THE SOCCER REPORT

Champions League, Copa Libertadores semis and “El Clasico” highlight soccer schedule

FC Barcelona will have to get it done this week without Lionel Messi in Champions League and El Clásico. Nike, Inc.

The rivalry game between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid will be missing the top two stars in the world for the first time since 2007. Cristiano Ronaldo departed Real Madrid in the offseason while Lionel Messi will be out injured.

Down in South America, the Copa Libertadores semi finals begin this week on the road to crowning a new continental champion. To recap the week and what’s to come, here is a breakdown of the major leagues:

English Premier League

Chelsea and Manchester United kicked off the return from the international break with a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge. The Blues salvaged a point at home thanks to a Ross Barkley goal in stoppage time. Elsewhere in London, Tottenham won by a 1-0 margin at West Ham United. Brighton picked up three points at Newcastle, Everton defeated Crystal Palace 2-0, while Watford and Cardiff City also picked up wins. Manchester City’s 5-0 drubbing of Burnley keeps them top of the table.

One of the top storylines this week was Liverpool’s visit to Huddersfield Town because of the history of the managers. Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp faced off against his former Borussia Dortmund assistant David Wagner, now manager at Huddersfield. The match was decided by one goal, a Mohamed Salah score in the 24th minute, to keep Liverpool behind Man City. Arsenal made headlines of their own by ending the weekend slate with a 3-1 win over Leicester City - extending their winning streak to 10 in all competitions.

Top six: 1. Manchester City (23), 2. Liverpool (23), 3. Chelsea (21), 4. Arsenal (21), 5. Tottenham (21), 6. Bournemouth (17)

Scoring leader: 7 - Eden Hazard (Chelsea FC)

Assists leader: 5 - Benjamin Mendy (Manchester City FC)

Spain’s La Liga

You may blink a few times in disbelief when you see the current standings in Spain. That’s because despite Barcelona returning to the top spot, the hierarchy has been challenged. Sevilla, last week’s leader, dropped to fourth thanks to their 4-2 loss at Barcelona. Atletico Madrid was held to a 1-1 draw at Villareal and, the biggest surprise, Real Madrid dropped to seventh after a 1-2 home loss to Levante. Alaves picked up a 1-0 win at Celta Vigo and Espanyol won 2-0 at Huesca, both good enough results to catapult them into the top three.

The big headline out of the weekend, besides Real Madrid’s fall from grace, was the injury to Lionel Messi in Barcelona’s match. That’s because Barcelona host hated rivals Real Madrid this coming weekend in a match that could determine the future of Madrid Manager Julen Lopetegui.

Top six: 1. Barcelona (18), 2. Espanyol (17), 3. Alaves (17), 4. Sevilla (16), 5. Atletico Madrid (16), 6. Valladolid (15)

Scoring leader: 8 - Cristhian Stuani (Girona)

Assists leader: 5 - Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona)

German Bundesliga

Serbian striker Luka Jović skyrocketed to the top of the scoring chart this week with a five-goal performance in Frankfurt’s 7-1 win over Fortuna. Bayern Munich picked up a 3-1 win at Wolfsburg to rectify their early season drop and are now up to fourth. Bayer Leverkusen and Hannover 96 drew 2-2, Hertha tied 1-1 with Freiburg, Werder Bremen picked up a 2-0 win at Schalke 04 and Monchengladbach won 4-0 against Mainz.

Borussia Dortmund continue at the top with a 4-0 win at Stuttgart. American midfielder Christian Pulisic returned from injury and grabbed an assist as Dortmund now look ahead to their clash with Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Champions League.

Top six: 1. Dortmund (20), 2. Monchengladbach (17), 3. Werder Bremen (17), 4. Bayern Munich (16), 5. RB Leipzig (15), 6. Hertha Berlin (15)

Scoring leader: 6 - Paco Alcacer (Dortmund) / Luka Jović (Eintracht Frankfurt)

Assists leader: 6 - Jadon Sancho (Dortmund)

Italian Serie A

Cristiano Ronaldo picked up his fifth goal for Juventus in a 1-1 draw against Genea, the first time this season Juve drop points. The goal also marked Ronaldo’s 400th across the top five European leagues, the first player to reach that mark. Napoli gladly took advantage of trying to close back in on the title race, with a 3-0 win at Udinese. Inter Milan collected a cool 1-0 win over their rivals A.C. Milan while Lazio also got three points. Sampdoria and Fiorentina, both with draws this week, round out the top six.

