ON THE PITCH

Soccer recap: Manchester City win Carabao Cup; Neymar sidelined by ankle injury

Alberth Elis and the Dynamo open the season Saturday; Elis joins Glenn Davis tonight on Soccer Matters at the Gorgeous Gael. Photo by Wilf Thorne/Houston Dynamo

The first legs of the Champions League Round of 16 have taken place and in some cases, giving us a good idea of who could be moving on to the quarterfinals. The Europa League round of 32 have been decided. On this side of the world, international soccer has also kicked off in full swing. Also, the next Major League Soccer season starts this weekend. To catch you up, here is the recap:

UEFA Champions League

FC Bayern Munich, Liverpool and Manchester City had blowout wins of at least four goals, meaning only a disaster in their Round of 16 second legs could undo them. Real Madrid with a 3-1 over PSG, and Shakhtar Donetsk, who won 2-1 over Roma, used their home to build an advantage and depend on good road trips to close out their ticket to the quarterfinals.

Three matches ended in draws: Juventus-Tottenham 2-2, Chelsea-FC Barcelona 1-1 and Sevilla-Manchester United 0-0. Of these stalemates, Juventus will be lamenting not putting Spurs away after a 2-0 home lead. The Bianconeri let their adversaries claw back in to a match that should’ve ended in a blowout for the home team. The other two were as close as the scoreline said, though Chelsea could have led 3-1 if Willian’s shots had been just a tad inside the poles.

No Champions League this week; the round of 16 resumes the following week.

UEFA Europa League

The Europa League round of 32 took place over the last two weeks, leaving 16 sides eliminated from Europe’s secondary international club competition. A.C. Milan, Atletico Madrid, Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund, Lyon and Marseille - traditional European clubs - are all through as expected. The surprise exit came from Napoli, current leaders in Serie A, who could not undo a 3-1 first leg loss at home to RB Leipzig.

The round of 16 begins next week with the following matchups: Atletico Madrid vs. Lokomotiv Moscow, Dortmund vs. Red Bull Salzburg, A.C. Milan vs. Arsenal, CSKA Lyon vs. Lyon, RB Leipzig vs. Zenit, Lazio vs. Dynamo Kyiv, Marseille vs. Athletic Bilbao and Sporting CP vs. Plzeň.

English Premier League

The Premier League returned after taking a break because of the FA Cup fifth round. Leicester and Stoke City tied, placing both at four matches removed from their last win. Bournemouth-Newcastle (2-2) and Burnley-Southampton (1-1) were the other draws this weekend. Huddersfield got a 2-1 win at West Brom, Liverpool won 4-1 over West Ham, Brighton 4-1 over Swansea City, Watford 1-0 over Everton and Tottenham 1-0 at Crystal Palace. All eyes this weekend, of course, were on Manchester United vs. Chelsea. It was the Red Devils who triumphed 2-1 over the Blues, knocking Chelsea out of the top four.

Arsenal and Manchester City did not take part in PL action this week because they met at Wembley to play the Football League Cup Final. City won their first trophy of the season with an emphatic 3-0 win over the Gunners. The “Carabao Cup” serves as a consolation for City’s elimination from the FA Cup earlier in the week to Wigan Athletic. Man City and Arsenal meet again on Thursday in premier league action.

Top 5: Manchester City (72), Manchester United (59), Liverpool (57), Tottenham (55), Chelsea (53)

La Liga

Girona led FC Barcelona after three minutes of play - and then Barca showcased their power in a 6-1 thrashing of their Catalan neighbors. Suarez scored a hat-trick, Messi scored a brace and Coutinho scored a goal that many will envy. Over in the Andalusia region of Spain, Atletico Madrid dismantled Sevilla 5-2 to continue eight points behind the leaders. Real Madrid meanwhile continue their recovery from a bad spell, following their jump to third place with a 4-0 win over Alaves. Bilbao, Celta Vigo, Real Betis, Valencia and Villarreal also picked up three points.

