THE SOCCER REPORT

Soccer Recap: Suarez back-heel goal steals the show; Arsenal win first under Ljungberg

Soccer Recap: Suarez back-heel goal steals the show; Arsenal win first under Ljungberg
Arsenal are back in good spirits after first win in 10 matches. Credit: Adidas

Action rolls in Europe after a weekend that featured the Manchester Derby, only to be followed by the end of the UEFA Champions League group stage and a pre-El Clasico La Liga weekend. This week also features the start of the 2019 FIFA Club World Cup.

Off the field, the draw to determine the quarterfinal matchups of the 2020 Concacaf Champions League took place in Mexico CIty on Monday night. The tournament will kick off in February and crown a new champion in May to determine the region's representative in the 2020 Club World Cup.

Major League Soccer clubs in the CCL will begin their preseason on January 11, one week before the rest of the league.

English Premier League

Top six: 1. Liverpool (46), 2. Leicester City (38), 3. Man City (32), 4. Chelsea (29), 5. Man Utd (24), 6. Wolves (24)

Bottom three (relegation): 18. Southampton (15), 19. Norwich City (11), 20. Watford (9)

Scoring leader: 16 - Jamie Vardy (Leicester City)

Assists leader: 9 - Kevin De Bruyne (Man City)

Spanish La Liga

Top six: 1. FC Barcelona (34), 2. Real Madrid (34), 3. Sevilla (31), 4. Real Sociedad (27), 5. Getafe (27), 6. Athletic Bilbao (26)

Bottom three: 18. Celta Vigo (13), 19. Leganes (9), 20. Espanyol (9)

Scoring leader: 12 - Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona)

Assists leader: 6 - Rodrigo (Valencia)

German Bundesliga

Top six: 1. Monchengladbach (31), 2. RB Leipzig (30), 3. Dortmund (26), 4. Schalke 04 (25), 5. Freiburg (25), 6. Bayer Leverkusen (25)

Bottom three: 16. Fortuna (12), 17. Paderborn (8), 18. Cologne (8)

Scoring leader: 16 - Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)

Assists leader: 9 - Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich)

Italian Serie A

Top six: 1. Inter Milan (38), 2. Juventus (36), 3. Lazio (33), 4. Cagliari (29), 5. Roma (29), 6. Atalanta (28)

Bottom three: 18. Genoa (10), 19. SPAL (9), 20. Brescia (7)

Scoring leader: 17 - Ciro Immobile (Lazio)

Assists leader: 11 - Luis Alberto (Lazio)

French Ligue 1

Top four: 1. PSG (39), 2. Marseille (34), 3. Lille (28), 4. Rennes (27)

Bottom three: 18. Metz (15), 19. Tolouse (12), 20. Nimes (12)

Scoring leader: 11 - Wissam Ben Yedder (Monaco)

Assists leader: 7 - Islam Slimani (Monaco) / Yoann Court (Brest)

Liga MX Playoffs

Monterrey and Club America each punched their ticket to the Liga MX Apertura 2019 final over the weekend. The two will have to wait until Monterrey are done with the FIFA Club World Cup participation to resume the playoffs on Dec. 26.

Quarterfinal results:

  • Club Leon 4-5 agg. Monarcas Morelia
  • Queretaro 2-6 agg. Necaxa
  • Santos Laguna 3-6 agg. Monterrey
  • Club America 2-4 agg. Tigres UANL
Semifinal results:
  • Necaxa 1-3 agg. Monterrey
  • Club America 2-2 agg. Monarcas Morelia, America advance on higher seed tiebreaker
Final schedule:
  • First leg: Dec. 26 at Estadio BBVA, Monterrey
  • Second leg: Dec. 29 at Estadio Azteca, Mexico

Liga MX Femenil Final

Monterrey's female team, "Rayadas," lifted their first Liga MX Femenil title after a 1-0 win over rivals Tigres UANL in the second leg of the final, 2-1 on aggregate. The series drew an attendance of 41,615 in the first leg on Nov. 29 and 38,251 in Sunday's second leg.

