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The race for Premier League promotion is red hot

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With the top flight title race fading fast as Liverpool pummels the Premier League into oblivion in record fashion, an appreciation can be had for what the Reds are accomplishing. That is for another time.

For now, we are going to take a moment to appreciate the race below them. There is a red-hot battle for Premier League promotion that is tighter than we’ve seen in a while.

Y’all, the Championship is LIT.

West Brom sits atop the league with 59 points from 31 matches, and the Baggies seem a solid bet to make their way back to the Premier League after a short one-season dip. Below them, a battle rages that could even threaten the top dogs should West Brom slip even a little.

[ MORE: Chelsea closes in on Ziyech deal ]

Leeds United sits second, occupying an automatic promotion position as they have for most season. That may change today. As Leeds stands on 56 points after its draw with Brentford yesterday, Fulham lurks just a point back, and with a match today against fellow Londoners Millwall, a win for the Whites would see them knock Leeds off the top two for the first time since early November.

Behind Fulham is Brentford with 54 points, level with fifth-placed Nottingham Forest and only ahead thanks to its league-best +27 goal differential. Yes, you read that right, the league leader in goal differential is in fourth.

Preston North End in sixth and Bristol City in seventh are each level on 50, meaning the gap from second to seventh is a measly six points. Things could get truly insane down the stretch.

Of the top seven teams, five of them have lost at least once in their last five matches, with only Fulham and Preston owning pristine form of late. West Brom had lost just once all Championship season until the holidays hit and suddenly they’ve dropped three of their last seven. Leeds is facing a full-on collapse, having won just twice since mid-December and losing four of its last six, with just four points gained in that span. Fulham is in good form with four wins in its last five, but they are living on the edge having skated by via a one-goal margin in each of their last seven victories and 10 of their last 11. Brentford would be formidable if the Bees could figure out their road form, with six of their nine losses coming away from Griffin Park. Nottingham Forest can’t get out of its own way, following up a signature 2-0 win over Leeds with a 1-0 gack attack at home to 21st placed Charlton Athletic last time out.

All this mayhem makes each match critically important – and therefore tense as hell. Fulham today could move into an automatic qualifying spot with a win, but if they fail to beat Millwall, it could open them to fall as far as fifth. If this pace keeps up, theoretically a team that had a shot to finish with an automatic qualifying spot could end up out of the playoffs altogether with a few poor results late in the season. Building room for error in the next month or two will be critical for teams that wish to have a chance down the stretch.

There are some critical matches coming up as well. West Brom plays Nottingham Forest on Saturday that has a make-or-break feel to it for both sides, especially the Baggies who then have Bristol City next. Leeds plays Bristol City on Saturday hoping to put a finger in the leaky dike. Fulham has a three-game stretch through March that sees them play Bristol City, Brentford, and Leeds looking to prove they belong. As you can see, the Robins have a ton of chances to yank themselves up the table.

For some of these teams like West Brom and Fulham, they are looking to return to the Premier League after short spells down below. For many of the teams fighting for promotion, however, fans are hoping to see their beloved clubs crack the top flight for the first time in quite a while. Leeds United, a storied club that qualified for the Champions League with a third-place finish in 2000, hasn’t been back since relegation in 2003. Another storied club, Forest has not been back to the Premier League since dumped in 1999. Three clubs have never been in the Premier League: Bristol City was relegated from the First Division back in 1979, Preston hasn’t seen top-flight action since 1961, and Brentford hasn’t been in the top flight since 1947 with just five total top flight seasons in club history.

There are still battles to be won in the English top flight, with teams like Chelsea, Tottenham, and Sheffield United battling for a Champions League place while others further down the table fight for their Premier League lives. Still, the race for promotion is proving to be a wild and crazy one just a few blocks down the road.

Belarusian Premier League roundup: BATE Borisov pick up win, end early-season drought

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The Belarusian Premier League – the only active European top-flight league at the moment – continued on Saturday despite the coronavirus pandemic.

FC Rukh 0-1 BATE Borisov

With an early goal from midfielder Stanislav Dragun, BATE Borisov, Belarus’ most successful team (15 league titles) and a regular face in European competition, earned their first win of the season. Kirill Alshevsky, who took over at the helm prior to the season, had started his spell on a two-game losing streak.

BATE, despite not winning the possession battle decisively, generated twice as many shots on target as the visitors, registering a total of 11 shots throughout 90 minutes at Borisov Arena.

A winner of 13 straight Belarusian Premier League titles – spanning from 2006 to 2018 – pressure began looming over BATE after starting the 2020 campaign with back-to-back lackluster results. BATE, who lost to Arsenal in Europa League’s Round of 32 in April 2019, were outscored 5-2 in the first, two games of the league.

