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.

2-year doping ban upheld for Finland, CSKA Moscow player

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) The Court of Arbitration for Sport has upheld a two-year ban for CSKA Moscow midfielder Roman Eremenko for a positive test for cocaine.

[ MORE: Morata signs five-year contract at Chelsea ]

CAS says the ban imposed by UEFA was “appropriate” and dismissed the Finland international’s appeal.

[ MORE: Vertonghen says Spurs need to “level up” like rest of PL contenders ]

The ban will expire on Oct. 5, 2018, when Eremenko will be 31.

Eremenko tested positive after playing in a Champions League game for CSKA Moscow against Bayer Leverkusen last September. The 2-2 result was not affected despite Eremenko scoring CSKA’s second goal.

Born in Moscow, Eremenko grew up in Finland and has represented its national team 73 times.

Webb says De Jong would have been sent off with video review

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NEW YORK (AP) Howard Webb says he would have given Dutch midfielder Nigel De Jong a red card in the 2010 World Cup final if a video assistant referee had been in place.

The retired English referee showed De Jong a yellow card in the 28th minute for his karate kick into the chest of Spain’s Xabi Alonso. Hired in March to oversee video technology for professional soccer in the U.S. and Canada, Webb held a media seminar Friday ahead of its Aug. 5 launch in Major League Soccer.

Webb says: “Yes, it was a clear red card. It was a clear and obvious error on my part not to send the player off, and VAR would have been able to recommend a review to me, and I would have been able to make the right call.”

Now 46, Webb was a Premier League referee from 2003-14. He worked the Champions League and World Cup finals in 2010, became director of referees at the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, and started in March as manager of video assistant referee operations for the Professional Referee Organization.

MLS Snapshot: Orlando City 0-1 Atlanta United (video)

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The game in 100 words (or less): Friday night’s effort at Orlando City Stadium wasn’t the prettiest for either side but Atlanta United will gladly take three points from the fixture as the Central Florida venue proved to be a fortress once more. The Lions were far superior in their attacking threats throughout the match, testing USMNT and Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan on multiple occasions. However, it was Hector Villalba that proved to be the difference when he blasted a long-distance effort to beat Joe Bendik in the 86th minute. Atlanta extends its unbeaten streak to four matches with Friday’s decision, keeping Tata Martino’s side in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, while Orlando City moves into fifth.

Three moments that mattered

36′ — Guzan stands tall, denies Rivas — Carlos Rivas thought he scorched this one (and he did…), but Brad Guzan acted like it was nothing as he held his ground to make the stop.

39′ — Spector gets ripped off by Guzan — The U.S. goalkeeper is at it again… What a save!

86′ — Villalba unleashes stunner to propel Atlanta — Sometimes it just takes one good hit as a striker.

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Man of the match: Brad Guzan

Goalscorers: Hector Villalba (86′)

Report: Man City adding Mendy to continue backline restoration

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Fresh off of completing a record deal to help bolster the club’s back line this summer, Manchester City is back at it with the Premier League season looming.

[ MORE: Alvaro Morata signs five-year contract at Chelsea ]

The Citizens are reportedly on the brink of signing Monaco left back Benjamin Mendy to yet another world-record fee — which will total over $67 million.

Confirmation of the deal has yet to be announced by either team, but L’Equipe is reporting that the Citizens are hot on the 23-year-old’s trail in adding to their pricy back four.

Manager Pep Guardiola and Man City have not been shy readjusting their defensive unit over the past year, adding expensive first-team choices John Stones and Kyle Walker.