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Atalanta, Bayern … Everton? Here are 11 must-see, can’t-miss teams

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Part of the fun of a football goal is its rarity. Every one of them is a miniature miracle, because we don’t know how long we’ll have to wait for another. If there were suddenly 10 goals per match or something, they would feel less miraculous and a lot less special.

A few more wouldn’t hurt anything, however, and that’s what we’re getting in Europe so far this season. Average goals per game are up 6 percent so far in this year’s Bundesliga and Ligue 1, up 12 percent in Serie A and up an incredible 39 percent in the Premier League! Unsustainable? Almost certainly. Expected goals haven’t risen at the same rate in England, and the season’s still young enough for a few outlier matches to skew the averages. Since goals are down 11 percent in La Liga, perhaps any Premier League decrease will see an equal increase in Spain.

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Things have been particularly fun and crazy thus far in Europe. We can hope it keeps up, and we can also celebrate the teams that have been the most fun.

Here are the 11 most enjoyable soccer teams in Europe’s Big Five leagues at the moment, plus lots of honourable mentions because you know what? There’s always room for more fun.

Honorable mentions

*Presented in alphabetical order.

Atletico Madrid: No, seriously! Counter-attacking can be fun, and Atleti have shown signs of being particularly good at it this year. Angel Correa, Joao Felix and Yannick Carrasco are excellent creators, and Luis Suarez? Well, he fits right in with manager Diego Simeone.

Borussia Dortmund: It hasn’t been a torrid start for Lucien Favre’s squad, at least by our extremely high standards for BVB, but Erling Haaland has already scored four goals and American Giovanni Reyna has three assists. Jadon Sancho will likely get rolling again soon, too. BVB will always be must-watch.

Hertha Berlin: Last seen scaring the hell out of Bayern Munich, Bruno Labbadia’s squad has scored eight goals on seven assists in three games. Matheus Cunha is one of the most exciting young players in Germany. And that’s saying something.

Leeds United: There’s something to be said for making your shots count. Marcelo Bielsa’s squad is 10th in the league in shots attempted, but third in shots and goals. They seem to only create good chances, and Patrick Bamford (three goals) is converting at a high level again.

Leicester City: Brendan Rodgers’ squad scored 12 goals in their first three matches before stumbling against West Ham. Jamie Vardy is ageless, Harvey Barnes has never met a long shot he didn’t like and new signing Timothy Castagne is creating at high levels down the right flank.

Manchester City: Even when they’re not super-dominant, their attacking talent is still absurd. Kevin De Bruyne has created 15 combined chances and assists, and we know the primary goal scorers — Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, etc. — will start scoring soon.

Napoli: This being 2020, we can’t simply enjoy everything — after starting with two brilliant matches (Napoli 8, opponent 0) and with 33-year old Dries Mertens playing better than ever, Napoli were placed in isolation due to positive COVID-19 cases and thus forfeited their last match against Juventus. When they play again, they’ll still be delightful (and a major Serie A contender).

Real Madrid: Consider this a love letter to 20-year-old Vinicius Junior, who’s begun his second year as one of Zidane’s featured players by taking on much more of a scoring role. He’s got two goals on eight shots, and he was within about 2 feet of a hat trick against Levante. More, please.

Sassuolo: The third-place Neroverdi comprehensively live the “shoot your shot” ethos, as they’re averaging 19 shots per match, third-most in the Big Five. Some of them even go in! Francesco Caputo, 33, is the personification of their positive attitude.

TSG Hoffenheim: Hoffenheim destroyed Bayern, 4-1, on Sept. 27. Andrej Kramaric already has six goals and thanks to some spectacular counter-attacking maneuvers, they average 5.3 shots per match of at least 0.1 xG in value. Only five Big Five teams average more.

EDITOR’S NOTE: As you’ll see, xG+xA per 90 is used a lot to measure the 11 teams that follow. It’s a great way to gauge how involved a player is within a given attack, both in buildup and in the resulting shots.


