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Championship focus: Playoff picture further congested; 4 Americans start

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A draw-heavy return to Championship football added to the intrigue around a cluttered playoff picture.

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Second-place West Brom drew against Birmingham City but still holds a seven-point lead on the chasing pack thanks to dropped points by many top-half teams.

Leaders Leeds United restarts its season on Sunday.

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Playoff picture gets even more congested

Three sides picked up big wins on day with lots of draws, as Blackburn Rovers and Swansea City rode comfortable wins to within a point of sixth-place Preston North End.

Derby County beat Millwall to join the Lions on 54 points, three points back of the top six.


Relegation watch

Charlton Athletic spent the entire coronavirus pause in the bottom three and promptly exited by sending Hull City into the bottom three with a 1-0 win at the KC Stadium.

Last-place Barnsley moved into 23rd after beating QPR while Luton Town is now last but within five points of safety after a draw with sixth-place PNE.

There are now only three points separating 17th place Wigan from 22nd place Hull City in the final relegation place.


Americans Abroad

  • Fulham’s Tim Ream went 90 minutes with four clearances, two tackles, and 90 percent passing at left center back in a 2-0 loss to Brentford.
  • Antonee Robinson was back in the lineup and went 86 minutes as the Latics moved four points clear of the drop zone with a big 6-pointer win over Huddersfield Town. He won 5-of-8 duels, made five clearances, two interceptions, three tackles, and a blocked shot.
  • Duane Holmes left Derby County’s 3-2 win after 62 minutes at right wing. He registered one key pass amongst his 82 percent completion percentage.
  • Spurs loanee Cameron Carter-Vickers was the top-rated player on both SofaScore and WhoScored as Luton Town drew Preston. CCV was credited with a monstrous 13 clearances, three tackles, a blocked shot, an interception, and 10 of 13 duels won. He also passed at 76 percent, completing 3-of-8. long balls, and even completed a dribble.
  • Chelsea loanee Matt Miazga missed Reading’s draw with Stoke City thanks to a minor hamstring injury (Berkshire Live).
  • Geoff Cameron was suspended for QPR’s home loss to Barnsley but he’ll be around; QPR recently triggered a one-year contract extension with the soon-to-be 35-year-old USMNT vet.
  • Hull City’s Eric Lichaj is no longer Hull City’s Eric Lichaj. He won’t play again for the Tigers due to being out-of-contract.


Scoreboard

Fulham 0-2 Brentford
Middlesbrough 0-3 Swansea City
Millwall 2-3 Derby County
West Brom 0-0 Birmingham City
Huddersfield Town 0-2 Wigan Athletic
Hull City 0-1 Charlton Athletic
Sheffield Wednesday 1-1 Nottingham Forest
Luton Town 1-1 Preston North End
QPR 0-1 Barnsley
Reading 1-1 Stoke City
Blackburn Rovers 3-1 Bristol City
Cardiff City v. Leeds United — 7 a.m. ET Sunday

Chelsea hammer QPR in friendly; Pulisic, Kante play

Chelsea Pulisic
Chelsea FC
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Chelsea hammered QPR 7-1 in a friendly at Stamford Bridge, as USMNT star Christian Pulisic featured for the Premier League side.

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The west London club beat Reading 1-0 earlier this week in a game at their Cobham training ground and they followed that up with a resounding victory against another Championship opponent.

Billy Gilmour and Ruben Loftus-Cheek each scored twice, while Willian, Mason Mount and Olivier Giroud were all on the scoresheet.

Christian Pulisic and N’Golo Kante featured, as the USMNT star continues to step up his recovery after last playing for Chelsea on Jan. 1 at Brighton. An adductor injury in training meant he was out for several months and he was due to return in mid-March before the Premier League was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Pulisic has featured in both friendlies this week and Frank Lampard certainly has a wealth of attacking options now that Loftus-Cheek has also returned from a long-term injury. Chelsea currently sit in fourth but are just three points ahead of Man United in fifth and may only be two points ahead of Sheffield United by the time they restart their 2019-20 season.

The suspension came at a good time for the Blues as Pulisic, Tammy Abraham and several others were nursing injuries and not fully fit as Lampard’s young squad looked jaded with many in their first full season in the Premier League.

Even better news for Chelsea was N’Golo Kante taking part in a friendly for the first time since the league was suspended on March 13. The French star was concerned about a return to training amid the coronavirus pandemic and was granted compassionate leave by Chelsea and Frank Lampard.

Kante has since returned to training and is now stepping up his progress as he aims to be ready to feature against Aston Villa next Sunday (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

English defender Onuoha speaks out on fear of police in the U.S.

Nedum Onuoha
Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images
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Real Salt Lake defender Nedum Onuoha is speaking out on his experience as a black man in the United States in the wake of ongoing protests and violence following the killing of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man who died after a white police officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes even after he stopped moving and pleaded for air in Minnesota.

