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Championship Focus: Leeds falters, Sheffield United takes advantage

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The race for Premier League promotion took a few more turns on Monday, as Norwich City missed a chance to assure itself a place in the top flight.

Still, its next point gained or point lost by Leeds or Sheffield United will do the trick.

[ MORE: MLS Power Rankings ]

Speaking of Sheffield United, the Blades took advantage of Norwich’s stumble and have a shot at Championship title, while Leeds fell at Brentford to fall behind in the race for automatic promotion.

Frank Lampard had a good day with his Derby County, thanks to a win and losses by two playoff contenders. And Aston Villa is buzzing.

Stoke City 2-2 Norwich City

The Canaries blew two leads and now lead the Blades by three points with two matches to play. Teemu Pukki scored his 28th league goal of the season in the draw, which puts them six points clear of third with a 10-point goal differential advantage on Leeds. Thumbs up.

Hull City 0-3 Sheffield United

David McGoldrick scored two of the Blades’ three first-half goals in a tremendous win at the KC Stadium that pulled United three points ahead of Leeds, three back of Norwich City.

Brentford 2-0 Leeds United

Neil Maupay and Sergi Canos scored on either side of halftime as Brentford continued to push Leeds United away from the Top Two. Marcelo Bielsa’s men are now 9W-1D-7L since his staff was caught spying on Derby County training and beat the Rams 2-0, compared with 16W-6D-5L in the run-up to the kerfuffle.

Leeds next hosts red-hot Villa before finishing away to relegated Ipswich Town. Sheffield United hosts Ipswich Town and goes to Stoke, while Norwich City hosts Blackburn and goes to Villa.

Derby County 2-0 Queens Park Rangers

Liverpool loanee Harry Wilson scored two goals in 11 minutes of stoppage time to send Lampard’s men into sixth thanks to losses from Middlesbrough and Bristol City.

“It’s cup football almost now,” Lampard said. “What’s on these games is so much. And we’ve got to get up for it, and we will be. No doubt about that.”

Aston Villa 1-0 Millwall

Dean Smith’s men broke a 109-year-old record with a 10th successive win, as Jonathan Kodjia scored the lone goal at Villa Park. Villa is now fifth on the table and will head to the playoffs.

Elsewhere
Blackburn 2-0 Bolton
Ipswich Town 0-1 Swansea City
Reading 0-0 West Bromwich Albion
Rothertham 1-3 Birmingham City
Sheffield Wednesday 2-0 Bristol City
Wigan Athletic 2-0 Preston North End
Nottingham Forest 3-0 Middlesbrough

Championship wrap: Promotion race intensifies

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As always, things got weird and wild in England’s second-tier on Friday.

Leeds United lost at home to 10-man relegation battlers Wigan Athletic 2-1, despite taking the lead early and Wigan playing a man down for over 75 minutes.

Pablo Hernandez missed an early penalty kick for Marcelo Bielsa’s side who have now dropped out of the automatic promotion spots with three games of the season to go and no longer have their destiny in their own hands. This defeat marked the first time this season that Leeds have lost a game after taking the lead.

As for their main rivals for automatic promotion, Sheffield United rallied in the second half to beat Nottingham Forest on Friday and moved into second behind Norwich City as Blades boss Chris Wilder has done a magnificent job for the club he supports.

Norwich look certainties for promotion and their return to the PL after a three-year absence could be confirmed on Monday, while Sheffield United know they will be back in the Premier League for the first time since 2007 if they win their final three games of the season.

In the playoff race, West Brom, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough all won to sit in fourth, fifth and sixth respectively, while Bristol City and Derby are hanging around just outside the playoff spots with draws to set up a frantic final few weeks. There are some huge teams pushing to be in the playoffs and have a chance of playing in the richest game in soccer at Wembley on May 27, and Villa are the form team right now with nine-straight wins.