TV listings (All Times CT):

Tuesday, December 10

11:55 a.m. - [UEFA Champions League] RB Salzburg vs. Liverpool (TNT, UniMas, TUDN)

11:55 a.m. - [UEFA Champions League] Napoli vs. Genk (Galavision)

2:00 p.m. - [UEFA Champions League] Inter Milan vs. FC Barcelona (TNT, UniMas, TUDN)

2:00 p.m. - [UEFA Champions League] Ajax vs. Valencia (Galavision)

Wednesday, December 11

11:30 a.m. - [FIFA Club World Cup / Playoff] Al Sadd vs. Hienghène (FS2, FOX Deportes)

11:55 a.m. - [UEFA Champions League] Dinamo Zagreb vs. Man City (TNT, UniMas, TUDN)

11:55 a.m. - [UEFA Champions League] Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Atalanta (Galavision)

2:00 p.m. - [UEFA Champions League] Brugge vs. Real Madrid (UniMas, TUDN)

2:00 p.m. - [UEFA Champions League] Bayer Leverkusen vs. Juventus (TNT, Galavision)

Thursday, December 12

11:55 a.m. - [UEFA Europa League] Standard Liege vs. Arsenal (UniMas)

11:55 a.m. - [UEFA Europa League] APOEL vs. Sevilla (TUDN)

11:55 a.m. - [UEFA Europa League] LASK vs. Sporting CP (Galavision)

2:00 p.m. - [UEFA Europa League] Manchester United vs. AZ Alkmaar (UniMas)

2:00 p.m. - [UEFA Europa League] Wolves vs. Besiktas (TUDN)

2:00 p.m. - [UEFA Europa League] Porto vs. Feyenoord (Galavision)

Friday, December 13

1:30 p.m. - [Bundesliga] Hoffenheim vs. FC Augsburg (FS2, TUDN)

2:00 p.m. - [La Liga] Alaves vs. Leganes (beIN SPORTS en Español)

Saturday, December 14

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

8:00 a.m. - [FIFA Club World Cup / Quarterfinal] Al-Hilal vs. ES Tunis (FOX Soccer Plus, FOX Deportes)

8:30 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Bayern Munich vs. SV Werder Bremen (FS1)

8:30 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Mainz 05 vs. Borussia Dortmund (FS2, TUDN)

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

9:00 a.m. - [La Liga] Real Sociedad vs. FC Barcelona (beIN Sports)

11:30 a.m. - [FIFA Club World Cup / Quarterfinal] Monterrey vs. Al Sadd or Hienghène (FS2)

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

1:30 p.m. - [La Liga] Atletico Madrid vs. Osasuna (beIN SPORTS)

Sunday, December 15

8:00 a.m. - [Premier League] Wolves vs. Spurs (NBC Sports)

8:30 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Wolfsburg vs. Borussia Mönchengladbach (FS1)

10:30 a.m. - [Premier League] Arsenal vs. Manchester City (NBC Sports)

11:00 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Schalke 04 vs. Eintracht Frankfurt (FS1)

2:00 p.m. - [La Liga] Valencia vs. Real Madrid (beIN SPORTS)

Monday, December 16

6:00 a.m. - Draw for UEFA Champions League and Europa League knockout stage (UEFA.com, B/R Live)

2:00 p.m. - [Premier League] Crystal Palace vs. Brighton (NBC Sports)

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The Astros are lucky they play in the AL West. Composite Getty Image.

No, we have not been transported back in time to 2012 and are again stuck with an atrocity of an Astros team heading for well over 100 losses. I’m pretty sure anyway, even though the Astros are in our nation’s capital for the weekend looking so far this season about as dysfunctional as the federal government often seems to be. At 6-14 this is a dung heap of a squad to this point. The Astros are two and a half games behind the A’s! The rightfully heralded back end of the bullpen has already lost four games the Astros have led after six innings. They are 5-4 in games they led after six, which is awful.