Top six: 1. Juventus (25), 2. Napoli (21), 3. Inter Milan (19), 4. Lazio (18), 5. Sampdoria (15), 6. Fiorentina (14)

Scoring leader: 9 - Krzysztof Piątek (Genoa)

Assists leader: 6 - Suso (A.C. Milan)

French Ligue 1

Paris Saint-Germain continue to, unsurprisingly, wreck the French league with their latest win, 5-0, over Amiens SC. The defending champs are now undefeated in their first ten matches to start the season. Lille valiantly follow in second - eight points behind - with a 2-1 win at Dijon. Montpellier and Marseille both pick up three points but the former jumped the latter in the standings on goal differential. Lyon jumps to fifth with a 2-0 win and St-Etienne’s 1-1 setback against Rennes.

Top six: 1. PSG (30), 2. Lille (22), 3. Montpellier (19), 4. Marseille (19), 5. Lyon (17), 6. St-Etienne (16)

Scoring leader: 9 - Kylian Mbappé (PSG)

Assists leader: 5 - Angel Di Maria (PSG) / Dimitri Payet (Marseille)

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Major League Soccer

How quickly can a week change things? In MLS, three more teams clinched their playoff spots. D.C. United did so by winning both their matches this week to complete the comeback from a season of disarray to one of hope and ascension with the arrival of Wayne Rooney. The Black & Red where on the playoff bubble to enter the week but on Sunday clinched their appearance in the MLS Cup Playoffs. Seattle clinched - their 10th consecutive playoff appearance - midweek while rival Portland did the same on Sunday. LA Galaxy picked up three points as Zlatan Ibrahimovic picked up a goal and an assist in the 3-1 win against Minnesota United, in front of 52,242 fans at TCF Bank Stadium. The Galaxy now control their destiny and can clinch a playoff spot with a win against the visiting Houston Dynamo on Sunday.

The race for the top spot, and the Supporters’ Shield trophy, will come down to the last day of the season as both Atlanta United and the New York Red Bulls picked up wins. Atlanta’s 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire also saw them tie Toronto FC’s 2017 record of 69 points - the most by any team in one season. They, as well as the Red Bulls, have an opportunity to surpass that mark on Sunday’s Decison Day.

East top six: 1. Atlanta United (69), 2. NY Red Bulls (68), 3. NYC FC (53), 4. Philadelphia (50), 5. D.C. United (50), 6. Columbus (48).

West top six: 1. Sporting KC (59), 2. LAFC (57), 3. FC Dallas (57), 4. Seattle (56), 5. Portland (54), 6. Real Salt Lake (49).

Scoring leader: 30 - Josef Martinez (Atlanta United)

Assists leader: 17 - Borek Dockal (Philadelphia Union) / Luciano Acosta (D.C. United)

Liga MX

With five games to go in the regular season, the playoff picture is taking shape in Mexico’s top division. Club America took the top spot thanks to a 3-0 win over Tijuana and a Cruz Azul 0-2 loss at Queretaro. The latter also benefited as they hold the final playoff spot, at least for the moment. Pumas and Tigres tied 3-3 and Lobos drew 1-1 with Chivas of Guadalajara. Monarca’s 2-0 win over Puebla help them lead the playoff bubble as does Leon’s 2-0 win at Necaxa.

Top eight: 1. Club America (27), 2. Cruz Azul (26), 3. Santos Laguna (25), 4. Pumas UNAM (23), 5. Monterrey (23), 6. Toluca (22), 7. Tigres UANL (19), 8. Queretaro (19)

Scoring leader(s): 10 - Julio Furch (Santos Laguna) / André-Pierre Gignac (Tigres)

Assists leader: 7 - Dorlan Pabon (Monterrey)

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2018 Concacaf Women's Championship

After securing their berths in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the U.S. and Canada women faced off in Frisco to crown a regional champion. The U.S. successfully defended their crown, picking up their eighth Concacaf Women’s Championship title. Rose Lavelle and Alex Morgan were the goalscorers in the 2-0 win.

Jamaica and Panama faced off in the third place match where one of the two sides would assure themselves a first appearance at the Women’s World Cup. After a 2-2 draw, and with no winner decided in extra time, Jamaica would advance 4-2 on penalties. Panama can still qualify when they face Argentina in a home-and-home playoff series in November.

