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Lille starts Bielsa era with 3-0 win over Ranieri’s Nantes

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PARIS (AP) Lille’s attacking potential this season was on display as coach Marcelo Bielsa’s new team started its French league campaign with a 3-0 win over Nantes on Sunday.

[ MORE: Coutinho to Barca? And more transfer rumors ]

After finishing a disappointing 11th last season, Lille hired the Argentine coach – known as “El Loco Bielsa” (Crazy Bielsa) to his fans – with the aim of returning to the Champions League while playing an exciting brand of football.

[ MORE: Arsenal tops Chelsea on PKs in FA Community Shield ]

Lille also recruited more than a dozen of new players and the northern club’s squad appears to have gelled.

Facing an unimaginative side, Lille dominated from the start but had to wait until the 48th to open the scoring through Paraguay defender Junior Alonso. Nicolas De Preville doubled his team’s lead from the spot and Anwar El Ghazi put the win beyond doubt.

The match also featured a duel between Bielsa and another prominent coach, Italian Claudio Ranieri. The managers, who had a quick chat before the game, returned to the French top flight after spending several years away.

With better players at his disposal following Lille’s ambitious recruiting campaign this summer, Bielsa’s team was in control from the start.

“We played a high-energy match, on a fast rhythm, and we made only a few fouls,” Bielsa said. “I believe that we deserved the goals we scored, and that it is a fair result. Let’s see if we can keep that rhythm and speed we want to play with throughout the whole season.”

Lille imposed a fast tempo by pressing high on the pitch – the Argentine’s trademark – and created several chances in the opening stages with fast moves down the flanks that caught out the Nantes back four.

But for all their possession the hosts lacked a cutting edge in the box. Bielsa’s influence was evident in the 14th when Nicolas de Preville tried and missed an acrobatic volley. The French striker did not give up though, tracked the ball down and managed to recover it before setting up newly signed Luiz Araujo, whose shot was blocked.

Nantes could have moved ahead against the run of the play when Abdoulaye Toure recovered the ball 20 meters from the hosts’ box and forced Mike Maignan into a superb dive with a long and powerful shot. The Lille `keeper managed to parry the ball onto the crossbar and Prejuce Nakoulma, alone in front of goal, fluffed his header from close range.

Lille finally broke the deadlock three minutes into the second half after taking advantage of a poor clearance from Nantes captain Leo Dubois. Alonso received the ball outside the box and unleashed a powerful strike into the bottom corner.

Maignan made a decisive save in the next minute to deny Emiliano Sala’s chip attempt at the conclusion of a slick counterattack to keep his team’s lead intact.

Lille was awarded a penalty in the 68th after Kevin Malcuit was fouled by Nicolas Pallois in the box, and De Preville converted from the spot by sending Maxime Dupe the wrong way. El Ghazi made it 3-0 three minutes later with a clean finish. El Ghazi celebrated his goal by taking his shirt off, revealing a tribute to former Ajax teammate Abdelhak Nouri, who collapsed during a pre-season game this summer and suffered brain damage.

Bielsa guided Marseille to a fourth-place finish in 2015 while Ranieri – who famously led English club Leicester to the Premier League title in 2016 – helped Monaco win the second division title in his first season, and then finish runner-up in the top flight in 2013-14.

MLS Snapshot: New York City FC 2-1 New England Revolution (video)

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The game in 100 words (or less): For nearly 75 minutes, NYCFC couldn’t muster up any chances in the attacking third, but thankfully their captain did what he does best. David Villa scored his 19th goal of the season on Sunday night to pull out a 2-1 win against the New England Revolution, but it was rookie Jonathan Lewis that notched the winner. The visitors took the lead 20 minutes prior after Sean Johnson spilled a shot in front of his own goal, allowing Teal Bunbury to pounce on the rebound. NYCFC now moves to within four points of Eastern Conference leaders Toronto FC with nine matches remaining in the regular season.

