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

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.

Barcelona sign Martin Braithwaite

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BARCELONA, Spain — Barcelona says it has signed Denmark forward Martin Braithwaite to help fill its injury-depleted attack.

Barcelona said on Thursday it agreed to pay the 18 million euros ($19.4 million) buyout clause in Braithwaite’s contract with Spanish league rival Leganes.

Barcelona was granted permission to sign a Spanish league player after it was left without Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele for long periods due to injuries to both attacking players.

Braithwaite will sign for the rest of this season plus four more, according the club.

He will not be eligible to play in the Champions League this season, just la Liga.

The 28-year-old Braithwaite has played for the last year at Leganes, where he arrived in mid-season of 2018-19 and helped the modest club avoid relegation.

He has eight goals in 27 appearances for Leganes this season.

His prior clubs included Middlesbrough, Girondins, and Toulouse. He played in the 2018 World Cup for Denmark.

Barcelona highlighted his ability to play “on both sides of the attack, his work ethic and commitment” and added he is a “headache for rivals.”

Report: Braithwaite to Barcelona

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Martin Brathwaite is on the verge of signing for Barcelona in an emergency deal sanctioned by La Liga.

Over the last few weeks the Catalan giants have lost both Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele to what are essentially season-ending injuries and they asked Spain’s top-flight for special dispensation to sign a new striker.

28-year-old Braithwaite is their emergency man.

The former Middlesbrough striker currently plays in La Liga for struggling Leganes but the Danish international has a release clause of $21.6 million in his contract and Barca have reportedly triggered.

Multiple reports state that Braithwate will travel to Barcelona on Tuesday to complete the shock move with his agent already in talks to seal the deal.

Why Braithwaite? Barcelona probably only got the ruling from La Liga to sign an ’emergency striker’ if he wasn’t a superstar who would cost $150 million. Also, La Liga rules state the emergency signing has to already be registered in Spain or a free agent.

We are outside of the transfer window and this move is incredibly controversial as emergency signings are usually only made available outside of the transfer window if it involves a goalkeeper.

This is a head scratcher.

Have Barca not got enough attacking midfielders to play one of them in attack? Are there really no players from Barcelona B who can be promoted to the first team?

Barcelona’s La Liga rivals will not be happy about this. Braithwaite is not able to be registered for the Champions League but he could have a big impact in the tight title race in Spain as Quique Setien’s team currently sit in second place, one point behind leaders Real Madrid.

Braithwaite has hardly been prolific during his time at Leganes (eight goal in 20 games), but that is a much better record compared to when he played for Middlesbrough in the Championship nine goal in 40 games). Setien and Barca’s recruitment team have obviously seen that he can help out the team to hold up the ball and give them a Plan B in games.

If this move goes through you just know Braithwaite is going to score the goal which wins Barcelona the La Liga title. You just know that is going to happen.

Burnley confirms Gibson training with Middlesbrough

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Premier League side Burnley has confirmed that record signing Ben Gibson is training with his old club Middlesbrough after a difficult 18 months with the Clarets.

The 27-year-old arrived at Burnley from Middlesbrough in the summer of 2018 for a joint-club record $19 million, but the defender has made just six total appearances, including just one in Premier League play. Initially felled by a hernia problem that left him sidelined for the first three months of his Burnley tenure, Gibson has been unable to crack Sean Dyche‘s squad, only making the bench once in the past nine league games.

The club released a statement on Wednesday to say that Gibson had wished to leave the club in January, and with a deal not materializing, he felt it necessary to continue his training elsewhere. “The defender made it clear, in the weeks leading up to the end of the January transfer window, that he wanted to leave Turf Moor to seek regular first team football,” the team wrote in a statement. The club confirmed he remains contracted to Burnley.

Gibson was linked to Watford in the January transfer window, but Sky Sports reported that the Hornets saw a loan deal rejected three different times, with the hold-up being the value of the summer option to buy.

According to Burnley Express beat writer Chris Boden, it is likely that Gibson would have been sent to train with the reserve squad had this opportunity not materialized. Boden also reports that he heard about some “flashpoints” at training that may have led Gibson to wish for a chance to train elsewhere. It is certainly still odd to see a club’s record signing allowed to train elsewhere while still under contract, but given that Gibson is clearly on the outside looking in and with the relationship almost completely broken down, his departure from the club in practice has little effect on the matchday squad.