THE BEST 11

11. PSG

Key stats (per 90): 6.3 shots on goal, 5.8 shots of 0.1+ xG, 3.7 big chances created

Key players: Kylian Mbappe (two goals, three assists), Neymar (two goals, 1.24 xG+xA), Mauro Icardi (two goals, 0.82 xG+xA), Angel Di Maria (3.5 chances created/90)

PSG overwhelm you with inevitability, both in the standings and on the pitch. They’ve won seven of the last eight Ligue 1 titles, of course, and once they get rolling in any given match, there’s absolutely nothing you can do to keep them out of your defensive box. Kick the ball out, and it comes right back. In all, 61 percent of their possessions end in the attacking third; the only other Ligue 1 team above even 44 percent is Lyon.

This is the way it should be, of course, when you spend this much on fun players. PSG permanently added Internazionale‘s Mauro Icardi to an already crowded attacking line, and they’ve already had eight different players score and five serve up assists. After a run of positive coronavirus tests led to a pair of 1-0 losses to begin the league season, PSG have beaten their last four opponents by a combined score of 12-1. It appears they are once again inevitable.

10. EINTRACHT FRANKFURT

Key stats (per 90): 5.0 shots of 0.1+ xG, 2.6 xG, 2.1 xA

Key players: Andre Silva (two goals on 14 shots, 1.56 xG+xA/90), Daichi Kamada (one goal, two assists, 10 chances created, 0.71 xG+xA/90), Bas Dost (two goals, two assists)

I tipped Eintracht to be a potential top-four contender before the season began, and so far, so good. After a draw with Arminia Bielefeld to start the season, they’ve controlled both Hertha (3-1) and Hoffenheim (2-1) to jump both teams both in the Bundesliga table and on this list. In a tempo-friendly league, they are the fastest team, averaging 111 possessions per 90-minute match. They push the ball up the pitch, but they don’t give you many counter-attacking chances either.

Eintracht are a pretty experienced squad; of the 12 players to log 100-plus minutes thus far, eight are at least 28 years old. But they’ve got two exciting 24-year-old attackers in Silva and Kamada — since the coronavirus restart in May, only Robert Lewandowski and Hoffenheim’s Andrej Kramaric have more league goals than Silva — and in three brief appearances, 22-year-old Moroccan Aymen Barkok has already taken two shots and created four chances.

9. LIVERPOOL

Key stats (per 90): 2.8 goals per 90, 18.8 shots, 7.0 shots on goal

Key players: Mohamed Salah (five goals, 14 chances created, 1.13 xG+xA/90), Sadio Mane (three goals, 1.04 xG+xA/90), Roberto Firmino (two assists)

Everyone knows Salah is good, obviously, but can we talk for a moment about just how good he’s been since the league season began? He’s created as many chances as Kevin De Bruyne (14), he’s taken as many shots as Harry Kane (19), scoring two more goals, and he’s scored as many goals as Jamie Vardy (five). He has been utterly relentless — even more so than usual, that is.

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Julien Laurens says a talented Atalanta squad could give Liverpool problems for first place in Group D.

Thanks to positive coronavirus tests, we haven’t seen full-strength Liverpool yet — one that fully incorporates new additions Thiago Alcantara and Diogo Jota alongside Mane and the new Super Salah — and Firmino hasn’t really gotten going yet. And yet, they’ve still scored 11 goals in four matches and, despite Oct. 4’s odd shellacking at Aston Villa, have amassed nine of a potential 12 points.

8. ASTON VILLA

Key stats (per 90): 3.7 goals per 90, 3.3 assists, 4.0 big chances created

Key players: Jack Grealish (three goals, three assists, 0.74 xG+xA/90), Ollie Watkins (three goals, one assist), John McGinn (one goal, three assists, eight chances created)

Granted, there was plenty of good fortune involved in Villa’s 7-2 win over Liverpool — multiple goals went in due to chunky/lucky deflections — but we can acknowledge that while still noting that this might be the slickest passing team in the Premier League at the moment. Of their 11 goals through three matches, 10 have been assisted. Watkins, added from Brentford this offseason, has been exactly the finisher the club hoped he’d be so far, and we haven’t yet gotten a taste of what another new attacker, Bertrand Traore (added from Lyon), will offer.

It’s hard to know what Villa will do over the full season — clubs that survived relegation by one point the year before aren’t known for making runs at the Champions League the next year — but they suddenly have a delightful young core of players who will peak in the coming seasons. And they’re fun as hell. That’s more than enough for now.

