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La Liga roundup: Messi-less Barcelona halted by Osasuna

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Barcelona’s draw and Real Betis’ win highlight Saturday’s La Liga action.

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Osasuna 2-2 Barcelona

With Antoine Griezmann’s magic nowhere to be spotted, Barcelona felt every bit of Lionel Messi’s absence for a second time this season.

Messi has yet to feature for the defending champions this season. Without him, Barcelona are off to a their worst start since Pep Guardiola‘s treble-winning side 11 years ago, earning only four points throughout three matches.

Barcelona’s latest hiccup? A 2-2 draw against a persistent Osasuna.

Osasuna’s game-defining goal came in the late stages, following a penalty call on Gerard Pique. Roberto Morales’ brace concluded a triumphant draw for the home side, that despite being severely outpossessed, managed to create more chances than Ernesto Valverde’s side.

Although the numbers aren’t in their favor, there is a glaring break in the clouds for Barcelona: 16-year-old Ansu Fati, who became the club’s youngest player to score in La Liga. The highly-touted left winger was brought on in the second half, and proved to be pivotal in the Catalonian’s punctured frontline.

With or without Messi, Barcelona host Valencia next, while Osasuna hope to continue their positive run against Real Valladolid.

Real Betis 2-1 Leganes 

For the first time this season, Real Betis have won a game.

With back-to-back losses to start the new campaign, Los Verdiblancos were far from meeting the high expectations that had them bouncing back from a wobbly 2018/2019 season. The team’s transition following a plethora of departures didn’t help the cause.

That continues to be the case for Real Betis, but with players such as summer signing Nabil Fekir, who continues to become more influential with each passing day, things can be different for Rubi’s side this time around.

The 26-year-old Frenchman, who missed out on move to Liverpool last summer, scored the game-winner against Leganes. With Giovani Lo Celso in London with Tottenham, Fekir is seamlessly becoming the ideal replacement: scoring two goals in the first three games La Liga.

The Sevilla based side can benefit from it again with Getafe up next, while Leganes, who are dead last, can learn something from Betis’ perseverance ahead of their bout against Villareal.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Levante 2-0 Real Valladolid

Getafe 1-1 Alaves

Messi’s latest goal dares you to count the touches (video)

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There’s a danger in observing Lionel Messi on a week-by-week basis, and it has a lot to do with how he makes greatness look routine.

So while it’s easy to dismiss yet another mazy dribble through a defense, one of those “Frogger” style with calm-but-vicious cutbacks, try to consider everything that goes into Messi’s second goal against Osasuna early Saturday.

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On first look, you might count 9 touches for Messi starting with his right-footed collection of the ball. But move to the slow motion replays, and recognize the truth: Often Messi is letting the ball do the work for him, essentially moving the duo closer to goal while he used his preferred left foot as a must-respect threat.

That he does it in such traffic and at full speed is incredible. It’s literally one of those goals in which a linguistic luminary like Ray Hudson would have trouble over-emphasizing the greatness.

Messi now has 11 La Liga goals in 12 matches, and 22 in 19 overall.

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Neymar out, Arda Turan has another chance for Barcelona

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Fresh off scoring a hat trick, Turkey midfielder Arda Turan is hoping for another chance to prove he can play alongside Barcelona’s best.

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With Neymar suspended for Saturday’s Spanish league match at Osasuna, Turan is likely to take his spot next to Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez in the defending champion’s vaunted attack.

[ MORE: Arsenal looks to continue unbeaten run against Stoke City ]

Turan filled in superbly for Neymar on Tuesday when he scored his first hat trick for Barcelona to lead the team to a 4-0 victory over Borussia Moenchengladbach in the Champions League.

The treble took Turan’s scoring total for the season to eight goals, making him Barcelona’s third-leading scorer behind Messi (20) and Suarez (12).

Even though nobody doubts Neymar is the more talented of the two, the Brazil striker has managed only six goals despite playing 400 minutes more than Turan this season.

Neymar’s suspensions from both the `Gladbach and Osasuna matches were for accumulation of bookings in both competitions.

“Arda is scoring lots of goals. When he plays on the wing he has many skills he can draw on,” Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said. “He can also play in midfield. I am happy for him.”

Turan, however, has proven to be a tough piece for Luis Enrique to fit into Barcelona’s talent-laden puzzle.

As his coach said, Turan has impressed on the left side of the attack. But that spot has Neymar’s name stamped on it, and Turan has struggled when asked to play further back.

While Turan flourishes when given space and the freedom to break down defenses, he looks uncomfortable in Barcelona’s demanding precision passing approach.

His unease with the defensive tasks that playing in midfield entails was clear in last weekend’s match against Real Madrid when Turan went on as a late substitute to help protect a one-goal lead.

Instead, Turan’s foul on Marcelo conceded a dangerous free kick that Luka Modric didn’t waste, placing a cross for Sergio Ramos to head in a 90th-minute equalizer and snatch a 1-1 draw that kept Madrid six points clear at the top of the Spanish table.

Turan took a lot of heat for that foul in the Barcelona sports media, meaning his three goals against `Gladbach couldn’t have come at a better time.

“We haven’t played well recently and haven’t gotten good results,” Turan said. “We tried to get the best possible result and play at our best (against `Gladbach).”

Now 29, Turan developed into one of the league’s top attacking midfielders through four seasons with Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid, helping the once second-rate team become one of Europe’s best with league, Copa del Rey and Europa League titles.

But when Barcelona called in 2015, Turan changed clubs despite knowing that he couldn’t play until 2016 because of Barcelona’s FIFA-imposed one-year ban on new players for breaking its transfer rules regarding underage players.

