Leeds United closed the gap to Championship leaders West Brom on Wednesday, while there were welcome wins for Barnsley and Wigan Athletic at the bottom of the table.

The Baggies had moved seven points clear at the summit with a 2-0 victory over Preston North End 24 hours earlier, but Leeds cut the deficit by completing a league double over lowly Middlesbrough.

Fulham are back up to third after they left it late to see off Swansea City, while Steven Fletcher struck deep into stoppage time as Sheffield Wednesday triumphed 1-0 over Charlton Athletic.

Millwall missed the chance to move closer to the play-off places as they were held 0-0 at home by Birmingham City. There were also no goals at Ewood Park, as Blackburn Rovers drew with Stoke City.

 

KLICH-ING INTO GEAR FOR LEEDS

Marcelo Bielsa's side triumphed 1-0 for a third successive league outing, Mateusz Klich scoring the only goal in first-half stoppage time at the Riverside.

The hosts managed just two shots on target as they drew a blank yet again – they have not found the net since a 2-2 draw away at fellow strugglers Wigan on February 11.

Fulham are five points behind Leeds in the standings; Aleksandar Mitrovic missed an 89th-minute penalty but made amends before the final whistle, grabbing the winner in added time at Craven Cottage.

 

BATTLE TO BEAT THE DROP HEATING UP

After Luton Town upset Brentford on Tuesday, Barnsley found themselves propping up the rest prior to kick-off at Hull City.

However, their recent revival continued with a 1-0 victory, Cauley Woodrow the scorer for the visitors in the 42nd minute.

Wigan still occupy the third and final relegation berth but now only trail Middlesbrough on goal difference after a resounding 3-0 result away at Reading.

Kieffer Moore broke the deadlock with an audacious back-heeled finish, with Jamal Lowe and Michael Jacobs – who struck in the ninth minute of added time – also scoring for the Latics.

Goals from Captain Jody Brown, Lacey Murray and Marlee Fray spurred Jamaica to a 3-1 victory over Canada in the CONCACAF Women's U20 World Cup qualifying championship in the Dominican Republic on Wednesday.

David Beckham revealed there were times he thought Inter Miami "might not happen" as the franchise prepare for their opening MLS game.

Under the guidance of head coach Diego Alonso, Inter Miami begin their campaign with a trip to Los Angeles to face LAFC on Sunday.

Former Manchester United, Real Madrid and England star Beckham, a co-owner of the new team, had dreamt of launching an MLS team after playing for LA Galaxy, but the 44-year-old was still surprised by the difficulties.

"It has been a long journey," Beckham told a news conference on Wednesday, via the BBC.

"There was never a moment when I said I would walk away but there were moments when I thought this might not happen.

"I have always loved a challenge. I didn't realise how big a challenge this was going to be, even down to putting tiles in the showers."

Nashville will also enter MLS in 2020 and recent expansion teams LAFC and Atlanta United have made a huge impact.

Atlanta were MLS Cup champions in 2018 and have made the play-offs in each of their first three seasons, while LAFC reached the postseason in their first two campaigns.

"Kicking the first ball this weekend is going to be success for me," said Beckham, who teamed up with Jorge Mas in 2017.

"But I didn't want to be in partnership with someone who was in it for a vanity project. I want my children to be able to say, 'My dad built this club'."

Alexandre Lacazette has dismissed suggestions he could leave Arsenal if they do not qualify for next season's Champions League.

The 28-year-old has two years remaining on his current deal, but newspaper reports this week claim he has a clause in his contract allowing him to leave the Gunners if they fail to make it into European football's premier competition for the 2020-21 campaign.

Arsenal are ninth in the Premier League, seven points behind Chelsea in fourth, while they could qualify for the Champions League if they win this season's Europa League.

Lacazette, who could line up against Olympiacos in the Europa League last-32 second leg on Thursday after scoring the only goal of the first leg, has rubbished reports of the clause, insisting his future remains in north London.

"I didn't know about this [the clause]," he told a media conference. "I don't know. I have a contract with the club so there is no reason for me to leave if everybody is happy with me at the club."

Lacazette's strike partner Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is another Gunners player who has been linked with a move away from the club.

The former Borussia Dortmund frontman is 30 and has been linked with other clubs, including Inter and Barcelona, as he approaches the final year of his contract.

The Gunners see him as a big part of their future, though, with Lacazette also keen for him to remain at the Emirates Stadium.

"It's really important," he added. "He is one of the best or maybe the best this season for Arsenal. Obviously, I hope he's going to stay long for the club."

The Gabon international took his tally for the season to 19 goals in all competitions with a brace against Everton at the weekend, but Lacazette is keen for people to start recognising his wider contribution to the side.

"I think people should talk more about Auba and what he's doing in the game," he said.

"He's more than a goalscorer. He's working a lot for the team defensively, making space for the strikers. I just think if we start to win trophies, people will talk more about what he's doing for the team."

Ajax will be without Hakim Ziyech for the second leg of their Europa League last-32 tie with Getafe, Erik ten Hag has confirmed.

Ziyech will join Chelsea at the end of the season, with the player having agreed a five-year contract to move to Stamford Bridge.

The Morocco international was a star of Ajax's charge to the Champions League semi-finals last season and has scored nine goals across all competitions in 2019-20.

However, a calf problem ruled him out for the opening leg against Getafe, which Ajax lost 2-0 in Spain.

Ziyech missed a 1-0 defeat to Heracles on Sunday with a recurrence of the issue and Ten Hag has now revealed the 26-year-old will be absent again on Thursday.

"Still for the same reason, he hasn't recovered enough," Ten Hag said in a news conference when asked about Ziyech.

"Given the injury, we cannot take a big risk with that. We cannot risk putting everything at stake for one match."

Sunday's defeat left Ajax just three points clear of AZ at the top of the Eredivisie, though Ten Hag has been boosted by the return of Quincy Promes. Noussair Mazraoui and David Neres, however, are both still out.

Dominican RepublicHaiti and Trinidad and Tobago are through to the Round of 16 of the 2020 Concacaf Women’s Under-20 Championship after posting wins on Tuesday in Group F at the Estadio Panamericano in San Cristobal.

It was a hard-fought contest throughout, but Trinidad and Tobago used a late push to down Cayman Islands 2-0.

Maria-Frances Serrant broke the deadlock in the 78’ before Afiyah Cornwall put the finishing touches on the three points with a goal in the 90+4’, giving the Soca Warriors six points through two matches.

Just like in their opening match against the Cayman Islands, Haiti flexed their scoring muscles with a 7-0 victory against Saint Kitts and Nevis.

Both Dayana Louis Pierre (32’, 40’) and Abaina Louis (36’, 46’) had braces, while Melchie Dumornay (22’), Mirlene Dorce (41’) and Rose-ayla Marcellus (55’) chipped in with goal.

Cruz Azul took care of business against Jamaican club Portmore United with a 4-0 win in the second leg of the 2020 Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League Quarterfinals Round of 16 on Tuesday night at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.

The result lifted Cruz Azul to a 6-1 aggregate win over the Caribbean club and a place in the quarterfinals of the tournament.

There was suffocating pressure from Cruz Azul from the very start, yet the star of the show early on was Portmore United goalkeeper Kemar Foster, who made a trio of highlight-reel saves.

But Foster could only stop so many shots and Orbelin Pineda gave Cruz Azul a 1-0 lead in the 22nd minute with a spectacular right-footed volley.

Cruz Azul continued pushing for another goal, but they had to wait until the 60th to double the margin when Jonathan Borja floated in a cross from the left and from the slimmest of angles, Lucas Passerini headed in to make it 2-0.

The night was then capped by Pablo Ceppelini’s penalty conversion in the 76th and Borja’s strike in the 90th.

Bayern Munich have confirmed Robert Lewandowski will be sidelined for a month after suffering a knee injury against Chelsea.

Mikel Arteta is not getting carried away by Arsenal's upturn in form, despite a three-match winning run in all competitions that could soon see his previously struggling side competing for a Champions League place.

Arsenal had been enduring a dismal season and, even with improvement under Arteta, the new head coach had tasted victory only once in the Premier League heading into the clash with Newcastle United on February 16.

But the Gunners thrashed Newcastle 4-0, before winning 1-0 away at Olympiacos in the Europa League and edging Everton in a 3-2 league thriller.

Arteta's men are now just four points behind Manchester United in fifth, which could yet prove enough to qualify for the Champions League if Manchester City's European ban is upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport following their appeal on Wednesday.

The Arsenal head coach quickly dismissed the suggestion his focus could turn away from the Europa League solely towards domestic action, though.

"The team selection is based on training, the load of the players and what we want to do against the opponent," Arteta told a news conference of the possibility of resting players in the second leg against Olympiacos on Thursday.

"We have three different routes to get into Europe [including the FA Cup]. We have to try to maximise the three of them, and we go game by game.

"It's the only thing we can try to do at the moment. The objective is still so far behind [away].

