Alen Halilovic is itching to get started at Birmingham City after the former Barcelona and Milan attacking midfielder penned a short-term deal with the Blues.

The now 24-year-old was once regarded as one of European football's brightest prospects and LaLiga giants Barca snapped him up from Dinamo Zagreb in 2014.

However, he spent most of his time with Barca's B side and was shipped on loan to Sporting Gijon before joining Hamburg two years after his arrival at Camp Nou.

The move to Germany did not work out particularly well for Halilovic but, after spending a season with Las Palmas on loan, he was signed by Serie A side Milan a couple of years ago.

Loan spells at Standard Liege and Heerenveen did little to convince the Rossoneri, though, and he was released in October.

Halilovic is now set to embark on a new venture with Championship side Birmingham in English football's second tier.

"Honoured and extremely happy to be here! Looking forward to getting started! Keep Right On!" Halilovic posted on Twitter.

Announcing the signing on their official website, Birmingham said: "[The] Blues have completed the signing of highly rated Croatian international, Alen Halilovic, on a short-term contract.

"The attacking midfielder joins until June 2021 having left Italian giants, AC Milan, when his contract expired last month.

"Halilovic will link up with fellow countryman Ivan Sunjic, having been touted as one of Croatia's most promising stars.

"At just 24 years old, the talented technician has already been snapped up by the likes of Barcelona and AC Milan, and will join Blues aiming to fulfil his undoubted potential."

Bournemouth will start life back in the Championship at home to Blackburn Rovers, while Watford host Middlesbrough and Norwich City travel to Huddersfield Town.

The Cherries were relegated after a five-year stay in the Premier League, while Watford and Norwich were also demoted in a top-flight campaign that was disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

That halt means the new Championship season starts on September 12, with beaten play-off finalists Brentford travelling to Birmingham City on the opening day, while south Wales rivals Cardiff City and Swansea City – who also made the top six – host Sheffield Wednesday and visit Preston North End respectively.

Wycombe Wanderers – playing in the second tier for the first time – welcome fellow new boys Rotherham United for their first game, while Coventry City's return to the Championship starts with a trip to Bristol City.

Derby County and Barnsley start at home against Reading and Luton Town, with Stoke City and Nottingham Forest heading to London to face Millwall and QPR.

Bournemouth host Norwich in the third round of matches, the same weekend Watford renew acquaintances with fierce rivals Luton. Watford and the Canaries face off at Vicarage Road on December 26.

The three relegated teams will hope to be in the promotion hunt come the final day on May 8, with Bournemouth and Watford at home to Stoke and Swansea, while Norwich go to Barnsley.

Aitor Karanka has been appointed as the new head coach of Championship side Birmingham City.

The Spaniard, who has signed a three-year deal, replaces compatriot Pep Clotet, who was dismissed with four games of the Championship remaining.

Karanka led Middlesbrough out of the second tier in the 2015-16 campaign and spent a year as Nottingham Forest boss before departing in January 2019.

"I'm delighted to be joining a club with the history and fanbase that Birmingham City has," Karanka told the club website.

"I share the excitement and determination of everyone here to start working together on all the challenges that lie ahead."

Birmingham finished just two places and two points above the relegation zone this season, and it would have been just one spot had Wigan Athletic not been docked points for entering administration.

As a player, Karanka won a LaLiga title and three Champions League medals with Real Madrid, for whom he was also an assistant coach under Jose Mourinho.

Birmingham City retired the number 22 shirt following Jude Bellingham's final game ahead of his move to Borussia Dortmund.

Dortmund reportedly paid an initial €23million (£21m) to sign the Bellingham, making him the most expensive 17-year-old in history.

The England youth international bid an emotional farewell to Birmingham following their 3-1 loss to Derby County on Wednesday.

Bellingham became Blues' youngest ever player when he made his debut last August and went on to make 44 appearances for the club.

In a statement published on Thursday, Birmingham said: "In such a remarkably short space of time Jude has become an iconic figure at Blues, showing what can be achieved through talent, hard work and dedication.

