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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

Transfer needs for Premier League clubs

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The transfer window is open and, so far, there hasn’t been that much business done by the 20 Premier League clubs.

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As we creep towards the deadline at 6 p.m. ET on Jan. 31, you just know so many deals will be done between now and then. But what are the key areas where each Premier League club should strengthen in, if they can, this month?

With that in mind, below is a look at the key transfer needs for each PL team in January.


Arsenal
Key transfer needs: Center back, CAM – Unai Emery has had so many injuries in this area, but aside from that fact, the quality needed to sustain a top four charge just isn’t there. Replacing Aaron Ramsey, long-term, would also be savvy and the arrival of Denis Suarez from Barcelona seems likely. The Spanish central midfielder play for Emery while he was on loan at Sevilla and he can add that extra bit of quality to supply the likes of Aubameyrang and Lacazette.


Bournemouth
Key transfer needs: None – They’ve done their business nice and early with Nathaniel Clyne and Dominic Solanke arriving from Liverpool. With Jermain Defoe moving to Rangers, buying Solanke was a big risk at $24.1 million. He has bags of potential and Eddie Howe will think he can develop that talent a la David Brooks, Ryan Fraser and Callum Wilson. Clyne is only on loan, but you can see a permanent deal happening this summer.


Brighton & Hove Albion
Key transfer need: Central midfield – Some extra depth in central midfield is all that is needed, as Chris Hughton has a strong squad and the quality of his starting XI doesn’t drop significantly when a regular is replaced. Having some extra nous in central midfield would be a good move.


Burnley
Key transfer needs: Winger, attacking midfielder – Injuries to key players in attack have hampered Burnley for most of this season, and with their defense sorted out in recent weeks and Tom Heaton back in goal, they are shored up at the back. They could do with adding more creativity in the final third as the likes of Steven Defour just hasn’t recovered from his horrible injury.


Cardiff City
Key transfer needs: Striker, winger, right back – Neil Warnock is already miffed after missing out on signing Clyne, but the Bluebirds have long been linked with Emiliano Sala and Youseff Msakni. However, both attackers are said to not be keen on a move to the Welsh capital despite Cardiff currently sitting just outside of the relegation zone. Work to do for Cardiff to seal some signings, but they do not have a big budget and will have to wait for the last minute. Will it be too late by then?


Chelsea

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Key transfer needs: Striker, central midfield – With Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud misfiring, Maurizio Sarri needs a new striker. Gonzalo Higuain has been linked with a move to Stamford Bridge, but it could be tough to sort out considering he is currently on loan from Juventus to AC Milan. With Cesc Fabregas on his way out, Sarri also wants a new central midfielder. Chelsea have been linked with a $55 million move for Cagliari midfielder Nicolo Barella, which would be another huge outlay after they bought Christian Pulisic for $73 million before loaning him back to Dortmund until the summer.


Crystal Palace
Key transfer needs: Striker, striker, striker… – Roy Hodgson needs one thing to turn this team into a midtable side: a striker. Michy Batshuayi has been mentioned on several occasions, and given the poor form of Alexander Sorloth (who could be heading to Germany) and the untimely injury to Christian Benteke, relying on the less than prolific Andros Townsend, Wilfried Zaha and Jordan Ayew for their goals has been far from ideal. Palace are set elsewhere, but need a targetman.


Everton
Key transfer needs: Striker, center back – The Toffees need a new center forward too, as Cenk Tosun‘s move just hasn’t worked out and Dominic Calvert-Lewin may not cut the mustard at the top level. Richarlison has had to play through the middle a lot this season and he is clearly better coming off the left. As for defense, Kurt Zouma, Michael Keane and Yerry Mina have had rollercoaster campaigns and getting them extra cover, especially in a 3-4-3 formation, is vital.


Fulham

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Key transfer needs: Center back, full backs – Claudio Ranieri has improved this Fulham defense significantly but this may be all he can do with his group of players. Gary Cahill has been linked with a loan move from Chelsea, while full back Timothy Fosu-Mensah has been told he can head back to parent club Manchester United. That suggests a new right back is on the way, and Ranieri could do with strengthening both full back positions and adding two new center backs. Going forward they look more than adequate, but there’s no real balance in this team.


Huddersfield Town
Key transfer needs: Everywhere – It is quite simple, Huddersfield need to spend big in the transfer window or they are going to get relegated. After eight-straight defeats they are eight points from safety and scoring goals has been a huge problem all season. Jason Puncheon has arrived from Crystal Palace on loan and he is of course an experienced pro, but top quality in midfield and attack is needed. Losing Aaron Mooy and Danny Williams for a key part of the season was a blow, and the Terriers know they will have to act fast this month to give themselves a chance of staying up.


