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

Report: Newcastle activates $12m release clause of ex-Arsenal youth

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Reports out of Turkey say Newcastle United have finally struck the transfer market for a new No. 10.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Aksam reports that Rafa Benitez got the Magpies hierarchy to activate a near $12 million release clause for Besiktas midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup.

The 25-year-old was part of Arsenal’s youth set-up until 2012, making two League Cup appearances in 2011-12 before moving to Besiktas.

Dutch-born Ozyakup is 35-times capped with a goal for Turkey, twice captaining the Crescent-Stars.

Ozyakup lost playing time to Talisca this season, and registered just four assists in 24 appearances. In 219 appearances for Besiktas, he’s posted 27 goals with 50 assists.

Like the move for Newcastle?

Lukaku pens inspiring post on hard-scrabble upbringing

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Manchester United and Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has an inspiring and emotional post in The Players’ Tribune which tugs at the heart strings and explains his competitive fire.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Lukaku talks about how his family’s poverty caused him to become a fierce competitor in the hopes of meeting his dreams head-on and providing for his family.

The Belgian, 25, scored twice in his side’s 3-0 World Cup-opening win over Panama earlier this week, and is now far removed from his youth, but he tells his story as if it lives fresh in his mind.

From The Players’ Tribune:

There were even times when my mum had to “borrow” bread from the bakery down the street. The bakers knew me and my little brother, so they’d let her take a loaf of bread on Monday and pay them back on Friday.

Lukaku also talks about racism in football, his debut for Anderlecht, and that aforementioned competitive drive. It’s 100 percent worth the read.

West Ham signs club record center back from Toulouse

whufc.com
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West Ham has reportedly set a club record with its latest signing under new manager Manuel Pellegrini.

Issa Diop is the player, the 21-year-old Toulouse captain and center back costing the Irons around $29 million.

[ MORE: Arsenal signs Leno ]

Diop scored three goals with an assist and eight yellow cards in 31 Ligue 1 matches this season, giving the young defender 95 apps, six goals, three assists, and 23 yellows since debuting with the senior team at 18.

Capped by France at every level below the senior team, Diop’s 2.2 interceptions per game ranked sixth in Ligue 1.

Toulose finished 18th in Ligue 1, but won its promotion/relegation playoff to stay in the French top flight.

From WHUFC.com:

“I am very happy to sign for such a historic, English club, and I hope to show my best here. I am a very ambitious player and West Ham is a very ambitious club, as we’ve seen with the appointment of the new coach. I hope to help the team win lots of games and make the fans happy.”

Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 3

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In the third episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, England pulls out a massive win while VAR finds its way into the World Cup spotlight.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

There will be plenty more to come over the next few weeks, with the show coming via the Men In Blazers.

Click play on the video above to watch the first episode in full.