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UEFA Champions League begins: Man United is underdog at PSG

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The Champions League is back, and back with a bang, after the draw for the 2020-21 group stage concluded on Oct. 1 in Geneva. The top line? A head-to-head between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi as Juventus and Barcelona were paired together in Group G, in a game that could also see fans inside the stadium after UEFA confirmed grounds can be up to 30 percent full for fixtures if local regulations permit.

The stand-out pairing of the group stage also boasts an American sub-plot with U.S. teammates Weston McKennie and Sergino Dest facing off against each other.

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With Italian champions Juve and La Liga runners-up Barcelona having not met competitively since November 2017, the Group G clashes will see Ronaldo and Messi renew their on-field rivalry for the first time since the Portuguese forward left Real Madrid for Juventus in 2018.

Ronaldo and Messi have played against each on 33 occasions in competitive club games, and Barcelona’s Messi has so far come out on top 15 times, with Ronaldo winning on nine occasions at past clubs Real and Manchester United. The two men have dominated the Champions League, with Ronaldo winning five European Cups — two more than Messi. Ronaldo also tops the all-time scoring charts with 130, 15 more than Messi, his closest rival.

So with the group stages starting with Matchday 1 on Oct. 20-21, ESPN brings you a game-by-game preview of the round including a big clash between Paris Saint-Germain and Man United (Group H), another intriguing battle between Bayern Munich vs. Atletico Madrid (Group A, Wednesday) and a test for Frank Lampard’s Chelsea at home to Sevilla (Group E, Tuesday). Also, how will Liverpool fare without Virgil van Dijk for the tricky trip to Ajax (Group D, Wednesday)?

Editor’s Note: This has been updated since the group stage draw concluded on Oct. 1 in Geneva. Expanded group stage analysis of Matchday 1 is by Tom Hamilton.

Jump to groups:
– Tuesday’s matches: E | F | G | H
– Wednesday’s matches: A | B | C | D

GROUP A: Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid, RB Salzburg, Lokomotiv Moscow

Bayern Munich vs. Atletico Madrid (Wednesday): Reigning champions Bayern Munich head into their opening group game off the back of a commanding 4-1 win at Arminia Bielefeld on Saturday. Robert Lewandowski is already off to a fine start with seven goals in the Bundesliga already, while Thomas Muller is also playing well. For Atletico, they won 2-0 at Celta Vigo on Saturday with new signing Luis Suarez and Yannick Carrasco scoring.

Last year’s Champions League quarterfinalists will have lofty ambitions for this season; they also boast the knowledge and drive to be a bump in the road for Bayern. Still, expect a home win.

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Shaka Hislop praises Thomas Muller and Robert Lewandowski’s consistency despite their advance age.

RB Salzburg vs. Lokomotiv Moscow (Wednesday): Salzburg are four wins from four games in the Austrian Bundesliga and won 3-0 at St. Polten in the Austrian Cup on Saturday. Patson Daka is in prolific form, while Sekou Keita and Dominik Szoboszlai are ticking along. Lokomotiv Moscow — without their brilliant forward Aleksey Miranchuk — are third in the Russian Premier League with six wins, three draws and two defeats from their 11 matches, but head to Austria off the back of a 1-0 win over FC Ufa on Saturday thanks to Grzegorz Krychowiak’s second-half strike. It should be business as usual for the Austrians, though.

Key players in the group: Striker Luis Suarez has three goals in four games for Atletico and will be keen to show his old side Barcelona what they’re missing in the Champions League. He won the 2015 Champions League in his time at Barca, and will hoping to add another. Patson Daka has stepped into Erling Haaland’s large shoes at Salzburg and has mirrored his prolific form in front of goal. He has 11 in eight games for the Austrian champions and will look to continue that on Wednesday.


Real Madrid vs. Shakhtar Donetsk (Wednesday): The La Liga champions suffered a shock 1-0 defeat at home to Cadiz on Saturday, with Luka Jovic having a goal ruled out and Karim Benzema hitting the bar. Goalkeeper Thibault Courtois has since labelled it a “wake-up call” in what was Zinedine Zidane’s team’s first defeat this season. They have issues at right-back with both Alvaro Odriozola and Dani Carvajal both injured, while Eden Hazard and Martin Odegaard are both sidelined. Sergio Ramos is also unlikely to feature, with Zidane likely to give him time to heal from an injury ahead of next weekend’s El Clasico.

For Shakhtar, they will head to Madrid with plenty of confidence having smashed Lviv 5-1 on Saturday, with Viktor Kovalenko grabbing a brace. They are undefeated in the Ukrainian Premier League, with three wins and three draws from their six matches. If they’re going to shock the Spanish giants, this week is the perfect time to strike.