Three four moments that mattered

16′ — Harrison breaks ankles, but Villa can’t finish — This might be the only time all see you’ll see David Villa miss a chance like this…

38′ — Johnson gets a finger tip to Rowe’s blast — Sean Johnson had no work to do in the first half, at least until Kelyn Rowe decided to rip a shot from distance just before halftime.

57′ — Johnson’s error grants Bunbury, Revs the lead — Look away, NYCFC fans.

77′ — Villa find the back of the net — When you need a goal, who you gonna call? That’s right. David Villa. The NYCFC captain is now up to 19 this season.

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Man of the match: David Villa

Goalscorers: Teal Bunbury (57′), David Villa (77′), Jonathan Lewis (90+4′)

Honoring victims of attacks, Barcelona wins league opener

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Wearing shirts honoring victims of the recent attacks in Spain, Barcelona opened its Spanish league season with a comfortable 2-0 win over Real Betis on Sunday.

[ MORE: Neymar double helps PSG cruise past Toulouse ]

Players had the word “Barcelona” instead of their names on the back of their shirts, and the Catalan hashtag “TOTSSOMBARCELONA” (We are all Barcelona) was on display around the Camp Nou stadium. The message was also shown on the stadium’s large screens, as well as on many banners carried by fans.

An emotional minute’s silence was held before the game as the music of Catalan cellist Pau Casals played in the background.

Before the minute was up, the more than 55,000 fans at the stadium broke into a round of applause and began chanting “No tinc por” (I’m not afraid), a chant which has become a symbol of people’s reactions to the attacks that killed 14 people and injured more than 120 in Barcelona and the nearby seaside resort of Cambrils.

Extra security was implemented in and around Camp Nou.

There was a minute’s silence before every Spanish league match this weekend.

Without Neymar and the injured Luis Suarez, Barcelona got off to a winning start in the league after consecutive losses to rival Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup final.

It scored two goals three minutes apart near the end of the first half – an own-goal by Betis defender Alin Tosca and a close-range shot by Sergi Roberto. Both goals came after plays started by Gerard Deulofeu, one of the players expected to try to replace Neymar after his world record transfer to Paris Saint-Germain.

“We lost depth with Neymar’s departure and we have to find a way to overcome that,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said.

Lionel Messi looked lively but wasn’t able to score his 350th goal in La Liga. He came close, though, being denied by the woodwork three different times.

AP Sports Writer Tales Azzoni contributed to this report.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga

Brighton breaks club record with signing of winger Jose Izquierdo

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Brighton hasn’t gotten off to the ideal start in its debut season in the Premier League, but a key reinforcement is on the way.

[ MORE: Chelsea tops Spurs at Wembley behind Alonso’s brace ]

After starting the 2017/18 campaign with back-to-back defeats, the Seagulls announced on Sunday the signing of Colombian winger Jose Izquierdo from Club Brugge in Belgium for a record fee.

The 25-year-old spent three seasons in Belgium’s top flight and totaled 38 goals across all competitions for Brugge, prior to making the move to England.

Additionally, Izquierdo has worked his way into the Colombia squad as of late, and scored his first international goal for his country in June 2017 in a friendly against Cameroon.

MLS Follow Live — NYCFC hosts Revs, Minnesota meets Sounders

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Only two matches will feature on the MLS docket Sunday evening, but luckily two of the league’s most exciting teams will take to the pitch.

[ MORE: Toronto tops Fire as East leaders reach 50 points on season ]

First, New York City FC will attempt to continue its ascent up the Eastern Conference ladder when they host Kei Kamara and the New England Revolution.

In the night cap, the Seattle Sounders look to extend their unbeaten streak to nine matches when they welcome newcomers Minnesota United to CenturyLink Field.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Here’s the schedule and kick-off times for Sunday’s two MLS fixtures.

New York City FC vs. New England Revolution — 6 p.m. ET
Seattle Sounders vs. Minnesota United — 10 p.m. ET