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Forecasting the Top Five title races in Europe

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We’re at, near, or past the midway points of the season for the top five leagues in Europe, and only two look like complete runaways.

[ MORE: FA Cup draw ]

Let’s face it: the ideas that unbeaten Juventus blowing a nine-point lead over Napoli or Paris Saint-Germain would throw away a 13-point lead (with two matches-in-hand!!) is absurd.

But will Borussia Dortmund, Liverpool, and/or Barcelona hold on to multi-win leads atop their respective tables? Let’s dissect this a little bit.


Bundesliga

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Borussia Dortmund 17 13 3 1 44 18 26 8-1-0 5-2-1 42
 Bayern Munich 17 11 3 3 36 18 18 4-3-1 7-0-2 36
 Mönchengladbach 17 10 3 4 36 18 18 8-0-0 2-3-4 33
 RB Leipzig 17 9 4 4 31 17 14 7-2-0 2-2-4 31
 VfL Wolfsburg 17 8 4 5 27 22 5 3-3-3 5-1-2 28
 Eintracht Frankfurt 17 8 3 6 34 23 11 4-1-3 4-2-3 27

Niko Kovac’s first season at Bayern Munich has not gone according to plan, though the Bavarians have climbed back to within six points of leaders Borussia Dortmund.

The big match between the two clubs is April 6 at Bayern’s Allianz Arena, and Bayern has taken two of three matches between the pair this season. Bayern last lost a home league match to BVB in 2014, and has won the last six titles.

The pressure on BVB will be immense as the season moves toward May, and incredibly FiveThirtyEight’s forecasting model has Bayern with a 65 percent chance to win the league.

Will Christian Pulisic leave Dortmund a Bundesliga champion? (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Serie A

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Juventus 19 17 2 0 38 11 27 9-1-0 8-1-0 53
 Napoli 19 14 2 3 37 17 20 8-2-0 6-0-3 44
 Inter Milan 19 12 3 4 31 14 17 7-1-1 5-2-3 39

On one hand, Napoli hosts Juve in their second match of the Serie A season. On the other, Juve just wins everything every darn year and would likely have to drop 10 more points than the Neapolitans the rest of the way. FiveThirtyEight says it’s a 92 percent likelihood Juve wins again.

Will Ronaldo add a scudetto to his Premier League and La Liga crowns? (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)

Ligue 1

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Paris SG 17 15 2 0 50 10 40 9-0-0 6-2-0 47
 Lille 19 10 4 5 29 19 10 6-3-1 4-1-4 34
 Lyon 18 9 5 4 30 21 9 6-2-2 3-3-2 32

Hahaha. Hahahahah. Hahahahahahahaha.

Yeah, just let PSG have the second half of the season off to focus on the UEFA Champions League. FiveThirtyEight has it at better than 99 percent.

“We won already?!?” — Kylian Mbappe and Neymar, probably. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

La Liga

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Barcelona 18 12 4 2 50 20 30 6-2-1 6-2-1 40
 Atlético Madrid 18 9 8 1 26 13 13 7-2-0 2-6-1 35
 Sevilla 18 9 6 3 31 18 13 6-2-1 3-4-2 33
 Alavés 18 9 4 5 21 18 3 5-4-0 4-0-5 31
 Real Madrid 18 9 3 6 26 23 3 6-1-2 3-2-4 30
 Betis 18 7 5 6 21 21 0 4-3-2 3-2-4 26
 Getafe 18 6 7 5 19 15 4 4-1-4 2-6-1 25

The draw between Atleti and Sevilla on Sunday is just the latest nice moment for Barcelona’s title hopes, as the Blaugranas boast a five-point lead on the field and a 10-point advantage on traditional rivals Real Madrid.

Really, though, the title could be sorted in a one-week stretch in late February and early March. After a Champions League first leg at Lyon, Barca goes to Sevilla and Real Madrid on back-to-back league weekends. Win both, and call it a season. It’s 86 percent for Barcelona, according to FiveThirtyEight, with three teams boasting single-digit hopes.

Barca has one really tricky stretch to navigate, and the Champions League. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Premier League

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Liverpool 21 17 3 1 49 10 39 9-1-0 8-2-1 54
 Manchester City 21 16 2 3 56 17 39 10-0-1 6-2-2 50
 Tottenham Hotspur 21 16 0 5 46 21 25 6-0-3 10-0-2 48
 Chelsea 21 13 5 3 38 16 22 6-4-1 7-1-2 44
 Arsenal 21 12 5 4 46 31 15 8-2-1 4-3-3 41
 Manchester United 21 11 5 5 43 32 11 6-3-1 5-2-4 38

We saved the best for last (with apologies to BVB and Bayern).

Four of the Top Six — no Manchester United is not really in the discussion — are still alive in the Champions League, and both Chelsea and Arsenal know they can qualify for the UCL via the Europa League crown (how about a UEL final together, draw fixers?).

Yes, Liverpool has lost back-to-back games, but they don’t play Man City again and didn’t use most of their best talents in Monday’s FA Cup loss at Wolves.

The idea that the Reds will drop four more points than Man City isn’t insane, but there are few really tricky stretches for Liverpool. They’ll face Bayern Munich and Manchester United in a five-day February span, but get Spurs and Chelsea at home.

