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Handicapping ‘Premier League March Madness’

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Our esteemed editor Joe Prince-Wright announced Premier League March Madness early Sunday, which use the week ahead to merge two sporting competitions we love dearly.

Read all the seedings and process here, but this post is tasked with looking through the competition to identify potential dark horses in the way of Liverpool’s path to defending its No. 1 seed.

[ LIVE: March Madness PL hub ] 

Let’s start with one of the great influencers of March Madness 2020.


Social media reach

While many clubs have a vast array of Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram accounts, we’ll focus on their biggest channel on Twitter as a barometer of how many fans they have on the social platform.

Of course, there are some tricky figures here. Some clubs may just have bang-up social media teams that have attracted more eyes than their football. And some may be followed by both fans and gigantic rival fans to keep a close eye on the enemy.

Still, it shows us the challenge for the “minnows” of our tourney.

Twitter followers on main channel
Manchester United – 21.6M
Arsenal – 15.7M
Liverpool – 14.3M
Chelsea – 14.2M
Man City – 7.8M
Tottenham Hotspur – 4.2M
Everton – 2M
West Ham – 1.6M
Newcastle United – 1.5M
Leicester City – 1.5M
Aston Villa – 1.3M
Southampton – 1.2M
Crystal Palace – 952k
Watford – 704k
Norwich City – 699k
Wolves – 593k
Bournemouth – 520k
Burnley – 477k
Sheffield United – 332k
Brighton – 278k


The relegation playoffs

Only one of four teams will keep their PL place through March Madness, as Nos.  17 through 20 on the table square off.

There’s a heavy advantage for the No. 19. seed Aston Villa, which has a much bigger following than the other three clubs.

Anyone other than the Villans winning their two potential matches would be a stunner. No pressure, Dean.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 


Easier/harder paths

For those unfamiliar or in need of a March Madness, the pre-assigned brackets give preferential paths to the Nos. 1, 2, 3 and so-on seeds. Nos. 1 and 2 cannot meet until the final.

In this case, however, the wobbly seasons of so many traditional powers provide plenty of chances for pitfalls.

Consider: No. 1 Liverpool will face No. 16 West Ham, and then the winner of 8-9, which is Tottenham-Arsenal. While the Reds may sleepwalk to round two, the ONLD (Online North London Derby) winner will have already revved its engines in the tournament.

1-16 (LFC, West Ham)
8-9 (Spurs, Arsenal)

5-12 (Man Utd, Everton)
4-13 (Chelsea, Newcastle)

6-11 (Wolves, Palace)
3-14 (Leicester, Saints)

7-10 (Sheffield United, Burnley)
2-15 (Man City, Brighton)

It shouldn’t take too long to deduce the challenge ahead for the big boys, as five of the traditional powers are in the top half of the bracket. And all of the eight teams in the top half have at least  1.5 million Twitter followers.


Predictions
Winners in bold

Relegation playoffs 
Semifinal: #17 Watford v. #20 Norwich
Semifinal: #18 Bournemouth v. #19 Aston Villa
Relegation play-off final: #20 Norwich v. #19 Aston Villa

Sweet 16
Game 1: #1 Liverpool v. #16 West Ham
Game 2: #2 Man City v. #15 Brighton
Game 3: #3 Leicester v. #14 Southampton
Game 4: #4 Chelsea v. #13 Newcastle
Game 5: #5 Man United v. #12 Everton
Game 6: #6 Wolves v. #11 Crystal Palace
Game 7: #7 Sheffield United v. #10 Burnley
Game 8: #8 Tottenham v. #9 Arsenal

Wednesday, April 8 – Elite Eight
Game 9: #1 Liverpool v. #9 Arsenal
Game 10: #2 Man City v. #10 Burnley
Game 11: #14 Southampton v. #11 Crystal Palace
Game 12: #13 Newcastle v. #5 Man United

Thursday, April 9 – Final Four
Game 13: #9 Arsenal v. #5 Man United
Game 14: #2 Man City v. #14 Southampton

Friday, April 10 – Championship Game
Game 15: #9 Arsenal v. #2 Man City

PSG’s Mbappe praises Klopp, Liverpool in recent interview

Kylian Mbappe Liverpool
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This is going to delight the Anfield set.

Paris Saint-Germain mega striker Kylian Mbappe has admitted admiration for the way Liverpool plays, as conversations continue regarding his future.

