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World Cup prognoses for all confederations

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Eight teams are headed for the 2018 World Cup, while only a half-dozen others should feel comfortable with their tickets to Russia.

Here’s where it stands in terms of who’s in, who’s likely in, and who’s reached the next step with a playoff berth.

[ MORE: Should USMNT go 3 at the back? ]


Qualifying in a nutshell

IN: Russia (hosts), Brazil, Belgium, Iran, Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Mexico

NEARLY THERE: Costa Rica, Uruguay, Germany, Serbia, England, Spain.

PLAYOFF BOUND:
(Australia vs. Syria winner) vs. (CONCACAF fourth place)
(CONMEBOL fifth place) vs. New Zealand


Africa

— Tunisia controls its own destiny with a three-point lead on DR Congo and no matches between the two.

— Nigeria leads Zambia by three points ahead of an Oct. 7 meeting between the two. A win will ensure a spot, while a draw would put it on the precipice via a significant goal differential advantage.

— No one’s been eliminated in Group C, though Mali is an extreme long shot. Ivory Coast leads the group, a point ahead of Morocco, and two clear of Gabon.

— Senegal is now in pole position after FIFA ruled that a match-fixing scandal demanded a replay between South Africa and the Senegalese. Full breakdown here.

— Egypt has a two-point lead on Uganda, and two will not meet. Ghana is four back of Egypt, but could be eliminated before it gets a chance to face the Egyptians on Nov. 6.

Best guesses: Tunisia, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Egypt.


CONCACAF 

Costa Rica needs a point to join Mexico in Russia.

Panama will clinch an automatic spot with a win over the U.S. on Oct. 6, before hosting presumably-safe Costa Rica on Oct. 10.

— The United States will get an automatic spot with a win over Panama on Oct. 6 and by bettering Panama’s result versus Costa Rica.

— Honduras heads to Costa Rica on Oct. 6 and hosts Mexico on Oct. 10.

[ MORE: USMNT’s World Cup scenarios ]

Panama has 10 points, while the USMNT and Honduras have nine. One will automatically qualify for Russia, while another will face Australia or Syria over two legs in November. A third will be left out in the cold.

Best guesses: USMNT finishes 3rd, Panama to playoff where it loses to Australia.


CONMEBOL

One of the most fun and breakneck tournaments in sports, Brazil is in, Uruguay as close to being in as Ecuador and Paraguay are to being out, and both Bolivia and Venezuela are out.

Remaining opponents
2. Uruguay (27 pts) – Venezuela (A), Bolivia (H)
3. Colombia
 (26 pts) – Paraguay (H), Peru (A)
4. Peru (24 pts) – Argentina (A), Colombia (H)
5. Argentina (24 pts) – Peru (H), Ecuador (A)
6. Chile (23 pts) – Ecuador (H), Brazil (A)
7. Paraguay (21 pts)– Colombia (A), Venezuela (H)
8. Ecuador (20 pts) – Chile (A), Argentina (H)

Uruguay, Colombia, and Argentina should be relatively happy with their routes, while there is — stunningly — a scenario in which Chile wins both its matches and still misses out on an automatic playoff spot. Of the teams in the Top Four, Peru has looked good but faces the hardest route to stay in a slot. Of the teams beyond, both Argentina and Chile will like their chances of catching Peru. Paraguay would set up one of the wildest final days ever if it wins in Colombia on Oct. 5.

Best guesses: Uruguay, Colombia, Argentina qualify; Chile to playoff win over New Zealand.


UEFA

— France only has a one-point lead on Sweden thanks to a surprise draw with Luxembourg. The Netherlands will hope to pull at least a three-goal win over the visiting Swedes on the final day while at least matching their result on Oct. 7. Bulgaria needs a wild array of results, but is alive.

— Switzerland has a three-point lead on Portugal, who has 11 goals better differential. The two sides meet in Portugal on Oct. 10 at which point the EURO champs will likely have strengthened their almost insurmountable GD advantage, but will still need a win.

— Northern Ireland is likely heading to the playoffs unless it beats Germany in N.I. on Oct. 5, and then wins in Norway while Germany loses at home to Azerbaijan.

— Serbia needs to choke to allow Wales or Ireland into the top spot, while the Welsh hold a one-point advantage over the visiting Irish should it come to their Oct. 9 meeting. Austria needs to win both — likely by multiple goals — then hope both Wales and Ireland are upset in their Oct. 6 matches before drawing each other.

