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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.

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Levante’s Morales scores unbelievable solo goal

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The La Liga season is under way today, and already the Spanish top flight has a strong candidate for goal of the season.

Levante is hoping to follow up last season’s disappointing 15th place finish with a more respectable spot in the table, and they’re off to a great start with a 2-0 win over Real Betis thanks in part to the unbelievable work by 31-year-old winger Jose Luis Morales.

The Spaniard took the ball in his own half on the right wing and rocketed forward at blistering pace, rounding all four defenders he faced as he sped towards the net. First, he whipped around William Carvalho who was utterly baffled and spun around helplessly just past the mid-line. Then he expertly touched the ball perfectly to avoid a tackle from behind by former Barcelona defender Marc Bartra. The brilliant touch also wrong-footed young Francis Guerrero who Morales jolted past, and finally Sergio Canales came sliding in with a last-ditch effort, but Morales cut back, leaving the former Real Madrid midfielder on the seat of his pants.

With just the goalkeeper to beat now, Morales hit a wonderful finish, somehow using the outside of his right foot to touch into the bottom-left corner, leaving a bemused Pau Lopez to figure out what the heck just happened. All of this took place with Morales moving at lightning speed, and fans were left dazzled by the incredible sight.

On the replay, it showed Morales may have been slightly fortunate as Bartra’s tackle appeared to have been somewhat successful in getting a touch on the ball, but it instead aided Morales’s run past the final two defenders. Either way, it’s unbelievable work from the Levante winger.

The goal put Levante 2-0 up in the 54th minute, and the scoreline would remain that way until Morales grabbed a second for a 3-0 final, giving Levante the first victory of the entire La Liga season.

Bournemouth again breaks transfer record with Colombian mid

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Bournemouth has made a big swing in the late stages of the summer transfer window.

Eddie Howe‘s Cherries have added Jefferson Lerma, the 23-year-old defensive midfielder with nine Colombia caps under his belt.

[ MORE: Behind Man Utd’s woes ]

The $32 million mid comes from Levante, where he’s made 93 appearances for La Liga’s Granotas.

It’s another transfer record for the Cherries, who bought Nathan Ake last summer and Jordon Ibe the season before that.

From AFCB.co.uk:

“It’s no secret that Jefferson has been someone we have chased for a while this summer. It’s been a complicated deal but I am certain it will be worth all the hard work that people have put in to make this happen.

“Jefferson is an extremely talented player and a very good athlete who will bring a different type of play to our midfield. He has a lot of qualities that will be suited to the Premier League and I’m really looking forward to working with him.”

Lerma started the first and last matches of Colombia’s World Cup run, and came off the bench in the second and third matches.

Transfer rumor roundup: Simon to Liverpool, Deulofeu to Watford

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Saying the player has been “heavily scouted” as a backup to Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, The Liverpool Echo says Moses Simon could be the next Liverpool winger.

[ MORE: World Cup stadium guide ]

Simon, 22, is said to have a price tag of approximately $13.5 million following a six-goal, two-assist campaign for Gent in Belgium. He did not make the Nigeria roster for the World Cup with a hip injury, but has 17 caps with three goals.


It’ll cost just a couple million less for Watford to acquire the services of Gerard Deulofeu from Barcelona.

The ex-Everton winger, 24, went on loan to the Vicarage Road set in January, scoring a goal in seven league appearances for the Hornets.

Now he may be set for a permanent $11.5 million move, according to Sport.


The other Emmanuel Boateng — and that would only be said on this side of the Atlantic — is thinking big.

The 22-year-old Levante man has said he’s not long for La Liga, sending a message in a bottle to Old Trafford and the Camp Nou.

Speaking recently at a 442gh event, Boateng said: “I always dream big, I see myself playing in one of the great clubs of the world in the next five years. Big clubs like Manchester United and Barcelona excite me.”

Also Ghanaian, this Emmanuel Boateng is two years younger than the diminutive LA Galaxy man. The Levante star scored six goals this La Liga season and has recently made his Ghana national team debut.

Levante wins to virtually escape relegation in Spain

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MADRID (AP) Levante defeated Sevilla 2-1 in the Spanish league on Friday, practically securing its spot in the first division next season.

Levante opened a 12-point gap to the first team inside the relegation zone, Clarence Seedorf’s Deportivo La Coruna, which hosts leader Barcelona on Sunday.

[ MORE: Emery leaving PSG ]

There will be three matches left after this weekend’s matches.

Roger and Jose Luis Morales each scored to give Levante its fourth win in five matches.

Sevilla, which stayed in seventh place and in danger of missing on a Europa League spot next season, got on the board with Carlos Fernandez.

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