"His caring, humble and engaging off-the-field demeanour has also made him such an impressive role model.

"The 22 shirt has become synonymous with Jude, his rise to the first team aged just 16 years and 38 days and these qualities.

"And as such the club have decided it would be fitting to retire this number, to remember one of our own and to inspire others."

Bellingham will wear the number 22 at Dortmund and will link up with his new team-mates on July 30.

Jude Bellingham expressed his love for Birmingham City after the tearful teenage sensation played his last game for the Championship outfit ahead of his move to Borussia Dortmund.

Bellingham will play for Bundesliga giants Dortmund in 2020-21 following the completion of his €23million (£21m) transfer on Monday, prior to Birmingham's season finale on Wednesday.

The 17-year-old stepped out in a Birmingham jersey for the final time in a 3-1 Championship defeat to visiting Derby County midweek.

Bellingham was overcome with emotion post-match at St Andrew's, where he emerged from his boyhood club's youth system last year.

"I tried my best to hide it but sometimes it's difficult," Bellingham said. "I love the club, I am a massive fan of the club.

"I've been coming here since I was seven, not just playing in the academy.

"I fell in love with Birmingham City and then fell in love with football.

"So just to get a little bit of time out there on my own and with my little brother, mum and dad meant the world to us.

"We've shed a few tears and I am really devastated about how it's finished but at the same time I am optimistic for the future and looking forward to that."

Bellingham ended the 2019-20 season with four Championship goals and two assists in 41 appearances.

West Brom clinched the second automatic promotion place in the Championship on a dramatic final day of the season as Wigan Athletic's spirited survival bid failed.

After both West Brom and Brentford were beaten at the weekend, the Baggies only needed to match the third-placed side's result to seal a return to the Premier League after two seasons away in England's second tier.

A seemingly straightforward home fixture against QPR did not go entirely to plan for West Brom, but a 2-2 draw took them up as Brentford went down 2-1 to Barnsley on Wednesday.

That result saw Barnsley stay up, but Wigan could not join them as they drew 1-1 with Fulham – who could have been promoted with a win – and went down due to a looming 12-point deduction.

Charlton Athletic and Hull City were also demoted, while there was a similarly chaotic finish in the play-off race.

BAGGIES BEST BRENTFORD

Both West Brom and Brentford lost their nerve with two matches of the campaign remaining, but a return of just a single point from a pair of games proved enough for Slaven Bilic's team.

Following Friday's defeat to Huddersfield Town, West Brom were boosted by Brentford's own reverse at Stoke City yet could not beat QPR.

West Brom trailed to Ryan Manning's strike before turning the match on its head with goals either side of half-time through Grady Diangana and Callum Robinson, only for Eberechi Eze to equalise just past the hour-mark.

It mattered not, though, as Brentford failed to capitalise, instead losing again.

Josh Dasilva cancelled out Callum Styles' Barnsley opener, but as Brentford pushed for a precious winner, Clarke Oduor tapped in at the other end in the 91st minute.

BRAVE BARNSLEY, WIGAN WOE

There were contrasting scenes at full-time in the final regular league match at Griffin Park after Barnsley celebrated as Brentford collapsed.

The visitors were heading down until Oduor struck but stayed up at Charlton's expense, the Addicks going down 4-0 at champions Leeds United.

Hull propped up the table after a 3-0 defeat at Cardiff City, while Luton Town stayed up thanks to a rallying 3-2 success at home to Blackburn Rovers, aided by two own goals.

Wigan needed to win due to their deduction following administration, but one of the form teams in the division let a lead slip against Fulham, their total of 59 points bumped down to 47 to fall a painful point short.

 

It isn't just a game of football, it's absolutely everything to our players, staff and supporters.

Hold your heads high!#wafc pic.twitter.com/5oTj7eV4jV

— Wigan Athletic (@LaticsOfficial) July 22, 2020
SWANS SAVOUR GOAL SWING

With rivals Cardiff comfortable in claiming their play-off place, Swansea City needed to beat 10-man Reading while Nottingham Forest lost to Stoke City, along with a five-goal swing.

