THE SOCCER REPORT

Soccer Recap: Monterrey back at the top of Liga MX mountain, Zlatan returns to Milan

Soccer Recap: Monterrey back at the top of Liga MX mountain, Zlatan returns to Milan
Monterrey fans are celebrating the club's 5th Liga MX title, one month after seeing them play Club America in a friendly at BBVA Stadium in Houston.

As the calendar year comes to a close, European leagues have hit their midseason point while Mexican soccer crowned a new champion.

Liga MX Apertura 2019 Final

After a 2-1 Monterrey win in the first leg, a 2-1 win by Club America in the second leg sent the Liga MX final to extra time and penalties. It was in the penalty shootout that "Rayados" outlasted America, 4-2, to capture their fifth league title.

The win caps off a rollercoaster season where Monterrey fired their manager midseason, rehired former manager Antonio Mohamed (who has now won his third Liga MX title with as many teams as a Manager) and captured the final playoff spot to win the title. In the middle of their playoff run, Monterrey played Liverpool to a 2-1 defeat that could've easily gone their way in the FIFA Club World Cup.

The Clausura 2020 season kicks off on January 10.

English Premier League

The Premier League had the spotlight on them twice this week with the Boxing Day tradition gifting fans matches after Christmas. At the forefront of the PL talk was VAR (video assistant referee) decisions due to a number of goals being called back.

Top six: 1. Liverpool (55), 2. Leicester City (42), 3. Man City (41), 4. Chelsea (35), 5. Manchester Utd (31), 6. Tottenham (30)

Bottom three (relegation): 18. Aston Villa (18), 19. Watford (16), 20. Norwich City (13)

Scoring leader: 17 - Jamie Vardy (Leicester City)

Assists leader: 12 - Kevin De Bruyne (Man City)

Scottish Premier League

A second-half Nikola Katić goal gave Rangers a first win at Celtic Park in 9 years, making it a two points difference in the title race.

Top three: 1. Celtic (52), 2. Rangers (50), 3. Motherwell (37)

Bottom two (relegation): 11. Hamilton (18), 12. Hearts (13)

Scoring leader: 13 - Odsonne Edouard (Celtic)

Assists leader: 9 - James Forrest (Celtic)

Zlatan Ibrahimovic returns to A.C. Milan

One of the bigger news over the Christmas break was the announcement of Zlatan Ibrahimovic returning to Serie A with A.C. Milan. The Rossoneri are currently 11th in the standings, 14 points removed from fourth place and a Champions League spot that used to be a given for the seven time European champions.

MLS offseason

David Beckham's Miami expansion club announced the signing of Uruguayan manager Diego Alonso. The 44-year-old enjoyed success in Liga MX by guiding Pachuca to the Clausura 2016 title, the 2016-17 Concacaf Champions League title and a 3rd place finish at the 2017 FIFA Club World Cup. He guided Monterrey to Concacaf Champions League crown earlier this year before being fired midway through the Apertura 2019 season.

Houston Dynamo sign two players

The Houston Dynamo are reportedly about to announce the signings of former Dynamo Academy and youth U.S. National Team midfielder Marcelo Palomino and young European goalkeeper Marko Maric.

TV listings (All Times CT):

Wednesday, January 1

6:30 a.m. - [Premier League] Brighton vs. Chelsea (NBC Sports)

9:00 a.m. - [Premier League] Southampton vs. Tottenham (NBC Sports)

11:30 a.m. - [Premier League] Manchester City vs. Everton (NBC Sports)

2:00 p.m. - [Premier League] Arsenal vs. Manchester United (NBC Sports, Universo)

Thursday, January 2

2:00 p.m. - [Premier League] Liverpool vs. Sheffield United (NBC Sports, Universo)

Friday, January 3

12:00 p.m. - [La Liga] Valladolid vs. Leganes (beIN Sports)

2:00 p.m. - [La Liga] Sevilla vs. Athletic Bilbao (beIN Sports)

Saturday, January 4

6:30 a.m. - [FA Cup] Rochdale vs. Newcastle (ESPN+)

9:00 a.m. - [FA Cup] Fulham vs. Aston Villa (ESPN+)

