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Without Messi, Barcelona loses to Levante in Copa del Rey

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MADRID (AP) Barcelona could not overcome the absence of Lionel Messi and other regular starters on Thursday, losing 2-1 at Levante in the first leg of the Copa del Rey’s round of 16.

Barcelona’s second-stringers struggled from the start in Valencia, escaping an even greater defeat only because Levante’s forwards squandered some clear scoring chances.

[ MORE: Willian-Malcom swap? ]

The return game is next Thursday at Camp Nou Stadium in Barcelona, when the four-time defending champion is expected to have some of its starters back in action after they were rested this week.

Levante took the lead early with a close-range header by Uruguayan defender Erick Cabaco in the third minute, and striker Borja Mayoral scored the second goal with a low cross shot in the 18th.

The hosts kept threatening throughout the match, taking advantage of a Barcelona defense that was without Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba. Newly signed Colombian player Jeison Murillo was making his club debut in central defense.

“We got off to a great start,” Mayoral said. “We pressed early because we knew they were not used to playing together.”

Without Messi and Luis Suarez in attack, the Catalan club had difficulties creating scoring opportunities. The trio of Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele and Malcom was largely ineffective, and the team’s lone goal came late with a penalty kick converted by Coutinho in the 85th after substitute Denis Suarez got past a defender and was fouled inside the area.

“In the second leg hopefully we will take advantage of Coutinho’s goal,” Murillo said.

Barcelona routed Levante 5-0 in Valencia in a league match in December.

SEVILLA THRIVES

Sevilla, a Copa finalist in two of the last three seasons, cruised to a 3-1 away win over Athletic Bilbao with goals by Manuel “Nolito” Agudo, Andre Silva and Wissam Ben Yedder.

Mikel San Jose scored for Athletic, which is fighting against relegation in the Spanish league.

[ MORE: Top PL storylines ]

The teams face each other again in the league on Sunday. Their second-leg match in the Copa is next week in Seville.

Also Thursday, Real Betis was held by visiting Real Sociedad to a 0-0 draw.

On Wednesday, Real Madrid defeated Leganes 3-0 at home, while Atletico Madrid drew 1-1 at Girona.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

Berhalter trims USMNT squad to 23 ahead of friendlies

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Four players were sent back to their Major League Soccer clubs as U.S. Men’s National Team coach Gregg Berhalter settled on a 23-man squad ahead of a pair of friendlies.

Berhalter and U.S. Soccer announced on Tuesday evening that Toronto FC’s Alex Bono, LAFC’s Tyler Miller, Real Salt Lake’s Justin Glad and the Colorado Rapids’ Kellyn Acosta were all released back to their clubs as preseason training gets underway for all MLS clubs. FC Cincinnati’s Greg Garza departed the USMNT January camp a week ago with a quadriceps injury.

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“We’ve had a great two weeks in Chula Vista focusing on building team culture, style of play and competing every day,” Berhalter said. “The entire group has worked hard and brought an excellent mindset, and we thank them for the consistent effort thus far. We look forward to continuing to build on these ideas in Phoenix and measure our progress in the game against Panama.”

The 23-man squad now heads to Phoenix to prepare to face Panama on Sunday, before facing Costa Rica on February 2 in San Jose, Calif.

Here’s the current USMNT squad, via U.S. Soccer (caps/goals):

GOALKEEPERS (2): Sean Johnson (New York City FC; 5/0), Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew SC; 6/0)

DEFENDERS (8): Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas; 2/0), Nick Lima (San Jose Earthquakes; 0/0), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls; 2/0), Daniel Lovitz (Montreal Impact/CAN; 0/0), Mark McKenzie (Philadelphia Union; 0/0), Keegan Rosenberry (Colorado Rapids; 0/0), Auston Trusty (Philadelphia Union; 0/0), Walker Zimmerman (LAFC; 4/1)