Improbably, the Swans stole sixth place from Forest after a remarkable finale.

The Welsh side won 4-1, netting their fourth in the 91st minute as Wayne Routledge headed in his second.

That scoreline left Forest – 3-1 down at home to Stoke at the time – needing to score, but instead they conceded, their promotion bid derailing in spectacular fashion as Nuno da Costa stabbed into his own net in the sixth minute of stoppage time.

The 4-1 defeat meant Forest – without a win since July 1 – finished seventh.

Elsewhere, there were wins for Derby County, Millwall and Middlesbrough, bringing the curtain down on another season in gripping fashion.

Borussia Dortmund have beaten Manchester United to the signing of another promising young player, with Jude Bellingham to arrive from Birmingham City.

Bellingham, 17, signed a long-term contract with the Bundesliga side, though the exact length was not specified, and reportedly cost an initial €23million (£21m).

He will join up with his new team-mates on July 30 and wear the number 22 shirt for Dortmund.

The England youth international had appeared likely to head to Old Trafford following his emergence as a first-team regular at Birmingham this season.

But having seen Erling Haaland head to Dortmund instead of Manchester in January, Bellingham is also en route to the Bundesliga – a shorter path to the first team convincing him to pick Signal Iduna Park.

Sporting director Michael Zorc said: "Jude Bellingham has decided with absolute confidence to pursue his career at Borussia Dortmund. The primary motivation behind his decision were the prospects on the pitch we were able to offer him.

"He has enormous potential, which we will continue to develop together with him over the coming years.

"He already boasts astonishing quality with and without the ball, and has a strong mentality to boot.

"Jude will immediately strengthen our first team squad, but we will certainly give him all the time he needs to adapt to the higher level of play."

Fulham remain in the hunt for second place in the Championship after downing Sheffield Wednesday 5-3 on Saturday.

With Brentford having lost 1-0 at Stoke City earlier, thereby crowning Leeds United champions, Fulham responded to move within a point of the top two thanks to two goals from Aleksandar Mitrovic.

Cardiff City swept aside Middlesbrough to keep their play-off ambitions in their own hands, with Preston and Millwall now unable to finish in the top six.

At the other end of the table, Stoke's victory sealed their survival, while Kazenga LuaLua struck a huge late blow for Luton Town at Hull City and Charlton Athletic snatched an important point.

FULHAM POUNCE AS BRENTFORD FALTER

Lee Gregory's first-half finish from close range gave Stoke a 1-0 win over Brentford at the bet365 Stadium that ensured their Championship survival and denied the visitors the chance to go second.

Fulham are now just a point behind Brentford in the table after beating Wednesday 5-3 and, with West Brom only two above them, the Cottagers will be ready to capitalise on any slip-ups on the final day.

Mitrovic and Neeskens Kebano scored twice at Craven Cottage before Bobby Reid's late fifth, with Jacob Murphy and Atdhe Nuhiu (2) on target for Wednesday, who cannot yet consider themselves safe given the risk of a possible EFL points deduction.

 

BONNE CHANCE FOR LUTON AND CHARLTON

In Saturday's relegation showdown between Hull and Luton, it was the visitors who left the KCOM Stadium feeling hopeful of survival after LuaLua fired home the winner in the 85th minute.

Luton are now on 48 points, level with Charlton, who were trailing 2-1 to Wigan Athletic until Macauley Bonne equalised on exactly 92 minutes.

Hull are three points behind and, given they are 16 goals worse off than Charlton, they look destined for League One barring possible points penalties for either Wednesday or Wigan. Bottom-club Barnsley, with two games left, can still stay up.

CARDIFF WIN ENDS PRESTON, MILLWALL HOPES

Two goals from Josh Murphy helped Cardiff to a 3-1 win at Middlesbrough, whose survival could now depend on getting a result on Wednesday, at Wednesday.

Cardiff stay sixth, three points ahead of Swansea City, whose 1-0 win over Bristol City keeps their play-off hopes alive ahead of the final day.

