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Championship playoff preview: Derby, Leeds, Aston Villa, West Brom

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The Championship playoffs get going this weekend with Leeds United, West Bromwich Albion, Aston Villa, and Derby County going at it with a spot in the Premier League on the line.

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Last year, Fulham finished third just two points behind a guaranteed promotion spot, but managed to earn a place in the top flight via the playoffs. The year before that, Huddersfield Town tasted playoff glory after finishing fifth in the Championship table to earn its first-ever trip to the Premier League.

Aston Villa v. West Bromwich Albion

Villa Park is begging for a return to the Premier League. After the storied club was stunningly relegated three seasons ago for the first time since 1987, it’s been a long, hard road to this point. They finished a disappointing 13th the first time around as hopes of going straight back up vanished, and a fourth place finish last season saw them reach the playoffs but Fulham was last year’s team of destiny and won a slim 1-0 victory over Villa in the final, so the fans have been through this ringer before.

West Brom, meanwhile, is another recent Premier League mainstay looking to get back to the promised land where they’d been for eight straight seasons before last year’s relegation. West Brom has been promoted three since the turn of the millennium, but all came via automatic promotion – both of which defender Chris Brunt were with the club for – while both playoff journeys over that span ended in disappointment.

Aston Villa will have leading scorer Tammy Abraham back from a hamstring injury, a major boost as they look for a trip back to the top flight. The hosts are in great form – an important feature for any playoff team – as they were seven points off the playoff spots in 10th back in mid-February, but rattled off 10 straight wins beginning in early March, and while they’ve slipped in the last two league matches, there is far more riding on this weekend’s tilt.

Derby County v. Leeds United

The top seed in the playoffs gets going first as Leeds United looks for its way back to the top flight for the first time since relegation in 2004. Derby County, meanwhile, hasn’t been back since its disastrous 2007/08 campaign that set the record low for a point haul in a Premier League season.

Still, this matchup has more teeth than just a chance to reach Wembley – it’s the first time these two teams will meet since the Spygate mayhem that marred their January matchup. Frank Lampard will now look for revenge over Marcelo Bielsa who admitted to spying on Derby training before the weekend match, with the former Chelsea midfielder also hoping to turn around the results of the regular season, where Derby was beaten by Leeds twice during the regular season.

Leeds, meanwhile, had aspirations of automatic promotion, but a poor finish to the season saw them fall out of a top-two position with just three wins in their last nine league matches, and more specifically no wins in the final four, with three losses in that span. Bielsa will need to pick the team up, known for his high-intensity managerial style that could be wearing the team out, as the playoff takes no prisoners and bad recent form can be deadly.

Derby County will have plenty of experience at this level, although to this point with nothing to show for it. The club has earned a playoff spot in four of the last six seasons, but have only made it to Wembley once, falling to Queens Park Rangers in the in the 2014 playoff final.

Inter-Ludogorets to be played in empty stadium due to coronavirus

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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan announced on Monday that its Europa League match against Ludogorets will be played behind closed doors as authorities try to contain a spreading virus that has made northern Italy the focal point of the outbreak in Europe.

The Italian government is moving toward having other soccer matches played without fans in attendance in affected areas but Thursday’s match was the first to be confirmed as going ahead in an empty stadium.

“Inter announces that, in accordance with the requirements of the health authorities in the Region of Lombardy and the Municipality of Milan and with the agreement of UEFA, the second-leg clash between Inter and Ludogorets at the round of 32 stage of the Europa League will take place at 21:00 CET on Thursday 27 February behind closed doors at San Siro,” Inter said in a statement on Monday evening.

[ MORE: Europa League schedule

The decision was widely expected and Ludogorets had announced shortly before that Inter had sent it a letter stating that the city’s health authorities have allowed the match to go ahead behind closed doors.

Ludogorets added that UEFA has said it is monitoring the situation and will react immediately if anything changes.

Inter leads 2-0 from the first leg of the round of 32 clash.

Civil protection officials said at least 229 people have tested positive for the virus in Italy. State television on Monday night reported the seventh death of an infected person – that of a 62-year-old man who already had serious health problems. The other six victims, also with pre-existing medical conditions, were elderly.

The majority of those known to be infected with COVID-19 hail from two main clusters – some 10 towns in Lombardy and another area in the neighboring region of Veneto. Italy has the highest number of cases outside Asia.

Four Serie A match scheduled for last Sunday were postponed, including Inter’s home match against Sampdoria.

Inter’s key match at Juventus next Sunday will likely also be played behind closed doors, as well as several other matches in northern Italy.

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

Man United release latest financial results

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Man United have released their latest financial results and revenue has fallen by 20 percent year-on-year, while net debt has also risen.

