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La Liga: Messi saves Barcelona in draw, Sociedad wins Basque derby

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Barcelona dropped two points at the Camp Nou but it could have been worse, as Lionel Messi once again was the hero for the Blaugrana.

The star forward scored twice on either side of halftime, first from the penalty spot and the second from outside the box as Barcelona came back to draw Valencia, 2-2 on Saturday afternoon. Messi also took a knock to his thigh, raising doubts on his fitness ahead of Barcelona’s Copa Del Rey semifinal first leg on Wednesday against arch rivals Real Madrid.

[READ: Sean Dyche hammers officiating]

Twice, Valencia made a slow Barcelona backline pay on the counter attack within the game’s first half hour. First, Valencia’s Rodrigo Moreno drove through the middle of the field untouched before laying off a perfectly-weighted pass into the box for Kevin Gameiro to smash home. Then, in the 30th minute, Barcelona’s Sergi Roberto bowled over Daniel Wass in the box, giving up a penalty kick. Dani Parejo stepped up and confidently slotted home to give Valencia the shock 2-0 lead.

It only took five minutes for Barcelona to pull one back. After Nelson Semedo was tripped up in the box, Messi stepped up to the spot and sent Valencia goallkeeper Neto the wrong way to make it 2-1. Messi forced a save from Neto a minute into the second half, and he finally found the net once again around a crowd of defenders in the 64th minute on a curling left-footed strike.

With the draw, Barcelona remains atop the La Liga standings with 50 points, six above Atletico Madrid in second-place, though Atleti has a game-in-hand. Real Madrid is currently 11 points back, with a game-in-hand as well.

Elsewhere in Spain on Saturday, Real Sociedad its second consecutive win over Athletic Bilbao in the Basque derby. Both teams featured new coaches since the last meeting but the result was the same, with Sociedad winning, 2-1, over Bilbao. Mikel Oyarzabal, who scored two goals in the last meeting, scored the opener again for Sociedad, and Willian Jose added a second over the poor Bilbao squad. Raul Garcia turned in a rebound late in the match to make it interesting for Bilbao but they ran out of time.

In Saturday’s late match, relegation-threatened Celta Vigo shocked fourth-place Sevilla with a 1-0 victory. Mexican National Team defender Nestor Araujo helped keep a clean sheet for Celta. Also, Levante and Getafe played to a scoreless draw.

Newcastle gets 2nd Kenedy loan, sells Merino to La Liga

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Kenedy is returning to Newcastle United.

The Chelsea man will take a second loan season with Rafa Benitez after making a strong impression on Tyneside in the second half of the 2017-18 season.

The Magpies will have the option to buy Kenedy.

[ MORE: Mourinho on England, Croatia ]

The Brazilian left-sided man can play virtually any field position besides center back, and scored two goals with two assists for the Magpies last season.

“I am so happy with this interest from Rafa Benítez, that he came back for me,” said Kenedy. “I want to keep it going, the work that I did here before, for the new season.

Meanwhile, Mikel Merino‘s whirlwind time at St. James’ Park is done after just one season.

Newcastle is selling the Spaniard to Real Sociedad. Merino burst onto the scene on loan from Borussia Dortmund, and the Magpies quickly exercised an option to buy the silky midfielder.

But Merino dropped down the depth chart, making just two starts after New Year’s Day.

Atletico defeat leaves Barcelona 1 win from title

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MADRID (AP) Atletico Madrid lost 3-0 at Real Sociedad on Thursday, leaving Barcelona one victory away from clinching the Spanish league title.

Barcelona, which drew 2-2 at Celta Vigo on Tuesday without most of its regular starters, can secure its 25th crown at Deportivo La Coruna on April 29.

[ MORE: Chelsea tops Burnley, trails Spurs by five points in UCL race ]

The Catalan club faces Sevilla in the Copa del Rey final on Saturday.

Barcelona has a 12-point lead over Atletico, with five matches left, and is 15 in front of third-place Real Madrid, which needed a late goal by Cristiano Ronaldo to draw 1-1 with Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday.

Another loss for Atletico on Sunday against Real Betis would leave Diego Simeone’s team out of contention for the title because Barcelona holds the head-to-head advantage between the clubs.

Willian Jose shot Sociedad ahead in the 27th minute at the Anoeta Stadium. Juanmi Jimenez made it 2-0 in the 80th after a perfect backheel from Jose before Jimenez scored again with an injury-time header.

It was a third straight win for Sociedad, which stayed 11th in the standings. Atletico hadn’t lost in three consecutive league matches.

GIRONA WINS

Girona ended a four-match winless streak with a 2-1 victory at Alaves, staying in contention for a Europa League spot next season.

Aleix Garcia opened the scoring for Girona in the 59th minute and Cristhian Stuani added a penalty in the 86th, moving the team within one point of seventh-place Sevilla.

Tomas Pina struck in the 90th minute for Alaves, which is 15th.

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

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

El Tri standout Moreno leaves Roma for Real Sociedad

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When last we caught up with Hector Moreno, he was set to be a major player in AS Roma’s bid for a Serie A title.

[ MORE: Cameron, Arena argue USMNT ]

Just over six months later, he’s returning to La Liga to help arrest a relegation slide… and lead a Europa League run.

The 30-year-old El Tri defender has left Rome for Real Sociedad on a $7.5 million deal, one day after his new club sold Inigo Martinez to Athletic Bilbao for about $40 million.

The club says he’s signed a deal to keep him with the txuri-urdin through the 2020-21 season. The move will allow him consistent playing time ahead of the World Cup.

Moreno made just five Serie A appearances for i Lupi, and Roma went 5-0 in those matches including a pair of clean sheets in his lone starts.

Real Sociedad is on a 1W-3D-6L run in league play and has won one match since a Nov. 5 defeat of Eibar. They have progressed to the Round of 32 in the Europa League, where they meet Red Bull Salzburg on Feb. 15 and 22.

La Liga: Sociedad beats Deportivo to stay perfect, joint-top

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MADRID (AP) Real Sociedad has become the early surprise in the Spanish league, starting with a perfect record to join Barcelona at the top of the standings.

Sociedad scored twice early and twice late to defeat Deportivo La Coruna 4-2 on Sunday, becoming the only team other than Barcelona with three victories.

Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao are two points off the lead, while defending champion Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid dropped four points back after being held to disappointing draws on Saturday.

“It’s very important to start with these three victories, especially these two away from home in very difficult stadiums to play in,” Sociedad coach Eusebio Sacristan said. “We are very happy but we know there is still a long way to go. We know every game will be difficult.”

Sociedad took an early lead in La Coruna with two goals in the first four minutes at the Riazor Stadium, and secured the victory with two more in the last 10 minutes after the hosts had equalized early in the second half.

“The match got complicated for us,” Sacristan said. “They started playing better but we were able to turn things around again. We regained control of the match and went for the victory. We were not content with only a draw after having the lead that we had.”

Juanmi Jimenez opened the scoring for Sociedad in the third minute and Asier Illarramendi added to the lead in the fourth. Deportivo evened the match with goals by Adrian Lopez in the 27th and Florin Andone in the 50th, but Sociedad secured the victory with a goal by Diego Llorente in the 83rd and another by Illarramendi in the 86th.

Sociedad, back-to-back Spanish champion in 1981-82, had opened the season with victories at Celta Vigo and against Villarreal.

It will face one of its toughest tests yet in the next round when it hosts titleholders Madrid at Anoeta Stadium.

Deportivo, which fought to avoid relegation last season, lost to Madrid in its opener before drawing at Levante in the second round.

On Saturday, Barcelona routed Espanyol 5-0 in the Catalan derby with a hat trick by Lionel Messi at the Camp Nou Stadium.

Madrid could not manage more than a 1-1 draw against Levante, being held to its second consecutive draw at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium. It had tied Valencia 2-2 last weekend.

Earlier Saturday, Atletico drew 0-0 with Valencia at Mestalla Stadium. Diego Simeone’s team has played three straight away games before being able to inaugurate its Wanda Metropolitano Stadium on Saturday against Malaga.

Leganes, in its second season in the first division, also had a chance to win three in a row this weekend, but it lost 2-1 to Getafe at home in Saturday’s southern Madrid derby.

Athletic Bilbao’s defense remained perfect and forwards Iker Muniain and Aritz Aduriz scored a goal in each half to give the hosts a 2-0 win over promoted Girona.

It was the second consecutive win for Athletic, which is yet to concede a goal this season.

Barcelona is the only other team not to have conceded after three rounds.

Celta Vigo defeated Alaves 1-0 to halt its two-game losing streak.

Maxi Gomez scored a first-half winner in Vigo. It was the third straight defeat for Alaves, which is yet to score a goal after three rounds.

Villarreal conceded early but recovered to defeat Real Betis 3-1 and earn its first victory.

Villarreal had lost its first two games and was yet to score a goal, while Real Betis has now lost two of its first three matches.