At the other end of the table, Bolton’s defeat at home to Villa means they were relegated to the third-tier and they will join Ipswich Town in League One for next season, while Rotherham and Millwall battle to stay out of the final relegation spot.

Below is a look at the standings and points in the promotion race, as the battle to get into the Premier League for the 2019-20 rages on.


As things stand – Championship table, promotion race

Automatic promotion
1st: Norwich City – Played 42, points 86
2nd: Sheffield United – Played 43, points 82

Playoff picture
3rd: Leeds United – Played 43, points 82
4th: West Brom – Played 43, points 76
5th: Aston Villa – Played 43, points 72
6th: Middlesbrough – Played 43, points 67

Pushing for playoffs
7th: Bristol City – Played 42, points 66
8th: Derby County – Played 42, points 64

Serie A: Juventus rolls, Milan back into 4th

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After much movement, much speculation, and lots of ups and downs, the top of the Serie A table changed little from the positioning entering the weekend.

Juventus topped Sassuolo 3-0 to restore its 11-point lead at the top of the table, while AC Milan took care of Cagliari 3-0 to move back into fourth place after falling as far as seventh due to other results.

The Old Lady maintained its iron grip over Serie A with a dominant win, grabbing goals from Sami Khedira, Emre Can, and of course Cristiano Ronaldo. While Sassuolo managed to grab 50% possession in the match, they could only muster two shots on target, including none in the final hour of the game.

Ronaldo created the opener 23 minutes in as he worked space near the penalty spot and unleashed a ripper, and while that was saved well by Sassuolo goalkeeper Andrea Consigli, Khedira was there to tap in the rebound at the far post. Ronaldo got his goal on a powerful header in the 70th minute to put the game away, and Can added the cherry on top with four minutes remaining, finding the far post with a low effort from a tight angle. Ronaldo also failed to get through the 90 minutes without a blooper, as he inexplicably rifled a powerful rip straight into Khedira’s face at the top of the box despite his teammate standing almost right next to him.

Milan, meanwhile, picked up a critical result in a match marred by protests. Cagliari struggled to leave its training ground earlier in the weekend as local farmers protested plunging dairy prices, hoping to stop Cagliari from making the trip to the San Siro, wanting the club to use their high profile to make a statement. The team eventually traveled, but ran into a buzzsaw.

Suso was responsible for creating the opener, as his left-footed curler was saved by Alessio Cragno, only for the rebound to ping directly off Cagliari defender Luca Ceppitelli and into the back of the net. 21-year-old Lucas Paqueta doubled the Milan lead in the 22nd minute on a cross from Davide Calabria that found Pacqueta charging to meet at the back post, scoring his first Serie A goal after joining in early January. Krzysztof Piatek made it 3-0 with 20 minutes to go on a scrappy goal that he poked through the legs of Nicoló Barella with Cragno way out of net.

While it appears the top two places in the table have been all but locked up with Juventus on 63 points and Napoli on 52, the final two Champions League spots in the Serie A table are being fought for tooth and nail. Inter, who beat Parma 1-0 on Saturday, sits third with 43 points, while AC Milan moves back into the final position with 39.

Below Milan sits Atalanta, Roma, and Lazio all on 38 points, with Torino at 34, Sampdoria at 33, and Fiorentina at 32.

Elsewhere on Sunday, Atalanta also picked up a 2-1 win over SPAL on a 79th goal from white-hot Duvan Zapata, who grabbed his 15th goal in his last 10 Serie A games. He picked up the winner on the break, with Hans Hateboer providing the fast-break delivery from the right after being sprung through by a wonderful chip from Marten De Roon.

Torino defeated Udinese 1-0 at home to stay in the hunt, with the lone strike coming from former Chelsea youth product Ola Aina just past the half-hour mark on a header, finishing a cross from Cristian Ansaldi after spectacular one-on-one work on the left flank. Torino shot-stopper Salvatore Sirigu also saved his fifth-straight penalty, off the foot of Rodrigo de Paul.

