Offshore drilling, Spain: Barcelona 2, at Levante 1

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Man of the Match: Messi. Next.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • Barcelona continues to dare people to come at them. After three years of teams playing deeper and deeper on them, head coach Pep Guardiola started playing with only three defenders earlier this year. Now, he’s gone to four forwards, a 3-3-4 a formation he used again today.
  • Whether the formation was particularly effective (or, at least more effective than how Barcelona might otherwise play) is hard to say. Levante were playing very deep and very narrow, at one moment having eight players within two steps of the arc. In that regard, it looked like a typical Barcelona game – a bunch of guys trying to break down a bunch of other guys, all hanging around this big box.
  • Levante shouldn’t have had their opener. Sergio Busquets’ arms were drawn into his chest when a Vincente Iborra header hit them, yet Juan Igancio pointed to the spot, booking Busquets. It was less a penalty than activism, implying that every time a ball hits a hand, there should bea  whistle. Some people have always felt that way, but they don’t usually get to officiate top-flight matches.
  • As the teams left the field at halftime, Levante having held their 1-0 lead, you could barely detect Barcelona was trailing. The players were neither happy nor upset as they went down the tunnel. It was just business as usual. If the pressure of a high-intensity, must get all points title race is affecting them, you can’t tell.
  • Barcelona’s first was a typical Messi strike, including how the goal was made. Even before playing the ball to Adriano at the edge of the box, Messi knew where he was going. By the time the ball was at his teammate’s feet, Messi was in space, ready to put home number 62.
  • It’s remarkable you don’t see more teams asking their players to do that. If you want to play more like Barcelona, start with how running more. Messi, Iniesta, Fabregas, Alexis – these players don’t wait to see if their passes are successful. Before they play the ball, they know where they’re moving next. Once they’ve released possession, it’s their job to get to the new spot as soon as possible. It’s not a complicated concept, but for as many teams that claim to want to play like Barça, how many have implemented this basic concept?
  • Last note on Messi’s first goal: For a team that was playing with only three defenders, Adriano (their left defender) was awfully deep into attack.
  • People are going to complain about the final goal, thinking Barcelona was awarded another gift penalty kick. It’s just a shame this particular call doesn’t fit that mold. Pedro Botelho had both his hands on Isaac Cuenca, and while you could argue the contact was incidental were Cuenca running to Botelho, the Levante man was coming in from the side (at best). He was beaten. It’s a clear penalty, and while you hate to see spot kicks decide matches, it seemed like the right call.
  • In case you missed it, here are the match highlights.
  • Barcelona is back within four of Real Madrid at the top of La Liga ahead of next weekend’s Clásico. It’s a must-win match for the defending champions, though they can’t start their preparations yet. Mid-week, Barcelona faces Chelsea in Champions League.

At long last, Butland returns to full training with Stoke

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Stoke City’s long-coming goalkeeping dilemma will come to a head soon, as Jack Butland is back in training.

A year ago today, the Potters confirmed that star backstop Butland would miss EURO 2016 with a broken ankle. He’d need multiple surgeries as recovery dragged on and on.

[ MORE: Complete Panama-USMNT preview ]

That was more palatable thanks to the play of Lee Grant, who arrived on loan from Derby County but became a permanent Potter in January. Grant has been a key part of Stoke’s season.

Butland is contracted to Stoke through 2021, and he’ll ascend to the starting gig sooner rather than later. But Grant is in the catbird seat for now, and at least will have made himself attractive to other clubs seeking a keeper.

Report: Everton linked with $4 million swoop for Canada’s Larin

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The Sun only hits on a few of the many transfer rumors it tosses around, but this one bears a second look for fans of Everton, MLS, and Canada.

Everton is already eyeing replacements for Romelu Lukaku, according to the report, and is hunting for a bargain in Canadian national teamer Cyle Larin.

Larin, 21, was the first overall pick in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft by Orlando City SC after an electric career at UConn.

[ MORE: Complete Panama-USMNT preview ]

He’s since scored 35 goals in 63 matches for the Lions, picking up three in his first two matches of the 2017 season. The 6-foot-1 Ontario native has five goals for Canada in 19 caps.

The Sun says Larin would cost close to $4 million, a fraction of what the Toffees will get if they sell Lukaku.

Fan dies after falling off football stadium in Brazil

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SAO PAULO (AP) A Brazilian football fan has died after falling 25 meters from the top of Morumbi Stadium in Sao Paulo onto a parking lot.

The height is equivalent to an eight-story building.

Bruno Pereira da Silva, aged 23, suffered head injuries and died upon arrival at a local hospital on Sunday.

[ MORE: Complete Panama-USMNT preview ]

He and other fans were attempting to jump to a section of the stadium where they could get a better view of the Sao Paulo state championship match between Sao Paulo and archrival Corinthians. The game ended 1-1.

Friends of da Silva told Brazilian media Silva was attending his first football match.

CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers: CRC, Honduras get off the mat

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The two traditional CONCACAF powers are riding high following Friday’s round of World Cup qualifiers, while the two other sides to qualify for Brazil 2014 are licking their wounds.

Honduras and Costa Rica both found themselves on the wrong side of shutout losses to the United States and Mexico, while Trinidad and Tobago injected itself into the discussion with a home win over Panama.

[ WATCH: CONCACAF qualifiers on Telemundo ]

What’s cooking for Tuesday? Read on:

Honduras vs. Costa Rica — 5 p.m. EDT Tuesday

Two sides which love to play physical, on-the-edge soccer meet on the heels of Friday losses. Expect Jorge Luis Pinto’s Catrachos to adapt after a 6-0 beatdown at the hands of the U.S., but they’ll have to do much, much better at home.

The dates at Estadio Morazan have to be the key for Honduras to climb into the Top Three, and it’ll be buoyed by memories of its 3-1 win over T&T two rounds ago. As for Costa Rica, Los Ticos aim to respond from conceding their first two goals of the Hex.

Trinidad and Tobago vs. Mexico — 7 p.m. EDT Tuesday

Kevin Molino’s strike gave T&T its first three points of qualifying, but its odds of getting a result against visiting Mexico aren’t nearly as good. The Soca Warriors desperation will be easy to see, as June’s qualifiers include trips to the U.S. and Costa Rica.

El Tri now has wins in two of its trickier Hex matches after adding Friday’s 2-0 win over Costa Rica to its upset of the Yanks in Columbus. Ten points through four matches would be exemplary; A draw or loss leaves the door open for Costa Rica to summit the Hex table.

United States vs. Panama — 10:05 p.m. EDT Tuesday

Read our extensive preview here, but the upshot is this: The United States can rise into the Top Three by beating Panama, while Los Canaleros will be happy to scoop a draw to stem any bleeding cause by Molino and T&T.