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Weekly Soccer Recap: Barcelona win El Clasico, Premier League ready for Boxing Day

Messi of Barcelona celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the La Liga match between Real Madrid and Barcelona at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on December 23, 2017 in Madrid, Spain. Dennis Doyle/Getty Images

FC Barcelona won the weekend with a win over Real Madrid but there was plenty left to talk about after the latest weekend in soccer. The Catalans now hold a comfortable lead in their league, which is a common theme across the big leagues in Europe. Here is the week in soccer:

Premier League

In midweek action, seven Premier League teams took part in the English League Cup quarter-finals that saw Arsenal advance over West Ham, Chelsea narrowly defeat Bournemouth, Manchester City outlasting Leicester City on penalties and Manchester United eliminated at Championship side Bristol City.

Arsenal and Liverpool got together Friday to deliver a 3-3 thriller at the Emirates while Everton and Chelsea kicked things off Saturday with a nil-nil draw at Goodison Park. Manchester City picked up a 4-0 win over Bournemouth, Tottenham a 3-0 win over Burnley and Leicester drew 2-2 with Manchester United at the King Power. In another notable match - unrelated to the title race - Newcastle went on the road to defeat West Ham 3-2 at London Stadium.

All of these results mean Manchester City, who are still undefeated with a 18-1-0 record, now have a 13 point lead at the halfpoint of the season with the league title all but [officially] clinched. The drama for the rest of the season will lie with the race to clinch places 2-4 in the table to clinch a spot in next year’s UEFA Champions League and there’s no better time to amplify the that drama than Boxing Day - the Prem’s version of NFL Thanksgiving football or the NBA’s Christmas day lineup.

Top 5: Manchester City (55), Manchester United (42), Chelsea (39), Liverpool (35), Tottenham (34)

La Liga

Soccer fans across the world where tuned in on Saturday for the most important bout of the season in La Liga: El Clásico. FC Barcelona outlasted a fiery Real Madrid from the get-go and walked out of their rivals stadium with a 3-0 win. Coupled with Atlético Madrid’s shocking loss at Espanyol on Friday, the weekend results now give Barça a nine-point lead at the top in what looks will be the Catalan’s 25th championship season. The other two teams currently in the top five - Valencia and Sevilla - also lost this weekend as the league takes a break until the first weekend of the new year.

The 5: Barcelona (45), Atlético Madrid (36), Valencia (34), Real Madrid (31), Sevilla (29)

Bundesliga

The Bundesliga is on it’s three week hiatus but before clubs took their winter break, 12 Bundesliga clubs took part in the Third Round of the German Cup. The biggest named bout was clearly the rivalry match between Bayern Munich and Dortmund that ended in a 2-1 win for the Bavarians. With an 11 point lead in the league, Munich also keeps their cup run alive to see out a season with multiple trophies. Mainz, Schalke, Wolfsburg, Bayer Leverkusen, Werder Bremen and Eintracht Frankfurt were the other Bundesliga sides to advance.

Top 5: Bayern Munich (41), Schalke 04 (30), Dortmund (28), Bayer Leverkusen (28), RB Leipzig (28)

Ligue 1

If you missed Ligue 1 action this week, nothing major changed with the top five as all of those clubs added three points to their total. Paris Saint-Germain arrives at the midpoint of the season with a nine-point lead after a 3-1 win over Caen. The lead is a manageable one for PSG but the tough part will be managing out a congested schedule. There is a three week break in the league but before that the Parisians will have two domestic cups to play in. Monaco and Lyon are not dead yet but they’ll have to be much sharper in the second half of the season.

Top 5: Paris Saint-Germain (50), Monaco (41), Lyon (41), Marseille (38), Nantes (33)

Serie A

Of the top league’s in Europe, Italy’s has clearly been the most level and the closest title race by far. Inter Milan suffered a setback after suffering their second loss of the season at Sassuolo. Napoli picked up a 3-2 win over Sampdoria but not without a bit of suspense, giving up a penalty in the 27th minute and having Mario Rui sent off in the 77th minute. Juventus and Roma faced off in a battle of top five teams where the Zebras got a 1-0 win to hold Roma at fourth place. A.C. Milan suffered a second consecutive loss as both Milan clubs head into Tuesday’s Italian Cup match looking for a boost in morale.

The top 5: Napoli (45), Juventus (44), Inter Milan (40), Roma (38), Lazio (36)

Liga MX

Monterrey won the domestic cup over Pachuca in a 1-0 Copa MX final win, picking up a nice consolation prize after losing the league final to crosstown rival Tigres. The Clausura 2018 season begins next weekend, meaning clubs will be wrapping up their middle of the year preseason this week. Club America, led by Mexico’s national team coach at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Miguel Herrera, face Toluca FC on Saturday afternoon at BBVA Compass Stadium in on of this weekend’s friendlies (TICKETS).