Man City has Arsenal, Spurs, and Chelsea at home, with the Manchester Derby away, a favorable mix, while Spurs host Man Utd and Arsenal while traveling to City, Liverpool, and Chelsea (the last one Sunday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Put another way — and barring a prolonged injury issue — Liverpool losing a hold of their first PL title would be a legitimate choke job, to the tune of a Reds title being 73 percent according to FiveThirtyEight.com.

Liverpool is in pole position to win its first title of the Premier League era. (AP Photo/Jon Super)

World record-holding manager Gutendorf dies at 93

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The world record holder for most teams managed has died at the age of 93.

Rudi Gutendorf, who managed in the United States with the NASL’s St. Louis Stars (1968), last managed in 2003 when he led the Samoa national team.

[ MORE: Maguire shining for Man Utd ]

Those are two of 55 teams he led onto the pitch, 22 of which were national teams. He led teams from CONCACAF (Trinidad and Tobago), CAF (Ghana), CONMEBOL (Chile), OFC (Fiji), and AFC (Australia).

The German-born Gutendorf did a lot of his club work in Europe, leading clubs as big as Hamburg, Schalke, Real Valladolid, and Hertha Berlin.

Gutendorf managed Rwanda in the wake of the country’s dark civil war. From DW.com:

“Such hate, you cannot believe. I was able to unite these two tribes to play football, and good football,” he said in a 2013 interview of the mixed Rwandan team of Hutu and Tutsi players.

What a fascinating career Gutendorf had, and the stories he’s told.

Man Utd’s Maguire “showed what a man he is” versus Leicester

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Manchester United is still working to find its form as a team, but center back Harry Maguire continued his run of fine performances when the Red Devils beat his former team on Saturday.

United beat Leicester City 1-0 on the day, a Marcus Rashford penalty the difference, but Maguire and fellow new back Aaron Wan-Bissaka were again exceptional.

[ RECAP: Man Utd 1-0 Leicester City ]

Ashley Young has been through a few iterations of Manchester United, and the long-time club offered up lofty words to credit Maguire’s contributions to the team.

“Again he showed today what a man he is,” Young said. “You know, I think the manager’s said about him, he talks non-stop, he’s a real leader and he can play as well.”

Maguire won five aerial battles and two tackles while completing 83 percent of his passes and managing two shots against his former side (WhoScored). On the season, only Anthony Martial has consistently been more important to the team.

He also did not record a loss of possession, and seemingly was unbothered by plenty of criticism from the traveling fans. From The Manchester Evening News:

“I don’t think it bothers (Maguire) whatsoever,” said Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. “You’ve got to be that way and when you play, when you coach, when you manage, we don’t get carried away when we win a game that we maybe didn’t deserve to win, but we don’t get in the dumps when we don’t win.”

Solskjaer also loved Maguire and Victor Lindelof for their performance against pesky Leicester star Jamie Vardy.

“I’ve got loads of admiration for Vardy,” Solskjaer said. “I think he’s my type of centre forward, runs in in behind, harasses and you’ve got to be spot on with the decision-making, when to stay up, when to drop off, and both of them proved their worth today. There were a couple of races and Harry did well.”

Maguire didn’t love being on the other side of Vardy, either.

“It was tough playing against Jamie,” he said. “I’ve played with him for two years and he is a top player who can terrorize defenses when he is on his game. … We knew it was important to get the win, especially after the international break. We have to build on a solid base and we want to keep clean sheets, especially at Old Trafford. We are always going to score goals with the attacking talent we have.”

United hosts Kazakhstan’s Astana on Thursday in the Europa League before visiting West Ham United on Sept. 22.

Watch Live: Bournemouth v. Everton

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Dominic Calvert-Lewin gets the start up top as Everton looks to take down hosts Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium on Sunday (Watch live at 9 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Alex Iwobi, Gylfi Sigurdsson, and Richarlison join Calvert-Lewin in attack for the Toffees, who can go fourth with a win.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Bournemouth enters the day in 16th, a point ahead of the bottom three, but can rise into the top half with a win. Early season vibes.

LINEUPS

Bournemouth: Ramsdale, Rico, Ake, Cook, Stacey, Solanke, Billing, L. S. Cook, Wilson, King, Wilson. Subs: Boruc, Surman, Lerma, Ibe, Fraser, Simpson, Mepham.

Everton: Pickford, Digne, Mina, Keane, Coleman, Delph, Schneiderlin, Iwobi, Sigurdsson, Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin. Subs: Stekelenburg, Holgate, Walcott, Sidibe, Bernard, Davies, Kean.

USWNT legend O’Reilly scores stunner on night to honor her career

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USWNT hero and North Carolina Courage playmaker Heather O’Reilly gave her special day its just desserts.

The 34-year-old New Jersey native scored a sweet goal late in North Carolina’s 6-1 demolition of Orlando Pride on Saturday night, which just so happened to be the evening chosen to celebrate her 17-year career.

[ MORE: Fan banned from all NWSL games ]

O’Reilly dribbled down the left before cutting to the middle and slashing a shot across the goal and inside the far post.

She has 231 USWNT caps with 47 goals, a Women’s World Cup crown, three Olympic gold medals, three top-flight domestic titles, two Women’s College Cups, and an FA Cup with Arsenal Ladies.

The Courage have four matches left in the regular season and look set to again be the No. 1 seed, so O’Reilly may yet have more memorable moments left in her playing career.