Speaking with the BBC, Onuoha says he has loved his time in the United States but admitted a wariness around law enforcement that he does not experience at home in England. The 33-year-old says there are “plenty of good” police in the country but admitted he doesn’t feel “100% safe” around law enforcement officers and that he has a “fear and distrust” of them.

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Onuoha says the protests and demands for reform are “emotional” and “overdue,” adding that he feels empowered by the non-black voices joining the calls for justice.

From The BBC:

“I have loved living in this country but there is [another] side of it. In the UK, I am more comfortable because if something happens it probably will not be deadly – but over here because of their rights it is more common that altercations become deadly. I am always very aware of that whenever I go around anywhere.

“I am comfortable but when it comes to any kind of brutality, if it’s from the police, if they read me the wrong way then my life could be taken. I feel that every single day. It is not just me but everybody else as well.”

The Nigeria-born English defender joined RSL in 2018 and has played 36 times for the Utah club. Onuoha previously spent seven years with Queens Park Rangers after beginning his career with City and Sunderland.

MLS released a statement on the Floyd killing earlier this week, expressing unity with the black community and “horror” at the “senseless murder” of the 46-year-old American man.

Six young stars of the early season in Europe

Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images
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Erling Braut Haland’s UEFA Champions League coming out party has the teenage striker’s name on the tip of the transfer market’s tongue.

The 19-year-old is being linked with Liverpool after scoring against the Reds last week to join his group stage opening hat trick against Genk.

[ MORE: USMNT players in focus ]

Haland has — no, we’re not kidding — 18 goals and five assists in 785 minutes for Jesse Marsch’s Red Bull Salzburg and is going to cost someone a pretty penny.

Here are some other top performers to start the season, names certain to move from whispers to shouts in January and beyond.

Donyell Malen, PSV Eindhoven — The 20-year-old has 10 goals in the Eredivise alone, five of which came against Vitesse, and has chipped in another six across European competition. The smallish striker — 5’9″ — is an elite passer and finisher.

Victor Osimhen, Lille — Another 20-year-old, the 6-foot plus Osimhen scored against Chelsea in the UCL and has seven goals and two assists in league play. He’s had no problems making the transition from RSC Charleroi in Belgium to Ligue 1.

Tiemoue Bakayoko, Monaco — There was no room for Bakayoko in Frank Lampard‘s midfield at Chelsea, so he’s on loan again and thriving back at Monaco. With 4.2 tackles and 1.4 interceptions per game, he’s showing even better than he did when Maurizio Sarri sent him to AC Milan last season. He’s not a baby, but it might surprise you to read he’s 25.

Eberechi Eze, Queens Park Rangers — At 21 years old, Eze is chewing up minutes for QPR and boasts four goals and three assists. The R’s are a point off the playoff places in the Championship, and the free-dribbling attacking midfielder is a big part of the operation.

Aleksandr Sobolev, KS Samara — The Russian 22-year-old has reportedly caught the attention of Arsenal and Manchester United. At nearly 6-foot-4, the youngster has bagged 10 goals and three assists in 12 matches.

Geoff Cameron ready for “fresh start” at QPR

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Geoff Cameron completed his loan move to Queens Park Rangers on Friday, with the U.S. national team veteran signing on loan until the end of the 2018-19 campaign.

The former Houston Dynamo star has spent the past six seasons at Stoke City in the Premier League but on transfer deadline day in the English Football League he has decided to freshen things up.

Pro Soccer Talk understands there is an agreement that if a club come in with a permanent move for Cameron, 33, in January then he can move on.

But until then he is focused on helping Steve McClaren‘s side climb up the Championship table after a tough start to the season in England’s second-tier, with the R’s conceding 13 goals in five games and losing four of their first five matches.

Speaking from QPR’s training ground in west London after being handed the No.5 jersey, Cameron revealed he is eager to start a new chapter in his career as he’s fit and available to make his debut at Birmingham City this weekend.

“It’s a fresh start, a new beginning for me. I was at Stoke for six seasons and I think I needed a new beginning and I am happy to be here,” Cameron said. “I had a tough injury last year with a concussion which set me back a little but, then with Stoke getting relegated it was a decision over the summer that I wanted a change and needed something new. I’m glad everything worked out. I know the boss, Steve McClaren, has been interested in me before and it always excited me to play for him.”

Cameron cited McClaren’s belief and long-term interest in him as one of the main reasons for joining QPR, as he also wants to play regularly after difficult times at Stoke over the past 12 months.

Cameron was asked if his experience will be helpful to QPR this season as McClaren’s young squad aim to push for a top half of the table finish.

After making 168 Premier League appearances since 2012 for Stoke, there’s no doubt he will be able to bolster QPR’s options in defense and become a team leader on and off the pitch.

“I look at it as a challenge to come in and use my experience, it is an opportunity to take my game to the next level in that aspect of kind of becoming a leader,” Cameron said. “I know we have four, five guys with experience, with us coming in we can help the team.”

Cameron’s first game for QPR will be against Birmingham City on Saturday, with fellow loaness from Premier League clubs Tomer Hemed and Nakhi Wells also bolstering their squad for the long Championship season ahead.