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Copa del Rey: Barcelona rebounds to take two-goal lead on Real Sociedad

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Barcelona used their Copa del Rey semifinal to get back in the win column, but in the process of posting a win over Real Sociedad, the Blaugrana failed to quell linger doubts. Needing an own goal and an Iñigo Martínez red card on their way to a 2-0 result at the Nou Camp, Barça eventually claimed a commanding lead after leg one, even if La Real nearly snatched a lead just before halftime. For a team that plays as much to a standard as against an opponent, Wednesday’s performance was a mixed result.

Their victory was secured just before half time when Sergio Busquets gave Barcelona a 44th minute lead – a score that sparked protests that led to Martínez’s dismissal. Moments earlier, Real forward Carlos Vela had come close to scoring but was obstructed by Javier Mascherano penalty in Barcelona’s penalty area. Though Vela still got a shot off (one that drew a kick save from Pinto), Sociedad players were left incredulous at the lack of a whistle. The missed opportunity appeared close to Martínez’s mind when Busquets put them behind two minutes later.

After a half playing against 10 men, Barcelona statistical edges were gaudy. They kept 81 percent of the ball, held La Real  to one shot on goal, and finished with +23 advantage in overall shots (26-3). Against a Sociedad team already set up to play on the counter, Barcelona went the match’s final 47 minutes without allowing a shot.

Despite those advantages, the only goal Barça was able to find in the second half required Real Sociedad’s help. Attempting to clear a ball Alexis Sánchez put off his team’s post, midfielder Gorka Elustondo hit Zubikarai in the back, the resulting ball ending up Sociedad’s goal. Up 2-0 after an hour, Barcelona would cruise through the rest of the game, outshooting Sociedad 7-0 over the final 30 minutes.

Up two and having preventing La Real from finding an away goal, Barcelona will be heavy favorites to reach Copa’s final next week in San Sebastián. In the bigger picture, there were enough minor issues to fuel ongoing (if minor) questions about the Blaugrana. Though they nearly went up through Lionel Messi early, Barcelona also left the door open for Real Sociedad to strike first, something they nearly did just before half time. Though Barça eventually broke through, they also failed to put the tie away after playing a man up over the final 56 minutes. They finished the match with a valuable two-goal lead, but the second goal came after some freakish fortune.

All teams have their off days, but for Barcelona, this off day comes on the heals of a loss to Valencia. At a time in the season when Gerardo Martino’s team should be building for challenges from Manchester City (Champions League), Atlético Madrid, and Real Madrid (Copa and league), Barcelona has lost some of their mojo.

They’re still outplaying most of their opponents, but they’re not meeting the standards we typically associate with Barcelona soccer. Until they can ascend to that level, it’s unclear Barcelona can be considered favorites to claim any of the honors they’re pursuing. Martino’s still got work to do

WATCH: Kane’s first half hat trick includes gorgeous volley

Tottenham Hotspur's Harry Kane celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Stoke City at White Hart Lane stadium in London, Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017.(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
AP Photo/Frank Augstein
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Harry Kane spent the first half hour of Sunday’s tilt versus Stoke torturing the visiting Potters.

Kane opened the scoring in the 14th minute. Christian Eriksen bobbled Dele Alli‘s pass into the 18, but Ryan Shawcross‘ barely hit his clearance and Kane took a touch before belting home for the advantage.

[ WATCH: Spurs-Stoke live, replay ]

His second was lovely, bounding a low volley between the legs of Victor Wanyama and by a diving Lee Grant.

The third carried a bit of luck, with his low free kick taking a turn off the leg of wall end Peter Crouch to elude a lunging Grant. 3-0.

Here are the first and third, too:

Liverpool, Southampton lead EFL Cup Team of the Tournament

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The EFL Cup has named its team of the tournament ahead of Sunday morning’s final between Southampton and Manchester United at Wembley Stadium.

Liverpool and Southampton lead the way with two players each, while finalists Manchester United have just one player in the team.

[ MORE: Whitecaps acquire Brek Shea ]

That’s Ander Herrera, who joins a midfield with Sofiane Boufal (Saints), Mohamed Diame (Newcastle United), and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal).

Up top are Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge and Chelsea loanee Tammy Abraham, the latter for his work at Bristol City.

The back four is led by Saints’ Maya Yoshida and Hull City’s Harry Maguire, with Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool) and Matty Pearson (Accrington Stanley) joining the unit.

The backstop is Leeds United’s Marco Silvestri.

Watch Live: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Stoke City (Lineups, Stream)

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10: Wifried Bony of Stoke City and Dele Alli of Tottenham Hotspur battle for possession during the Premier League match between Stoke City and Tottenham Hotspur at Britannia Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Stoke on Trent, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
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The penultimate Premier League match of the weekend pits Stoke City against third-place Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane on Sunday (Watch live at 8:30 a.m. EDT on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Jan Vertonghen is back alongside Toby Alderweireld in the heart of Spurs’ back line, and it’s no surprise that PL Download stars Harry Kane and Hugo Lloris also start.

Geoff Cameron‘s four-month layoff appears to be reaching its end, as the USMNT back is on the subs bench for Stoke City. He last played on Oct. 22.

LINEUPS

Tottenham Hotspur: Lloris, Walker, Dier, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Davies, Wanyama, Dembele, Eriksen, Alli, Kane. Subs: Vorm, Trippier, Wimmer, Winks, Sissoko, Son, Janssen.

Stoke City: Grant; Bardsley, Shawcross, Martins Indi, Pieters; Whelan, Adam; Arnautovic, Allen, Ramadan; Crouch. Subs: Given; Muniesa, Berahino, Afellay, Diouf, Cameron, Imbula.

Sydney FC return to winning ways in A-League

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 24:  Goalkeeper Danny Vukovic of Sydney FC makes a save as Bruno Fornaroli of City competes for the ball during the round 21 A-League match between Melbourne City and Sydney FC at AAMI Park on February 24, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
Scott Barbour/Getty Images
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SYDNEY (AP) Bobo scored twice as Sydney FC rebounded from its first loss in the A-League to beat Melbourne City 3-1 and continue atop the table.

[ MORE: Schmeichel speaks about Ranieri sacking, state of Leicester ]

Sydney’s ambitious attempt to become the first team to end the regular season unbeaten came unstuck last week when it was beaten by Western Sydney Wanderers in a fractious local derby, repercussions of which continued through the week. Wanderers were fined $20,000 by Football Federation Australia after its fans unfurled an obscene banner targeting Sydney coach Graham Arnold.

[ MORE: Chelsea, Everton extend unbeaten run in Saturday’s PL play ]

Sydney raised itself above that controversy on Friday with a comprehensive win over Melbourne City which briefly took it 11 points clear in first place.

Melbourne Victory restored the gap to eight points when it beat defending champion Adelaide United 2-1, and Perth leapfrogged Melbourne City into third place when it dumped the Wanderers 2-0.

Bobo opened Sydney’s scoring with a penalty, but City canceled that out only a minute later.

Sydney went in front again after the break, and Bobo sealed the win, set up by a superb through ball by Milos Ninkovic which highlighted their developing combination.

Midfielder Brandon O’Neil said Sydney was determined to leave behind the contention of their derby loss.

“When it all came out, the FFA and Western Sydney had to deal with it and it did,” O’Neil said. “It brought us together and we spoke about a few things, and nothing changed for us. We want to be premier (champions).”

Melbourne Victory’s win over Adelaide kept it in touch with Sydney with seven regular season rounds remaining.

Wellington kept its faint playoff hopes alive, staying in seventh place with a 2-1 win over Brisbane.