The former Galatasaray standout also joined Barcelona well aware that competition for playing time, never mind a regular starting role, would be fierce with the likes of Messi, Suarez and, above all, Neymar.

After failing to find a spot following his debut midway through last campaign, Turan made a promising start to this season when Neymar was away playing for Brazil.

He scored twice in a Spanish Super Cup victory over Sevilla and notched Barcelona’s first league goal of the season. But once Neymar was back from helping Brazil win the Olympic gold medal, Turan was back on the bench.

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The reserve role clearly didn’t suit him. Only one of his goals this season has come as a substitute, when he sparked a 2-1 comeback at `Gladbach in September.

Unlike this week’s second win over `Gladbach, which came with Barcelona already qualified for the Champions League’s knockout rounds, Barcelona visits Pamplona on Saturday needing to break a run of three straight league draws.

Promoted Osasuna appears to be the optimum rival to end that skid. It is in last place and hasn’t won in seven home matches since its return to the first division.

La Liga relegation places decided

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After an exciting final round in La Liga, the relegation places have been decided: Real Betis, Real Valladolid and Osasuna will be playing in the Segunda Liga next season.

With just 25 points on the season, Real Betis’s fate was sealed long ago. Their unfortunate tangle with Europa League, and their loss of their best player to Bilbao, shaped their season – to devastating effect.

Valladolid fell to Granada in the weekend’s most nerve-wracking match, as Granada could’ve very well slipped down had they failed to win. But Valladolid dug their own grave, with Stefan Mitrović putting the ball in the back of his own net just before the break.

Osasuna had a bit of trouble at their match, with a retaining barrier collapsing twelve minutes in, after the first goal was scored. An estimated 40 fans were injured, although none are in serious condition. After a 35-minute delay, the game was restarted, with the decision made to delay the start of the second half in the three other matches. Osasuna scored a second almost immediately after, but ultimately it didn’t matter. They needed Granada, Getafe or Almeria to lose, and that didn’t happen.

It’s unknown yet who will move up to the top division. Deportivo la Coruna, who were relegated last season and very nearly slipped down to the third division thanks to a dispute over players’ wages, are currently top in Spain’s second division. But with three games left to go after this weekend, it’s really too soon to say who we’ll be welcoming to La Liga.

Here’s how everything else in La Liga shook out…

Champions

Atlético Madrid! They drew with Barcelona to clinch the La Liga title on Saturday.

Champions League

Barcelona and Real Madrid will skip qualifying and go straight into the group stages. Atheltic Bilbao will take the fourth spot, joining the tournament for the last playoff round.

Europa League

Sevilla, Villarreal and Real Sociedad round out Spain’s European teams. That’s particularly impressive for Villarreal, who spent last season in the second division.

Relegation and La Liga: which teams could drop on Sunday?

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Anyone that loves a relegation dogfight should tune in to La Liga today. On the final match day of Spain’s top division, five different teams are battling to avoid the drop. Each of the four games involving the bottom six sides are set to kick off at 12 noon ET.

Let’s take a look at which clubs could spend next season in the second division. Remember, La Liga uses head-to-head rather than goal difference as a tie-breaker when teams are even on points…which makes this a bit hairy:

Real Betis (20th)
It’s over for the Andalusian side, who, with just 25 points and a -41 goal difference, lost hope some weeks ago. Betis serve as perhaps another warning for smaller clubs entering Europa League that maybe, just maybe, that European experience isn’t worth the fight. Still, Betis won’t take it easy on Osasuna – even with nothing to play for, they beat 19th placed Valladolid last week.

Real Valladolid (19th)
First, in order to save themselves, Valladolid must beat Granada. If that happens, they’ll have 39 points. If Osasuna lose to Betis, Valladolid are safe. If Osasuna win, that could create a potential tie-breaker with Valladolid, Osasuna, Almeria and Getafe all on 39 points. The permutations of that outcome could give anyone a headache. If it’s just Osasuna and Valladolid that finish with 39, however, Valladolid will be relegated, as Osasuna have the better head-to-head.
In summary: if you’re a Valladolid fan, root for Betis and Vallecano – that should put Valladolid into safety.

Osasuna (18th)
A win puts Osasuna on 39 points. That’s a must. But the fact that Granada and Valladolid play each other doesn’t do Osasuna any favors. If Granada, Getafe and Almeria all win, Osasuna are relegated. If there’s another tie at 39 points, again, we’ve got another headache situation. But Osasuna will be cheering on Valladolid, as if they’re even on points, Osasuna stay safe.

Granada (17th)
Beating Valladolid makes Granada safe, full stop. If Granada lose, they’re down, full stop. If the match finishes in a draw, and Osasuna win, it gets more complicated. If both Getafe and Almeria lose, then Granada are down.

Getafe (16th)
Getafe are three points above the drop, but that doesn’t make them safe. Obviously, if get even a point at Rayo, they’re good – it’s La Liga for them next season. But if, despite having nothing to play for, Rayo decide to beat up on Getafe, they could be in danger. If the azulones lose, Osasuna wins and Valldolid and Granada ends in a tie, Getafe are down.

Almeria (15th)
Good news for Almeria – Athletic Bilbao are safe in the final Champions League place, and have no reason to fight for all three points. A draw is enough to keep Almeria safe. In fact, Almeria are almost certain to remain in La Liga. Only if Granada win, Getafe don’t lose and Osasuna win is there a chance that Almeria go down.

PS – if you’re fluent in Spanish, give this AS article a glance. You’ll see just how complicated tonight’s match outcomes might be.

Fixtures

Almeria vs. Athletic Bilbao
Osasuna vs. Real Betis
Rayo Vallecano vs. Getafe
Real Valladolid vs. Granada