7. RB LEIPZIG

Key stats (per 90): 2.7 goals, 2.8 xG, 17.3 shots, 5.7 shots of 0.1+ xG

Key players: Emil Forsberg (two goals, one assist, 0.87 xG+xA/90), Angelino (one goal, seven chances created, 0.74 xG+xA/90), Christopher Nkunku (one assist, seven chances created, four shots on goal)

System over stars. Julian Nagelsmann’s RB Leipzig lost Timo Werner to Chelsea and kept winning, taking down Atletico Madrid to reach the Champions League semis and beginning the young Bundesliga season back atop the table. They have already scored easy wins over Mainz and poor Schalke 04 and scored a solid 1-1 road draw at Bayer Leverkusen. While they drew a Champions League group with both PSG and Manchester United, their current form is about 1,000 times better than United’s at the moment.

Already, six different Red Bulls have scored, and five have provided assists. Veteran Forsberg has led the way while new additions like Hwang Hee-chan (from Salzburg) and Alexander Sorloth (Crystal Palace via Trabzonspor) get their footing, and Nkunku hasn’t even found fifth gear yet. Who knows if Bayern will let the Bundesliga title race become an actual race, but RBL are positioned for another excellent season regardless.

6. LYON

Key stats (per 90): 20.8 shots, 2.5 xG, 84 percent pass completion rate in opponent half, 5.2 shots of 0.1 xG

Key players: Memphis Depay (four goals, 14 chances created, 1.28 xG+xA/90), Karl Toko Ekambi (2.49 xG, 0.86 xG+xA/90), Houssem Aouar (0.73 xG+xA/90)

For the second straight season, Les Gones are doing everything right besides actually winning. They’re hogging the ball (64 percent possession, second-best in Ligue 1), taking loads of shots (0.23 per possession, first), and finishing 61 percent of their possessions in the attacking third (second) to opponents’ 29 percent (first). And yet, they’re 14th in Ligue 1 through six matches. Their 15.2 xG have produced seven actual goals. They used all their good fortune in rolling to the Champions League semis this past summer, and left none of it for league play.

… Though none of this means they aren’t super fun. They somehow managed to hold onto both Depay and Aouar (for now) through the transfer window, and both Moussa Dembele and Toko Ekambi, added from Villarreal in January, are doing everything asked of them besides actually scoring. Being that they have over 200 combined career goals, that will theoretically change soon.

5. TOTTENHAM

Key stats (per 90): 3.0 goals, 2.3 assists, 7.8 shots on goal, 6.5 shots of 0.1+ xG (most among the Big Five leagues)

Key players: Son Heung-Min (six goals, one assist), Harry Kane (three goals, six assists), Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (one assist, 91 percent pass completion rate in the attacking third)

This is a safe space. You can admit it, I won’t tell anybody: Jose Mourinho’s Spurs are fun as hell right now. When he’s got great attacking pieces, they tend to attack well — here’s your reminder that the La Liga goal-scoring record is held by Mourinho’s Real Madrid — and since his late-2019 hire, Mourinho’s Spurs have averaged 2.1 points per match, a top-two pace, when both Son and Kane are in the lineup. They are a perfect pair of vertical attackers, and Mourinho is letting them cook.

At some point, we’ll learn what happens when Son and Kane aren’t both in the lineup. That didn’t work out so well last year, but Steven Bergwijn hasn’t been asked to do much in league play yet, and Spurs brought in loanees Gareth Bale (from Real Madrid) and Carlos Vinicius (from Benfica) for this exact purpose.

4. INTER MILAN

Key stats (per 90): 3.3 goals, 2.3 assists, 17.0 shots, 85 percent pass completion rate in the attacking third

Key players: Romelu Lukaku (three goals, 1.19 xG+xA/90), Lautaro Martinez (three goals), Achraf Hakimi (two assists, one goal, 0.93 xG+xA/90)

Inter came up just short of the Scudetto last year, but they managed to hold onto Martinez through the transfer window and added wonderful wing threats in the 21-year-old Hakimi and Ivan Perisic, who spent 2019-20 on loan with Bayern. They’ve been impossibly entertaining so far, winning matches by 4-3 and 5-2 scorelines and nicking a 1-1 road draw off Lazio. Lukaku and Martinez have been prolific, and Alexis Sanchez has put himself in dangerous positions, too.

