Who will get promoted to the Premier League?
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Who will get promoted to the Premier League? Your Championship primer

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The Football League Championship returns on Saturday, as Leeds United and West Bromwich Albion look to keep hold of their automatic promotion places.

It won’t be easy.

[ MORE: Spurs-Man Utd recap | JPW’s 3 Things ]

Here is your guide to the final nine matchdays of the season for England’s second tier.

The top two

Marcelo Bielsa’s Peacocks and Slaven Bilic’s Baggies have 7- and 6-point cushions on third place with nine matches to go, a congested fixture list ready to tax the benches of all of the sides.

The playoff race

Third through sixth in the Championship will contest the playoffs for the third promotion spot to the Premier League.

Third-place Fulham will learn a lot about whether it’s in the race for automatic promotion or just a playoff probability within one week’s time. The Cottagers host fourth-place Brentford at 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday and go to Leeds one week later.

Fulham has 64 points, six back of second place and nine clear of seventh place. It would be very surprising if the Londoners didn’t keep hold of a playoff spot.

Brentford (60) and Nottingham Forest (60) have five-point advantages on seventh, nice but not too comfortable, while Preston North End’s one-point-above-sixth-place footing is uneven.

Six teams are within two wins of Preston’s 56 points. Seventh-place Bristol City has 55, Millwall and Cardiff City have 54, Blackburn and Swansea City have 53, Derby County has 51, and QPR’s on 50.

Who will get promoted to the Premier League?
Rooney’s Rams are six points behind the playoff places (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

Americans Abroad

Speaking of QPR, USMNT veteran Geoff Cameron is a fixture for Mark Warburton’s London side. The 34-year-old has played 28 times this season.

Derby County has seen a fine season out of Duane Holmes, who has three goals and three assists. Not American, but ex-DC United man Wayne Rooney is Holmes’ teammate.

No American has played more Championship minutes than Fulham’s Tim Ream (3142). Next up are Wigan’s Antonee Robinson (2587) and Hull City’s Eric Lichaj (2546).

Matt Miazga is handling center back duties for Reading, while Cameron Carter-Vickers’ latest loan stint at Luton Town has gone well individually.

Luca De La Torre (Fulham) has seen neglible minutes this season.

English-born MLS and NCAA star Jack Harrison is with Leeds.

Manchester United academy product Jack Harrison of Leeds United went to school at Wake Forest before playing for NYCFC in Major League Soccer (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images).

The relegation scrap

Three clubs will go down to League One next season. Two of the three teams in the bottom three will need a massive change in fortunes to avoid that fate.

Barnsley is seven points back of 21st and Luton Town sits six points back of safety.

Charlton Athletic is currently in 22nd with 39 points, but it can look to a single win as chance to move ahead of any of the five sides ahead of it (depending on how goal differential goes).

Hull City, Wigan Athletic, and Middlesbrough are just two points above the drop zone, while Stoke City and Huddersfield Town have three-point distances above the drop.

Charlton can pass Hull with a win at the KC Stadium on Saturday, though it’s only other chance to affect a fellow struggler is July 18 versus Wigan.

This week’s schedule

Fulham v. Brentford — 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday
Middlesbrough v. Swansea City — 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday
Millwall v. Derby County — 8 a.m. ET Saturday
West Brom v. Birmingham City — 10 a.m. ET Saturday
Huddersfield Town v. Wigan Athletic — 10 a.m. ET Saturday
Hull City v. Charlton Athletic — 10 a.m. ET Saturday
Sheffield Wednesday v. Nottingham Forest — 10 a.m. ET Saturday
Luton Town v. Preston North End –10 a.m. ET Saturday
QPR v. Barnsley — 10 a.m. ET Saturday
Reading v. Stoke City — 10 a.m. ET Saturday
Blackburn Rovers v. Bristol City — 10 a.m. ET Saturday
Cardiff City v. Leeds United — 7 a.m. ET Sunday

Augsburg hammer sloppy Schalke (video)

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Augsburg won 3-0 away at Schalke on Sunday as the Bavarian club put in a perfect away display to ease their relegation fears.

Eduard Lowen curled home a stunning free kick to set them on their way to a first win in seven and Nigerian winger Noah Sarenren Bazee jumped off the bench to seal the win in style, with Sergio Corodva adding a third in stoppage time.

David Wagner’s Schalke have now gone nine games without a win as their hopes of qualifying for Europe are fading fast. As for Heiko Herrlich, in his first game on the bench in charge of Augsburg he has his first win as their boss.

Augsburg took an early lead thanks to a stunning free kick from Lowen. The German midfielder curled home an unstoppable effort over the wall and into the top corner from 30 yards out to stun Schalke and give the hosts a precious lead to hold onto.

Schalke huffed and puffed but barely threatened, as Augsburg had a few decent half chances on the break in a tight, scrappy game.

Max went close with another fine free kick from Augsburg but Schubert pushed it away and then a mistake from Jonjoe Kenny and Sane allowed Bazee to run clean through on goal and curl home superbly to seal the win.

The goal was Bazee’s first Bundesliga goal on his 19th outing and was celebrated wildly by Augsburg with elbow bumps galore.

Corodva then made the most of another horrendous defensive error from Schalke as the Augsburg striker rounded the goalkeeper and slotted home.