[ MORE: Latest Bundesliga news | Current table ]

Mbappe, 21, may be the most valuable commodity in the world given his position, accomplishments, and skill set. For France, he has a World Cup to go with 34 caps, 13 goals, and 10 assists. For PSG and Monaco combined, he’s scored 117 goals and 65 assists in 180 appearances.

He doesn’t turn 22 until December.

But there’s long been a thought that the World Cup winner will eventually have to leave PSG to cement his legacy given the relatively shallow competition in the league.

“This season, Liverpool have been a machine in the Premier League,” he told The Mirror. “They have made winning look easy but the truth is that it is never easy. Performances like they have been having don’t just happen.

“To be as ruthless as they have been would come from lots of hard work in training and from having a very good manager.”

Liverpool fans will be nodding along, beckoning the center forward with arms extended and hands waving him to them.

Real Madrid has often been the rumored destination, and we’ve argued that there’s no fee too high for this player considering how many years he has ahead of him.

With transfer fees possibly ducking low this summer after a wake-up call from the coronavirus, could Liverpool upgrade its dangerous front three with one of the top center forwards in the game?

The fact that the Reds reportedly negotiated a percentage of jersey sales into their new apparel deal could help, because it’s easy to imagine red Mbappe jerseys all around the world.

Canada’s Davies shines again as Muller brands him Roadrunner (video)

Alphonso Davies
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Alphonso Davies sees your expectations and he moves past them with vigor.

The Canadian phenom again took the international spotlight and ran with it, past it, and over it on Tuesday as Bayern Munich put one hand on its eighth-straight Bundesliga title with a 1-0 win over Borussia Dortmund at the Westfalenstadion.

[ MORE: Latest Bundesliga news | Current table ]

We’ll get to the stats and the style in a bit, but let’s start with some video that showcases the elite physical package he’s built.

Davies isn’t grinding here and he’s actually a bit slow to recognize the danger as Erling Haaland works over David Alaba.

Haaland isn’t at top speed and balance, too, but it doesn’t matter. Davies is there in a hurry. And it’s also about what he does when he get there. There are plenty of speed merchants in the game, not all of them can tackle Erling Haaland.

[ RELATED: Real Madrid targeting Davies as Marcelo replacement ]

That’s why this viral soundbite from Thomas Muller is gaining a lot of traction (also because it’s funny).

The roadrunner quip is the main attraction, but hidden in it is the implication that Davies has these elite make-up skills but is only going to get better with experience and awareness. He’s cutting out Haaland a minute earlier.

Before you watch that, though, here’s what Davies said on the play.

“Obviously being a young player I get caught out of position a lot and I’m happy to have the speed I have. That’s a factor in my game that I use very well, but I think over the years going forward with this team I will definitely learn more about my position, better positioning so it doesn’t look like I’m out of position just running back as fast as I can to catch up.”

Davies moved from Vancouver Whitecaps to Bayern just last year, but is already the undisputed best player for the Canadian national team with five goals and eight assists in 17 caps.

His 54 tackles are tied for 16th amongst Bundesliga players (Remember: He’s 19).

His 72 dribbles are top in the league (Again: 19).

Only three players have won more duels than his 180 (Not 20 until November).

And his two professional matches of left back experience before October were with Bayern II in 3.Liga this Fall. That’s bonkers.

Meep-meep.

Bundesliga wrap: Bayer, Gladbach wobble; USMNT back is Eintracht hero

Bundesliga wrap
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Second-half goal explosions led to excitement in two of three late Bundesliga kickoffs on Tuesday, with an American making a super sub impact in Frankfurt.

Bayern won 1-0 at Dortmund earlier in the day, opening the door for a challenge on second. Bayer and Gladbach both declined to enter.

[ MORE: Latest Bundesliga news | Current table ]

A loss for the former and draw from the latter all make this an absolutely wonderful day for the seven-time reigning champs in Bavaria.

Bayer Leverkusen 1-4 Wolfsburg

A Maximilian Arnold set piece star show saw the German behind three goals as Wolfsburg firmed up its top six credentials with a big win against red-hot Bayer.

Marin Pongracic headed two of Arnold’s free kicks home with a third taking a turn off the wall to give Arnold a goal of his own. Renato Steffen also scored in the win.

Julian Baumgartlinger scored very late for Bayer, who sinks fifth with 53 points.

Wolfsburg’s win gives them 42 points, four more than seventh-place Freiburg.

Wolfsburg had the two best chances of the first quarter-hour and it could’ve easily been 1-0 or 2-0 if not for a crucial blocked from Bayer defender Edmond Tapsoba and a fine save from Tomas Hradecky minutes later.