"We need to win a lot of games. We need to put a really consistent run together. We have just won two games [in the league], which is not enough."

However, Arteta, who was awaiting further news of Sead Kolasinac's shoulder injury, has seen plenty of positives on and off the field since his December appointment.

"A lot of things have happened in two months in many different areas of the club," he said on Wednesday. "I think the team is progressing well. I think the club is looking in a better place.

"I think we are getting much more unity in the sections of the club and, as well, a great energy back from the fans each time we're playing at the Emirates and away from the Emirates.

"So, there are a lot of positive things but still a lot of things to do, things to improve, individually, collectively and as a club. We are in that process at the moment."

Hansi Flick appears to have a long-term future as Bayern Munich head coach after a not-so-cryptic clue from CEO Karl-Heinze Rummenigge.

Bayern appointed Flick as interim boss following the dismissal of Niko Kovac in November and a month later announced he would stay in charge until the end of the season.

Under Flick, Bayern have returned to the top of the Bundesliga and a comprehensive 3-0 defeat of Chelsea in Tuesday's Champions League last-16 first-leg tie at Stamford Bridge means they have one foot firmly in the quarter-finals.

Flick celebrated his 55th birthday a day before Bayern's fixture in west London and received a gift at a banquet after the game from Rummenigge, who hinted it was a sign of an extended stay.

"Our coach turned 55 yesterday [Monday]," Rummenigge said. 

"This is a good age. We'll give you a pen in this red packet. Sometimes you sign papers with pens."

He added: "Stay how you are. We are very, very happy with how the team is playing, as well as with the results and the football they are playing."

Bayern have lost just twice in the Bundesliga under Flick and sit one point clear of RB Leipzig after 23 matches.

The future of Lautaro Martinez could also have an impact on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Martinez is wanted by Barcelona and Real Madrid, while Aubameyang is reportedly eyeing an Arsenal exit.

Both players could be at different clubs in 2020-21.

 

TOP STORY – MARTINEZ OUT, AUBA IN?

Inter will look to replace Barcelona target Martinez with Arsenal star Aubameyang, according to Calciomercato.

Martinez has been heavily linked to LaLiga champions Barca as well as Real Madrid, Manchester United and Manchester City following his exploits for Inter.

The Daily Mail claims Arsenal are considering selling forward Aubameyang, who is out of contract in 2021, and he could be targeted by Inter should Martinez leave San Siro.

ROUND-UP

- Kepa Arrizabalaga is Chelsea's record signing but his future at Stamford Bridge is in doubt. El Chiringuito TV reports Chelsea have offered out-of-favour goalkeeper Kepa plus €30million (£25m) to Atletico Madrid for Jan Oblak.

Madrid are ready to offer €70m to Napoli for star midfielder Fabian Ruiz, claims Calciomercato. City and Barca are also reportedly looking to sign the Spaniard.

- Manchester Evening News writes that United have stepped up their interest in Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish. It comes as the Daily Express claims United are likely to offload Jesse Lingard and Andreas Pereira.

- Calciomercato says Inter are ready to battle Europe's elite for the signing of Gent star Jonathan David. The Canada international is wanted by the likes of United, Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal, Tottenham and Ajax.

Juventus hold an interest in Lyon midfielder Houssem Aouar, according to Calciomercato. Aouar is an option for Juve should the Serie A champions fail in their efforts to sign either United midfielder Paul Pogba or Brescia's Sandro Tonali.

Twelve days on from being barred from the Champions League for the next two seasons, Manchester City travel to face the most successful team in the history of the competition.

But, despite a UEFA punishment that will now be appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and a domestic campaign being contested at a distance from runaway Premier League leaders Liverpool, there are reasons for City to be optimistic ahead of their last-16 showdown against Real Madrid.

Here, we look at some of the factors that could prove decisive in Wednesday's first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu – a match that might come to be viewed as season-defining for Pep Guardiola and his players.

 

Laporte the leader and lynchpin

All eyes will be looking for Raheem Sterling's name when the City teamsheet drops in the Spanish capital, with the England forward expected to win his race to recover from a hamstring strain suffered last month.

However, Guardiola has already confirmed an arguably even more influential performer will be available.

"Aymeric Laporte's injury broke the defensive organisation," a source close to the City boss told Stats Perform and this conclusion is hard to contest.

Guardiola was without his central defensive lynchpin for almost five months due to a meniscus injury suffered during the 4-0 victory over Brighton and Hove Albion at the end of August.