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Ale Moreno says Real Madrid’s loss to Cadiz was men against boys in favor of the newly-promoted side.

Inter Milan vs. Borussia Monchengladbach (Wednesday): Antonio Conte’s Inter will be smarting from their 2-1 defeat in the Milan derby on Saturday as Zlatan Ibrahimovic rolled back the years to take bragging rights. They are sixth in Serie A with two wins from four, but have Romelu Lukaku in prolific form with four goals so far. But they have brought in plenty of Champions League experience in the close season with Arturo Vidal, Achraf Hakimi and Aleksandar Kolarov all joining.

‘Gladbach were poor by their high standards against Wolfsburg on Saturday, drawing 1-1. They’ve made a slow start to the season, with one win from their opening four in the Bundesliga, but will look to the likes of Marcus Thuram and Breel Embolo to cause Inter some difficulties. That said, you’d expect Conte & Co. to emerge victorious.

Key players in the group: With the talismanic Sergio Ramos injured, they need some inspiration and that’ll come in Karim Benzema. Real have struggled to score goals this season (six in five) so it’s up to him to get them off to a winning start against Shakhtar. Inter’s Lautaro Martinez was on a number of club’s wish-lists over the summer, including Barcelona’s, but the outstanding Argentinean striker will hope to cause some havoc alongside Lukaku on Wednesday.


Manchester City vs. FC Porto (Wednesday): Having endured a wild start to the season, it was business as usual for Pep Guardiola’s City at home against Arsenal on Saturday as they won 1-0 via Raheem Sterling’s first-half goal. With Sergio Aguero back fit and a new-look defence starting to build rapport around Ruben Dias, Wednesday’s match will be an acid test of where Guardiola’s team are. Porto drew 2-2 with their fierce rivals Sporting on Saturday, but have the brilliant Jesus Manuel Corona in fine form but will be adjusting to life without Manchester United-bound Alex Telles. Expect a comfortable home win.

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ESPN FC’s Don Hutchison believes Liverpool have too many injuries to overcome to defend their title.

Olympiakos vs. Marseille (Wednesday): Olympiakos have three wins from four games in the Super League Greece, and crushed Atromitos 4-0 at the weekend with Youssef El-Arabi scoring a hat-trick. Andre Villas-Boas’ Marseille won 3-1 against Bordeaux on Saturday with Florian Thauvin, Jordan Amavi and an own-goal bringing up their third win from seven in Ligue 1 this season. The French side should travel well and be canny enough to take all three points.

Key players in the group: Kevin du Bruyne is out injured for Manchester City, so they’ll need Phil Foden to pull the strings against Porto. He’s had an eventful start to the 2020-21 campaign, but is stepping nicely into David Silva’s sizeable shoes. Florian Thauvin is the creator extraordinaire for Marseille, but is also chipping in with goals. Having missed last season through injury, he’ll be keen to make up for lost time in the group stages.


GROUP D: Liverpool, Ajax, Atalanta BC, FC Midtjylland

Ajax vs. Liverpool (Wednesday): Ajax reached the Champions League semifinals two seasons back, but lost Sergino Dest, Hakim Ziyech and Donny van de Beek over the summer. Not to worry; they still have enough firepower and nous to back themselves to upset Jurgen Klopp’s men. The evergreen Dusan Tadic scored twice in their 5-1 win over Heerenveen at the weekend and have their new signings Antony and Mohammed Kudus in fine form.

Liverpool have had a turbulent start to the season and head to Ajax without star defender Virgil Van Dijk, who is out for a lengthy spell, as well as Naby Keita, Alisson and Thiago. This will be a real test of Klopp’s juggling skills, but they know what it takes to win this competition and can handle the adversity. This is the first time in 54 years these two have met in a competitive match, with Ajax beating Liverpool 5-1 back in 1966. We suspect a scoring draw for these two.

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Julien Laurens says the lack of punishment for Pickford is “as disgraceful” as his challenge on Van Dijk.

FC Midtjylland vs. Atalanta (Wednesday): The Danish champions left it late to qualify against Slavia Prague, but will look to take Saturday’s 3-1 win over OB into Tuesday’s clash at the MCH Arena. Their outstanding winger Pione Sisto scored at the weekend and will be one to watch. Atalanta are arguably Europe’s most attractive team to watch, but were hammered 4-1 at Napoli at the weekend. They reached the quarterfinals of the competition last season and will be hopeful of at least equalling that feat, but will need to find winning ways again on the road in Denmark. It shouldn’t be an issue for Gian Piero Gasperini’s side.