— Three teams are alive in Group E, with Poland leading Montenegro and Denmark by three points. The latter hold four-goal advantages in differential on Poland. Montenegro hosts Denmark and visits Poland, while Denmark also hosts Romania and Poland heads to Armenia. No one is safe, but Poland could solidify its advantage with a multi-goal win in Armenia.

— Second-place Slovakia has one-point and goal differential edges on Slovenia and Scotland. Scotland faces both its rivals, while Slovakia hosts Malta and Slovenia is off to England. Any of the three could win the playoff spot.

— Group G likely belongs to Spain, which has a three-point and 17-goal advantage on Italy, who needs just a point from a home match with Macedonia to make a final day meeting with Albania moot. The Albanians would have to win at Spain, then beat visiting Italy while making up 11 goals of differential and seeing Italy lose at home to Macedonia.

— Bosnia and Herzegovina are the favorites to nail down second, with a one-point edge on Greece and a four-point lead on Cyprus. BNH has to host mighty but already-qualified Belgium while Cyprus hosts Greece on Oct. 7. A road win over Roberto Martinez’s men would leave it with a trip to Estonia, while Greece’s last day is a visit from lowly Gibraltar and Cyprus is off to Belgium. Greece could be in the best position here.

— At the risk of writing another 900 words, Group I is jammed up. Croatia and Iceland have 16 points, while Turkey and Ukraine have 14. Here’s how they finish:

Croatia (16 pts, +9 GD): vs. Finland, at Ukraine
Iceland (16 pts, +4 GD): at Turkey, vs. Kosovo
Turkey (14 pts, +4 GD): vs. Iceland, at Finland
Ukraine (14 pts, +4 GD): at Kosovo, vs. Croatia

Your guess is as good as ours. Tricky, tricky group.

Best guesses:

Group winners — France, Portugal, Germany, Serbia, Poland, England, Spain, Belgium, Iceland, Turkey

Second-place* — Sweden, Switzerland, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Denmark, Slovakia, Italy, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia

*Republic of Ireland misses out on playoffs as lowest-ranked second-place team.

Premier League Preview: Liverpool v. Crystal Palace

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  • Reds open weekend with 4-point table lead
  • Palace four pts clear of drop zone
  • Reds won 2-0 at Palace in August
  • Liverpool leads all-time 27W-11D-14L

There’s a bit of a rub to the easy storyline here, that league’s stingiest defense hosts one of the least productive attacks when Liverpool entertains Crystal Palace at Anfield on Saturday (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The Reds have allowed just three goals at home this Premier League season, but Palace has scored 14 of its 20 league goals away from Selhurst Park.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

The Eagles have also won their last two away matches, beating Man City and Wolves.

What they’re saying

Jurgen Klopp on Andy Robertson signing a new contract“I remember when we signed him back in the summer of 2017, I spoke a lot about ‘his story, his journey’ and how much I loved it and thought it pointed to the type of person and player he would be for us. He has exceeded these expectations. He might be from Glasgow originally, but everything about him screams Liverpool.”

Palace’s Andros Townsend on playing up top“I have thoroughly enjoyed it. At first, I didn’t think it would work. I remember me and Wilf [Zaha] speaking to each other and thinking, ‘how is this going to work? We will get bullied by the centre halves.’ But for one reason or another, it has just clicked and we have enjoyed it. We have both been involved in a lot more of the play, and everything went through us two and we thrived off of that, and ended up doing very well.”

Prediction

The Eagles get on the board against Liverpool, helped by their fullback pair of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Patrick Van Aanholt, but don’t have enough to outlast the Reds. 2-1 Liverpool.

Premier League odds: Chelsea matchweek away favorite at Arsenal

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The reality an away-team win could be in both clubs’ interest might be the place to start with this week’s Super Sunday matchup.

Chelsea is the +135 away favorite on the Premier League odds with host Arsenal coming back at +205, while the draw is priced at +260 on the three-way moneyline and there is a 3.0-goals total for Sunday at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

[ MORE: Bundesliga 2nd half preview ]

Chelsea, which has three consecutive one-goal wins in its last three away matches, could all but eliminate Arsenal from top-four contention (and the automatic berth in the 2019-20 Champions League), and a Gunners side thinned-out by injuries and turmoil might welcome the chance to put more of its eggs in the Europa League basket.

