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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

UEL Recap: Wolves earn huge road victory, and more

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Wolverhampton Wanderers has one proverbial foot back in a European competition, potentially breaking a 40-year drought for the club.

Wolves defeated Torino on the road, 3-2, in the first leg match between the two sides on Thursday at the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino. Mexican international Raul Jimenez continued his red-hot form with another goal, while Diogo Jota scored as well for Wolves.

The Premier League side took the lead late in the first half thanks to an own goal, as Gleison Bremer headed in a Wolves free kick expertly into the side netting. Jota then added the second for Wolves in the 59th minute after an individual moment of brilliance from Adama Traore down the right side of the box, completely bamboozling his defender.

Torino’s Lorenzo di Silvestre answered just two minutes later off a late run into the box and a powerful header, but Jimenez then gave Wolves another two-goal advantage, as well as another crucial away goal. Jimenez ran with the ball from midfield and with Nicolas N’Koulou retreating, Jimenez took the space and scored.

Torino striker Andrea Belotti gave the Italians some late hope with a penalty kick goal in the 89th minute, but it wasn’t enough to complete the comeback. Anything but a defeat by more than two goals for Wolves will be enough for the club to make it to the Europa League group stage.

Here’s more results from around the Europa League on Thursday afternoon:


Celtic top AIK at home

The Scottish champions appear to have brushed off the disappointment of exiting the UEFA Champions League with a solid 2-0 win at Celtic Park against AIK Solna on Thursday evening.

James Forrest scored the opener for Celtic, taking advantage of a ricochet on the edge of the box to unleash a strike that AIK goalkeeper Oscar Linner couldn’t parry away. Odsonne Edouard then put the icing on the cake with a tremendous free kick from 30-yards out to give Celtic it’s 2-0 lead.

Neil Lennon’s side then held off AIK late to secure the shutout.

Thursday’s Europa League Playoff Round first leg qualifying matches:


Astana 3-0 BATE
Ararat Armenia 2-1 F91 Dudelange
Malmo FF 3-0 Bnei Yehudah Tel Aviv
Suduva 0-0 Ferencvaros
Feyenoord 3-0 Hapoel Be’er Sheva
Ludogorets 0-0 Maribor
FC Copenhagen 2-1 Riga
AEK Athens 1-3 Trabzonspor
Legia Warsaw 0-0 Rangers

Crossroads: What if Arsenal hadn’t gone unbeaten?

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The 2003-2004 Premier League season will forever be remembered for Arsenal’s Invincibles, the first team in history to go an entire 38-game season undefeated.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

But what if they hadn’t?

On the latest episode of NBC Sports’ new series Crossroads, host Aaron West dives into the Invincible season for Arsenal, and what would have happened if Arsenal lost along the way. Of course, we know that didn’t happen, and it wasn’t until the next season against Manchester United that Arsenal’s unbeaten run of 49 games was ended.

Watch the latest episode of Crossroads above, and check out previous episodes on Manchester City and Liverpool on NBC Sports‘ Youtube Page.

 

Oxlade-Chamberlain signs contract extension at Liverpool

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While Liverpool hasn’t been busy in the transfer market, it continues to be busy upgrading its first team contracts.

The club announced on Thursday that it had signed midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to a new, undisclosed long-term contract. The BBC reported that the new contract tied Oxlade-Chamberlain to Liverpool through 2023, after his last deal was set to expire in 2022.

[READ: JPW’s Premier League Picks]

“I’m really, really excited – it’s been in the pipeline for a little while, so it’s nice to finally get it done and just extend my time here, which I am really looking forward to,” Oxlade-Chamberlain told Liverpool’s website in a statement. “I feel like I missed out on a year, which I obviously did, so it’s really exciting for me to be able to sign. It’s something that I feel is an opportunity to give that year back and make up for lost time – and hopefully put in some good performances to make amends for not being around last year.

“You’ve got to count your blessings every time you get an opportunity like this, you don’t get the chance to play for Liverpool Football Club every day. I am really excited to be able to extend my time here.”

Oxlade-Chamberlain is finally healthy after a long, long recovery from a horrific knee injury suffered in April 2018. The England international missed out on the World Cup as well as the Champions League final, though he was able to make the field off the bench towards the end of last season, eventually making the bench for Liverpool’s Champions League victory in June.

With some injuries and fatigue to other players, Oxlade-Chamberlain made his first Premier League start in more than a year last Saturday against his former club Southampton, playing 89 minutes in Liverpool’s 2-1 victory. He also started and played the first half in Liverpool’s UEFA Super Cup win over Chelsea on penalty kicks.

This deal is ultimately a good-will gesture from both sides, making up for the year lost that Oxlade-Chamberlain endured after the knee injury in the Champions League semifinal. It could take him more time, but Liverpool is certainly hoping that he can make a full recovery and come good for the Reds as it looks to win its first Premier League title, and first top league title in England since 1990.

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks

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There are only two teams with perfect records through the opening two weeks of the new Premier League season, as there continues to be plenty of surprises.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ]

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Listen carefully, because this is very specific.

While you can download the NBC Sports Predictor app (below) and play the Premier League Pick ‘Em game yourself to predict the scores and win the prizes.

DOWNLOAD NBC SPORTS PREDICTOR

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the long shots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Bournemouth 1-3 Man City – (Sunday, 9 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Man United 3-1 Crystal Palace – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Tottenham 3-0 Newcastle – (Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]


DON’T TOUCH THIS…

Liverpool 1-1 Arsenal – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM] 

Brighton 1-1 Southampton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]

Watford 1-2 West Ham – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Sheffield United 1-2 Leicester City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM


“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

 

Norwich City 2-2 Chelsea – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Aston Villa 2-1 Everton – (Friday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Wolves 1-2 Burnley – (Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM