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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.

Giovani Lo Celso scores long-range Europa League rocket

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It’s a wonder how Giovani Lo Celso didn’t see the field for a single minute this summer for a struggling Argentina. It’s a wonder that Paris Saint-Germain let Lo Celso go out on loan this season.

The 22-year-old has been cast aside a few times over the last five months, and yet he’s still turning heads on the field.

Lo Celso’s latest victim was Europa League opponent AC Milan, who foolishly gave him space 25 yards away from goal, and he took advantage with a stunning dart into the top-left corner that left a full-stretch Gianluigi Donnarumma with no chance but to watch it sail past his outstretched hand. PSG’s loss is Real Betis’s gain.

The goal put the Spanish side 2-0 up, and sent them above AC Milan and into first place in Group F on 7 points. Lo Celso was an absolute workhorse in the match, completing 49/57 passes, creating a game-high four chances, recovering 10 loose balls, completing 4/5 attempted tackles, and intercepting four passes.

Lo Celso has slowly made his way into the Real Betis side on a regular basis, with two full 90-minute performances in the last three La Liga matches for Betis. He has yet to score a league goal, but he has now found the back of the net in back-to-back Europa League matches and is proving to be a critical part of this Spanish side that is on the cusp of breaking into the top half of the La Liga table and could be headed for more should they find a good run of form.

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.

Japan’s Inui gets embassy introduction from Betis

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TOKYO (AP) Japan midfielder Takashi Inui was introduced by La Liga team Real Betis at the Spanish Embassy in Tokyo on Thursday after impressing at the World Cup.

The 30-year-old Inui, who played for Spanish club Eibar for three seasons, said he has a three-year contract with Betis.

“Betis’ football last season was very attractive for me,” Inui said. “I had a strong feeling that I wanted to be a part of the team.”

Inui scored two goals for Japan at the World Cup in Russia, and played a major role in helping his team reach the last 16.

Inui scored in Japan’s 2-2 draw with Senegal in the group stage of the World Cup. He got a second goal in his team’s 3-2 loss against Belgium in the knockout stage.

Real Betis says Inui will keep the No. 14 shirt he wore for the Japanese national team.

Late winner moves Betis into 6th in Spanish league

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MADRID (AP) Sergio Leon scored an 89th-minute winner as Real Betis defeated Getafe 1-0 in the Spanish league on Monday, moving into the qualification zone for the Europa League.

Betis jumped from eighth to sixth in the standings with its third straight victory. It is one point behind fifth-place Villarreal.

The teams in fifth, sixth, and seventh places qualify for the Europa League.

Getafe, which dropped to 11th, missed a 65th-minute penalty kick when goalkeeper Antonio Adan stopped Francisco Portillo’s shot from the spot.

Getafe also came close when defender Vitorino Antunes struck the post with a free kick in the 73rd, and the hosts were denied an injury-time goal when the officiating crew ruled that a ball headed into the far corner did not fully cross the goal line. Getafe also had a first-half goal disallowed for offside.

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