MIDFIELDERS (10): Paul Arriola (D.C. United; 17/2), Corey Baird (Real Salt Lake; 0/0), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC/CAN; 142/17), Russell Canouse (D.C. United; 0/0), Marky Delgado (Toronto FC/CAN; 6/0), Jonathan Lewis (New York City FC; 0/0), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy; 5/1), Djordje Mihailovic (Chicago Fire; 0/0), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders FC; 5/0), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC; 11/0)

FORWARDS (3): Jeremy Ebobisse (Portland Timbers, 0/0), Christian Ramirez (LAFC; 0/0), Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew SC; 40/6)

League Cup Preview: Manchester City v Burton Albion

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Even with a 9-0 aggregate lead, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola plans to send out a strong squad for the second leg of the League Cup against Burton Albion.

[READ: USWNT picks up first win of 2019]

Players coming back from injury, such as Kevin De Bruyne and Benjamin Mendy, along with some youngsters such as Phil Foden and Oleksandr Zinchenko are likely to play big roles, and though some academy players will feature, Guardiola stated it would mostly be first-team regulars.

“The guys who have a lot of games in their legs are going to rest,” Guardiola said. “Players who need to play, who haven’t played lately, who are coming back from injury long-term are going to play.

Manchester City is looking for its sixth-straight win to open up 2019. Guardiola’s side has also only allowed one goal this year.

On the other side, Nigel Clough and Burton know that realistically the tie is over, but they’ll see if they can score against the defending Premier League champions on a big night at home.

“It will be about little milestones, and pride of course,” Clough said, via the BBC. “If one of our players could score against one of the best teams in Europe then that would be a milestone for us. Amd it would be a wonderful individual milestone for whoever got a goal.”

Burton sits 55 places behind Man City in the English football pyramid, so this tie was always likely out of reach. However, Wednesday is a chance for Burton to have a night none of their players or fans will ever forget.

Teammates, clubs react to Sala disappearance

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The disappearance of Emiliano Sala has sent the soccer world into a state of shock.

The horrible news over the English channel however has brought many players, fans and administrators together, as they hope and pray for the safe return of Sala and the flight’s pilot. Sala was on his way from Nantes, France to Cardiff, where he had just signed a contract with a $19 million transfer fee.

Here’s a look at some of the big names across the world who have reacted to the news of Sala’s disappearance.


Pressure increases on Thierry Henry as Monaco loses again

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PARIS (AP) Thierry Henry’s first managerial stint took another turn for the worse on Tuesday as his Monaco side lost 3-1 at home to second-division Metz in the French Cup.

This latest defeat follows a 5-1 loss at home to Strasbourg in the French league on Saturday, a result which has the 2017 French champion languishing in 19th place.

[READ: Dele Alli out until March]

We have a real problem at the Stade Louis-II,” Henry said after the game, via L’equipe. “I do not know why, I have trouble grasping. We needed to tell each other truths after the match in the locker room. We must be united. I take everything for myself, the lack of aggressiveness, the fact of not being good at Louis II, the tactical errors. We lacked today to be decisive in the opposing end. It will be necessary to be united, to fight, to go forward and to be aggressive. I do not know if the guys realize what’s going on. I can not be in their heads. We are in a critical situation and we are here to try to save ourselves.”

Henry recalled Croatia goalkeeper Danijel Subasic following a long spell out of the side, and only one appearance for Monaco since reaching the World Cup final. But surprisingly, even though Henry said winning this match was a priority for the club, he left key signing Cesc Fabregas on the bench.

When he brought the former Chelsea midfielder on after 69 minutes, second-division leader Metz was already 2-1 up at Stade Louis II.

Monaco had equalized through top scorer Radamel Falcao, but its chronic weakness in defense was again exposed as Metz comfortably reached the last 16 of the competition.

Henry’s immediate task is to win points to help the club escape relegation – starting with Saturday’s key game at Dijon, which is two points above Monaco in 18th spot.

In other French Cup games on Tuesday, first-division sides Guingamp, Lille and Toulouse advanced.

Cup holder Paris Saint-Germain hosts Strasbourg in Wednesday’s matches.