In the three games Laporte has started since his return, City have won each time and collected three clean sheets – the former Athletic Bilbao star bringing an air of assurance and authority a makeshift backline has largely lacked in his absence.

Since he signed in January 2018, City have conceded an average of 0.6 goals per game in the Premier League with Laporte in the team. This jumps to 1.1 without him, with their win percentage down from 86.3 per cent to 60.7.

Indeed, in 28 top-flight games not featuring the Frenchman during this period, City have conceded 31 times – one more than the 30 let in across 51 matches with Laporte on the pitch. 

"He just brings stability," former City captain and central defender Richard Dunne told Stats Perform.

"He reads the game well, he holds his position, he stays on his feet. He's a steady head in that defence. At times Nicolas Otamendi can get distracted and goes off out of position, John Stones can maybe dwell on the ball at times.

"For the whole team – for the midfielders in front and the goalkeeper behind – they can trust Laporte, they know what he's going to do and where he's going to be.

"Every defence needs a leader. Liverpool have one in Virgil van Dijk and City have missed it this season when Laporte's not been there."

 

Tactical flexibility

Laporte's lengthy spell on the sidelines also took a toll on City as an attacking force, with the build-up patterns so fundamental to Guardiola's style becoming a touch predictable and sluggish without the defender's astute range of passing from his immaculate left boot.

"A right-footer playing on the left tends to come back inside and the ball gets played down one side of the pitch the whole time," Dunne explained.

"A left-footer will play the ball down the line and City's game plan is to use the whole pitch. Laporte opens that up. He gives them more options in terms of playing out from the back."

Additional injury problems – such as the cruciate ligament damage sustained by Leroy Sane, who has not travelled to Madrid as he steps up work on the training field – have persuaded Guardiola to step away from the 4-3-3/4-1-4-1 setup that blazed a trail to consecutive Premier League titles.

The experiments have largely been successful, with Kevin De Bruyne dazzling in a variety of roles amid frequent shape shifting.

Phil Foden made his first Premier League start of the season on the left wing in a 4-2-3-1 at Arsenal in December, while the first leg of the EFL Cup semi-final at Manchester United saw City play a hybrid 4-2-4 without a conventional striker. In each match, Guardiola's men were 3-0 up at half-time.

Elsewhere, using three at the back occasionally has served to limit the opposition, if also compromising City's attacking flow. Zinedine Zidane cannot be sure what configuration he will face, although seasoned Guardiola observers might think this is something in the Real Madrid boss' favour.

 

Madrid an antidote to Guardiola overthink?

If a wildcard selection backfires, City's manager will once again face the accusations of overthinking that have dogged his Champions League failures since collecting a second European title in three seasons at Barcelona in 2010-11.

This can be traced back to his Bayern Munich suffering a 4-0 hammering against Madrid in a 2014 semi-final, when all-out attack backfired. Last season, City were left to rue a safety-first approach in the first leg when a riotous return versus Tottenham ended in a 4-4 aggregate departure on away goals.

In between those blots there was the swiftly abandoned ploy of man marking Neymar, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi as Bayern raggedly chased a vintage Barca around Camp Nou, before Liverpool ran roughshod over a packed City midfield at Anfield in 2018.

It should be pointed out that decent chunks of luck have gone against Guardiola and his teams during this barren run, while his tactical tweaks have helped to yield numerous successes elsewhere. Nevertheless, a narrative is established.

Perhaps facing an opponent with whom he has enjoyed a career-long rivalry, while leading a club seemingly in the throes of a siege mentality, provides a handy opportunity to break it.

Before losing 1-0 with Bayern, Guardiola was unbeaten in seven games as a coach facing Madrid at the Bernabeu. In El Clasico, his record reads nine wins, four draws and two defeats, during a period where Madrid called upon the might of Jose Mourinho, Cristiano Ronaldo and others.

Zidane's current crop featured many of the heroes of Los Blancos' three consecutive Champions League final triumphs between 2016 and 2018, although they have one win in their past four matches across all competitions and face a potentially decisive LaLiga showdown versus Barcelona this weekend.

Then there is the tantalising ingredient of Guardiola's stance in support of a Catalan self-determination – another factor to fire the most vocal elements at the Bernabeu, those sworn enemies who will hope not to witness another of his greatest deeds.

Serge Gnabry says he always enjoys returning to London, after he scored twice in Bayern Munich's 3-0 victory over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

Gnabry netted four times in a 7-2 rout of Tottenham in October during Bayern's last trip to the English capital and the Germany international – a former Arsenal player – shined once more on his return to London.

