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

source: Getty Images
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.

Josef Martinez scores 2 more in win, including sensational solo work

AP Photo/John Minchillo
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Josef Martinez scored his 25th and 26th goals of the MLS season, and if he challenges his MLS record of 31, he may also stare down soccer royalty.

The Venezuelan striker scored two more on Wednesday in a 2-0 defeat of FC Cincinnati in Ohio to give him goals in 15-straight league contests.

He now has 76 goals in 80 MLS games, which is good.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

On the season, he’s six goals shy of matching the Major League Soccer record he set with last season’s 31 regular season goals.

According to MLSSoccer.com, he’s six games shy of tying Lionel Messi’s world record for consecutive league matches with a goal.

Even that’s a little tricky: Messi scored in 21-straight games in which he was eligible for selection, but 19-straight before missing two matches for injury. In that remarkable run of 21, he also had a run of six-straight braces.

It’s not really worth it to attempt to compare the two streaks: If Martinez gets to 21 (or even 19), it’s amazing stuff and worth celebrating on a worldwide level. Everyone has a bad game every now and again, but Martinez still finds the score sheet in ’em.

Look at the magician’s tricks he used for this one, including a back heel first touch and two freeze-frame cut moves. That’s not even mentioning the finish.

USWNT announces final matches of World Cup-winning year

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CHICAGO (AP) The Women’s World Cup champion U.S. team will wrap up 2019 with matches against Sweden and Costa Rica.

U.S. Soccer announced Wednesday that the U.S. will face Sweden in Columbus, Ohio, on Nov. 7 and Costa Rica in Jacksonville, Florida, on Nov. 10.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

The team is wrapping up its World Cup victory tour next month with matches against South Korea on Oct. 3 in Charlotte, North Carolina, and on Oct. 6 in Chicago.

Coach Jill Ellis is stepping down following the match in Chicago after leading the team to a pair of consecutive World Cup titles.

The United States is 15-1-2 this year and currently riding a 14-game winning streak.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Report: Mane to get big raise, Liverpool contract through 2025

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Liverpool’s Senegalese sensation looks set to stay at Anfield deep into his 30s.

Sadio Mane is in talks with the Reds hierarchy over a new deal that will run through 2024-25, and pay him more than $15 million per season.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

Mane, 27, currently has a deal through 2023, but surely wouldn’t mind a raise. And Liverpool will be happy to tie him down on Merseyside a bit longer.

He’s scored six times in seven matches this season, also grabbing an assist. That’s on a better pace than his 26 goals and five assists over 50 appearances in 2018/19.

Mane has 70 Premier League goals at the moment. Do you tip him to eclipse 100 while still at Anfield? 125?

Europa League preview: Man Utd, Wolves, Arsenal begin group stage

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The Europa League begins its group stage on Thursday, with the three Premier League combatants taking on clubs from Kazakhstan, Portugal and Germany.

Manchester United’s kids are gonna get some playing time when Astana visits Old Trafford on Wednesday.

Teenager Mason Greenwood and 21-year-old Axel Tuanzebe will start, and Sergio Romero will be between the sticks.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

And the Manchester Evening News notes that Tahith Chong and Angel Gomes could also start at Old Trafford, meaning the veterans in the fray will be quite important.

Enter Fred, the forgotten $68 million man from Shaktar Donetsk. The 23 minutes he played last week versus Leicester City account for his lone time on the pitch this season.

Here’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer:

“I’m sure we’ll see more and more of Fred. We spoke about it earlier, he’s had some great games in midfield with Scott against PSG and Arsenal, for example, and we’re just waiting for that to flourish.”

Fred had an odd record under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer last season, barely in the squad when the team started hot but trusted against PSG and Barcelona in the Champions League.

Speaking of little-used midfielders, Arsenal boss Unai Emery is getting a little grief for leaving Mesut Ozil behind for the Gunners’ trip to Germany for a big match with Eintracht Frankfurt.

Ozil made his first start of the season in Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with Watford at the weekend, playing 71 minutes and departing with the club up 2-1.

So why not even bring him abroad? Rest.

“Because we are going to play another match on Sunday,” Emery said, via The London Evening Standard. “My decision is because he played and also I’m thinking tomorrow the focus and the first 11 and after that I decided who are the players who can be the best for tomorrow and also the players not and that is Sokratis and Mesut.”

Sokrastis Papastathopoulos is also out, having played a big role in the embarrassing performance at Watford.

There have been tough times for Wolves as well, who sit in the relegation zone after five matches of the Premier League season.

They’ve been quite good in Europa League, though, dispatching a pair of minnows before winning both legs against Serie A side Torino.

Why the inconsistency? It’s not fixture congestion, according to Ruben Neves:

“I don’t think fatigue has anything to do with it, Neves said, via The Birmingham Mail. “We’re all top players, we’re used to it, we’re used to playing a lot of games in quick succession. I don’t think the Europa League has (anything) to do with our position in the Premier League. Obviously, we haven’t had the start that we’ve wanted, but it’s been a beautiful journey into the Europa League. This is a historic moment for Wolves and we’re going to do our best in this competition.”

Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men are in Portugal to meet Braga, one of three tricky opponents in Besiktas and Slovan Bratislava.

Full slate

12:55 p.m. ET
CFR Cluj v. Lazio
LASK v. Rosenborg
Getafe v. Trabzonspor
PSV Eindhoven v. Sporting Lisbon
Basel v. Krasnodar
APOEL Nicosia v. Dudelange
Copenhagen v. Lugano
Standard Liege v. Vitoria SC
Qarabag v. Sevilla
Eintracht Frankfurt v. Arsenal
Rennes v. Celtic
Dynamo Kiev v. Malmo

3 p.m. ET
Wolfsburg v. Oleksandriya
Espanyol v. Ferencvaros
Rangers v. Feyenoord
Porto v. Young Boys
Slovan Bratislava v. Besiktas
Borussia Monchengladbach v. Wolfsberg
Partizan v. AZ Alkmaar
AS Roma v. Istanbul Basaksehir
Gent v. Saint-Etienne
Manchester United v. Astana
Wolves v. Braga
Ludogorets Razgrad v. CSKA Moscow