Bologna and Genoa drew 1-1 on a pair of first-half goals by Mattia Destro and Lukas Lerager that cancelled out. The teams combined for 25 shots, including eight on target, but the second half was a dud as Bologna pulled out of the relegation zone but only on goal differential.

Report: West Ham has $45m striker bid rejected

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Duvan Zapata’s career half-year has made him an almost inexorable force in Serie A.

[ MORE: Juve wins again ]

The 27-year-old’s four-goal haul this weekend led him atop the Italian top flight in goals, level with Cristiano Ronaldo and Fabio Quagliarella.

Here is where it’s appropriate to pause and note that Quagliarella is going to turn 36 this month and we still think that number is too low. Didn’t he partner with Roberto Baggio or something?

His productivity has West Ham idealizing him as a fitting replacement for Marko Arnautovic, whether immediate or for next season, and Atalanta has reportedly spurned a $46 million offer for Zapata.

The five-times capped Colombian has 10, 11, and 14 goals in his last three Serie A campaigns, and the last number folds into his 17 across all competitions for Atalanta this season.

It would’ve essentially been a pound-for-pound deal for West Ham, who could allow Arnautovic to fly the coop for China.

Serie A: Napoli builds cushion, Zapata scores four in Atalanta win

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Napoli afforded itself even more space at second place in the Serie A table with a big 2-1 win over Lazio.

Jose Callejon scored just past the half-hour mark on the break, slotting inside the right post on the low feed from Dries Mertens. Just three minutes later, Arkadiusz Milik buried a free-kick into the top-right corner from just outside the box, doubling Napoli’s lead.

After Callejon hit the post with a header past the hour mark, Ciro Immobile brought Lazio one goal back as he worked Raul Albiol one-on-one. However, the visitors would fall a man down as Francesco Acerbi received a second yellow card and Lazio was unable to draw back level with the disadvantage. The sending off is significant for the record books, as Acerbi had played a full 90 minutes in 148 straight matches, but his suspension next week against Juventus means he will fall just 13 matches short of Javier Zanetti’s Serie A consecutive appearance record.

Elsewhere, Atalanta went to Stadio Benito Stirpe and obliterated Frosinone 5-0 behind four goals from Duvan Zapata. Gianluca Mancini opened the scoring in the 11th minute, but the second half was the Zapata show. He scored his first just a minute before the break on a towering header powered past Marco Sportiello. After halftime, it took just three minutes for Zapata to grab his second, finishing off great individual work by Berat Djimsiti who twisted through defenders.

His third came as he beat Luka Krajnc and took a header from Hans Hateboer to strike home, and for his fourth he got position on Edoardo Goldaniga and headed in a Matteo Pessina cross. The win pushed Atalanta up to seventh on 31 points, just two back of Roma in fourth.

Fiorentina earned an exciting 3-3 draw at home against Sampdoria, falling a man down in the 39th minute but sticking with it during a roller coaster final 10 minutes plus. Holding a 2-1 lead thanks to a brace from debutant Luis Muriel, Fiorentina suddenly found itself trailing 3-2 thanks to 81st and 85th minute goals by Fabio Quagliarella including one from the penalty spot. Thankfully for the home side, German Pezzella was on hand to grab the equalizer in the 93rd minute, powerfully holding up the ball one-on-two in the penalty area and turning to slot home the late effort.

Cagliari also worked a late draw at home thanks to Diego Farias who struck a 91st minute equalizer to finish 2-2 with Empoli. Three of the four goals in that game were scored in the second half with Cagliari up 1-0 at the break.

Finally, Rodrigo Palacio and Jasmin Kurtic cancelled out as Bologna drew 1-1 with SPAL in Ferrara. The match was even on just about all accounts, with the shots 16-14, the possession 53-47 in the home side’s favor, and the teams separated by just two points in the table. The visitors came out the most disappointed with the result, still in the relegation zone on 14 points.