Key players in the group: With Liverpool without a number of key men for their trip to Amsterdam, Jordan Henderson will be key to bringing a steady presence to their midfield. Their wingers are on fire still, but without the calming presence of Van Dijk at the back, Henderson will be key. Atalanta did well to keep Alejandro ‘Papu’ Gomez over the summer, and the mesmeric Argentinean forward will hope to continue his impressive goal scoring run with four in four so far this season.


GROUP E: Sevilla, Chelsea, Krasnodar, Rennes

Chelsea vs. Sevilla (Tuesday): Chelsea will still be fuming having succumbed to a late 3-3 draw against Southampton on Saturday, but will take heart from Timo Werner and Kai Havertz both impressing. They are also getting a number of their injured contingent back, with Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech both featuring on Saturday, but know they need to open their campaign with a victory over the much-admired Europa League holders.

Sevilla suffered a 1-0 defeat at Granada on Saturday, and had midfielder Joan Jordan red-carded. But Julen Lopetegui’s team know what it takes to knock over Premier League sides, having dispatched Manchester United and Wolves in the Europa League last term. Expect the Blues to shade it by a single goal. Maybe.

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Shaka Hislop blames Frank Lampard for Chelsea’s continued defensive issues after their draw with Southampton.

Rennes vs. Krasnodar (Tuesday): Rennes are the second-lowest ranked team in the competition, though Julien Stephan’s side will not be light touches. They bolstered their team with Daniele Rugani on loan over the summer, have some edge-of-your-seat young players in the team like Jeremy Doku and are unbeaten in Ligue 1 this term with four wins and three draws from seven. Krasnador won 3-1 at home to Rubin Kazan on Saturday, with Remy Cabella, Kristoffer Olsson and Marcus Berg all scoring, but it’s been a slow start to the campaign with five wins from 11. We’re picking the Ligue 1 hosts to dazzle.

Key players in the group: Chelsea’s big-money signing Timo Werner scored his first two goals for his new side at the weekend, and is starting to show the same form as he produced regularly for Leipzig in the Bundesliga. Once the side clicks and works on the Werner wavelength, expect the goals to flow. Rennes’ 17-year-old Eduardo Camavinga is arguably the most exciting young midfielder in Europe. Now a fully-capped France international, expect him to shine on the Champions League stage.


Zenit St Petersburg vs. Club Brugge (Tuesday): Zenit are top of the Russian Premier League and beat PFC Sochi 3-1 at the weekend, with Vyacheslav Karavayev, Aleksandr Yerokhin and Douglas Santos all scoring. Artem Dzyuba and Sardar Azmoun have both been in impressive form this season and will look to cause all sorts of havoc against Brugge. For Club Brugge, they drew 1-1 at Standard Liege on Saturday, with the hosts equalising late, but they are at the top of the Belgian Pro League with six wins from nine and an impressive defence, conceding six goals in the league. The hosts should stroll to victory.

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Jan Aage Fjortoft praises the Borussia Dortmund hierarchy for having so much faith in Gio Reyna.

Lazio vs. Borussia Dortmund (Tuesday): Lazio have been mediocre this season with one win from four, and lost 3-0 at Sampdoria on Saturday. They did well to keep star midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic over the summer and have the ruthless Ciro Immobile up front looking to continue his impressive goal-scoring form. Dortmund, meanwhile, have some of the best young forwards in the world with Erling Haaland, Gio Reyna and Jadon Sancho looking to make a dent in Lazio’s backline but have issues in defence with Manuel Akanji, Nico Schulz and Marcel Schmelzer all likely to be absent. They won 1-0 at Hoffenheim at the weekend thanks to Marco Reus’ goal and are third in the Bundesliga with three from four. This might be a high-scoring affair that ends with honors shared, though Dortmund have the attacking power — and the motivation — to take all three points.

Key players in the group: Erling Haaland is ruthless. The young Norwegian striker has an astonishing record of 21 in 24 for Borussia after joining in January 2020, and looks hungry for more. Having made a brilliant impact in the Champions League last term, Haaland will look to continue that this year. The best of the Premier League and La Liga are forever being linked with Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, but Lazio have their talismanic box-to-box midfielder still at the fulcrum of their team. He is an all-court midfielder and will inevitably contribute to everything Lazio do well in the group stages.


GROUP G: Juventus, Barcelona, Dynamo Kyiv, Ferencvaros

Dynamo Kiev vs Juventus (Tuesday): Dynamo Kiev reached their Champions League peak back in 1999 at the semifinals, but are on course to returning to those heights under the evergreen Mircea Lucescu. They dispatched AZ and Gent in the qualifiers and are riding high in the Ukranian Premier League with four wins and two draws from six.

