Weekly soccer update: Sanchez transfer highlights busy time on, off the pitch

Alexis Sanchez made news with his transfer to Man U. Wikipedia

Transfers around the world are what have moved the needles this week but there are results on the field that had Champions League implications. Here is the week in soccer:

Premier League

Chelsea kicked off the weekend slate in the Prem with a 4-0 win at Brighton, thanks in part to an Eden Hazard double that brings his PL total to 8 and places him in the top 15 scorers in the league. Javier Hernandez (West Ham) and Oumar Niasse (Everton) both rescued a point for their clubs against Bournemouth and West Brom respectively. Manchester United picked up three points with an Anthony Martial score being the difference in the match. Meanwhile in Leicester, Vardy and Mahrez guided the Foxes to a 2-0 win over Watford. Stoke City had a 2-0 result themselves over Huddersfield - a massive win to bring the Potters out of the relegation zone for the time being. Arsenal - with a 4-1 win over Crystal Palace - and a hat-trick performance by Sergio Aguero in Manchester City’s 3-1 win at Newcastle capped off Saturday’s action.

Sunday brought surprises as Tottenham and Liverpool had a difficult day. In the first match, Spurs defender Davinson Sanchez gave up an own goal to Southampton that would be cancelled out by a Harry Kane header three minutes later. The ended in a 1-1 draw which is a much more favorable result as Liverpool lost 1-0 at last place Swansea in the final match of the weekend.

Of course the biggest news this week in England football happened off the pitch as Alexis Sanchez completed his move from Arsenal to Manchester United. Sanchez has been one of the top players in recent Premier League history with only three players - Kane, Aguero and Romelu Lukaku - having a better output in goals and assists since the Chilean’s arrival to the PL in the 2014-15 season. The move also throws a bit of a wrench in the Manchester rivalry as Sanchez had been rumored to reunite with his former manager Pep Guardiola at Manchester City. The move completes a straight swap in which Henrikh Mkhitaryan goes the opposite way to Arsenal.

Top 5: Manchester City (65), Manchester United (53), Chelsea (50), Liverpool (47), Tottenham (45)

La Liga

The Messi and Suarez show continues in Spain as Barcelona show no signs of slowing down in a 5-0 win at Real Betis. Leo Messi leads the league in goals (19) and assists (9) while Suarez is second in goals with 15 of his own. By the way, Barça has yet to taste defeat this season in league play. Second place Atletico, meanwhile, hit a bump in the road this weekend with a 1-1 draw against Girona - furthering Barcelona’s lead in the standings by 11 points. Valencia had an even bigger hiccup by losing 2-1 at relegation-threatened Las Palmas.

As for the defending champions, Real Madrid looked like a woken giant in their 7-1 dismantling of Deportivo La Coruña. Nacho, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo each scored a brace as the Spanish giants picked up their biggest win since a 5-0 thumping of Sevilla in early December. Villareal also won this weekend, 2-1 over Levante.

The 5: Barcelona (54), Atlético Madrid (43), Valencia (40), Real Madrid (35), Villarreal (34)


If the race at the top of the standings in England and Spain looks decided, Bayern may as well have their championship parade now as they enjoy the largest lead amongst the top leagues in Europe. Robert Lewandowski, the top scorer in the Bundesliga (17), and Thomas Müller each had two in Bayern’s 4-2 win over Werder Bremen. One of Bremen’s goals was a Bayern own goal in case you want to make the case that the Bavarians scored five. Sixteen points removed from the defending champions is a group of teams who are undecided on who wants to be second. Leipzig - technically - dropped to fourth after a 2-1 loss at Freiburg, Schalke drew 1-1 at Hannover and Bayer won 4-1 at Hoffenheim. One point down in fifth is Borussia Dortmund who picked up a 1-1 draw at Hertha. In the relegation race, last place Cologne picked up 2-0 win over second to last place Hamburg.