Eden Hazard (+400 first goal scorer, -125 anytime) will likely feature for Chelsea now that Alvaro Morata is shipping off to Atletico Madrid of Spain. Chelsea by 1 Goal (+350) and Either Team 2-1 (+350) offer good value in Winning Margin and Correct Score Group props at online sports betting sites.

Elsewhere this weekend, Wolverhampton (+130) has won or drawn against Leicester City (+245, draw +225) in nine of their last 10 home matchups and the inconsistent Foxes’ last six away matches have all finished UNDER 2.5 goals. There is a little more value with looking at Wolverhampton 1-0, 2-0, or 2-1 (+185) in Correct Score Group props, and Raul Jimenez (+500 first goal scorer, +200 anytime) should be a factor offensively.

Liverpool (-500) and Crystal Palace (+1500, draw +600), in relative terms, both have strong scoring trends with the Reds having scored at least three goals in their last three home games and the Eagles having netted twice in each of their last three away games. Liverpool win/yes (+150) and Yes/Over 2.5 (+125) are the percentage plays in Both Teams To Score props.

Newcastle United (EVEN) and Cardiff City (+335, draw +230) are both in the relegation zone and reeling of late, with Newcastle winless in five games while Cardiff has banked only one win its last seven games (all competitions). Newcastle has injuries to key cogs such as Jamaal Lascelles (hamstring) and Isaac Hayden (back). Those factors make Cardiff enticing on the double chance (+180), while tie/no (+800), that is betting on a 0-0 draw, has good value in Both Teams To Score Props.

Huddersfield Town (+2000) hosting Manchester City (-650, draw +700) for a Sunday  matchup right after sacking manager David Wagner begs the question of how to divine some Man City betting values. The any other score (+175) in Correct Score Group props covers the possibility of City scoring four or more goals in a win where it also concedes; it’s the same payout as No/Over 2.5 in Both Teams To Score props.

And Fulham (+425) hosts a Tottenham (-125, draw +255) side in its first game since learning Harry Kane (ankle) will be out until March. The overall trends, though, show that Fulham’s last six home games against Tottenham have gone OVER 2.5 goals, and the visiting Spurs have won seven of their last nine away games. Kane’s absence could make Tottenham try new modes of attack and winger Dele Alli (+600 first scorer, +200 anytime) could capitalize.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or Spotify or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.

Pep: Fernandinho is amazing, but we need to find him relief

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Pep Guardiola says Manchester City has “three or four” targets in mind as long-term replacements for Fernandinho.

[ MORE: JPW’s PL picks ]

There is no debate that the club has been markedly better with the 33-year-old in the center of the park, with City losing both of its Premier League matches that the Brazilian missed this season (Palace and Leicester City back-to-back).

“I think with the way we play we need a guy who has of course physicality, is quick in the head and reading where our spaces to attack are,” Guardiola said Friday ahead of a Sunday visit to Huddersfield Town.

“As many things as he can do, the better. I know it is not easy to find one player who can do everything. [You have to deal with] the price, the agents and the club if you want to buy the players so we will see.”

The 49-times capped Fernandinho has been one of the more overlooked players during his time at City, posting big performance scores even before Guardiola arrived at the Etihad Stadium.

But how long can he continue to thrive in that role? Certainly not too much longer if City can’t give him some relief. That’s no indictment on the player, rather a 33-year-old who plays with such physicality and piles up minutes across all competitions.

The Bundesliga is back: What to watch for

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The Winterpause ends Friday, as Bayern Munich visits Hoffenheim with a new feel for its first match of a calendar year: That of the title chaser.

The six-time defending Bundesliga champions enter the second half of the season six points back of Borussia Dortmund.

[ MORE: JPW’s PL picks ]

Still 2.5 months from the next Der Klassiker (April 6 at the Allianz Arena), Bayern has to navigate a title fight without the chance to directly affect its rivals. Both clubs face Premier League opposition in the Champions League — Bayern with Liverpool, BVB v. Spurs — and neither has a particularly easy start to 2019. Other storylines to watch:

How much will Christian Pulisic’s transfer further affect his playing time? Whether or not Pulisic leaves for Chelsea as a Bundesliga champion is one thing, but many American eyes will be trained upon how often he’s deployed by Lucien Favre at Borussia Dortmund.