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What is clear from the results is that not being in the UEFA Champions League has hit United hard but they continue to make money with commercial revenue on the up seven percent.

Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward revealed the latest results as Man United’s financial might is clear for all to see even.

“We have continued to make progress on our squad rebuild … the foundation for delivering the long-term success that we are all working towards is in place as we implement our plan and our footballing vision with Ole,” Woodward told investors. “We are pushing for a strong finish in the Premier League, the Europa League and the FA Cup as we enter the final third of the season.”

Man United are currently in fifth place in the Premier League table ahead of a pivotal run of games which will decide if they will once again dine at Europe’s top table under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. On the pitch they’ve beaten Chelsea and Watford in the last week without conceding and things are coming together nicely with new signings Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry Maguire, Daniel James and Bruno Fernandes making a big difference. 

Man United face Everton, Man City, Tottenham and Sheffield United in their next four PL games and that will be crucial in deciding if they’re going to reach the Champions League next season. Given Man City’s European ban and the potential for a UCL spot to move down to fifth-place, Man United are exactly where Solskjaer hoped they would be right now.

Below we have a look at the main takeaways form the financial results, which are always a huge talking point among United fans all over the world.

Main talking points from Man United’s Q2 results:

  • Revenues of $218.3 million, down 20 percent year-on-year
  • Operating profit of $47.3 million
  • Commercial revenue up 7 percent
  • Broadcast revenue down 37 percent due to no UEFA Champions League qualification
  • Matchday revenue down 15 percent due to fewer home games
  • Player wages down 9 percent
  • Net debt is $506.9 million, up $94.6 million, 23 percent

USMNT’s Arriola likely will miss MLS season, six World Cup qualifiers

Paul Arriola
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WASHINGTON (AP) D.C. United midfielder Paul Arriola had major knee surgery Monday and likely will miss the entire Major League Soccer season and the United States’ first six qualifying matches for the 2022 World Cup

The operation was to reconstruct his right anterior cruciate ligament. The team said there was no additional cartilage damage.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The 25-year-old midfielder injured his knee Feb. 15 during D.C. United’s preseason match against Orlando in Tampa, Florida.

Arriola has been a regular starter for the U.S. national team under coach Gregg Berhalter. Arriola has five goals in 33 international appearances.

After failing to reach the 2018 World Cup, the U.S. starts qualifying for the 2022 tournament this year. The Americans have two matches each in September, October and November, then complete qualifying with two games apiece in March and September 2021.

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

State of play in CONCACAF Champions League

CONCACAF Champions League
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Four of five Major League Soccer clubs alive in the CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16 are in fine shape to reach the quarterfinals after one leg.

The fifth has a tall hill to climb.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

LAFC trails Club Leon by two and did not collect an away goal in Mexico during first leg play last week.

“It’s 2-0, but we’re going to work hard,” said LAFC attacker Latif Blessing. “We’re going to prepare ourselves to win the next game. … We did good, but we want to win. It couldn’t happen that way but we’re going to prepare next game to win this game. We need to win.”

The second leg in L.A. is one of the last two matches of the round, kicking off at 10 p.m. ET Thursday just as Seattle Sounders square off with Olimpia.

The Honduran side managed a controversial comeback in the 2-2 draw with Jordan Morris-fueled Seattle last week, but the Sounders will be happy to have those two away goals and home field.

Montreal Impact has the same situation for Deportivo Saprissa’s visit at 8 p.m. ET Wednesday, while Atlanta United scored an away goal in a draw with Motagua and hosts the visitors from Honduras’ capital at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday.

That leaves us with NYCFC, who got a Heber hat trick amongst five away goals at Costa Rican side San Carlos in a 5-3 win. The second leg begins at 6 p.m. ET Wednesday at Red Bull Arena (yes, you read that correctly).

Elsewhere, Liga MX sides don’t have it much better. Cruz Azul leads Portmore 2-1 heading back to Mexico, while Club America scored an away goal in a draw with Comunicaciones.

Finally, Tigres UANL trails 2-1 after one leg with Alianza in El Salvador.

CCL second leg schedule
all times ET

Atlanta United v. Motagua (1-1) — 8 p.m. Tuesday
Cruz Azul v. Portmore United (2-1) — 10 p.m. Tuesday
NYCFC v. San Carlos (5-3) — 6 p.m. Wednesday
Montreal Impact v. Deportivo Saprissa (2-2) — 8 p.m. Wednesday
Tigres UANL v. Alianza (1-2) — 8 p.m. Wednesday
Club America v. Comunicaciones (1-1) — 10 p.m. Wednesday
Seattle Sounders v. Olimpia (2-2) — 10 p.m. Thursday
LAFC v Leon (0-2) — 10 p.m. Thursday