Preston cannot now make the top six, despite beating Birmingham City 2-0 - another side who are not yet guaranteed to avoid the drop - while Millwall are also out of play-off contention following Cardiff's win and their own thrilling 4-3 defeat at QPR.

That was not the day's only seven-goal game: at Ewood Park, Sam Gallagher's 87th-minute header gave Blackburn Rovers a 4-3 win over Reading that lifted them into the top 10.

Liverpool are reportedly getting closer to signing Thiago Alcantara, while Kai Havertz knows what he wants.

Thiago has continued to be linked with a move to the Premier League champions amid uncertainty over his future at Bayern Munich.

A switch to Anfield could be getting closer.

 

TOP STORY – KLOPP APPROVES OF LIVERPOOL MOVE FOR THIAGO

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has approved a move for Bayern midfielder Thiago, according to Sport Bild.

Thiago, 29, is out of contract at the Bundesliga club next year and reportedly wants a move to Liverpool.

However, the Premier League champions are apparently only willing to pay £23million (€25.4m), well short of Bayern's asking price of £36m (€39.7m).

ROUND-UP

- Havertz looks likely to leave Bayer Leverkusen this close season. Kicker says the Germany international wants a move in the upcoming transfer window amid strong links to Chelsea. According to Sport Bild, Leverkusen still want around £90.6m (€100m) for Havertz but are prepared to accept add-ons and bonuses.

- Mauricio Pochettino may be nearing a return to management. The Telegraph reports the former Tottenham boss is on the shortlist of candidates at Juventus and Inter should the Serie A clubs sack Maurizio Sarri or Antonio Conte respectively.

- Jude Bellingham is close to completing his move to Borussia Dortmund. Sky Sports claims the Birmingham City teenager has completed his medical at the Bundesliga club.

- Sassuolo midfielder Manuel Locatelli seems to be catching the eye. CalcioMercato reports Juventus are interested in the 22-year-old.

- Staying in Italy and CalcioMercato says Inter and Napoli are interested in Milan midfielder Franck Kessie.

- Manchester United are reportedly set to land a Real Madrid youngster. Alvaro Fernandez, 17, has agreed to a four-year deal with United, according to AS.

Paris Saint-Germain have reportedly told Barcelona what they want for Neymar, while Paul Pogba is set for a Manchester United stay.

Neymar continues to be linked with a return to the LaLiga giants, three years after leaving for PSG in a world-record €222million move.

It seems Barcelona know what PSG want for the attacker.

 

TOP STORY – PSG WANT €80M AND DEMBELE FOR NEYMAR

PSG want €80m and Ousmane Dembele from Barcelona in exchange for Neymar, according to El Chiringuito.

Dembele has struggled with injuries since arriving at Barcelona from Borussia Dortmund in 2017.

Like Neymar, the France international has regularly been linked with a move.

ROUND-UP

- Happy again amid Manchester United's resurgence, Pogba may be ready to extend his stay. The Sun reports the midfielder is close to agreeing to a five-year deal with the Premier League giants.

- Staying in Manchester and City are eyeing Inter star Lautaro Martinez as a long-term replacement for Sergio Aguero, according to Sky Sports. Martinez has been heavily linked with a move to Barcelona.

- After having their European ban overturned, Manchester City are reportedly ready to spend. The Mirror reports City have been quoted a cut-price £65million (€71.6m) price for Napoli star Kalidou Koulibaly, who has been linked to Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea among others.

- Manchester United are fighting to qualify for the Champions League late in the season. According to Sport Bild, Borussia Dortmund are expecting a £108.9m (€120m) bid from United for Jadon Sancho if they qualify for the Champions League.

- Staying with Borussia Dortmund, the Bundesliga club will pay €25m (£22.7m) for Birmingham City teenager Jude Bellingham, according to Sport Bild.

Brentford moved to within a point of the Championship's top two and delayed any promotion party Leeds United may have had planned by beating Preston North End.

After high-flying rivals West Brom and Fulham drew on Tuesday, Brentford capitalised with a 1-0 win at Griffin Park a day later.