9:00 a.m. - [La Liga] Getafe vs. Real Madrid (beIN Sports)

11:30 a.m. - [FA Cup] Wolves vs. Man United (ESPN+)

11:30 a.m. - [FA Cup] Leicester vs. Wigan (ESPN+)

11:30 a.m. - [FA Cup] Manchester City vs. Port Vale (ESPN+)

11:30 a.m. - [La Liga] Atletico Madrid vs. Levante (beIN Sports)

2:00 p.m. - [La Liga] Espanyol vs. Barcelona (beIN Sports)

Sunday, January 5

8:00 a.m. - [FA Cup] Middlesbrough vs. Tottenham (ESPN+)

8:00 a.m. - [FA Cup] Crystal Palace vs. Derby (ESPN+)

8:00 a.m. - [FA Cup] Chelsea vs. Nottingham Forest (ESPN+)

10:00 a.m. - [FA Cup] Liverpool vs. Everton (ESPN+)

12:15 p.m. - [FA Cup] Gillingham vs. West Ham (ESPN+)

1:30 p.m. - [Serie A] Roma vs. Torino (ESPNews, ESPN Deportes)

Monday, January 6

8:00 a.m. - [Serie A] AC Milan vs. Sampdoria (ESPN+)

8:00 a.m. - [Serie A] Juventus vs. Cagliari (ESPN+)

1:45 p.m. - [Serie A] Napoli vs. Inter (ESPN+)

2:00 p.m. - [FA Cup] Arsenal vs. Leeds United (ESPN+)

2:00 p.m. - [Coupe de France] Linas Montlhery vs. PSG (beIN Sports)

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Following Houston's 6-4 road trip, the Astros returned home to finish the first "half" of the season before the All Star break hosting Florida and Texas. Houston's road trip was filled with clutch performances in New York, dominance in taking 3 of 4 in Toronto, and a dose of close calls and tough realities with a short-handed team against Minnesota.

Now the Astros hope to take care of business against the lowly Marlins and division rival Rangers. The Texas series, in particular gives Houston the opportunity to reassert their hold on the #2 spot ahead of the Rangers who have won their last 5 games in a row (as of the time this was published). Both teams have won 7 of their last 10 games and hope to catch a free-falling Seattle team to overtake the division lead.

Dana Brown told the media last week he expects both Justin Verlander and Kyle Tucker to be reactivated following the All-Star break but Tucker's updates continue to be more promising than Verlander's and MUCH more promising than Lance McCullers. Astros manager informed the media this week that McCullers has been shut down from throwing after his arm did not respond well to his recent bullpen sessions and the team is formulating the plan for what's next for the embattled pitcher. McCullers hasn't pitched since the 2022 postseason and underwent season-ending flexor tendon surgery last June. McCullers is under contract with Houston until 2026.

An eventual return for Kyle Tucker would spur a juggling act from Joe Espada to find a proper balance of time for all his outfielders, none of which have separated themselves offensively. Chas McCormick had a great month of June recording an .804 OPS but that run looks more like an anomaly as his scuffles have continued over the past 2.5 weeks, recording just 4 hits over his last 32 plate appearances.

While Jake Meyers has wowed fans and teammates with his glove this season, his offense has hit a skid, hitting just .184 with a .565 OPS over the past month. After rookie Joey Loperfido's torrid debut, he too has struggled with the bat, hitting just .216 with .599 OPS over the same time period.

An unexpected bright spot has been the recent play of first baseman Jon Singleton. Over the last 4 weeks, "Big Jon" is batting .302 with an .802 OPS. It's worth mentioning that Singleton's season numbers are better than Florida's Josh Bell, who drew interest from Astros fans over the past several seasons as a potential answer at first base. Bell has 135 more ABs this season so its not quite an apples-to-apples comparison but there's no doubt Singleton's contributions were sorely needed following the release of Jose Abreu.

To watch part 1 of this week's episode of Stone Cold StrosStone Cold Stros, just click the video above or to listen to the entire episode on podcast, search "Stone Cold Stros" in your favorite podcast app or click one of the following links.

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