Joaquin

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Barcelona ships four goals in loss to Real Betis

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The top of the La Liga table is nowhere near straightforward this season.

Barcelona failed to build a gap at the summit as they fall 4-3 at home against Real Betis on Sunday. Lionel Messi scored twice in his return from a broken arm, but was unable to overcome a multitude of defensive mistakes.

Junior Firpo, Joaquin, Giovani Lo Celso, and Sergio Canales all found the scoresheet for the visitors at the Camp Nou as they routed the Barcelona back line.

The first came from 22-year-old Firpo in the 20th minute who finished with his right foot one-on-one against Sergi Roberto after a brilliant long-distance feed from William Carvalho. Barcelona would fall 2-0 behind before halftime as Clément Lenglet whiffed attempting to clear a cross that skittered across the face of goal, and with the defenders all sucked towards net by the fast paced counter-attack, Cristian Tello cut the ball back into the middle where Joaquin was waiting to finish with a nifty little flick. Messi brought Barcelona a goal back from the penalty spot past the hour mark, but Giovani Lo Celso found space in the box just three minutes later and powered it home past Marc-Andre ter Stegen who got a touch.

Arturo Vidal again drew Barcelona within one before Betis would find the ultimate winning goal in the 83rd minute in a vicious flurry. Betis forced ter Stegen to come off his line and make a smothering save near the left post, which he did before booting the chance clear. It came right back at the Barcelona defense, however, as a streaking Junior Firpo cannoned the ball across the face of goal where Sergio Canales split Lenglet and Roberto with a sliding finish.

Barcelona’s defense has suffered greatly in the absence of Samuel Umtiti, who was unable to return from his knee injury in time to be fit for the match against Real Betis, having missed nearly six weeks. Lenglet has filled in during Umtiti’s absence, and Barcelona has conceded nine goals over the last four matches with the understudy in the lineup. Thomas Vermaelen has also been absent with a hamstring injury suffered after he played 90 minutes against Valencia in early October.

With the loss, Barcelona holds just a one-point lead over Sevilla, Atletico Madrid, and Alaves at the top of the La Liga table, with Espanyol three points back and Real Madrid still seven points behind.

Malaga’s European ban upheld as exodus begins

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Due to a failure to pay debts to both the tax office and other clubs, the Court of Arbitration for Sport has upheld the European ban on Malaga.

Therefore, they will not be able to compete in the Europa League next year, despite finishing in a qualifying spot in the Primera Division table.

They were banned in December for two years, but the punishment was reduced to one because the club “regularised its overdue payables” before its March 31st deadline. The club then appealed the decision because the debts were paid, but their plea to the CAS has fallen on deaf ears.

Now that the ban has been upheld, and the original €300,000 ($401,000) fine also remains, many players could be on their way out as they seek to return to European competitions.

Spanish winger Joaquin could be the first of the wave out, as Fiorentina confirmed his signing on a 3-year deal.

The 31-year-old made 45 appearances this past season – 40 starts – for Malaga over all competitions, scoring eight goals and assisting eight others.

Because of the ban, along with the decision by the Spanish league to refuse a European license to Rayo Vallecano due to their continuing administration, Real Betis and Sevilla will receive the bids into the qualifying rounds of the Europa League.  Betis finished in 7th, and Sevilla in 9th, while Rayo finished in 8th.