Leicester City
Key transfer needs: Striker, central midfield – With Vicente Iborra sold to Villarreal, there is a hole in central midfield for Claude Puel to plug. Up top the likes of Shinji Okazaki and Kelechi Iheanacho continue to deliver lackluster displays and Jamie Vardy really needs some support. Bringing in a strong center forward who can link up with Vardy would be ideal.


Liverpool

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Key transfer needs: Attacking midfielder, left back – Nabil Fekir has been linked with a move to Liverpool, again, as the Frenchman’s move to Anfield collapsed at the last minute this summer. In some of their big games they’ve lacked a calming presence in midfield, and Naby Keita just hasn’t settled down. Liverpool need a No.10 type who can slow the tempo down a little when they want to. Adam Lallana can be that man if he stays fit, but a new playmaker would give them a big push towards the title. Alberto Moreno is a decent back up option at left back to Andrew Robertson, but he is set to leave in the summer so adding a new left back would be ideal.


Manchester City
Key transfer needs: Left back, defensive midfielder – Benjamin Mendy‘s injury problems mean that left back is the main area needed to strengthen in. Pep Guardiola‘s plan to play Fabian Delph there worked last season, but not so much this season, while Oleksandr Zinchenko hasn’t settled in that role. Aymeric Laporte has plugged the gap for now, but a long-term left back to challenge Mendy is badly needed. A long-term replacement for Fernandinho is needed too, as the Brazilian is badly missed when he’s been out injured.


Manchester United
Key transfer needs: Center back, left back – Defensively United need some serious help, as their stable of center backs just isn’t good enough and are injured far too often. Luke Shaw is their only real option at left back, with Matteo Darmian, Marcos Rojo and Ashley Young able to play there out of position in a pinch.


Newcastle United
Key transfer needs: Striker, central midfielder, winger – Now, it is very unlikely Rafael Benitez will be given money to spend in January, but he does need to strengthen in a few areas. Defensively they are solid enough and are all set there. But going forward he is woefully short of quality options. Extra quality off the wing, a No. 10 and a striker to partner Salomon Rondon is needed. Miguel Almiron from Atlanta United has been linked with a move to St James’ Park but the Magpies are baulking at the $35 million transfer fee.


Southampton

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Key transfer needs: Winger, striker, center back – Saints have a lot of center backs, but Ralph Hasenhuttl has pretty much hinted that Wesley Hoedt is available to leave and that will open a spot up for them to strengthen in. Bednarek, Yoshida and Vestergaard have played okay at times, but RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano has been linked with a move to St Mary’s. Up top there will be an almighty shake up as Manolo Gabbiadini is leaving, Shane Long is on his way out and with Danny Ings‘ injuries flaring up, Hasenhuttl needs reinforcements. His style of play is all about pace, so adding extra pace out wide and up top is the main aim this month. Saints have to sell before they buy, so that will be challenging. Roger Guedes, Yussuf Poulsen and Odio Ighalo have been a few names linked with Saints.


Tottenham Hotspur
Key transfer needs: Central midfield, striker – Although Mauricio Pochettino has admitted he will not be looking to buy anyone in January due to the lack of funds available with the new stadium move almost complete, Spurs are likely to promote youngsters into their squad. But if they are going to be serious about mounting a title bid or going far in the Champions League, more help for Harry Kane (Fernando Llorente is fine for FA Cup games) is needed. Oliver Skipp has stepped in admirably in midfield, and given the fact that Mousa Dembele seems destined to leave, they could have some money to spend on a new midfielder.


Watford
Key transfer need: Center back – It is one of the areas which Watford have ignored for some time, but they always seem to get by. The likes of Cathcart and Kabasele could be upgraded quite easily, and Watford should aim to add extra quality in central defense as they’ve thrown away plenty of points this season. Going forward and in midfield they are littered with options for Javi Gracia. Sort out their defense ahead of the brilliant Ben Foster and they will push hard for European qualification.


West Ham United
Key transfer needs: Nowhere – The Hammers are pretty set and spent a lot of money in the summer. They have a plethora of options up top, in defense and especially in midfield. Consiering Jack Wilshere has hardly kicked a ball this season, Andriy Yarmolenko is out of the rest of the season and Manuel Lanzini is on his way back after a lengthy injury, they have plenty of quality in reserve too. Maybe some extra cover defensively could help, but apart from that Manuel Pellegrini has a very strong squad to choose from.


Wolverhampton Wanderers

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Key transfer need: Striker – Linked with a move for Tammy Abraham, who has spent the first half of the season on loan at Aston Villa, Wolves need help for Raul Jimenez. The Mexican striker has been far from prolific, but he creates so many chances yet doesn’t have a lot of support in games. Nuno Espirito Santo is well stocked elsewhere, but adding a new center back to work into their three-man defense would do wonders for that rotation.

