Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

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)

Americans Adams, McKennie have big Bundesliga days

AP Photo/Martin Meissner
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USMNT youngsters Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie put in elite but very different performances for their Bundesliga clubs on Saturday.

Adams continues to take RB Leipzig by storm, the Major League Soccer export easily adjusting to an upgrade in league through the Red Bull system.

[ MORE: Brighton beats Derby County ]

The New York Red Bulls Academy product, 20, has started four matches for his new Bundesliga side, and RBL has won all four by a combined score of 11-1.

Adams picked up his first Bundesliga assist on Saturday in creating Youssef Poulsen’s 12th goal of the season in RBL’s 3-1 win at Stuttgart.

He covered the third-most ground in the game, at 12.65 kilometers, registering a game-high 39 sprints. His 109 runs were 19 more than anyone else, and he won 13 tackles. And while some of those big numbers are typical for that position on the pitch, there’s no denying his impact on a Champions League side.

Meanwhile, fellow American midfielder McKennie had a different task on Saturday, going 90 minutes and starting at right back as 10-man Schalke gutted out a 0-0 draw with Freiburg.

McKennie, 20, covered the fourth-most ground of anyone in the game at 11.56 km, winning a game-high 13 tackles and putting a pair of shots on goal.

Notably, he completed 34 of 35 passes.

McKennie is a half-year younger than Adams, but the similarities are there.

FIFA transfer reforms target $400M for lower-tier clubs

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
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ZURICH (AP) — FIFA believes it can direct up to $400 million each year toward clubs worldwide entitled to a share of transfer fees paid for their former players.

FIFA says a key part of intended transfer market reforms will “ensure clubs are adequately rewarded for training players.”

[ MORE: Lingard, Martial injured ]

Since current transfer rules were updated in 2001, clubs have been due training compensation and solidarity payments from transfers paid in the careers of players they helped nurture.

FIFA acknowledges the “overly complicated and burdensome” system of calculating payments is understood by too few clubs.

A clearing house will aim to process transfer payments more efficiently.

FIFA research suggests tens of millions of dollars were paid to clubs last year instead of their entitlement of at least $350 million.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Brighton outlasts Derby despite Ashley Cole goal (video)

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Despite a late scare, dominant Brighton and Hove Albion put an end to Frank Lampard‘s run in the FA Cup with a 2-1 defeat of Derby County at the Amex Stadium on Saturday.

Anthony Knockaert and Jurgen Locadia scored in the final dozen minutes of the first half for the Seagulls, who will learn their quarterfinal foe on Monday.

[ MORE: Lingard, Martial injured ]

Substitute Ashley Cole scored in the 80th minute for the Rams, who were heavily outshot in the match.

It was Cole’s first goal in England since 2012, when he bagged a Premier League marker for Chelsea against Stoke City.

Locadia was injured just before the Seagulls conceded, and looked to be in considerable pain with an ankle injury.

American attacker Duane Holmes started up top for Derby but was subbed after 45 minutes. The 24-year-old Columbus-born man has become a regular starter under Lampard.

Sir Alex Ferguson to manage Man Utd in anniversary match

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The 20th Anniversary of Manchester United’s treble, to the day, will see Sir Alex Ferguson managing the club.

This, of course, is for a single night only, as the Red Devils celebrate their 1999 treble with a testimonial of sorts against Bayern Munich, who it beat 2-1 to win the Champions League on May 26, 1999.

[ MORE: Lingard, Martial injured ]

“I’m really looking forward to what will be a special day at Old Trafford. It will be great to catch up with some familiar faces and a great opportunity to support the work of Manchester United Foundation,” Ferguson said.

Players for the game are not confirmed but imagine the possibilities: Peter Schmeichel was across the field from Oliver Kahn. Lothar Matthaus had to deal with Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole. David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt, and the Neville brothers started or were in the 18.

Keep in mind that Solskjaer scored the winner for Ferguson’s United that day at the Camp Nou, as the Red Devils scored twice in stoppage time for a remarkable comeback win.