Top 5: Bayern Munich (47), Bayer Leverkusen (31), Schalke 04 (31), RB Leipzig (31), Dortmund (30)

Ligue 1

It was a weekend to forget for league leaders Paris Saint-Germain but one that will have repercussions for weeks to come. The champions were handed their second loss of the season in a 2-1 bout at Lyon, losing after the only the second minute and diminished to ten as Dani Alves red carded in the 57th. PSG was playing without Neymar who was out because of a thigh injury but the worst news came in the second half as another star player, Kylian Mbappe, was taken off the field on a stretcher after colliding with Lyon goalkeeper Anthony Lopes. Mbappe has already been ruled out of PSG’s round of 16 Champions League series against Real Madrid, making this loss a costly one. Lyon won on a stoppage time goal by former Manchester United attacker Memphis Depay.

Lyon’s win keeps them level with second place Monaco on 42 points. Marseille stays at fourth with a 2-0 win at Caen while fifth place Nantes lost 1-0 to Bordeaux. Nice won 1-0 at St. Etienne and is in sixth with 34th, left out of the top five by a goal difference of one.

Top 5: Paris Saint-Germain (53), Monaco (42), Lyon (42), Marseille (41), Nantes (33)

Serie A

Calcio (soccer) in Italy was back this weekend after the conclusion of the winter break. Napoli and Juventus both eased back into their race for the title with 1-0 wins. Lazio sneaked their way into third, at least on goal difference, after a 5-1 win over Chievo Verona and an Inter Milan 1-1 draw with fifth place Roma. Cagliari and AC Milan each had a player red carded but it was the Rossoneri who triumphed thanks to a double by Franck Kessié. Cotone moved out of the relegation zone, temporarily, with a 3-0 win at Hellas Verona.

The top 5: Napoli (54), Juventus (53), Lazio (43), Inter Milan (43), Roma (40)

Liga MX

The relegation battle in Mexico is one that always heats up in the second half of the year, especially as teams try to get a head start on securing their first division future. In Mexico, only one team is relegated per season and the club that gets demoted is decided by a percentage based on results during the past three years in Liga MX. The easiest way to help your cause is always by direct results, which is exactly what Puebla did winning 2-0 over Veracruz.

Toluca won their first match of the season 3-1 at the expense of Atlas, another club in the relegation battle. Queretaro-Tigres, Cruz Azul-León and Monterrey-Tijuana all ended in scoreless draws. In the case of Leon, no timetable has been given on Donovan’s potential debut. Pachuca earned a 3-1 win over Lobos BUAP while Guadalajara won by 3-1 at Necaxa. Pumas UNAM and America, Mexico City rivals, fought to a nil-nil draw. Santos jumps back into the top five with a 1-0 win over Morelia.

The top 5: Pumas UNAM (7), León (7), Santos (6), Puebla (6), Cruz Azul (5)

MLS clubs begin preseason

The Major League Soccer season inches closer to kick off as the annual college draft, dubbed the “SuperDraft,” took place over the weekend. Expansion side LAFC worked on adding new players, Chicago Fire probably won the draft based on talent picked up but the biggest moves revolved around trades. Some of the best attackers in the league will have new teams as David Accam moves to Philadelphia, Ola Kamara moves to LA Galaxy, Gyasi Zardes goes to Columbus and Darwin Ceren becomes the newest member of the Houston Dynamo.

On top of the Ceren trade, the Dynamo quietly went about their business by drafting in positions of need. Katy product Michael Nelson will have an opportunity to make the roster for a team he cheered as a youth player while they also drafted forward Mac Stevees, midfielder Pablo Aguilar and defenders Sheldon Sullivan and Manny Padilla.

MLS held a media day in Los Angeles on Sunday and clubs initiated preseason on Monday with the completion of entrance physicals. Most of the northern teams are headed South for preseason, with preseason tournaments similar to baseball’s spring training schedule in both Arizona and Florida. The Dynamo will hold an open practice on Saturday before they head to the Rio Grande Valley and then Arizona with a return to Houston in-between.

