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Villarreal routs Real Betis, moves near the top in Spain

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MADRID (AP) Villarreal routed Real Betis 5-1 on Friday for its third win in four matches, moving it near the top of the Spanish league.

[ MORE: La Liga scores, schedule ]

Karl Toko Ekambi scored twice and Santi Cazorla, Gerard Moreno and Samuel Chukwueze added a goal each to give Villarreal the comfortable victory at home. Emerson scored for Real Betis at the Ceramica Stadium.

The victory moved Villarreal to fifth place with 11 points. It is three points behind leader Real Madrid, which on Saturday visits crosstown rival Atletico Madrid.

Villarreal’s only setback in the last four rounds was a 2-1 loss to two-time defending champion Barcelona at Camp Nou Stadium on Tuesday.

Real Betis, which was unbeaten in its last four matches, stayed ninth in the 20-team table, with eight points.

Barcelona, without the injured Lionel Messi, visits Getafe on Saturday.

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

Golden Boy Award shortlist includes Lainez, Davies, drops Weah

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Canadian winger Alphonso Davies of Bayern Munich and Mexican winger Diego Lainez of Real Betis join a host of Premier League youngsters on the shortlist for the 2019 Golden Boy Award, honoring the best European-based footballer under the age of 21.

American playmakers Christian Pulisic and Timothy Weah were finalist last year, but Chelsea’s Pulisic has aged out of the competition. Lille’s Weah is no longer on the list despite being on the summer’s 100-man watch list.

[ MORE: Spurs shocked at Colchester Utd ]

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a Chelsea player here, as Mason Mount makes the cut.

So does ex-Man City Academy man Tom Dele-Bashiru, now of Watford, and current City midfielder Phil Foden.

Arsenal places Reiss Nelson and Matteo Guendouzi on the list, while Everton’s Moise Kean slides into the shortlist after his move from Juventus.

That said, the competition already feels winnowed to Matthijs de Ligt of Juventus versus Jadon Sancho of Borussia Dortmund the field, with De Ligt a heavy favorite.

Atletico Madrid’s Joao Felix will also like his chances of spinning a surprise outcome.

Previous winners include De Ligt, Kylian Mbappe, Renato Sanchez, Anthony Martial, Raheem Sterling, Paul Pogba, Isco, Mario Gotze, Mario Balotelli, Alexandre Pato, Anderson, Sergio Aguero, Cesc Fabregas, Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney, and Rafael van der Vaart.

Golden Boy Award shortlist

Benoit Badiashile (Monaco)
Samuel Chukwueze (Villarreal)
Michael Cuisance (Bayern Munich)
Tom Dele-Bashiru (Watford)
Matthijs De Ligt (Juventus)
Krépin Diatta (Club Brugge)
Giuanluigi Donnarumma (AC Milan)
Denis Dragus (Standard Liege)
Eljif Elmas (Napoli)
Florentino Luís (Benfica)
Phil Foden (Manchester City)
Mattéo Guendouzi (Arsenal)
Erling Braut Haaland (RB Salzburg)
Kai Havertz (Bayer Leverkusen)
Alexander Isak (Real Sociedad)
Joao Félix (Atlético Madrid)
Dejan Joveljic (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Boubacar Kamara (Marseille)
Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich)
Moise Kean (Everton)
Justin Kluivert (Roma)
Ibrahima Konaté (RB Leipzig)
Rodrygo Goes (Real Madrid)
Alban Lafont (Nantes)
Diego Lainez (Real Betis)
KangIn Lee (Valencia)
Andriy Lunin (Real Valladolid, on loan)
Donyell Malen (PSV)
Mason Mount (Chelsea)
Nehuén Pérez (Famalicao)
Reiss Nelson (Arsenal)
Abdulkadir Omur (Trabzonspor)
Strahinja Pavlovic (Partizan Belgrade)
Rafael Leao (AC Milan)
Vinicius Junior (Real Madrid)
Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund)
Luis Sinisterra (Feyenoord)
Jean-Clair Todibo (Barcelona)
Ferran Torres (Valencia)
Nicolo Zaniolo (Roma)

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

La Liga roundup: Griezmann shines in Barcelona’s 5-2 drubbing of Betis

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Wins from Barcelona and Atletico Madrid highlight La Liga’s Sunday action.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Barcelona 5-2 Real Betis

Antoine Griezmann’s Camp Nou debut was one for the books.

With Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez sidelined with injuries, the floor was all Griezmann’s. He didn’t disappoint.

Down 1-0, Griezmann, sneaking past his markers inside the box, acrobatically tapped a lofting ball from Sergi Roberto into the back of the net.

