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.

FIFA force pace on $25B Club World Cup, global league plan

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GENEVA (AP) FIFA is forcing the pace on talks over a $25 billion offer to revamp the Club World Cup and create a global national team competition.

FIFA says President Gianni Infantino hosted a meeting last Friday with invited officials from some top European clubs.

[ MORE: Everton gets past Newcastle behind Walcott strike ]

The European Club Association has strongly opposed FIFA’s hope for a four-yearly club tournament starting in 2021, which could rival the UEFA-organized Champions League.

UEFA has also proposed a Global Nations League. A similar project is tied to the FIFA-controlled $25 billion, 12-year offer from a consortium including investors from Saudi Arabia and China.

FIFA says it’s holding “informal ongoing discussions with different stakeholders on the topic of the future Club World Cups.”

Infantino is set to meet confederation presidents and general secretaries “in the near future,” FIFA says.

Video: De Rossi, Roma make classy visit to Hillsborough memorial

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On many occasions there are instances where teams and individuals exemplify the fact that real-life occurrences are more meaningful than sports.

Ahead of Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League meeting, Italian giants AS Roma visited Anfield –where they will face Liverpool in the competition’s semifinals.

After walking around the venue where the two sides will compete in less than 24 hours, Roma captain Daniele de Rossi and the rest of the Roma squad visited the Hillsborough memorial at Anfield to pay tribute to the 96 victims lost in the 1989 event that rocked the entire country.

De Rossi was seen laying a floral arrangement on the site, along with a note from the club that read, “In memoria delle vittime di Hillsborough AS Rome.”

Liverpool, Roma ride major emotions into the UCL semifinals

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Four clubs remain in this season’s UEFA Champions League competition, and while two of the teams have been considered heavy dogs in the fight all year long the other two sides look to continue on their storybook run.

Liverpool, Roma, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid have found themselves in the semifinals of this season’s UCL, creating a strong mix of storylines as the tournament heads towards its most critical point.

[ MORE: Everton gets past Newcastle behind Theo Walcott’s strike ]

Anfield will be the site for Tuesday’s first leg between Liverpool and Roma, with both sides still riding major highs from their victories in the last round.

The Reds enter the final four after having disposed of fellow Premier League side Manchester City in relatively dominating fashion. Meanwhile, Roma completed a seemingly impossible comeback against Barcelona to progress in the competition.

Liverpool is led by three of the year’s top goalscorers, including Mohamed Salah — who has scored eight goals in the UCL and 41 across all competitions.

For Roma, much of the side’s success has been predicated on finding defensive strength at the right moments throughout the tournament.

Despite falling behind 4-1 in their first leg defeat to Barca in the previous round, Edin Dzeko and Co. rallied for a 3-0 win at the Stade Olimpico to stun the Catalan club by holding Lionel Messi and his side in check.

Manager Eusebio Di Francesco will have to find creative ways to halt the Liverpool attack though over the course of two legs, with the Reds boasting the top attack in this year’s UCL.

Liverpool has scored 33 goals in 10 UCL matches, while only conceding seven in the process.

Keeper Ederson hopeful he can score this season for Man City

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The prospects for a goalkeeper scoring during a match are usually uncommon, but that hasn’t halted Manchester City’s number one choice from aiming to break the trend this season.

Ederson — who has moved into the starting role at the Etihad Stadium with relative ease in 2017/18 — has dreamt of scoring a goal of his own for the Premier League champions in waiting.

“I heard the fans chanting my name, asking me to take the penalty but Gabriel went there,” Ederson said. “Unfortunately he missed it and Bernardo happily scored. But if the manager have asked me to go there, definitely I’d score.

“I’m not sure if I would be able to do set-pieces, but I’m good at penalties, either using power or technique on shooting it. But City have [their] regular penalty-takers and we are well-served.

Citizen supporters chanted for the goalkeeper to take a penalty kick over the weekend in the team’s 5-0 win over Swansea City.

However, Gabriel Jesus was the man selected for the opportunity, but had his attempt saved by Lukasz Fabianski before Bernardo Silva was in the right spot to score the game’s fifth goal.

“If Pep asks me to take it, I’m there,” Ederson said of the penalty kick. “Hopefully it will happen [before the end of the season], I’d like to score.”

This isn’t the first time Ederson has discussed exploring opportunities outside of the net, though.

The Brazilian shot-stopper has long been a fan of former Brazil international goalkeeper Rogero Ceni — who scored 65 goals for club side Sao Paolo.

Earlier this season, the 24-year-old joked around with the media, saying that he’d be more than happy to fill a role in the midfield when City was experiencing some injury issues within the squad.