Top 5: FC Barcelona (65), Atletico Madrid (58), Real Madrid (51), Valencia (49), Villarreal (41)

Bundesliga

Deshaun Watson was present as Bayern Munich battled Hertha Berlin to a scoreless draw at the Allianz Arena. Of course, it matters little as FCB continues their stranglehold at the top with a cool 19-point lead over second place - and rivals - Dortmund. Speaking of which, Marco Reus scored in Dortmund’s 1-1 home draw with Augsburg. The biggest move was made by Schalke 04, up to third place with a 2-0 win at Bayer Leverkusen.

Top 5: Bayern Munich (60),  Borussia Dortmund (41), Schalke 04 (40), Eintracht Frankfurt (39), Bayer Leverkusen (38)

Ligue 1

Having the league all but officially secured, PSG suffered a huge loss in their 3-0 win over Marseille. Neymar was stretched off the field in tears after an ankle injury in the final minutes of Le Classique. He is expected to be out of next week’s Champions League match against Real Madrid. Monaco and Lyon both picked up draws this week as did Montpellier, whose draw catapults into the top five.

Top 5: Paris Saint-Germain (71), Monaco (57), Marseille (55), Lyon (49), Montpellier (39)

Serie A

With their elimination from international competition, leaders Napoli now only have the league title and the Coppa Italia to worry about. Gli Azzurri showed their dominance in a 5-0 win at Cagliari. A.C. Milan picked up a 2-0 win over Roma, Lazio a 3-0 win over Sassuolo and Inter Milan a 2-0 win over Benevento. Bologna, SPAL, Hellas Verona, Sampdoria and Florentina were also victorious. Juventus vs. Atalanta was postponed due to a snow storm.

Top 5: Napoli (66), Juventus (65), Lazio (52), Inter Milan (51), Roma (50)

CONCACAF Champions League

The 2018 edition of North America’s international club tournament kicked off with the round of 16 stage last Tuesday. The only win for an MLS side came at the expense of another as Toronto FC picked up a 2-0 win at the Colorado Rapids in the coldest match in CONCACAF Champions League history. Herediano meanwhile came back to draw 2-2 at home with Tigres UANL. Panamanian side Tauro picked up a 1-0 win over FC Dallas, while Club America left Costa Rica with a 5-1 victory over Saprissa. Tijuana and Guadalajara won their opening legs while Salvadoran side Santa Tecla came back to win 2-1 at home vs. Seattle Sounders FC and Olimpia drew with NY Red Bulls. It’s important to note that, due to the political unrest in Honduras, Motagua hosted Tijuana in Edinburg, TX while Olimpia hosted the Red Bulls in San Jose, Costa Rica.

Major League Soccer

The 2018 MLS season has arrived as clubs wrapped up their preseason friendlies over the weekend. The Houston Dynamo will host Atlanta United on Saturday afternoon in a nationally televised match on Univision. Toronto is the odds on favorite to repeat as champion.

Soccer Matters with Glenn Davis will broadcast live on ESPN 97.5 FM (Tuesday, 7-9 p.m) from The Gorgeous Gael (5555 Morningside Dr, Houston, TX) as Houston Dynamo’s Alberth Elis will be on the program.

Liga MX

Monterrey got back to winning with a 1-0 result at Atlas - catapulting them back to the top three. Toluca, Lobos BUAP, Tigres, Pachuca and Santos were all victorious while the draws this weekend were Puebla-Necaxa 1-1, Club America-Tijuana nil-nil and Pumas UNAM-Guadalajara 1-1. Landon Donovan did make his second Liga MX appearance for Leon, playing the final 10 minutes in the 2-1 loss at Pachuca.

Top 5: Club America (17), Santos Laguna (17), Monterrey (15), Toluca (15), Pumas UNAM (15)

Copa Libertadores

South America’s premier international club competition kicks off it’s group stage this week as the qualification stage ended last week. Among the top names in this year’s edition are Argentina giants Boca Juniors and River Plate, Brazil’s Corinthians and Santos and Colombia’s Atletico Nacional.

