ON THE PITCH

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)

Bundesliga

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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Many of the games have been hard to watch. Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

They say that breaking up is hard to do, then comes the rebuilding, and that's where the real pain happens. Last week, the 4-9 Rockets lost a tough game, 103-91, to the very average San Antonio Spurs at Toyota Center. That night, Ben McLemore scored 21 points, while P.J. Tucker contributed four points.

Every other point for the Rockets was scored by a player who wasn't on the team last year. That's no way to build a fan base of young people, or older people, or anybody. Because of COVID restrictions, the Rockets can sell only 3,000 tickets to games, and they're still having to offer special deals like four tickets and four drinks (soda, water, wine or beer) for $79.

The night the Rockets fell to the Spurs, DeMarcus Cousins was out with an ankle injury (surprise), John Wall was out with a sore knee (shock), and Eric Gordon sat with a lower leg injury (stunning). They were not sidelined by COVID protocol, it was age creakiness. All three are on the other side of 30. All have a history of missing games because of injuries. Danuel House also missed the game because of a bad back and COVID protocol.

The Rockets took to the floor with able-bodied Mason Jones, David Nwaba, Rodions Kurucs, Kenyon Martin Jr., Jae'Sean Tate and Christian Wood. They're nice players, for sure, they're on an NBA roster. But the NBA is a megastar-driven operation. How many of them would you recognize if they were standing behind you at Costco? The way the Rockets sign, trade and cut players, many or most of the current roster won't be around next year. Becoming a fan of a current Rocket is like falling in love with the Rug Doctor you rented for the weekend at a supermarket. It's going back Monday.

Last year, the head coach was Mike D'Antoni, the general manager was Daryl Morey. Both are established and respected figures in the league. Would you recognize the Rockets new coach Stephen Silas? Can you even name the Rockets new general manager?

And that's how you sink to 14th place in the Western Conference standings, inevitably a lottery team, the end to the Rockets' eight-year run of making the playoffs … the longest current streak in the NBA. The 2021 Rockets aren't just a lousy product, it's worse, they're a boring team. Gordon and Tucker, maybe the two most popular Rockets veterans, are rumored to be traded soon. Fans will have abandonment issues.

Maybe the Rockets should offer something stiffer than beer on "Guys Night Out" next Thursday when the Portland Trail Blazers visit Toyota Center. Good seats available.

That's not what you want to see

Did you see where the New York Mets fired their general manager Jared Porter because he sent explicit, uninvited, unanswered text messages to a female reporter?. Porter absolutely deserved to lose his job. What he did was awful and cruel. More than just losing his job, he should be committed to a home for the terminally stupid. Who does something that moronic? So unconscionable and abusive, on top of being job-killing.

But not all junk shots are meant to be hurtful – here's one that's actually funny, and totally inadvertent and innocent. Several years ago, a local sportscaster not only took a photo of his naked, anatomically correct body, he posted it on Facebook for all of his friends, indeed the world, to see. I won't name the local sportscaster because he was the victim of his own innocent lack of focus. It could have happened to anybody. Not me, thankfully, but anybody else.

Here's how it happened. The sportscaster was taking a shower, and when he emerged, he noticed his kitten curled up in the bathroom sink. Aw, isn't that cute? The sportscaster grabbed his phone and took a photo.

And posted it on Facebook. He didn't notice that, in the background of the photo, in the mirror, was his naked body. You can't say he was butt naked because it was full frontal nudity. You can't say it was a wardrobe malfunction because there was no wardrobe involved. Fortunately his wife noticed the mishap and told the sportscaster to delete the photo.

Here's the real problem, and his solid alibi. Whoever thought it was a good idea to put huge, wide mirrors in the bathroom, especially opposite the bath tub? There's a good look, you're naked, dripping wet, with patches of soap you missed rinsing off. This should be a fleeting disturbing image, not one to be preserved on film or online. Solution: don't bring your phone, or any photographic equipment, into the bathroom. We've all taken accidental photos. Nobody needs to see a photo of your disgusting body. You are not Michelangelo's statue of David. I don't let my dog watch me take a shower or any other business conducted in the bathroom. There is a reason that bathroom doors have locks. Use them.

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