Let’s be clear on one thing: Favre has rotated his forwards heavily between Champions League and the Bundesliga. Jadon Sancho has played 1025 minutes, Jacob Bruun Larsen 830, Maximilian Philipp 515, Paco Alcacer 503, and Pulisic 483. Numbers two through eight on the playing time scale are defenders or midfielders (Marco Reus is first with 1483).

Amongst BVB attackers in the Champions League, however, only Reus has played more than Pulisic’s 339 minutes. And while Pulisic played 1 and 2 minutes in consecutive Bundesliga matches, he went 90 against Monaco in the UCL match separating those sub spots.

In other words, this isn’t as much of a quagmire as some Americans would lead you to believe. Yes, ex-Man City man Jadon Sancho has stolen Pulisic’s wonder boy numbers and title, but the kid isn’t being left in the cold.

Is Weston McKennie heading for Liverpool? It seems more likely a new deal is coming at Schalke, but you could easily see Jurgen Klopp liking the versatility of the 20-year-old midfielder as its midfield gets a bit older.

Schalke’s American midfielder Weston McKennie (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

What about the rest of the Americans (and a Canadian)? Almost as many eyes will be on Tyler Adams as the New York Red Bulls product takes the next step at RB Leipzig. FC Dallas’ Chris Richards is also now with Bayern Munich, while Canadian phenom Alphonso Davies begins his much-anticipated time with Bayern.

John Brooks of Wolfsburg is the top-rated American player in the top flight this season via WhoScored.com, one of eight Yanks to take the field.

Here are the Americans abroad in Germany :

Christian Pulisic, Borussia Dortmund — 11 apps, 483 mins, 1G-2A
Weston McKennie, Schalke — 13 apps, 778 mins, 1G-1A
Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen —
2 goals in 45 senior minutes
John Brooks, Wolfsburg — 16 apps, 1440 mins, 1G-1A
Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig  —  
Arrived in January
Haji Wright, Schalke  —  5 senior games, 1 goal
Bobby Wood, Hannover 96 — 14 apps, 913 mins, 3G-1A
Aron Johannsson, Werder Bremen — Hasn’t played
Fabian Johnson, ‘Gladbach — 11 apps, 543 mins, 1 goal
Timothy Chandler, Eintracht Frankfurt — Hasn’t played
Alfredo Morales, Fortuna Dusseldorf — 11 apps, 917 mins, 1 goal
Caleb Stanko, Freiburg — Hasn’t played
Timothy Tillman, Nurnberg — Hasn’t played

How low will Schalke finish? A dreadful start to the season has last season’s No. 2 team, Schalke, sitting four points above the relegation playoff spot, nine back of the last Europa League spot, and 13 behind the Top Four.

Schalke’s other route to Europe include the DFB-Pokal, where they next face Fortuna Dusseldorf in the Round of 16, and winning the Champions League (Manchester City is their next opponent).

Will Robert Lewandowski defend his Golden Boot? The Bayern Munich star is chasing his fourth time leading the league in goals since 2013-14, his final year at Dortmund. Here are the current leaders:

Race for the Golden Boot
Pos Name Total
1 Luka Jovic, Eintracht Frankfurt 12
1 Paco Alcácer, Borussia Dortmund 12
3 Marco Reus, Borussia Dortmund 11
3 Timo Werner, RB Leipzig 11
5 Robert Lewandowski, Bayern Munich 10
6 Sebastien Haller, Eintracht Frankfurt 9
6 Thorgan Hazard, Borussia Monchengladbach 9
6 Alessane Plea, Borussia Monchengladbach 9
9 Youssef Poulsen, RB Leipzig 8
10 Alfred Finnbogason, Augsburg 7

[ MORE: Emery on possible exit for Mesut Ozil, reason for his absence ]

Will any of the new boys survive? Two teams go down and a third goes to a playoff game against the third place team in 2.Bundesliga (currently FC St. Pauli).

This season, the four latest teams to earn promotion are all in danger of the drop. Here’s how bottom of the table looks:

14. Fortuna Dusseldorf(2018/19) – 18
15. Augsburg (2011/12) – 15
16. Stuttgart (2017/18) – 14
17. Hannover 96 (2017/18) – 11
18. Nurnberg (2018/19) -11