Upcoming Matches (All Times CT):

Tuesday, Dec. 26:

6:30 a.m. - Tottenham vs. Southampton (NBC Sports)

9:00 a.m. - Manchester United vs. Burnley (NBC Sports)

11:30 a.m. - Liverpool vs. Swansea (NBC Sports)

Wednesday, Dec. 27:

1:45 p.m. - Newcastle United vs. Manchester City (NBC Sports)

Thursday, Dec. 28:

2:00 p.m. - Crystal Palace vs. Arsenal (NBC Sports)

Friday, Dec. 29:

1:45 p.m. - Crotone vs. Napoli (beIN Sports)

Saturday, Dec. 30:

5:30 a.m. - Fiorentina vs. AC Milan (beIN Sports)

11:30 a.m. - Manchester United vs. Southampton (NBC)

5:00 p.m. - [Friendly] Club America vs. Toluca (Univision Deportes)

Sunday, Dec. 31:

6:00 a.m. - Crystal Palace vs. Manchester City (NBC Sports)

10:30 a.m. - West Bromwich vs. Arsenal (NBC Sports)

Monday, Jan. 1:

6:30 a.m. - Brighton vs. Bournemouth (NBC Sports)

9:00 a.m. - Burnley vs. Liverpool (NBC Sports)

9:00 a.m. - Leicester City vs. Huddersfield Town (CNBC)

11:30 a.m. - Everton vs. Manchester United (NBC Sports)

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Framber Valdez injured his ring finger on Tuesday. Composite image by Jack Brame.

That sure escalated quickly. The news on Framber Valdez went from bad to vastly worse for the Astros with the fractured ring finger on his pitching hand concerning enough that season ending surgery is on the radar. Valdez is/was no sure thing to have been a first time quality full season starting pitcher, but seemed a decent bet after his maturity-driven albeit short season breakout 2020.

37-year-old Zack Greinke is the only member of the Astros' starting rotation to have thrown even 130 innings in a big league season. Greinke showed notable slippage in 2020. A by-product of the funky short season, or Father Time making a move? If Greinke further erodes, uh oh. It's all question marks behind him.

Lance McCullers got to the big leagues in 2015. Six years later McCullers has zero seasons under his belt in which he both pitched well and stayed healthy. If he hits that exacta in 2021 it's great for the Astros of course, greater for McCullers with free agency arriving at season's end. Particularly confounding with McCullers is that over his career he's been outstanding at Minute Maid Park, and basically sucked on the road. Career earned run average at MMP: 2.51. Career ERA everywhere else: 4.99. That's absurd. It's certainly not as if MMP is some great pitchers' park.

"Crafty" is typically applied to left-handed pitchers. Jose Urquidy seems a crafty right-hander. But since missing the 2017 season recovering from Tommy John surgery Urquidy has topped 100 innings worked once. Cristian Javier has some electric stuff and showed very well as a rookie. Javier has never thrown 115 innings in a professional season.

The odds are long against McCullers, Urquidy, and Javier all pitching well and staying healthy all season. Valdez didn't come close to making it to Opening Day. The best internal candidates to replace Framber (or anyone else) are Luis Garcia and the extremely-hyped thus far dud but still just 23 years old Forrest Whitley.

Woeful Rockets

It certainly isn't paying homage to James Harden that has the Rockets on a 13 game losing streak as they mercifully take their All-Star break. They're just that bad. Watching them is like watching a helpless fly tossed into a spider web game after game. Out of the break the Rockets play at Sacramento Thursday. The Kings are no good, but the Rockets are worse. A loss there all but guarantees matching the Houston Rockets' longest ever losing streak of 15 since the following night they play at Utah. If you care about them the Rockets are painful to watch. Hapless, helpless, hopeless. Their best shot at accelerating what might be a years long path back to relevance is to keep on stinking. The Rockets have the third worst record in the NBA. The three worst teams have equal chances at getting picks one through four in the draft. It's a 14 percent shot at number one, a 52 percent shot of being in the top four. The fourth worst team has a 48 percent chance of picking in the top four. If the Rockets are not in the top four, they lose their pick to Oklahoma City as a payoff of the awful Chris Paul-Russell Westbrook trade.

Watt signs with Cardinals

J.J. Watt could have least acknowledged "Of course the money the Cardinals offered had plenty to do with me picking them!" Off an 8-8 season in which they faded down the stretch the Cards have an interesting squad with some serious upside, especially if Kyler Murray makes a leap in his third season at quarterback. But no way are the Cardinals presently a first tier Super Bowl contender. We don't know for certain who Watt's other "finalists" were and what they offered. Seems a lock that none of them offered 23 million dollars guaranteed or two years 31 million total. Money is another scoreboard and J.J. is a huge winner on it. No one should ever blame a player for going for every dollar he can get. But Watt can't honestly say the best shot at a Super Bowl was his top priority then sign with a team which last had a winning season in 2015 and in Kliff Kingsbury has a guy who has accomplished nothing meaningful as a Head Coach at either Texas Tech or Arizona. Doesn't mean it can't happen in the desert, but there had to be better teams interested if a ring shot was of paramount importance.

Buzzer Beaters:

1. Les Miles, what a slimeball. LSU, what a slimy institution in its handling of serial sexual misconduct in its football program

2. NBA All-Star Game Sunday. In 1993 more than 22 million people watched. Last year, 6.8 million. Not sure 5 mil watch Sunday.

3. Greatest ever NFL free agent signings: Bronze-Packers, Reggie White Silver-Buccaneers, Tom Brady Gold-Saints, Drew Brees

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