The forward scored Bayern's opening two goals in the space of three second-half minutes, with the excellent Alphonso Davies teeing up Robert Lewandowski with 14 minutes remaining.

"I certainly do," Gnabry told BT Sport when asked if he enjoys playing in London. "I have a lot of friends here. A lot of them were in the stands tonight and I think they were giving me good power.

"So of course, I always enjoy coming back!"

Bayern have one foot in the last eight ahead of the second leg on March 18, though Gnabry insists the Bundesliga leaders will not allow any complacency to creep in even with a three-goal cushion.

"Three goals should give us a lot of confidence. We need to be prepared for the second leg and we can't take it serious enough," he added.

"We saw last season with Liverpool beating Barcelona after a 3-0 advantage, we know we have to be careful, we have to go into the second leg with all of our focus.

"We knew we had to be patient, we had the game in control even in the first half, had a couple of chances and didn't take them, but we knew we'd get our chances and in the end we took them.

In his post-match news conference, Bayern coach Hansi Flick was asked whether he found it strange that Arsenal had allowed Gnabry to leave for Werder Bremen back in 2016.

"No I'm happy," said Flick, who also confirmed Kingsley Coman had suffered a muscular strain and would require five days' rest.

It was a sentiment echoed by Thomas Muller, who is delighted to playing alongside a player in such fine form as Gnabry.

"I'm happy he is scoring so much in London now and not five years ago, because if that were the case he probably wouldn't be with us now," Muller told Sky Sport.

Championship leaders West Brom extended their advantage over Leeds United to seven points on Tuesday but Brentford's winless run goes on after they slipped up on their travels.

With their nearest rivals in the table not in action until Wednesday, the Baggies recorded a fifth win in six league outings as they overcame a Preston North End side who had Darnell Fisher sent off in the second half.

While Nottingham Forest moved up to third place thanks to a narrow triumph away to Cardiff City, fellow promotion hopefuls Bristol City slumped to a 2-1 loss at Huddersfield Town.

QPR prevailed by a 2-1 score at home to Derby County, too, with Ilias Chair grabbing the winner for the hosts in the 75th minute.

 

HAL JUST HEAVENLY FOR BAGGIES

Preston are still searching for their first away win over West Brom since 1992 after going down 2-0 at a snowy Hawthorns.

Hal Robson-Kanu opened the scoring in the sixth minute and Jake Livermore doubled the advantage for Slaven Bilic's side in first-half stoppage time, with the visitors' hopes of a comeback curtailed when Fisher was shown a straight red for a challenge on Callum Robinson.

Leeds will hope to cut the gap when they visit Middlesbrough, but Forest are now only three points behind the Yorkshire club after Tiago Silva's 49th-minute goal was enough to beat Cardiff.

 

BEES BUZZED IN PROMOTION FIGHT

Brentford have now gone four league games without a victory after they were beaten 2-1 at struggling Luton Town.

The Bees were stung by an own goal by Shandon Baptiste in the ninth minute, with Martin Cranie then putting the hosts 2-0 up before the break.

Ollie Watkins pulled one back late on, yet Luton hung on for their 10th win of the campaign, lifting them off the bottom of the table as they climbed above Barnsley.

Huddersfield, meanwhile, moved further clear of the drop zone. Chris Willock and Karlan Grant, who converted from the spot, secured them the three points at the expense of seventh-placed Bristol City.

Three teams will have an opportunity at a first-place finish in Group E following the results of matchday four of the 2020 Concacaf Women’s Under-20 Championship at the Estadio Panamericano in San Cristobal.

The day started with Jamaica taking on El Salvador and the Reggae Girlz rode a quick start to the full three points in a 4-1 win.

Jody Brown was quick out of the gates with goals in the 2’ and 11’ to hand Jamaica a 2-0 lead.

El Salvador fought back to make it a one-goal affair right before halftime thanks to a score from Mara Rodriguez.

But Jamaica’s class would come to the fore in the second half, as goals from Lacey Murray in the 58’ and Chantelle Parker in the 82’ paced Jamaica to the victory.

 The group’s other game saw Guatemala and Canada battle to a 0-0 draw.

Las Chapines put forth an impressive defensive display in limiting the dangerous Canadian attack, thanks also in part to the heroics of GK Ashley Avalos.

The day’s results leave both Jamaica and Canada on four points, while Guatemala have two points and El Salvador have zero.

Action resume in Group E on Wednesday with Guatemala taking on El Salvador, while Canada square off against Jamaica.

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