Last season the Astros were a good team, not close to a great team. The 2023 Astros finished 72-6 in games they led after six. Then there’s the offense which has some nice raw stats, but been weak with runners in scoring position (.686 OPS ranks 19th among the 30 Major League teams), weaker with runners in scoring position with two outs (.631 ranks 22nd), and demonstrated meager come from behind ability. The Astros have zero wins in games they have trailed after six (0-8). They are 0-5 in one-run games. But hey, good thing they kept the roof closed for all six games of another failed homestand. Going back to last season the gruesome ledger over the Astros last 42 home games reads 11 wins 31 losses.

As bad as things have been, those already seeking a priest to administer last rites for this season, chill! Be worried, be angry if you’d like, but chill. At least a little. The Astros are fortunate that no one is off to a great start in the American League West, the worst division in MLB over the season’s first three weeks. Obviously the Astros need to pick it up, or they will wind up dead and buried, but the plug will not be pulled on playoff chances in April. They have stunk, but it is also a fact that over the 20 game flop start, the Astros have played zero games against a team currently carrying a losing record. Furthermore, on the subject of 20 game schedule portions, the Texas Rangers had a 20 game stretch last season over which they went 4-16.

JV returns

41-year-old Justin Verlander will be no savior, but starting his regular season Friday night at the Nationals is certainly a welcome sight. We’ll see when Framber Valdez returns. This is the Astros’ second series in Washington D.C. since sweeping three games there during the 2019 World Series. Then they came home, yada, yada, yada. In the four seasons since, the Astros have been to four more American League Championship series and won it all for the second time in 2022. Since taking down the Astros to win the 2019 Fall Classic, the Nationals have posted four straight last place finishes in the National League East. The Nats are off to an 8-10 start this season.

Altuve has been a bright spot

Once before, Jose Altuve has finished April with his OPS over 1.000. 2016 was the season in which he elevated from star to superstar. Altuve awoke May 1, 2016 batting “only” .305 but with an OPS of 1.011. With nine games left this month the numbers could change markedly, but wow what a start to 2024 for him. Altuve carries a .388 batting average into the weekend with an OPS of 1.137. That’s a whopping 225 points higher than Yordan Alvarez’s second best on the team OPS of .912. Of course Altuve won’t finish batting near .388 but if wondering what’s the target number if a career best is in play, in Altuve’s AL Most Valuable Player Award-winning 2017 season he wound up batting .346 which won his third AL batting title. The under on .346 for this year is the highly likely outcome, but wouldn’t feel totally comfortable emptying out the retirement fund to bet on it.

The Abreu dilemma

Between Manager Joe Espada and General Manager Dana Brown I believe they have blown through their 2024 quota of “look at the back of his baseball card” references to pedantically expect everyone to believe that hapless Jose Abreu will be just fine. Jeff Bagwell has used that line too. Guess what fellas? Take a look at the back of Bagwell’s baseball card. He was an awesome offensive player. Until he wasn’t. Ditto Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, and a multitude of other players greater than Abreu was at his best and better at their worst than this mess Abreu is now. At some point, washed up is washed up.

Here's a plausible Abreu scenario. He comes up with “back problems” and goes to the Injured List. That’s followed by a handful of games with Sugar Land and/or Corpus Christi. Then he rejoins the Astros. If he then resumes performing at or close to the rotting corpse level of performance he’s produced through the first 20 games, then the Astros release him. Obviously, Jim Crane prefers to not cut checks of 35 million dollars to Abreu for him to not play for the Astros. Paying him to continue to play is worse. It’s doubling down on damage.

Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via YouTube: stone cold stros - YouTube with the complete audio available via Apple Podcast, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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