined by injuries, made his first start since mid-December after finally returning from a knee injury. It didn’t last long – just 29 minutes.

It doesn’t appear to be injury related, however.

After earning a yellow card just 13 minutes in, Brooks was yanked by new Wolfsburg manager Bruno Labbadia in the 29th minute with the club down 1-0 on the road at Borussia Monchengladbach. Brooks was furious as he came off the pitch, and reports from Germany seem to suggest that his substitution was a tactical decision rather than injury-related.

Brooks has made just eight Bundesliga appearances this season, starting the campaign on the shelf with a thigh injury before his knee problem kept him off the field almost four months through the winter and into the spring.

After his withdrawal, Wolfsburg conceded two more goals before halftime as Monchengladbach grabbed a 3-0 lead via goals from Raffael and Christoph Kramer, with Lars Stindl having already given them a lead eight minutes in.

It’s understandable why Labbadia would be cautious with his more aggressive players. Wolfsburg is in danger of the drop, level with Mainz and Freiburg on 30 points with one of them almost assuredly to finish in the relegation playoff position. Still, it’s an unfortunate turn of events for Brooks after finally making his way back to the field, and he was visibly angry as he came off the pitch.

FA Cup semifinal preview: Can Mourinho win Man United another title?

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It’s been a season of highs and lows for Jose Mourinho, but he could put Manchester United on the precipice of another title this Saturday.

The FA Cup semifinals resume this weekend at Wembley Stadium, with Manchester United facing off against Tottenham and Chelsea battling Swansea. It’s a pair of great matchups with plenty of enticing storylines to watch ahead of and during the games.

[MORE: All our coverage of Arsene Wenger’s decision to step down]

Manchester United vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 12:15 p.m. ET Saturday

Jose Mourinho lost a lot of the good-will earned after Man United’s win over Manchester City as his side capitulated in a 1-0 defeat to last-place West Bromwich Albion.

Now, with a week to stew on that result, Mourinho is just two games away from raising another piece of silverware for Man United, though it won’t exactly be the trophy the fans were hoping for. At the same time, Tottenham, a team on the up and up, would love to win the FA Cup and take control fully of North London from rivals Arsenal. A trip to the final for Tottenham would be the next step in the club’s climb to greatness.

Chelsea vs. Southampton— 10:00 a.m. ET Sunday

It’s been a disappointing season for both clubs, but on different levels. Chelsea, the defending league champions, has struggled most of the season to consistently score goals and will likely finish outside of Europe – unless they make the final of the FA Cup. So there’s a lot riding on the line for Chelsea heading into Sunday’s match.

For Southampton, with Mark Hughes now in charge, it’s almost a throw-away game. If they win, they could be the first team since Wigan to be relegated and qualify for European football the next season, but it could also be a game in which the beleaguered squad could gain some confidence, beating one of the big clubs in England.