Women’s soccer update

The top league in Women’s soccer, the National Women’s Soccer League, also held their college draft as part of the U.S. Coaches Convention in Philadelphia. Just like its male counterpart, the league’s draft day was epitomised by trade talk. In a three-team blockbuster trade, FIFA Women’s Player of the Year Carli Lloyd and Canada standout Janine Beckie depart the Houston Dash for New Jersey’s Sky Blue FC as U.S. women's national team forward Christen Press arrives to Space City from the Chicago Red Stars.

Speaking of the United States women's national team, the U.S. Women defeated Denmark to a 5-1 friendly win in front of 17,526 on Sunday night in San Diego. After the match, midfielder Julie Ertz found out her husband Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz was going to Super Bowl LII and the video made the rounds Monday on social media.

Upcoming Matches (All Times CT):

Tuesday, Jan. 23:

1:45 p.m. - [EFL Cup] Bristol City vs. Manchester City (ESPN Deportes/ESPN3)

2:30 p.m. - [Copa del Rey] Sevilla vs. Atletico Madrid (beIN Sports)

Wednesday, Jan. 24:

6 a.m. - UEFA Nations League Draw (ESPN3)

11:30 a.m. - [Coupe de France] PSG vs. Guingamp (beIN Sports)

12 p.m. - [Copa del Rey] Alaves vs. Valencia (beIN Sports)

2:30 p.m. - [Copa del Rey] Real Madrid vs. Leganes (beIN Sports)

2 p.m. - [EFL Cup] Arsenal vs. Chelsea (ESPN Deportes/ESPN3)

Thursday, Jan. 25:

2:30 p.m. - [Copa del Rey] Barcelona vs. Espanyol (beIN Sports)

Friday, Jan. 26:

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

1:45 p.m. - [Ligue 1] Dijon vs. Rennes (beIN Sports)

1:55 p.m. - [FA Cup] Yeovil Town vs. Manchester United (FS1)

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

Saturday, Jan. 27:

6:30 a.m. - [FA Cup] Peterborough vs. Leicester (FS1)

9 a.m. - [FA Cup] Wigan vs. West Ham (FS2)

9:15 a.m. - [La Liga] Valencia vs. Real Madrid (beIN Sports)

9:30 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Bayern Munich vs. Hoffenheim (FS1)

11 a.m. - [Ligue 1] PSG vs. Montpellier (beIN Sports)

11:30 a.m. - [FA Cup] Newport vs. Tottenham (FS1)

1:45 a.m. - [FA Cup] Liverpool vs. West Brom (FS2)

Sunday, Jan. 28:

7:30 a.m. - [FA Cup] Chelsea vs. Newcastle (FS1)

11 a.m. - [FA Cup] Cardiff vs. Manchester City (FS2)

1:45 p.m. - [La Liga] Barcelona vs. Alaves (beIN Sports)

8:30 p.m. - [International Friendly] USA vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina (FS1, UniMas)


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Mattress Mack and the Astros host Pearland Little League at Wednesday night's game. Photo by LittleLeague.org

Sure, it’s impressive that the Astros have made four World Series appearances in recent years, but they’re not alone. There’s another baseball team around here that’s also headed to its fourth World Series since 2010.

Pearland defeated Oklahoma, 9-4, on Tuesday to win the Southwest Regional and qualify for the Little League World Series starting Aug. 17 in South Williamsport, PA.

Most fans and media say the Little League World Series is held in Williamsport, but it’s South Williamsport, just a 5-minute stroll across a bridge over the Susquehanna River in north central Pennsylvania.

Pearland is on a torrid 13-game winning streak that swept through district, sectional, state and regional tournaments to earn the Little League World Series bid.

Here’s how difficult the road to the Little League World Series is. There are 15 teams in MLB’s American League. If the Astros finish with one of the two best records, they’ll have to win two playoff series to play in the World Series.

Little League is a little bigger than MLB. Little League is the largest youth sports organization in the world, with 2.5 million kids playing for 180,000 teams in more than 100 countries on six continents.

Pearland, representing East Texas, had to defeat All-Star teams from West Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, Arkansas and Colorado to win the Southwest Regional. The Little League World Series will host 20 teams - 10 from the U.S. and 10 from international regions.

