Championship: West Brom frustrated by Birmingham, Derby teenager scores hat-trick

By Sports Desk June 20, 2020

West Brom nudged ahead of Leeds United at the top of the Championship but a 0-0 draw with Birmingham City appeared to be a blow to the title hopes of Slaven Bilic's team.

Yet the top two in England's second tier look increasingly likely to be the pair promoted to the Premier League, with third-placed Fulham suffering a damaging home defeat against Brentford.

In the first matches following the league's three-month coronavirus suspension, a new hero emerged for mid-table Derby County as 18-year-old Louie Sibley scored a hat-trick in their win at Millwall.

And Rhian Brewster, a striker on loan from Liverpool, gave Swansea City's play-off hopes a boost by netting twice at Middlesbrough, as well as making a powerful political statement.

POINT A MIXED BLESSING FOR BAGGIES

With Leeds in action at Cardiff City on Sunday, West Brom had an opportunity to go two points clear of Marcelo Bielsa's team as the league resumed.

Bilic's players dominated the derby clash and had a host of chances but could not find a breakthrough, and a stalemate at the Hawthorns potentially plays into the hands of Leeds.

The top two are now level on points, with West Brom top on goal difference, but Leeds will have the chance to go three clear before the next round of games.

BEES STING NEIGHBOURS

Said Benrahma and Emiliano Marcondes scored late for Brentford in a 2-0 win at promotion rivals Fulham, a result that leaves West Brom and Leeds seven points clear with eight games remaining for the play-off pack.

Nottingham Forest were heading for victory at Sheffield Wednesday after Joe Lolley gave the visitors a 69th-minute lead, only for Connor Wickham to grab a stoppage-time leveller for the Owls.

Forest sit fifth, four points clear of a Preston North End side who were held 1-1 at Luton Town, Callum McManaman firing a late equaliser for the hosts, who nevertheless fell to the foot of the table.

KING LOUIE

Blackburn Rovers beat Bristol City 3-1 in a battle between teams fighting with Preston for sixth place, but the individual performance of the day came from Sibley, whose heroics guided Derby to their 3-2 win at Millwall.

"I'm absolutely buzzing," Sibley told Rams TV. "To get that hat-trick was just unbelievable. When the third goal went in, I couldn't stop smiling."

Brewster was not far behind, his double steering Swansea to a 3-0 victory at lowly Middlesbrough.

Brewster held up a shirt that read "our colour is not a crime" after his first goal, expressing support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

TIGERS ON THE SLIDE

Wigan Athletic were 2-0 winners at fellow strugglers Huddersfield Town, while Hull City slipped into the bottom three after losing 1-0 at home against Charlton Athletic.

Barnsley climbed off the bottom by winning 1-0 at QPR, and Stoke City drew 1-1 at Reading.

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  • Top five European leagues permutations: Title races, Champions League spots and relegation battles Top five European leagues permutations: Title races, Champions League spots and relegation battles

    Europe's top five leagues all conclude this week and there are still plenty of matters to be resolved – not least who will be crowned champions in Spain and France.

    Every division has something riding on the final days of the season, whether it be top spot, European qualification, or relegation.

    Ahead of what is set to be a dramatic conclusion to the Premier League, LaLiga, Ligue 1, Serie A and the Bundesliga campaigns, we look at the state of play in each league.

     

    PREMIER LEAGUE

    Manchester City wrapped up the Premier League title with three games to spare, making them the first team in the competition's history to win the title despite being as low as eighth on Christmas Day.

    All three relegation places were also decided with three games remaining – a Premier League record – with Fulham joining Sheffield United and West Brom in dropping down a division.

    That leaves just the European spots to fight for, and it is shaping up to be an entertaining end to the English top-flight season in that regard. Manchester United are guaranteed a top-four finish, but five other teams – Leicester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and West Ham – are in the mix for the two other Champions League berths with two rounds of games to go.

    There is also the small matter of the Europa League places for the teams finishing in fifth and sixth, as well as a spot in the inaugural Europa Conference League, which goes to the team in seventh, meaning everyone from 10th-placed Leeds United to Leicester in third have something to play for. That includes Arsenal, who have not missed out on European football of some sort in 25 years.