Bayer found some footing in the latter stages of the first half, forcing a save out of Koen Casteels before Kai Havertz tempted the frame with a header off a set piece.

The visitors’ breakthrough came before halftime, as ex-Salzburg defender Pongracic rose high to meet a terrific Arnold free kick from the right side to make it 1-0.

Wolfsburg had two quick chances to start the second half, Hradecky making a right arm save and a second chanced missed by the visitors.

Arnold’s 65th-minute free kick then took a hard turn off Kai Havertz inside the Bayer wall en route to defying Hradecky for 2-0.

The third goal arrived in short order, smallish Steffen outleaping Wendell to a Joao Victor cross and heading home.

American defender John Brooks subbed off in the 82nd minute with Wolfsburg holding a 4-0 lead and Havertz in the midst of one of his worst matches in a while.

Brooks posted six clearances, three interceptions, and a tackle and had a rough passing day by his very high standards. Brooks completed 70 percent of his passes, including four-of-eight long balls (Sofascore).

USMNT teen Ulysses Llanez made the bench for Wolfsburg but was an unused sub despite the big score line.

https://twitter.com/FOXSoccer/status/1265372544305168389

Werder Bremen 0-0 Borussia Monchengladbach

The hosts built on a weekend win by going toe-to-toe with a still out-of-sorts Gladbach on Tuesday at the Weserstadion.

Gladbach moves fourth, level on points with Bayer Leverkusen but ahead on goal differential after the latter’s blowout.

Bremen is still 17th after gaining its 22nd point, two points back of 16th and five back of 15th.

Gladbach had the first half edge in possession and shots but could not break down Bremen, who matched them chance-for-chance on the day.

USMNT youngster Josh Sargent earned another start for Bremen, going 74 minutes with 26 touches, a clearance, an interception, and two fouls drawn. He wasn’t at his best in duels but, again, Bremen’s system puts center forwards on an island and you get the feeling Florian Kohfeldt designed for defense against powerful Gladbach.

Eintracht Frankfurt 3-3 Freiburg

USMNT back Timothy Chandler scored with his first touch of the game to complete a thrilling comeback for Eintracht in a 3-3 draw.

Chandler subbed into the game in the 81st minute and deposited Filip Kostic’s handiwork in the 82nd, three minutes after Daichi Kamada had pulled the hosts to within one.

Eintracht showed a lot of heart in the comeback, out-attempting Freiburg 34-10. The point moves Eintracht five points clear of the bottom three and seven ahead of the automatic relegation places.

Freiburg remains seventh, now four points back of Wolfsburg and capable of finishing the midweek as low as ninth.

Vincenzo Grifo scored a goal and later set up another for Freiburg, with Nils Petersen and Lucas Holer also finding the back of the net.

Grifo’s third goal of the season gave the visitors a 28th-minute lead that would last only seven minutes.

Andre Silva answered with his 10 goal in all comps for Eintracht on loan from Milan, and it was 1-1 at the break.

Freiburg scored in the 67th and 69th to take a lead and, seemingly, another step toward the Europa League.

Instead, it was Eintracht who firmed up their footing at the other end of the table.

Here’s Chandler’s equalizer, a nice feat of power and coordination.

Wednesday

12:30 p.m. ET: RB Leipzig v. Hertha Berlin
2:30 p.m. ET: Augsburg v. Paderborn
2:30 p.m. ET: Union Berlin v. Mainz
2:30 p.m. ET: Hoffenheim v. Cologne
2:30 p.m. ET: Fortuna Dusseldorf v. Schalke

Kimmich reacts to thrilling winner for Bayern in Der Klassiker

Joshua Kimmich
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Joshua Kimmich isn’t an out-and-out scorer, but he looked the part after his heroics led Bayern Munich to a huge victory.

Ask him about his stunning chip over Borussia Dortmund in Tuesday’s Klassiker, and the Bayern Munich midfielder doesn’t tone it down.

“The best goal in my career,” the German midfielder said, via Bayern Munich. “It was very important.”

Kimmich has 28 senior goals between club and country, and this one was a beauty. Kimmich took a lay-off from Kingsley Coman and spun a ball over the flailing Roman Burki.

[ 3 THINGS: Dortmund 0-1 Bayern ]

Burki is a fine keeper and Dortmund had only allowed one goal in his last six outings before the derby. It was going to take something special to beat him.

Kimmich says that Hansi Flick’s staff had prepared the Bayern players for the habits of the strong and aggressive goalkeeper.

“We were previously informed that Bürki is always relatively high.”