Upcoming Matches (All Times CT):

Wednesday, Oct. 24

12 p.m. - [UEFA Champions League] PSV Eindhoven vs. Tottenham (TNT/UniMas)

2 p.m. - [UEFA Champions League] FC Barcelona vs. Inter Milan (TNT/Univision)

2 p.m. - [UEFA Champions League] PSG vs. Napoli (B/R Live/UniMas)

2 p.m. - [UEFA Champions League] Dortmund vs. Atletico Madrid (B/R Live/Galavision)

2 p.m. - [UEFA Champions League] Liverpool vs. Red Star Belgrade (B/R Live)

7:45 p.m. -  [Copa Libertadores] Boca Juniors vs. Palmeiras (FOX Soccer Match Pass/Fanatiz)

Thursday, Oct. 25

12 p.m. - [UEFA Europa League] AC Milan vs. Real Betis (B/R Live/UniMas)

12 p.m. - [UEFA Europa League] Sporting CP vs. Arsenal (B/R Live)

2 p.m. - [UEFA Europa League] Chelsea vs. BATE (B/R Live)

2 p.m. - [UEFA Europa League] Villarreal vs. Rapid Vienna (B/R Live/UniMas)

Friday, Oct. 26

1:30 p.m. - [Bundesliga] Freiburg vs. Monchengladbach (FS2)

2 p.m. - [La Liga] Valladolid vs. Espanyol (beIN Sports en Espanol)

7 p.m. - [Liga MX] Santos Laguna vs. Monterrey (Univision Deportes)

9 p.m. - [Liga MX] Veracruz vs. Pachuca (Univision Deportes)

Saturday, Oct. 27

8:30 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Dortmund vs. Hertha Berlin (Univision Deportes)

8:30 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Mainz vs. Bayern Munich (FS2/FOX Deportes)

9 a.m. - [Premier League] Liverpool vs. Cardiff (NBC Sports)

11 a.m. - [Serie A] Empoli vs. Juventus (ESPN+)

11:30 a.m. - [Premier League] Leicester vs. West Ham (NBC)

11:30 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Hoffenheim vs. Stuttgart (FS2/FOX Deportes)

1:45 p.m. - [La Liga] Villarreal vs. Atletico Madrid (beIN Sports)

7 p.m. - [Liga MX] Tigres vs. Lobos BUAP (Galavision/ESPN Deportes)

7 p.m. - [Liga MX] Chivas vs. Morelia (Univision/Facebook)

9 p.m. - [Liga MX] Cruz Azul vs. Club America (Univision)

Sunday, Oct. 28

8:30 a.m. - [Premier League] Crystal Palace vs. Arsenal (NBC Sports)

9:30 a.m. - [Bundesliga] RB Leipzig vs. Schalke (FS2)

10 a.m. - [La Liga] FC Barcelona vs. Real Madrid (beIN Sports)

11 a.m. - [Premier League] Manchester United vs. Everton (NBC)

12 p.m. - [Bundesliga] Werder Bremen vs. Leverkusen (FS1)

12 p.m. - [Serie A] Milan vs. Sampdoria (ESPN)

2:30 p.m. - [MLS] Decision Day (ESPN) / Sporting KC vs. LAFC (FS1) / All other matches (ESPN+)

Monday, Oct. 29

1:30 p.m. - [Serie A] Lazio vs. Inter Milan (ESPN+)

2 p.m. - [Premier League] Tottenham vs. Manchester City (NBC Sports)

 

 

 

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Let's make a deal. Photo by Getty Images. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

The NFL trade deadline is less than a week away, and the Houston Texans have a significant decision to make regarding their franchise star, J.J. Watt. The Texans are 1-6 through the first seven games of the season, and the next few years of the franchise seem a bit bleak.

No player or staff member has encapsulated Houston's frustration quite like Watt. Excluding the Texans' victory over the Jaguars, the future Hall of Famer has looked miserable in every post-game press conference. Each week, it's the constant look of despair. And in hindsight, closing the chapter on Watt's career in Houston seems to be best for both parties.

At 31-years-old, the All-Pro defensive tackle should be spending the twilight of his career competing for Super Bowls — not playing for a team who is clearly about to hit the reset button at the conclusion of this season.

By departing from Watt, it would allow the Texans to get a jumpstart on their rebuilding project — one that has the potential to bring back quality draft picks, a young prospect, and clear close to $20 million in cap space.

If they decide not to move on from Watt, the Texans risk putting themselves in a situation where they may miss out on obtaining higher draft picks and strapped for cash heading into the 2021 free agency market. And with one year left on his contract following 2020, the Texans also risk losing leverage in a potential deal if forced into trading Watt come next season.

At this stage of his career, the Texans may not receive a haul for Watt's services but could maximize his trade value by dealing him to a championship-contending team. A move that would give Watt the best chances of adding a championship title to his luxurious resume in return.

With the future of the franchise in mind, here are three potential trade ideas that would be best if the Texans are truly considering moving on from Watt.

Watt returns home to Wisconsin and joins the Packers

Texans receive: 2021 first-round pick and LB Kamal Martin

Packer receive: J.J. Watt

The Green Bay Packers are one of a handful of teams who has a realistic chance to stamp their ticket to Super Bowl LV. Following a win over the Texans on Sunday, the Packers stand first in the NFC North with a 5-1 record and possess one of the NFL's best offensive teams.