The best was yet to come, however.

In the second half, as Barcelona pinned Real Betis back in their defensive third, the Frenchman’s magic came to life.

Soon after, the floodgates opened – Barcelona’s skill effortlessly began to pick apart a weaker Betis side. Just 30 minutes after the 28-year-old’s second goal, Ernesto Valverde’s side posed a 5-1 lead.

Loren Moron’s superb strike gave Betis a second, but the defending champions had already done the damage behind goals from Carles Perez, Jordi Alba, Arturo Vidal and Griezmann.

With Sunday’s performance in mind, how will Barcelona function with Messi, Suarez and Griezmann spearheading the attack?

Osasuna may soon find that out firsthand as they host the Catalonians next. Elsewhere, looking for their first points of the season, Betis host Leganes.

Leganes 0-1 Atletico Madrid 

With a goal in the 70th minute, Vitolo played the unlikely hero for Atletico Madrid in their 1-0 win over Leganes.

Following a smooth lay-off from Joao Felix, the 29-year-old calmly slotted the ball past Juan Soriano, ten minutes after replacing Mario Hermoso.

The goal certainly meant a lot to Vitolo and Atletico Madrid, who along with Sevilla, are one of two teams to start the season with six points after two matchweeks.

Although not entirely dominant throughout the course of the match, the home side was inches from stripping two points from Los Colchoneros with Jonathan Silva’s free-kick hitting the crossbar.

Despite having a pair of clear-cut opportunities on Sunday, Atletico’s $142 million summer signing is yet to celebrate his first La Liga goal. Alvaro Morata, too, is waiting to catch fire.

With Atletico hosting an underperforming Eibar next, the narrative that Simeone’s side is lacking efficiency in the attack can soon fall flat. On the other hand, no points to their name, will look to exploit a confidence-battered Real Betis.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Alaves 0-0 Espanyol

RCD Mallorca 0-1 Real Sociedad

Griezmann could be key for Barcelona against Betis

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BARCELONA, Spain — If Lionel Messi listens to Real Betis and sits out another match, Barcelona will likely have to rely on Antoine Griezmann to finally get some points on the board.

Betis, which visits the Camp Nou on Sunday, responded to a tweet by Barcelona that Messi was back to practicing with the team for the first time since being injured in the preseason by saying: “Don’t rush, Leo. No need for you to force it!”

Barcelona couldn’t make up for Messi’s absence last weekend when its attack was held scoreless in a 1-0 loss at Athletic Bilbao.

That was the first time the two-time defending champions had lost a Spanish league opener in a decade. And after both Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid won, the pressure is on.

Barcelona acquired Griezmann after triggering the 120 million euro ($133 million) buyout clause in his contract with rival Atletico. The France forward was supposed to be the fourth piece to an already world class attack featuring Messi, Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele. But Griezmann may be left with all the scoring responsibility in his competitive home debut.

Messi strained his right calf in the team’s first practice of the season on Aug. 5 and hasn’t played since. Although it is possible he will be back to face Betis, Suarez won’t be after he injured a right leg muscle in the first half at Bilbao. Dembele has also been ruled out for several weeks with a left thigh injury.

Philippe Coutinho, who could have helped out as an attacking player, is no longer with the team after being loaned out to Bayern Munich this week. Malcom, a Brazilian forward who played sparingly for Barcelona last season, was sold to Zenit St. Petersburg.

Griezmann had a lackluster match at Bilbao. His only good scoring chance at San Mames Stadium came in the final minutes with a header.

The Frenchman, however, is used to carrying a team on his back.

Griezmann was a consistent scorer for Atletico, tallying more than 20 goals a season for five consecutive years despite the team often not having another attacking threat to draw away some of the attention of opposing defenses.

The problem at Bilbao, he said, was simply “the ball didn’t go in.”

The other player who could make the most of the opportunity created by the injuries is 21-year-old Carles Perez, a member of Barcelona’s reserve team. He impressed in the preseason, even scoring two goals in a 2-0 win over Japanese club Vissel Kobe, where former Barcelona great Andres Iniesta now plays.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde included Perez in Wednesday’s team practice.

Betis was the only team to beat Barcelona at its home stadium last season, outgunning the hosts 4-3.

Since then it has changed coaches, replacing the attack-minded Quique Setien with the more conservative Joan “Rubi” Ferrer, who led Espanyol to a Europa League berth. Barcelona also poached one of its top players, left back Junior Firpo.

Betis lost its Spanish league opener, falling 2-1 to Valladolid at home.

The last time Betis played Barcelona was in Seville in March. Messi scored three goals and received a standing ovation from the Betis fans.