Dinamo Minsk, the second most successful Belarusian side, also picked up their first three points on Friday, following a slower-than-usual start to the season. Meanwhile, defending champion Dinamo Brest fell 2-1 to Slavia-Mozyr, dropping to eighth on the table.

Elsewhere in Belarusian Premier League 

Shakhtyor 0-0 Nerman

Dinamo Brest 1-2 Slavia-Mozyr

NWSL extends league-wide training moratorium through May

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The NWSL is extending its league-wide training moratorium another month amid the coronavirus pandemic, the league announced on Saturday.

All NWSL teams will be unable to partake in team trainings until at least May 5, extending its previous training moratorium that was set to expire on Sunday, April 5. The 2020 season – which was set to start on April 18 – is expected to start by the end of June, according to NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird.

“We’ve been just communicating with our players and we’re targeting for the end of June for our season to start,” Baird told The Equalizer. “I say that with conviction and hope, but … we’re gonna adhere to the public health guidelines that are in place at the time and I don’t think that we can predict what they are. But our strategy is in place.”

Earlier this week, Major League Soccer and United Soccer League extended their training moratorium through April 24 and April 19, respectively.

Report: England manager Gareth Southgate agrees to 30 percent pay cut

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England manager Gareth Southgate has agreed to a 30 percent pay cut amid the coronavirus pandemic, our partners at Sky Sports reported on Saturday.

[ MORE: What PL clubs are doing to help during coronavirus ] 

Southgate’s move, which is reportedly expected to be confirmed by the Football Association (FA) next week, comes hours after the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) released a statement on behalf of the Premier League players responding to proposed pay cuts.

A FA spokesperson told Sky Sports the following: “The financial implications of the coronavirus are not yet known however, as a not-for-profit organization, we want to ensure that we take the appropriate course of action to support the wider organization and our employees.

“We will make a further announcement on our next steps in due course.”

On Friday, Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe – and a handful of technical staff personnel – became the first Premier League manager to take a voluntary pay cut. Howe’s “significant, voluntary” pay cuts were done in light of the club furloughing non-playing employees throughout the organization, joining Tottenham, Norwich, Newcastle and Liverpool.

Spanish league and players still far apart on salary cuts

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MADRID (AP) The Spanish league and players are still far apart on the size of the salary cuts they need to take to help reduce the financial impact caused by the coronavirus outbreak, with the footballers saying the organization wants them to carry nearly half the total losses.

The league and the players’ association have been in talks to try to find ways to mitigate losses that could reach nearly 1 billion euros ($1.08 billion) if the season cannot be restarted because of the pandemic.

The players have said they are willing to reduce their salaries, but not as much as the league or the clubs want.

“After analyzing the current circumstances of the sector and given the distance in conversations with the players’ association, it is necessary to adopt measures in view of the serious economic crisis that COVID-19 is causing in the Spanish soccer industry,” the league said in a statement.

It also added that government furloughs are “an exceptional mechanism to avoid and mitigate the negative impact that COVID-19 is having on the sector, and thus guarantee its subsequent recovery.”

According to media reports, the league expects losses of 957 million euros ($1.03 billion) if the season is canceled, with 303 million euros ($327 million) lost if it resumes with games in empty stadiums and 156 million euros ($168 million) of deficits if it continues with fans.

The players said the total cuts in salaries requested by the league would account for 451 million euros ($487 million) if the top flight cannot restart.

The reduction in salaries being discussed reportedly varies depending on the clubs, and also on whether they are playing in the Champions League or the Europa League.

Team captains met with the players’ association late Friday to discuss their options after the league earlier in the day called for all clubs to put the footballers on government furloughs to reduce labor costs while the stoppage of play continued. The furloughs help the clubs and guarantee players their jobs once the crisis is over.

The league said it is responsible for preserving an industry that represents 1.37 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product and employs about 185,000 people.

Atlético Madrid and Barcelona were among the clubs to resort to the furloughs in recent days. Both reached an agreement with players to reduce their salaries by 70 percent, and guaranteed the wages of other employees were unaffected.

There are nearly 125,000 cases of the new coronavirus in Spain, which on Saturday surpassed Italy as the country with the second-most infections behind the United States. The death toll in the nation stands at 11,744.

The government is expected to extend lockdown measures until April 26, likely keeping the Spanish league suspended until then.

The league has said the season won’t resume until authorities deem it safe for everyone’s health. It said it will recommend a “minimum of 15 days” of practice before the games can restart, though it suggested recently the training period may begin with restrictions before the lockdown is removed.

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