An eighth successive victory – of which seven have come since the season's restart – piled the pressure on second-placed West Brom and ensured Leeds cannot seal a Premier League return when they play on Thursday.

Elsewhere there were a trio of draws, most notably at Nottingham Forest and Birmingham City, where the respective hosts each picked up precious points, holding Swansea City and Charlton Athletic.


AUTOMATIC RACE GOING TO THE WIRE

Leeds host rock-bottom Barnsley but now need four points to guarantee promotion, meaning they will be made to wait a little longer regardless of the outcome at Elland Road.

Although West Brom have been in the top two for much of the season, Brentford's outstanding run of form means it is still all to play for in the final two matches of the campaign.

The Bees' latest win came by just a single early goal as Ollie Watkins lashed in after four minutes following good work from Emiliano Marcondes in the build-up.

They held on and will now be keen spectators when the Baggies visit Huddersfield Town on Friday, with the Thomas Frank side next in action against Stoke City the following day.
 

SAMMY STUNNERS STUNT SWANS

The battle to make the play-offs is almost as tense as the tussle at the top, but fifth-placed Forest – five points clear of seventh – should be involved.

They were grateful to Sammy Ameobi for a pair of wonderful goals as they twice came from behind to draw at home to Swansea.

Rhian Brewster's fine first-time finish gave Swansea the lead, before Ameobi picked out the top-right corner with a gorgeous curling effort from outside the area.

The Swans were back in front heading into half-time after Andre Ayew's penalty, yet Ameobi was not done and cut in from the right to arrow a low shot into the bottom-right corner.

The travelling side could not regain the lead for a third time and now face a tough ask to overhaul rivals Cardiff City, who are sixth and three points better off.
 

LATE LEVELLER LEAVES CHARLTON IN TROUBLE

Charlton appeared set to move four points clear of the relegation zone when they led Birmingham deep into stoppage time.

Macauley Bonne's second-half strike followed a missed penalty for Scott Hogan, meaning Charlton would leapfrog their opponents in the table.

But Birmingham's own survival bid was all but completed in the 93rd minute as Lukas Jutkiewicz equalised.

The Blues are joined on 50 points by Stoke, who should also be safe after similarly recovering from a goal down to draw 1-1 at Bristol City.

Danny Batth stooped to head in after Filip Benkovic's deflected opener.

Pablo Hernandez fired Leeds United to the brink of a return to the Premier League as his late goal at Swansea City earned a priceless 1-0 win. 

The former Swansea player came off the bench for the second half and scored in the 89th minute, sparking delight in the visitors' ranks. 

Spanish midfielder Hernandez found the bottom left corner after Luke Ayling cut the ball back, just as Leeds looked like being frustrated. 

Now they sit three points clear of second-placed West Brom and six ahead of in-form Brentford, who occupy third spot, and only three rounds of games remain. 

Leeds have been absent from the top flight of English football since their relegation in 2004, which came just three years after a run to the Champions League semi-finals. 

Veteran manager Marcelo Bielsa was persuaded to stay for this season, having gone agonisingly close last term to the elusive promotion. 

Now, though, Leeds look ready to end their long wait, with games against Barnsley, Derby County and Charlton Athletic to come and a maximum of four points required. 

The latest step on the road back to the elite came a day after the death was announced of one of their greatest players, England World Cup winner Jack Charlton, who spent his entire club career with Leeds. 

Stoke City and Birmingham City have played Premier League football more recently than Leeds, but this season has been one of battling the threat of dropping into the third tier for both. 

Stoke earned a 2-0 win over Birmingham on Sunday to join the Blues on 49 points, with both sides now four points clear of the relegation zone. 

Beaten 5-0 by Leeds in their previous outing on Thursday, Stoke bounced back thanks to goals from Danny Batth and captain Sam Clucas.

Birmingham City head coach Pep Clotet has left his position after Wednesday's 3-1 loss to Swansea City.

Clotet was due to step down at the end of the season, but "it was mutually agreed that he should relinquish the role immediately", the Championship club said in a statement.

Birmingham's loss to Swansea left them in 17th in the table, just four points clear of the relegation zone with four games left in their season.

