Gerardo Martino era at Barcelona starts with 7-0 win over Levante, and it could have been worse

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The final score looks bad, but it could have been much worse. Barcelona scored six of their goals in the first half, and of the 13 shots they put on Levante’s goal, only two came after half time. Clearly, the defending Spanish champions let up after intermission, yet they still cruised to a 7-0 win to open their title defense.

Alexis Sanchez opened the scoring in the third minute, with Lionel Messi doubling the Blaugrana’s lead nine minutes later. Dani Alves and Pedro got on the score sheet before Messi put home his second from the spot. Just before halftime, Xavi completed Barça’s onslaught, sending the home side into half up 6-0. Pedro added the final goal after intermission.

Barcelona went on to out-shoot Levante 22-4 (13-1, shots on goal). They maintained 78 percent possession, completed 92 percent of their passes, and finished with a 754-217 advantage in total passes. Only three Barça players (goalkeeper, two central defenders) had an average position in the team’s defensive end, while only three Levante players’ spent most of their time in their attacking half.

[MORE: Goal, assist from Isco lead Real Madrid past Real Betis]

Further accentuating the gap between the two teams, Barcelona played without a number of their first choice players. Carles Puyol, still recovering from a knee injury, was deputized by Javier Mascherano in central defense. Andres Iniesta started on the bench, giving Cesc Fábregas a place in the starting XI. Neymar, most noticed of all the omissions, and Jordi Alba started on the bench, though neither had a full preseason’s preparations.

Though Barcelona and rival Real Madrid have a reputation for posting lopsided results in Spain, this was the Blaugrana’s largest win since Apr. 29, 2013, when the team won by the same score at Rayo Vallecano. That day, Lionel Messi posted two goals and three assists. Today, Messi added one assist to his two first half goals, setting up the first of Pedro’s two goals.

Despite the easy opener, things should get tougher in Barcelona’s next five games. Atlético Madrid awaits in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Wednesday, with Málaga, Atlético (leg two), Valencia and Sevilla to follow.

Brighton 2-2 Stoke: Seagulls remain ninth thanks to Izquierdo’s equalizer

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Three Premier League newcomers remain in close contention with one another after 12 weeks, one of which picked up another positive result today.

[ MORE: Congested PL schedule challenges the big boys ]

Brighton & Hove Albion earned a 2-2 draw against Stoke City at the Amex Stadium on Monday after Jose Izquierdo’s persistence gave the home side the leveler in the 60th minute from Glenn Murray‘s clever pass inside the box.

The result made for Brighton’s sixth consecutive match unbeaten at home this season.

A back-and-forth first half saw the on-loan Chelsea defender give Stoke the lead heading into the halftime break after a disappointing spell of defending by Brighton allowed Zouma to finish of a corner kick.

Pascal Gross gave Brighton an equalizer one minute from halftime after Davy Propper had done superbly to create space for himself down the right wing.

The visitors struck in the 28th minute after Shaqiri delivered a perfect long ball into the path of Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting.

The Cameroonian proceeded to control the pass beautifully from his Stoke teammate, before tucking his shot from close range into the near corner past Brighton goalkeeper Maty Ryan.

Brighton thought they had the chance to level the score prior to the equalizer when the hosts appeared to have a penalty appeal after Murray went down inside the Stoke area. However, referee Lee Mason opted against spot kick.

The two sides will both be in action on Saturday when Brighton travels to Old Trafford to face Manchester United and Stoke takes on Crystal Palace.

At the half: Zouma’s header has Stoke in front against Brighton

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It’s been a wild one thus far at the Amex Stadium, and we’ve still got 45 minutes left to play.

Stoke City holds a 2-1 advantage against newcomer Brighton & Hove Albion after Kurt Zouma gave the visitors the lead on the stroke of halftime.

[ MORE: West Brom fires manager Tony Pulis ]

Zouma headed home close range in first-half stoppage time to restore the Potters’ advantage, after Pascal Gross had equalized in the 44th minute for Brighton.

Stoke opened the scoring just prior to the half hour mark when Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting finished off a stellar move that originated from a Xherdan Shaqiri long ball over the Brighton back line.

Brighton were fortunate not to be reduced to 10 men after Glenn Murray went in late on a challenge against Stoke defender Kevin Wimmer.

Murray thought he had won himself a penalty kick minutes prior, but referee Lee Mason decided to continue play.

Miguel Almiron named MLS Newcomer of the Year

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Unsurprisingly, one of Atlanta United’s biggest stars took home some hardware on Monday after a stellar first season in Major League Soccer.

[ MORE: Previewing the MLS conference finals ]

Atlanta attacker Miguel Almiron was named MLS Newcomer of the Year today, beating out Chicago Fire forward Nemanja Nikolic and teammate Josef Martinez for the honor.

Almiron, who joined Atlanta from Argentine side Lanus, netted nine goals and added 14 assists for the Eastern Conference squad in 2017 and helped guide the club to the MLS Cup Playoffs after finishing fifth in the East.

The 23-year-old received an 37.38% average of the vote for the award, which was compiled based on votes from a combination of media members, MLS players and executives. Nikolic finished second with 24.92 percent, while Martinez checked in at number three.

Watch Live: Brighton and Hove Albion vs. Stoke City

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Chris Hughton looks to lead his Brighton and Hove Albion to a fifth-straight result as the Gulls welcome Stoke City to the Amex Stadium on Monday (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

The Gulls have won two and drawn two, powered by goals from Glenn Murray and the playmaking of Pascal Gross.

Stoke’s 3-4-1-2 has Ramadan Sobhi, Eric Choupo-Moting, and Xherdan Shaqiri attacking the final third.

LINEUPS

Brighton and Hove Albion: Ryan, Bruno, Dunk, Duffy, Bong, Stephens, Propper, Knockaert, Izquierdo, Gross, Murray. Subs: Krul, Hemed, Goldson, Schelotto, Suttner, Brown.

Stoke City: Grant; Zouma, Shawcross, Wimmer; Diouf, Fletcher, Allen, Pieters; Shaqiri, Ramadan; Choupo-Moting. Subs: Haugaard; Berahino, Jese, Afellay, Martins Indi, Adam, Crouch.