Ernesto Valverde

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Griezmann: Playing for Barcelona is ‘not the easiest’

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Over the summer, Barcelona shelled a whopping $135 million to land Antoine Griezmann from Atletico Madrid.

It was a match made in heaven; the rest was supposed to be history.

Only that hasn’t been the case for the Frenchman in Barcelona.

Despite scoring a brace in his debut at the Camp Nou, Griezmann’s impact and influence on the field has quickly dwindled. In 11 league appearances with the Catalan giants, the 28-year-old has scored four goals and added three assists, signs that the World Cup winner is, in fact, struggling with his new team.

Speaking to Telefoot, Griezmann revealed that playing for Barcelona is not an easy thing to do, but that with hard work, his fortunes will turn around for the best:

“It is hard, I knew it would be, it is not the easiest place. This is a new team, a new club, new tactics, a new position. I have to work, try to understand my team-mates, after they will understand me too and it will work just like that… Critics will always be there. But I am good, I am proud of where I am. Only work pays off. I have to take confidence and it will all come just like that.”

This season, Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde has frequently deployed the Frenchman as a left winger, with the hope that he will link up with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez. The positives form such an ideology have yet to be reaped, however. Griezmann is scoring a goal every 224 minutes, a career worst.

The 28-year-old, too, has played in a central role on a couple of occasions, specifically during the absences of Messi and Suarez, but it hasn’t worked out for a player that has made a career from roaming that part of the field.

The building clamor at the Camp Nou is borderline justifiable – mainly because it’s now evident that Griezmann is wrestling with adapting to the expectations and systems in place in Barcelona.

But the high-flying attacker has proven he’s worth the price time and time again, and now he’s on the record saying that he’ll do everything in his power to do so with his new club.

La Liga roundup: Barcelona fall to Levante; Real Madrid held to draw

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Barcelona’s collapse in Levante and Real Madrid draw at home highlight La Liga’s Saturday action.

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Levante 3-1 Barcelona

In seven minutes, Barcelona conceded three goals, all of which came in the second half and handed the league leaders a 3-1 loss against Levante.

The collapse was so palpable that manager Ernesto Valverde couldn’t avoid the fire. The 55-year-old was asked a handful of questions regarding his future with the club. As expected, he didn’t hesitate to defend his job security, stating that Saturday’s loss was like any other.

It wasn’t, though.

Very rare are the times that Barcelona blackouts for consecutive minutes in a game, which was certainly the case on Saturday.

Lionel Messi converted from 12 yards out in the 38th minute, putting the better team ahead minutes before the first half culminated. But just shortly after both sides settled for the final 45 minutes, Levante pounced on a halfhearted Barcelona.

The first, a composed, right-foot finish from Jose Campañi, opened the floodgates. Two minutes later, an old foe, ex-Real Madrid forward Borja Mayoral, put the home side ahead. Five minutes after the second fell, when an opportunistic Nemanja Radoja’s left-footed volley took a deflection from Sergio Busquets and into the back of the net.

With draws from Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, Barcelona remain atop of the league. But the pressure is on, and being tied with Real Madrid with 22 points after 11 games doesn’t help, that’s for sure.

The defending champions look to regain some confidence as they host Slavia Praha in Champions League play midweek, while Levante hope to carry their momentum to the Basque Country as they take on Athletic Bilbao.

Real Madrid 0-0 Real Betis

With the opportunity to surpass league leaders Barcelona, Real Madrid were held to a draw by Real Betis after several close calls (and some controversy).

A spectacular goal from Eden Hazard was called back by VAR. When Los Blancos turned to the officials for a suspicious handball from Zouhair Feddal, the appeal felt short.

Sergio Ramos, who ruled Saturday’s draw as “bittersweet,” had a clear shot on target, only for it to be blocked by Betis’ Joel Robles. More chances appeared for Zinedine Zidane, specifically Ferland Mendy in the dying minutes of the game. The Frenchman’s shot went just wide of Betis’ goal, however.

Tied with Barcelona and only a point ahead of archival Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid host Turkish giants Galatasaray midweek in Champions League competition. Betis, who are slowly but surely building back from a tough start, host Sevilla in the Seville derby.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Sevilla 1-1 Atletico Madrid

Espanyol 1-2 Valencia

Messi scores 1st goal of season as Barca beats Sevilla 4-0

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BARCELONA, Spain — Lionel Messi has ended his mini-scoring drought as Barcelona finds its winning stride.

Messi curled a left-footed free kick over the wall and into the net for his first goal of the season to wrap up Barcelona’s 4-0 win over Sevilla in the Spanish league on Sunday.

The soccer great thrust his finger in the air before pumping his fist in celebration after scoring in the 78th minute. Messi had gone scoreless in his previous four appearances after being sidelined for five games with injuries.

Messi’s 37th goal in 38 career meetings with Sevilla was also his first since he won his record sixth FIFA player of the year award last month.

“We know how important Leo is for this team and what he means to us,” Barcelona midfielder Arturo Vidal said. “If he is playing well it helps us a lot.”