Clotet, 43, took over at Birmingham last year, having previously been an assistant at the club.

"The board would like to place on record its sincere thanks to Pep for his efforts during the past two years," the club said.

West Brom went top of the Championship on Wednesday, while Wigan Athletic and Middlesbrough gained key wins at the other end of the table.

The Baggies moved above Leeds United, and went five points clear of third-placed Brentford, with a 2-0 victory over Derby County, who saw their play-off hopes dented by the loss.

Grady Diangana and Dara O'Shea scored in either half for West Brom before Rams youngster Louie Sibley was harshly sent off in stoppage time for violent conduct.

Derby slipped below Swansea City, who went up to seventh courtesy of a 3-1 win at Birmingham City, with Liverpool loanee Rhian Brewster taking his tally to eight goals in 16 Championship games.

Middlesbrough won for the second time in four games since Neil Warnock was appointed as manager, Britt Assombalonga and Ashley Fletcher on target in a 2-0 success at Millwall.

Wigan, who could yet incur a 12-point penalty having gone into administration last week, climbed eight points away clear of danger for now thanks to Kieffer Moore's first-half strike in a 1-0 victory over QPR.

Elsewhere, Bristol City beat Hull City - who are in the relegation zone - 2-1 and Preston North End came from behind to defeat Sheffield Wednesday 3-1.

Leeds United moved another step closer to automatic promotion from the Championship with a 3-1 victory over Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park. 

Marcelo Bielsa's side have been inconsistent since last month's restart but saw off Blackburn to remain six points clear of third-placed Brentford. 

West Brom, who sit in second, are not in action until Sunday and in-form Brentford took full advantage by closing the gap to two points with a convincing 3-0 win against Wigan Athletic. 

Stoke City were also big winners in Saturday's second-tier fixtures, thrashing fellow strugglers Barnsley 4-0 to climb out of the relegation zone and into 18th place. 

Cardiff City, Reading and Fulham picked up valuable victories of their own, while two other matches - including the east Midlands derby - finished level. 


TOP-FLIGHT RETURN IN SIGHT FOR LEEDS

Leeds had collected four points from nine since resuming their campaign, but there is surely no stopping them from ending their 16-year wait for top-flight promotion. 

Patrick Bamford and Kalvin Phillips put Leeds two goals ahead and while Adam Armstrong scored a free-kick early in the second period, Mateusz Klich made sure of the points. 

West Brom play their game in hand against Hull City on Sunday and now have a four-point gap to make up on Leeds, though holding down second place could become their main priority. 

Brentford have now won five in a row after Said Benrahma helped himself to a hat-trick against Wigan, who had Joe Garner sent off late on. 

PROMOTION BATTLE HEATING UP

Derby County and Nottingham Forest played out a 1-1 draw in the early kick-off - Chris Martin scoring in the 97th minute to cancel out Joe Lolley's goal. 

Cardiff saw a number of promising chances go begging against Bristol City before Lee Tomlin played in fellow substitute Danny Ward to snatch a 1-0 win. 

As well as earning bragging rights for Cardiff, Ward's clinical strike five minutes from the end also opens up a three-point buffer on seventh-in-the-table Derby. 

Fulham also needed a late goal to overcome Birmingham City at Craven Cottage, Josh Onomah popping up deep into added time to prolong the visitors' bad run of form. 

STOKE STEER CLEAR OF DANGER

Stoke entered their match with Barnsley sitting just above their opponents in the relegation zone. By the final whistle, they had risen clear of the drop zone. 

Tyrese Campbell struck twice while a goal apiece for Sam Vokes and Tom Ince resulted in a crushing win at the bet365 Stadium. 

Luton Town were unable to give their own survival hopes a much-needed boost as they went down 5-0 at home to Reading, a result that leaves them five points from safety. 

Yakou Meite was the hero for Reading, netting four of their goals - including an 18-minute hat-trick before half-time - while George Puscas was also on target for the visitors. 

Meanwhile, Huddersfield Town played out a goalless stalemate with a Preston North End side now winless in six matches.

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