Allowing six goals in three matches sure is fun, but it’s not optimal for contention purposes. Inter added former Bayern and Barcelona midfielder/enforcer Arturo Vidal late in the transfer window; we’ll see if Antonio Conte’s Nerazzurri begin to play with a little more control and a little less chaos. It would probably be a good thing for them despite likely being a bad thing for neutrals.

3. EVERTON

Key stats (per 90): 3.0 goals, 2.3 assists, 2.8 big chances created

Key players: Dominic Calvert-Lewin (six goals), James Rodriguez (three goals, two assists, 12 chances created), Richarlison (one goal, two assists, 0.81 xG+xA/90)

We’ve gotten a glimpse of what this Premier League season could be — Everton and Villa playing attractive attacking football and challenging for a Champions League spot alongside a particularly fun Liverpool, Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham, a potentially prolific Chelsea, a rebounding Man City, etc., all while tons of goals find the net — and it will be a letdown if or when things revert to form.

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Ian Darke and Don Hutchison react to Everton’s flying start after a 4-1 win over West Ham in the Carabao Cup.

In the short term, there’s been nothing fluky about Everton’s 4-0 start. They top the league in xG differential, and they are basically performing as a better version of Leeds — they don’t finish all that many possessions deep in the opponent’s end, but when they do, they’re producing a gorgeous opportunity from it.

Rodriguez is the catalyst Everton desperately needed last year, and Calvert-Lewin has not only scored six times in four league matches; he’s also put in three in two League Cup matches. He’s absolutely torrid, and so are the Toffees.

2. BAYERN MUNICH

Key stats (per 90): 4.3 goals, 3.3 assists, 19.7 shots, 8.0 shots on goal, 4.7 big chances created

Key players: Robert Lewandowski (five goals, two assists, 1.99 xG+xA/90), Leroy Sane (one goal, two assists, 1.10 xG+xA/90), Serge Gnabry (three goals, 0.88 xG+xA/90)

It feels like cheating to call Bayern fun — of course they’re fun. Look at who they can afford! Despite losing Thiago to Liverpool and Philippe Coutinho and Ivan Perisic to their parent clubs Barca and Inter, respectively, Bayern still boast the Bundesliga’s best goal scorer (Lewandowski) and reigning assists leader (Thomas Müller, who already has three more this year), plus Gnabry, Sane (a new signing from Man City), and Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka in midfield.

For good measure, they also added Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting from PSG as a Lewandowski backup, Marseille‘s versatile full-back/winger Bouna Sarr and, via loan, brought back former star Douglas Costa from Juventus at the end of the transfer window.

Their fixtures list is going to be crowded in the months ahead, though they have enough pieces to basically field a full second squad that would also be one of the best and most enjoyable teams in Germany.

1. ATALANTA

Key stats (per 90): 4.3 goals, 3.7 assists, 8.3 shots on goal, 5.7 shots of 0.1+ xG

Key players: Alejandro “Papu” Gomez (four goals, two assists), Luis Muriel (two goals, one assist), Duvan Zapata (one goal, two assists)

I had high hopes for a brilliant Serie A title race, and that’s what we’ve gotten so far. Inter, Atalanta, AC Milan and Napoli have all played like contenders for Juve’s crown, Lazio and Roma aren’t that far off, and Sassuolo could be, at worst, a thorn in contenders’ sides. The positive coronavirus tests are ticking upward in Italy and basically everywhere else at this point, and that brings with it a sense of foreboding. But on the pitch, the right teams all look really good.

Atalanta, though, have looked the best.

Gian Piero Gasperini’s squad has been Serie A’s most enjoyable and prolific for a while, and this season have won matches by scores of 4-2, 5-2 and, at Lazio, 4-1. Their versatility is astounding — eight players have already scored in league play (three more than once), and four already have multiple assists. New addition Sam Lammers (0.95 xG+xA/90) has only begun to produce, Josip Ilicic (15 goals and eight assists last season) just returned to training, and ex-Chelsea man Mario Pasalic, who was so effective last year, hasn’t even really gotten rolling yet.

Atalanta are everything you could possibly want if you’re looking to simply enjoy soccer, and they might have found a new gear in 2020-21.

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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home

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On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

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Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”

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Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.

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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment

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The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.

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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls

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With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast

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