Luis Suarez put Barcelona on the winning path for a second time this week after netting with a bicycle kick in the 27th despite Sevilla having dominated the game before then. On Wednesday, the Uruguay striker had sparked a 2-1 comeback over Inter Milan in the Champions League with a superb volley before he added a fine second goal.

Vidal and Ousmane Dembele added two more goals against Sevilla in the next 10 minutes to turn what had been a tightly contested start into a demolition.

After a stuttering start to the season while Messi was out injured, Barcelona’s fourth straight victory in all competitions lifted it into second place and two points behind leader Real Madrid. Barcelona will host Madrid on Oct. 26.

Atletico Madrid slipped to third – one point behind Barcelona – after being held 0-0 at Valladolid, its third scoreless draw in four rounds.

“It was a complicated match and the score by halftime was a bit exaggerated,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said. “We had more firepower than they did. After scoring the first goal we created danger practically every time we reached their area.”

Barcelona finished with nine men after referee Mateu Lahoz sent off Ronald Araujo on his debut after making contact with Sevilla’s Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez with only the Barcelona goalkeeper to beat. Replays showed minor contact between the two players.

Demebele was then shown a direct red, for criticizing Lahoz’s decision by saying he was “very bad.”

NIGHT TO FORGET

The last time Sevilla coach Julen Lopetegui came to Camp Nou, his Real Madrid team had been routed 5-1. He was fired a day later.

One year later, Lopetegui must have been at a loss to see his team trailing 3-0 at halftime after it had outplayed Barcelona in the first 25 minutes, largely thanks to Lucas Ocampos’ powerful runs down the right flank and on-target passes.

Sevilla’s Luuk De Jong, however, had a night to forget. After goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen made an excellent save against his point-blank shot off a pass by Ocampos, the striker had three glaring misses.

Lopetegui looked on in disbelief when De Jong’s header off another Ocampos cross failed to go in – a minute before Suarez whipped in Nelson Semedo’s cross at the other end.

De Jong’s bad Fortune continued after halftime when he stole the ball to leave himself in a perfect position, only to hit the post. He has yet to score since joining Sevilla in the offseason.

“It was a painful and undeserved loss,” Lopetegui said. “We were missing our finishing touch. De Jong did a lot of things very well, just as the team did, but to win at Camp Nou you have to play well and have a bit of luck.”

TOOTHLESS ATTACK

Atletico’s three-prong attack of Joao Felix, Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata wasn’t able to unsettle the modest Valladolid.

Atletico coach Diego Simeone sent on Angel Correa and Thomas Lemar for Felix and Morata, but they only slightly improved the attack. Atletico’s best scoring chance came in the 82nd when substitute Correa hit the upright.

Valladolid striker Sandor Ramirez squandered his side’s only good opportunity in the first half when he sent a penalty kick, that he had earned, high over the crossbar.

“It was very hard game, they play very well as a tight unit,” Simeone said. “(It was) a game that ended in a draw that we didn’t want, but we gave it our all.”

OTHER GAMES

Getafe fought back once Real Sociedad was reduced to 10 men to win 2-1 in San Sebastian, leaving Sociedad in fifth place just ahead of Sevilla.

Iago Aspas broke his seven-game scoring drought and gave Celta Vigo a 1-0 win over Athletic Bibao.

Espanyol fell second to last after losing 2-0 at Mallorca.

Valverde: Messi halftime substitution ‘only a precaution’

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For a bit longer than a half-hour, Barcelona was actually feeling pretty good about its rough season.

Lionel Messi had made his first start of the season, assisted on a goal from new boy Antoine Griezmann, and Arthur Melo scored a fantastic rocket goal to build a 2-0 lead for the Blaugranas.

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But Messi pulled up lame with a thigh injury, left the field and returned… only to come off at halftime of a 2-1 defeat of Villarreal that put 3W-1D-2L Barca within a point of the top of the table before five other contenders take the field.

Ernesto Valverde called it “only a precaution,” via the AP:

“When something happens to Messi, it seems that the world comes to a halt,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said. “But it looks like it’s only some minor pain in his abductor (muscle). We replaced him as a precaution. We don’t want to take any risks.”

Barca has lost to Athletic Bilbao and Granada, drawing Osasuna and starting Champions League life with a 0-0 draw at Borussia Dortmund.

All-told, Messi started Tuesday’s game having made 31- and 45-minute appearances. He only added another 45 to his tally.

Messi back in training, could be fit for Betis

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Lionel Messi was back in full training again on Wednesday and may be fit to face Real Betis in the Spanish league on Sunday.

Messi had been training separately from the squad since injuring his right calf in the preseason.

He missed the team’s 1-0 loss to Athletic Bilbao in the league opener on Friday.

Barcelona has not said how long it expects Messi to be sidelined.

[ MORE: Europa League preview ]

Coach Ernesto Valverde is also dealing with injuries to forwards Luiz Suarez and Ousmane Dembele.

Dembele is certain to miss Sunday’s match at the Camp Nou because of a left thigh injury that should keep him out for about five weeks.

Suarez also isn’t likely to play this weekend because of a muscle injury sustained before halftime of Friday’s game in Bilbao.

Two-time defending champion Barcelona hadn’t loss a league opener in 10 seasons.

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