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Handicapping ‘Premier League March Madness’

Arsenal FC v Liverpool FC - Premier League

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 03: Trent Alexander-Arnold of Liverpool (on the ground) controls the ball as Virgil van Dijk of Liverpool, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Arsenal and Joe Gomez of Liverpool look on during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Liverpool FC at Emirates Stadium on November 3, 2018 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

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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.

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