Green Bay's offense can compete in a shootout with just about any team in the league, but their defense may be the reason why they fall short of representing the NFC in Tampa Bay come February. They have only accumulated a total of 10 quarterback hits and are currently 30th in the league in pass rush through the first six games. The Packers' lack of ability to get to the opposing team's quarterback could be an immense problem during a playoff game that could feature Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Russell Wilson.

So what do the Packers have to lose by acquiring their Wisconsin native?

The addition of Watt would allow the Packers to add one of the best pass rushers of all-time. Although Watt is nowhere near the player that finished second behind Aaron Rogers for league MVP honors in 2015, he has illustrated that he is still a disruptive defensive lineman five years later.

Through the first seven games, Watt has accounted for 11 pressures, six quarterback hits and three sacks — which would make him Green Bay's second most reliable pass rusher trailing only Za'Darius Smith.

For the Texans, receiving a first-round pick for Watt is self-explanatory and would be the most suitable return for the aging star. However, for a team that is building for the future, the Texans should consider obtaining a young and raw prospect to evaluate.

Kamal Martin, a fifth-round draft selection in 2020, made his NFL debut against the Texans on Sunday and left an exceptional first impression. He recorded six tackles and one tackle for loss in 29 snaps inside NRG Stadium, and could be a building block should the Texans begin to make modifications to their linebacking corps.

Seattle sends multiple draft picks for Watt

Texans receive: 2021 second-round pick and fourth-round pick

Seahawks receive: J.J. Watt

If the Packers do not take advantage of improving their pass rush with Watt — perhaps the Seattle Seahawks will. Both NFC teams mirror each other with a high-powered offense, but a feeble defense may hinder one another from advancing to the Super Bowl. In a deal for Watt to the Seahawks, the Texans would miss out on the chance to acquire a first-rounder, but obtaining multiple picks would be just as prominent.

Seattle's general manager John Schneider is no stranger to taking a significant risk, and appears willing to make any moves that will put his organization closer to their long-overdue second title with Russell Wilson. Perhaps, Watt would be that missing key.

The Seahawks are pretty solid at stopping the run but need a tremendous upgrade in their pass defense. Seattle has given up the second-most passing yards on the season (2,212), and the reason seems to be their inability to get to the quarterback. Seattle has only implemented pressure to the opposing team's quarterback on 20.1% of their dropbacks, while only recording a total of nine sacks.

The Seahawks pass defense may not become elite, but the disruption of Watt on their defensive line could be enough to limit the devastation they have experienced through the first seven weeks of the season.

Watt to the Big Easy for Brees' last dance

Texans receive: 2021 second-round pick and Marcus Davenport

Saints receive: J.J. Watt

Seven weeks into the season, the New Orleans Saints are not sitting near the top of the NFC nor their division when compared to recent years. A bevy of injuries have been attributed to their minor decline this season — mainly to their All-Pro receiver Michael Thomas.

However, the Saints have prevailed through the injury bug to march their way to a 4-2 record. If New Orleans can get healthy during the second half of the season, they will be in the running to represent the NFC in Tampa Bay for Super Bowl LV. But unlike the Packers and Seahawks, this could be the Saints last chance to recapture the Vince Lombardi Trophy in what is likely Drew Brees' last dance.

The addition of Watt to the Saints would give general manager Mickey Loomis a chance to create the most disruptive defensive line in the league. Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen would be able to shift the five-time Pro-Bowler to the interior — allowing the Saints to trot out a d-line of Watt, Cameron Jordan and Trey Hendrickson.

This trade would give Watt arguably the most help he has ever had on the defensive line — which would allow New Orleans to maximize what is left of his career.

This trade would have the Texans missing out on obtaining a first-rounder, but a sound-round pick would be just as valuable for Watt. However, Houston should consider adding a young prospect in a potential swap, and Marcus Davenport would be their best return.

Drafted in 2018, Davenport is a former first-round talent who can help transition the Texans into the post-Watt era. He has showed promise of a bright future through his first two seasons, but injuries have prevented the 24-year-old prodigy of San Antonio from establishing himself as one of the league's top young talents.

This season, elbow and toe injuries have limited Davenport to just a pair of games in 2020. Although there is an immense concern regarding Davenport's health, the Texans cannot pass on adding a player who has already registered 11.5 sacks and 31 quarterback hits through his first 28 career games.

Coty M. Davis is a reporter for ESPN 97.5 Houston/SportsMap covering the Houston Texans. He is also the co-host of Locked On Texans, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network. Follow Coty on Twitter @CotyDavis_24.

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