    LALIGA 

    The Spanish title race appeared to take a dramatic twist on Sunday as Real Madrid leapfrogged Atletico Madrid at the summit for around 20 minutes. However, Atleti scored two late goals to beat Osasuna, meaning they are two points ahead of their city rivals heading into the final round of games.

    Atleti, who have led the way at the top for 29 matchdays, now need to match Madrid's result against Villarreal when they travel to relegation-threatened Real Valladolid on the final day of the season. It is worth noting that Los Blancos have the superior head-to-head record, so a draw would not be enough for Atleti if Madrid win.

    Barcelona are officially out of the title race, meanwhile, but they are assured of a top-four finish along with Sevilla. Real Sociedad and Real Betis occupy the Europa League spots, while Villarreal are in a Europa Conference League berth, though just one point separates the three teams so that could all yet change.

    To complicate matters, Villarreal could still qualify for the Champions League by winning the Europa League final against Manchester United.

    At the bottom end of the division, Eibar are already relegated and they will be joined by two of Valladolid, Elche or Huesca. Valladolid must beat Atletico in their final game to have a chance of staying up, while the onus is on Elche to better Huesca's result as they are level on points but have an inferior head-to-head record.

    LIGUE 1

    The Ligue 1 title battle is also going right down to the wire in a three-way dogfight. After a thrilling race that has lasted the course of the season, underdogs Lille lead heavyweights Paris Saint-Germain by one point with one matchday left.

    Monaco have won seven of their previous eight games and are three points off leaders Lille, though they require both Les Dogues and PSG to slip up on the final day, as well as beating Lens. Should it come down to goal difference, PSG hold a big lead over their two title rivals.

    Incredibly, PSG are still not yet technically assured of a Champions League place as Lyon in fourth are only three points worse off, although it would take a defeat for the reigning champions and victory for Lyon, plus a goal swing of 16, for them to miss out.

    Monaco's opponents Lens, incidentally, also have plenty to play for at the weekend as they are sixth – enough for Europa Conference League qualification – but can still be caught by Rennes in seventh, while they could yet overtake Marseille in fifth if results go their way.

    At the opposite end of the table, there may only be one spot left to be settled in the bottom three – Dijon and Nimes are both already down – but six teams are still very much in danger of the drop. Nantes occupy the relegation play-off spot, with Lorient, Brest and Strasbourg just a point better off, and Bordeaux and Reims only two points clear.

    SERIE A

    With Inter being crowned Scudetto winners for the first time in 11 years at the start of the month, the biggest storyline in Serie A regards Juventus' top-four fate. The dethroned champions, who had finished top nine years running before this season, are currently down in fifth.

    Juve are one point behind Napoli and Milan in the two spots directly above them, while Atalanta are three points better off in second and have the better head-to-head record against the Bianconeri.

    Andrea Pirlo's side are therefore in need of favours on the final day in what is poised to be a nail-biting finale in terms of those Champions League places. Lazio will finish sixth, so they are assured of Europa League football next term, while Roma hold a two-point advantage over Sassuolo in the Europa Conference League position.

    Parma and Crotone are both down already and one of Benevento or Torino will join them, the latter currently three points outside of the relegation zone and with a game in hand to play on Benevento.

    BUNDESLIGA

    RB Leipzig provided Bayern Munich with some stern competition for a while, but the Bavarian giants' quality eventually told and they are Bundesliga champions for a ninth year running.

    It's not only the title race that's done and dusted in Germany, in fact, as RB Leipzig are certain of second place, and both Borussia Dortmund and Wolfsburg will join them in the Champions League next season.

    Eintracht Frankfurt and Bayer Leverkusen, meanwhile, will finish in fifth and sixth respectively regardless of events later this week.

    However, Union Berlin have work to do if they are to finish seventh for a place in the Europa Conference League play-offs as Borussia Monchengladbach are a point further back, while Stuttgart and Freiburg are two behind with a game to go.

    Seven-time German champions Schalke will be competing in the second tier of German football next season, but Cologne and Werder Bremen are hanging on in there, sitting two and one point behind Arminia Bielefeld respectively in 15th place.