VIDEO: Best PL goals of 2018/19 season

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The 2018/19 Premier League campaign provided drama, and plenty of it. Manchester City would go on to win its second straight title in close to end-to-end fashion, but the eventual one-point margin of victory would be a harbinger of things to come.

Liverpool’s ascent was nearly complete, and the Reds fought the entire way down the stretch hoping to capitalize on a critical slip from the defending champions. That slip never came, and a 2-1 Manchester City victory over Liverpool in January proved essential to the ultimate result. A moment of sheer brilliance marked the title win, with Vincent Kompany bagging the all-important goal against Leicester City in May.

[ MORE: Best goals of 2017/18 Premier League season ]

While the title bout was raging, teams provided us with countless moments of brilliance up and down the table. Chelsea and Spurs won a ferocious battle for the final two Champions League places over Arsenal and Manchester United, while Wolves secured a spot in the Europa League with a fabulous campaign that saw them prove dangerous for all top sides. Brighton & Hove Albion hung on for dear life as Cardiff City, Fulham, and Huddersfield Town went down.

The fight for the Golden Boot was also vicious. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Sadio Mane, and Mohamed Salah all finished with 22 goals in a banner year for Africans in front of net. Sergio Aguero was right there at 21, Jamie Vardy scored 18, and both Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane bagged 17. They were not the only ones to produce sparkling moments, however, with the likes of Eden Hazard, Aaron Ramsey, Andros Townsend, Andre Gomes, and Jean-Michel Seri all popping up with stunners among the crowd. In the video above, Ian Wright guides us through the best goals of the year with contributions from Michael Owen and Alan Shearer, with Wright’s Top 5 given at the end.

EFL letter recommends clubs prepare for return ‘at short notice’

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The English Football League has sent a letter to all clubs advising they return to training in mid-May and prepare for a return to play from the coronavirus shutdown at what the EFL described as “relatively short notice.”

The letter from EFL chairman Rick Parry, which was sent to all 72 clubs before it was obtained by The Independent and shared by the BBC, notes that while the EFL does not have the power to enforce training schedules for clubs, it interestingly advises that clubs may suffer public relations damage should they return to training earlier than the advised May 16 date. The letter then addresses a rumored start date in early June without confirming or denying the viability of that date.

“By advising a mid-May return to training,” the letter reads, “it has inevitably led to speculation that the season will recommence on June 6 – three weeks later. No date has been discussed and we continue to work with the government and health authorities to help identify the date where we can resume our season. Our planning needs to be agile enough to allow us to be as prepared as possible for a return at relatively short notice.”

The letter is intentionally vague, leaving room for multiple possibilities, but does admit that “these [scenarios] are expected to take further shape over the course of the next two weeks and clubs will receive an appropriate briefing once these plans are at an advanced stage.”

The letter also invites clubs to share their thoughts and possibilities as the EFL notes “collaboration is key to achieving success in these challenging times.” It notes that many clubs have already expressed their thoughts about playing behind closed doors, admitting that is a very likely possibility for when the games recommence.

The Premier League is likely to follow suit shortly after videoconferencing Friday with all 20 clubs to discuss plans for the next few months and how to potentially return to play.

While it was not discussed in the letter openly, The Telegraph reported Friday morning that the EFL is considering its return to play using a limited number of Championship grounds – more specifically 10 stadiums – while closed-door games remain at the forefront.

Championship focus: West Brom go 6 points clear; Fulham stumble at Millwall

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A roundup of the top-of-the-table action in the EFL Championship, where nine points separate places 1 through 7, and three points is the difference between third place and seventh…

[ MORE: The race for Premier League promotion is red-hot ]

Reading 1-2 West Bromwich Albion

West Brom capitalized on Leeds United’s slip-up to go six points clear at the top of the Championship table with a dozen games left to play. The Baggies fell behind on an early penalty, but fought back into the game before halftime and went ahead for good shortly thereafter.

George Puscas put Reading ahead after 11 minutes, but Matheus Pereira put home his own rebound to make it 1-1 in the 26th and Kyle Bartley completed the comeback with a looping header to the far post four minutes into the second half.

West Brom have spent the vast majority of the season occupying either first or second place in the table, and appear headed for a return to the PL after two seasons of regrouping in the second division.

[ MORE: Report: Chelsea closing in on Hakim Ziyech deal ]

Millwall 1-1 Fulham

No side had more to gain from Leeds’ draw with fourth-place Brentford than Fulham, who entered Wednesday a point back for the second automatic promotion place. A win would have seen the Cottagers into second place ahead of a critical stretch of their schedule (five of their next seven opponents currently reside in the top-10).

Alas, it was a disappointing, largely listless display from both sides at The Den as Millwall held the promotion hopefuls to a 1-1 draw.

Aleksandar Mitrovic fired Fulham ahead after just three minutes but Millwall were level through Jon Dadi Bodvarsson just four minutes later, and that was all the scoring there would be in east London. Rather than going two points clear of third, Fulham remain third and sit two points clear of fourth.

Elsewhere in the Championship

Stoke City 0-2 (6th) Preston North End
(7th) Bristol City 3-2 Derby County
Huddersfield Town 0-3 (10th) Cardiff City
Luton Town 1-0 Sheffield Wednesday