Transfer rumor roundup: Arsenal, Man City linked with mids; New home for Mourinho?

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Pep Guardiola may’ve changed his mind on the whole “no January signings” stance.

The Manchester Evening News has quotes from Porto center midfielder Juan Fernando Quintero saying he’s having conversation with Manchester City.

[ MORE: Chong debuts for Man Utd ]

Quintero is adamant that he will only move if the deal is perfect, as he’s quite happy on loan at River Plate.

The purchase would be the latest big money sale for Porto, having been a regular loanee from the Portuguese outfit. The attack-minded soon-to-be 26-year-old midfielder can also play on the right side of the pitch.

Unai Emery is close to getting a much-desired reunion with Denis Suarez, who’d like an equally-needed change of scenery.

Suarez, who turns 25 on Sunday, has made just six appearances, scoring twice for Barcelona and has a reported $25 million price tag.

The pair spent a season together at Sevilla, where Suarez scored six goals with five assist but was not used in the final two rounds of the Europa League title run.

Meanwhile, Barcelona may be adding a midfielder after the season in mercurial Adrien Rabiot of Paris Saint-Germain.

Ernesto Valverde knows how to handle big personalities, and the lack of a transfer fee would make the risk worthwhile even at a reported $12 million salary.

And Jose Mourinho may be in the frame for his next job already, at the site of his first, very-brief foray into management.

Record (Portuguese link) says Mourinho could move to Benfica, where he presided over a nine-match run in 2000 before resigning after being denied a contract extension.

That was the only controversial stint in his managerial career, period (What’s that you say?).

Finally, The Daily Mirror says Nice outcast Mario Balotelli is preparing a move to Marseille, spuring Newcastle United after falling out of favor with manager Patrick Vieira.

Arsenal facing depth problems as Ramsey weighs giant offers

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Will Arsenal regret its player prioritization when it comes to Aaron Ramsey?

The Gunners are likely to lose the 28-year-old Welsh midfielder for nothing, and soon, as Ramsey is reportedly talking with five of the biggest clubs in Europe.

[ REPORT: Barca agrees with De Jong ]

The BBC says Ramsey has not agreed with Juventus, as had been reported, and that Bayern Munich, Inter Milan, Juve, Paris St-Germain and Real Madrid are all in the mix.

Ramsey reunited with Gareth Bale? Go on…

The midfielder has made 352 appearances for Arsenal, scoring 60 goals, and has 52 caps with 14 goals for Wales.

The report says Ramsey would only be allowed to move in January for $51 million, and also has a lot of tough realities for Arsenal supporters. For one, the club reportedly thinks it cannot compete with the top sides this season (though we saw the Liverpool match, so it’s not like that’s a mind-blowing assertion).

Gunners owner Stan Kroenke will reportedly not sanction any big January deals and would risk breaching Financial Fair Play if he did, opting to look into loans like Barcelona’s Denis Suarez.

They also don’t want to recall Calum Chambers from loan at Fulham because it will take a fee, and they don’t want to “disrupt the progress” of Reiss Nelson at Hoffenheim.

Fifth-place Arsenal is just three points ahead of Manchester United, and is alive in the FA Cup and Europa League. Depth will be critical, but looks unlikely to improve next month.

Barca wins Catalan Super Cup as ex-Arsenal teen debuts

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Barcelona needed penalty kicks to claim the Catalan Super Cup back from Espanyol after two years.

After 90 scoreless minutes, Les Blaugranas converted their first four penalty kicks and their rivals missed two en route to the 4-2 victory at the Camp d’Esports in Lleida.

[ MORE: Altidore, Osorio star in Champions League comeback ]

There was plenty of Barca B in the lineup, though Aleix Vidal, Ousmane Dembele, Jesper Cillessen, Yerry Mina, Lucas Digne, Denis Suarez, and Paco Alcacer started the match.

Along the way, a former Arsenal player made a mark for England in the famous stripes shirt of Barca. Marcus McGuane, 19, turned down a contract offer from the Gunners to move to Catalonia in January.

In doing so, he became the first player in decades to appear for Barca. From FCBarcelona.com:

“A lot of people told me when I signed that Gary Lineker was the last English person to play for FC Barcelona” he said. “So to know that I’m next, that’s some achievement.”

“I need to carry on pushing on with the B team and get as many games as possible. And if get any opportunities to go over to the first team, I’ve just got to show the boss what I can do.”

McGuane had made just two Europa League appearances for Arsenal when he made his switch to Barca.