If you have children that play Little League, or you’re just a fan, attending the Little League World Series should be high on your baseball bucket list.

I covered the Little League World Series in 2010 when Pearland made its first appearance and made it all the way to the U.S. championship game. It may have been my most fun assignment ever.

The Little League World Series is played by 11 and 12-year-olds in Little League’s major division. When ESPN and ABC air these games, they’ll present the players as innocent little kids, like Beaver and Wally or Tom and Huck. They’ll show the kids playing Simon Says with the Little League mascot called Dugout. They’ll ask the kids who’s their favorite big leaguer.

I was a Little League coach. I followed Little League All-Stars across Texas all the way to South Williamsport. These kids are absolute baseball maniacs with $400 gloves, $500 bats and Oakley sunglasses. I thought the Astros might call and ask where they got their super neat equipment.

Especially in Texas, these kids are built tough with long ball power and play year-round travel baseball with high-priced private coaches. This isn’t a choose-up game in the park where kids play in their school clothes, one kid brings a baseball and the players share bats. I looked at some of the Little Leaguers and wondered if they drove to the stadium.

I half-expected, when ABC asked who their baseball idol was, they’d answer “me!”

Here’s how seriously good these kids can play the game. Justin Verlander throws a 97-mph fastball. That’s pretty fast. It’s not rare anymore for a Little League pitcher to reach 70-mph on a fastball. The Little League mound is 46 feet from home plate. A 70-mph pitch in Little League gets to home plate in the same time as a 91-mph pitch from 60 feet 6 inches in MLB.

In 2015, a pitcher named Alex Edmonson fired an 83-mph heater at the Little League World Series. The reaction time a Little League batter had against Alex’s pitch was equal to a Major Leaguer trying to hit a 108-mph fastball. Good luck with that. Alex pitched a no-hitter and struck out 15 batters in six innings at the Little League World Series. Now 20, Alex is a relief pitcher for Clemson.

The Little League World Series is a trip. The easiest way to get there is to fly into Philadelphia and drive to South Williamsport. I sat next to CC Sebathia’s mother on the plane.

Admission to all Little League World Series games is free and snack bar prices are reasonable. A hot dog is $3. Alcohol and smoking are prohibited.

The first Little League World Series was held in 1947. Only 58 players have played in the Little League World Series and later played in MLB. The most famous are Cody Bellinger and Jason Varitek. Only two players from the Houston area made the leap: Brady Rodgers and Randal Grichuk both played on the 2003 team from Richmond, about 30 miles from Houston in Fort Bend County.

While you’re in South Williamsport, you should visit the Little League museum and Hall of Excellence. Among the inductees: Presidents Joe Biden and George W. Bush, Astros manager Dusty Baker, Kevin Costner, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dick Vitale, Rob Manfred and someone who’d later play stadiums in a different way, Bruce Springsteen.

Speaking of Springsteen, I shattered a record at the 2010 Little League World Series. The record was Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. I was talking to a Little League executive while teams were warming up on the field. Born in the U.S.A. came over the stadium loudspeakers.

I told the executive, I’m a big fan but maybe this isn’t the best song you should be playing. The executive asked why not? Well, you might want to listen to the words. Born in the U.S.A. is a depressing song about a U.S. soldier who is sent to Vietnam and can’t find a job when he gets back home. It’s not exactly Yankee Doodle Dandy. You have teams from Asia here (Japan won the tournament that year). The executive said, please tell me you’re kidding. Here’s one verse:

Got in a little hometown jam

So they put a rifle in my hand

Sent me off to a foreign land

To go and kill the (what is considered a slur for Asians).

Later I got an email from the president of Little League International.

“Quite honestly, I've never listened closely to the words of Born in the USA. I see clearly how it is offensive to our Little League friends from Asian nations. I have directed our folks who coordinate the stadium music to discontinue playing it in the future.”

Play Centerfield by John Fogerty instead. The message of that song is, “put me in coach.” Little League couldn’t say it any better.

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