She Believes Cup

Four of the top powers in Women’s international soccer square off as the United States hosts England, France and Germany in the 2018 edition of the SheBelieves Cup. The round-robin tournament will be hosted in Columbus, Ohio, Harrison, New Jersey and Orlando, Florida over the course of a week. Houston Dash forward Rachel Daly joins England as an injury replacement and will face off against teammates Jane Campbell and Christen Press.

Upcoming matches (All Times CT):

Tuesday, Feb. 27:

10:30 a.m. - [Coppa Italia] Juventus vs. Atalanta (GolTV)

1 p.m. - [La Liga] Espanyol vs. Real Madrid (beIN SPORTS)

1:45 p.m. - [Coppa Italia] Lazio vs. A.C. Milan (GolTV)

1:45 p.m. - [FA Cup] Swansea vs. Sheffield Wednesday (FS2)

6:30 p.m. - [Copa Libertadores] Colo Colo vs. Atletico Nacional (FOX Deportes)

7 p.m. - [CONCACAF Champions League] Toronto FC vs. Colorado Rapids (go90)

7 p.m. - [CONCACAF Champions League] Tigres UANL vs. Herediano (Univision Deportes)

Wednesday, Feb. 28:

2 p.m. - [FA Cup] Tottenham vs. Rochdale (FS1)

6:30 p.m. - [Copa Libertadores] Flamengo vs. River Plate (FOX Deportes)

7 p.m. - [CONCACAF Champions League] FC Dallas vs. Tauro (go90)

9 p.m. - [Copa Libertadores] Millonarios vs. Corinthians (FOX Deportes)

Thursday, March 1:

1 p.m. - [La Liga] Las Palmas vs. Barcelona (beIN SPORTS)

1:45 p.m. - [Premier League] Arsenal vs. Manchester City (NBC SPORTS)

6:30 p.m. - [Copa Libertadores] Alianza Lima vs. Boca Juniors (FOX Deportes)

7 p.m. - [CONCACAF Champions League] New York Red Bulls vs. Olimpia (go90/Univision Deportes)

9 p.m. - [CONCACAF Champions League] Seattle Sounders FC vs. Santa Tecla FC (go90/Univision Deportes)

Friday, March 2:

1:30 p.m. - [Bundesliga] Moenchengladbach vs. Werder Bremen (FS2)

Saturday, March 3:

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

8:30 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Schalke 04 vs. Hertha Berlin (FS1)

8:30 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Wolfsburg vs. Bayer Leverkusen (FS2)

9 a.m. - [Premier League] Tottenham vs. Huddersfield (NBC Sports)

11 a.m. - [Serie A] Lazio vs. Juventus (beIN Sports)

11:30 a.m. - [Premier League] Liverpool vs. Newcastle (NBC Sports)

11:30 a.m. - [Bundesliga] RB Leipzig vs. Dortmund (FS2)

1:45 p.m. - [La Liga] Real Madrid vs. Getafe (beIN SPORTS)

2:30 p.m. - [MLS] Houston Dynamo vs. Atlanta United (Univision)

6:30 p.m. - [Liga MX] Club Leon vs. Pumas (ESPN Deportes)

Sunday, March 4:

7:30 a.m. - [Premier League] Brighton vs. Arsenal (NBC Sports)

8:30 a.m. - [Bundesliga] FC Koln vs. Stuttgart (FS1)

9:15 a.m. - [La Liga] FC Barcelona vs. Atletico Madrid (beIN SPORTS)

10 a.m. - [Premier League] Manchester City vs. Chelsea (NBC Sports)

11 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Freiburg vs. Bayern Munich (FS1)

4 p.m. - [MLS] Seattle Sounders FC vs. LAFC (ESPN)

6:30 p.m. - [MLS] Sporting KC vs. New York City FC (FS1)

9 p.m. - [MLS] LA Galaxy vs. Portland (FS1)

Monday, March 5:

2 p.m. - [Premier League] Crystal Palace vs. Manchester United (NBC Sports)

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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