We’re to mid-April with about six weeks left in the European season the stakes continue to escalate in a number of areas. Perhaps this is most true in England’s second tier where several USMNT players look like they will be battling it out down the stretch to see whose team can gain the windfall of promotion. That’s where our action starts on Friday afternoon:
Middlesbrough v Norwich City - 3p on ESPN
American’s are in the midst of a promotion battle in the English Championship and it will be a head-to-head matchup of goal scorer against goal keeper on Friday afternoon when Zack Steffen and Middlesbrough take on Josh Sargent and Norwich City.
The top two teams in the English Championship earn automatic promotion while the next four (teams in 3rd through 6th) enter a playoff for the final promotion spot. Burnley, currently in first place by 14 points, have already secured promotion with a 19 point lead over third place with six matches to play while Sheffield United has a five point lead and game in hand advantage for second place.
This leaves a group of about ten teams, vying for positions three through six and the chance to join the official playoff for promotion including Ethan Horvath’s Luton Town who are currently in third with 71 points, Middlesbrough and Zack Steffen who sit in fourth with 68 points, and Josh Sargent’s Norwich who currently sit outside of the playoff positions in eighth place with 61 points. Norwich trail the fifth and sixth place teams (Milwall and Blackburn Rovers) by just a point and are still very much in the mix with five matches to play.
Middlesbrough are in a strong position with a six point lead but are on a three match winless streak and have given up eight goals over those four matches as well. It’s not been a great stretch for Steffen but he’s gotten some much needed playing time this season, 37 matches already, after two years of playing the backup role and rarely seeing the field at Manchester City.
Norwich come into the match having picked up four points in their last three matches and coming off a scoreless draw with Rotherham. The team has struggled to score recently with just three goals in their past six matches and while Josh Sargent has eleven goals on the season he hasn’t scored in his clubs past ten matches (including three of which he missed due to injury).
Bayern Munich v Hoffenheim - 9a on ESPN+
John Brooks and Hoffenheim have climbed out of the drop zone thanks to a three match winning streak. Brooks has started five straight for his new German side who now sit five points ahead of Stuttgart and the final relegation spot. Hoffenheim will come up against league leading Bayern Munich this weekend and are a real long shot to manage a point this weekend but Bayern aren’t without struggles of their own and will be without Sadio Mane this weekend as he was suspended for punching teammate Leroy Sane after the club suffered a 3-0 loss to Manchester City midweek in Champions League play.
- Giovanni Reyna was absent again last weekend due to cold symptoms but should be available when Borussia Dortmund face Stuttgart at 9:30a on ESPN+.
- Christian Pulisic was an unused substitute midweek in Chelsea’s 2-0 loss to Real Madrid, and saw 30’ off the bench last week in the teams 1-0 loss to Wolverhampton. The team technically sits closer to the relegation spots than they do to qualifying for next season’s European competitions and they have managed less than a goal per league match which includes being held scoreless in their past three. They will face Brighton & Hove Albion who are seven points back of Europa League competition but with two games in hand could close that gap. The match will be played at 10a on Peacock.
- Tim Ream, Antonee Robinson and Fulham are in a bit of a rough patch having lost four straight but thanks to a strong first three-quarters of a season still sit twelve points out of the relegation positions. The face an Everton side that are in the thick of the relegation battle, tied with Nottingham Forest for the final relegation spot, at 10a on Peacock.
- Chris Richards has not played in two months and was not in the squad for the past two weeks due to being injured yet again. He is a game time decision for tomorrow’s clash with Southampton at 10a on Peacock.
- Joe Scally, who has been quite the workhorse for Borussia Monchengladbach was forced off due to injury last weekend in Gladbach’s 2-0 win over Wolfsburg. Indications are the injury is not considered serious and he should be available this weekend as the team face Eintracht Frankfurt at 12:30p on ESPN+.
It’s a battle for LA that on paper looks like it could get lopsided given the gulf in quality between these two teams. LAFC have shown every sign of defending their 2022 title this season, they are undefeated through six matches, giving up just three goals while scoring a dozen of their own in league play. Kelly Acosta, Timothy Tillman and Aaron Long have each played a role in the early season success with Acosta and Tillman appearing in every match.
Meanwhile across town the LA Galaxy are still looking for their first win of the season, with their only points thus far coming through a pair of scoreless draws and a one-one draw with Vancouver. 19-year-old Centerback Jalen Neal has started five of six and has not looked out of place though perhaps that is damning with faint praise given the clubs performance thus far this season.
- Timothy Weah has started four straight at right-back following four matches at left-back. His Lille side face Montpellier at 7a on beIN Sports.
- Jordan Pefok and Union Berlin suffered a 2-1 loss to Borussia Dortmund last weekend that put them seven points out of first and ended their title hopes for this season but they still hold a four point lead for Champions League qualification and will need a result against 15th place Bochum to hold their position. The match this weekend will be played at 11:30a on ESPN+.
- Kevin Paredes continues to see significant time off the bench for Wolfsburg and could see that time rise as we near the end of the season and the teams mid-table position is solidified. They face sixth place Bayer Leverkusen at 1:30p on ESPN+.
- Yunus Musah and Valencia were on the wrong end of a relegation scrap last weekend with a 2-1 loss to Almeria and currently sit in 18th place, two points from safety. They will need to pick up some results down the stretch and can begin Sunday when they face Sevilla at 3p on ESPN+.
- Leeds United are also in the relegation scrap with just a two point advantage over 18th place Nottingham Forest and suffered a thorough 5-1 trouncing at the hands of Crystal Palace last weekend. Brenden Aaronson assisted on the opening goal from Leeds but it was all Palace after that despite a relatively strong game from Weston McKennie as well. The team will face a Liverpool side that drew league leading Arsenal last weekend 2-2 in a Monday afternoon match at 3p on USA Network.
- Luca de la Torre and Celta Vigo are undefeated in their past seven matches and sit solidly in the middle of the La Liga table as they prepare to face Mallorca at 3p on ESPN Deportes and ESPN+.