Juventus are without Cristiano Ronaldo and Weston McKennie due to Covid-19 for the trip to Ukraine, and head into their Champions League opener after a poor 1-1 draw at Crotone at the weekend. But they have the outstanding, young Dejan Kulusevski at their disposal while Federico Chiesa will hope to bounce back from his red card at the weekend. The Italians should cruise to an emphatic win even with Andrea Pirlo’s coaching philosophy still to take root.

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Gab Marcotti and Julien Laurens wonder which El Clasico rival suffered the worse defeat over the weekend.

Barcelona vs Ferencvaros (Tuesday): Barcelona slumped to a surprise 1-0 defeat to Getafe on Saturday and are still adjusting to life under new boss Ronald Koeman. But with Messi the star act and his glittering supporting cast, Barcelona will forever have eyes on the last stages of this tournament. They will be without Jordi Alba for Tuesday’s game so Sergino Dest may continue at left-back while the brilliant Marc-Andre ter Stegen continues his recovery from a knee injury. They will still have last season’s heavy 8-2 quarterfinal defeat to Bayern Munich fresh in the mind, but can look to this new era under Koeman as a fresh start and a chance to take the La Liga giants back to where they belong.

Hungary’s Ferencvaros are the lowest-ranked team in the competition but are unbeaten in the Nemzeti Bajnoksag I and have ex-Tottenham striker Serhiy Rebrov at the helm. Keep an eye on the two wingers Tokmac Chol Nguen and Oleksandr Zubkov, though we still think Barca will rebound with an attention-grabbing win.

Key players in the group: With Cristiano Ronaldo absent due to a positive COVID-19 test on international duty, Juventus boss Andrea Pirlo must get the best out of Paulo Dybala in Kiev on Tuesday. They were poor at the weekend and badly lack Ronaldo’s goal-scoring touch, and though Dybala was bizarrely an unused substitute on Saturday, he needs to be in the XI for Kiev. While all the focus, understandably, was on whether Barcelona can keep hold of Leo Messi over the summer, their next best bit of business was securing Ansu Fati on a long-term contract. It’s scary to think he’s still just 17-years-old, but the young Spanish winger is tearing up La Liga with three goals in four and assist to boot.


GROUP H: Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United, RB Leipzig, Istanbul Basaksehir

Matchday 1 preview

PSG vs. Manchester United (Tuesday): Thomas Tuchel’s PSG will hope to clear the final hurdle this year, after being losing finalists in 2020. They have five wins from seven games in Ligue 1, but still sit at the top of the table with Kylian Mbappe already having four goals to his name. They have an embarrassment of riches with Neymar and Angel di Maria good to go, but have a number of players out on the sidelines with Juan Bernat, Thilo Kehrer, Marquinhos, Marco Verrati, Mauro Icardi and Julian Draxler all doubts.

United remain unpredictable under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer but will take heart from their 4-1 win at Newcastle on Saturday where Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes were both magnificent. Anthony Martial will be available again, while Donny van de Beek may be in line for a rare start after impressing from the bench last weekend. But this tournament gives Solskjaer an opportunity to prove again why he was given the job on a full-time basis, as he returns to PSG for the first time after they won the 2019 round of 16 clash, the result that got him the permanent gig. We still reckon PSG will put a big win on the board this Tuesday.

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Frank Leboeuf believes Manchester United won’t be able to function without Bruno Fernandes on the pitch.

RB Leipzig vs. Istanbul Basaksehir (Tuesday): Leipzig are embarking on the post-Werner era in the manner you’d expect from a Julian Nagelsmann side: resilient, well-organised, plenty of pace and a tonne of chances. They are top of the Bundesliga after four games, with three wins and a draw from four and their players are already hitting top form. Yussuf Poulsen scored a magnificent goal at the weekend in their 2-0 win at Augsburg, while Dani Olmo and Marcel Sabitzer are as important as ever.

Istanbul Basaksehir have had a dismal start to the 2020-21 campaign, sitting in 18th with one win from five; their sole triumph came at Trabzonspor on Saturday with Irfan Kahveci and Edin Visca both scoring. Given Okan Buruk’s side won the league last term, they will be frustrated with their poor start and will target Tuesday’s game to get their season back on track. Leipzig should run out comfortable winners.

Key players in the group: Neymar has the opportunity to light up this season’s Champions League. He is a magnificent player, and we are seeing him playing with the sort of intensity and creativity that led PSG to pay £200m for him back in 2017. Marcel Sabitzer is the heartbeat of the Leipzig side. With Werner gone, Sabitzer will be charged with helping fill the goals void, but with Olmo, Hwang Hee-Chan, Poulsen and Emil Forsberg all brilliant lieutenants, Leipzig will hope to emulate last season’s charge to the semifinals.

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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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