  • Mancini extends Italy deal until after 2026 World Cup Mancini extends Italy deal until after 2026 World Cup

    Roberto Mancini has been given a significant vote of confidence by the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) after signing a new contract that will keep him in charge of Italy until after the 2026 World Cup.

    Mancini was appointed in May 2018, taking over from caretaker manager Luigi Di Biagio after he had replaced Gian Piero Ventura the previous November.

    Ventura had failed to guide Italy to the 2018 World Cup, the Azzurri losing out to Sweden in a play-off.

    It was the first World Cup Italy had missed since 1958 and forced the FIGC into a serious rethink before turning to Mancini, one of the nation's most-respected coaches.

    He was initially appointed only until 2020, with an automatic extension to be granted upon qualification for Euro 2020, which Italy duly achieved with three matches to spare.

    That triggered a two-year extension to run until after the 2022 World Cup, but the FIGC is seemingly so impressed with Mancini that they have deemed him worthy of a long-term deal.

    Speaking at the end of the FIGC's federal council meeting, president Gabriele Gravina is quoted by ANSA as saying: "It is an investment of the federation for the future, and one that we owed to the fans.

    "I am very happy, because as Roberto knows, it was an objective of the federation to continue this job and give it continuity in the future."

    Mancini, who was also in attendance, added: "I am very happy, I thank the Federation and I thank the president.

    "We have extended the contract, there will be many events and as the president said it is not easy to win, but we are trying to carry out a job that was started three years ago, which up to now has given good results.

    "We have many young players to focus on, especially in the youth national teams, so our hope is that this work can bear fruit very quickly, we are very positive."

    Mancini's Italy broke a longstanding national team record in November 2019 as they won 10 consecutive matches with a 3-0 result against Bosnia-Herzegovina, the streak eventually ending at 11.

    They won all of their Euro 2020 qualifiers and their 10 victories in 2019 set a new record for the most wins in a calendar year for the national team.

    Italy were drawn into Group A for the Euros, which start next month, meaning they will face Turkey, Wales and Switzerland for the right to reach the knockout phase.

  • Solskjaer still unsure of Mata's future at Man United Solskjaer still unsure of Mata's future at Man United

    Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is unsure whether Juan Mata will remain at Old Trafford beyond this season.

    The Spanish midfielder has spent the last seven-and-a-half years at Old Trafford, racking up 271 appearances during that time.

    However, he has struggled for minutes this season – featuring just 16 times in all competitions – and is due to become a free agent next month.

    United have the option to trigger a 12-month extension in Mata's contract, but Solskjaer insists the player himself will have the final say over his future.

    "I've kept the dialogue with Juan and we're due to speak again very soon," he said at a news conference on Monday previewing his side's home match with Fulham. 

    "Of course, he's not played as much as he'd like and that's a decision that we'll make with him. He's in charge of his own future and he's been such a good servant for the club. 

    "But of course, it's hard, as I've said so many times, to leave good players out, good people out of the team. 

    "It's about what does he want as his next step in his career? Is it still play out his career here, or is it going somewhere else? We haven't made a final decision yet."

    Mata's appearance in a much-changed United's 2-1 loss to Leicester City last week was just his fifth start of the season in the Premier League, not helped by injuries and family matters.

    Prior to that rare outing against the Foxes, Mata had played just two minutes of top-flight football for United in 2021, coming on as a late substitute in February's 3-1 win against Newcastle United.

    He has failed to score in the league since April 2019 but does have two assists in 2020-21, which equates to 0.42 per 90 minutes and is the best record of any United player to have played more than once this term.

    Bruno Fernandes is next on the list with 0.33 assists per 90 minutes, albeit over a far greater period of 36 games compared to Mata's eight.

    The 33-year-old also ranks highly for chances created, the Spaniard's 1.69 per 90 minutes behind only Luke Shaw (2.53) and Fernandes (2.81).

    Serie A side Lazio are reportedly the favourites to sign the former Valencia and Chelsea man should he depart Old Trafford in the coming weeks. 

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