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Barcelona still reeling from Anfield collapse back in May

(AP Photo/Miguel Morenatti)

By JOSEPH WILSON

Associated Press

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona hasn't recovered from last season's debacle at Liverpool.

Ever since a team featuring Lionel Messi squandered a three-goal, first-leg advantage at Anfield - in a humiliating 4-0 defeat in the Champions League semifinals - Barcelona hasn't been the same side that inspires fear in rivals.

Barcelona had already won the Spanish league title when it was ripped apart by Liverpool on May 7, but after that stunning setback it finished its domestic campaign with a loss in the Copa del Rey final to Valencia.

The malaise that settled over Barcelona didn't go away over the summer despite the club bringing in important reinforcements to add talent and depth.

The numbers are numbing.

After being outplayed by Granada 2-0 on Saturday, Barcelona is off to its worst start to the Spanish league in 25 years after earning just seven of 15 possible points.

It hasn't won away from home since April and has, along with Real Betis and Espanyol, the worst defense in the Spanish league with nine goals conceded in five rounds.

"It is going to be a difficult year," Barcelona's Luis Suarez said following the slip at Granada.

Barcelona, which has said it will become the first sports team in the world to surpass 1 billion euros ($1.15 billion) in revenue this season, has a record of two wins, a draw, and two losses so far in the Spanish league. It needed a strong performance from goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen to take a 0-0 draw from Borussia Dortmund in its Champions League opener.

Barcelona only had a combined four losses in the league over the previous two seasons, and two of those defeats came with the title already clinched.

The recent stumbles have not come against the top teams, with results such as a 2-2 draw at Osasuna, a recently promoted team like Granada.

Messi has played limited minutes as he slowly returns from a leg injury. Suarez also missed two games because of injury.

France forward Antoine Griezmann, one of the league's top scorers when leading Atletico Madrid, has just two goals - both in the same match - since his high-profile transfer to help Messi and Suarez share out the scoring.

The defense has suffered in particular. Holding midfielder Sergio Busquets, the glue of the team, has slipped a notch at age 31 and has no substitute in the squad.

Club president Josep Bartomeu stuck with coach Ernesto Valverde after the loss at Liverpool despite calls for his firing. The pressure is now back on the coach.

"The ones out there winning or losing are the players, but I take the responsibility for what has happened," Valverde said.

The next four matches could go a long way to deciding Valverde's future.

Barcelona hosts Villarreal on Tuesday, and four days later visits the very physical Getafe. It then hosts Inter Milan in the Champions League on Oct. 2, followed by a visit from Sevilla.

Bilbao leads a very evenly contested Spanish league that has seen no team win more than three games.

The club, which only has players from the northern Basque Country region and surrounding areas, has recovered its identity as one of the toughest competitors in the competition thanks to coach Gaizka Garitano, who arrived midway through last season.

"We know our style of play and the core group of players is the same," Garitano said after Sunday's 2-0 win over Alaves. "We are picking up where we left off last season. Opponents have a hard time finding scoring chances against us."

Bilbao hasn't lost at its San Mames Stadium in the league since October and beat Barcelona 1-0 in this season's league opener.

Real Madrid earned a much-needed 1-0 win at Sevilla on Sunday to quieten some critics following its embarrassing 3-0 loss at Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League.

Madrid hadn't won at Sevilla since 2015. The most satisfaction for coach Zinedine Zidane was that the victory came from the hard work he had demanded from his players.

Now Zidane can face next weekend's derby at Atletico Madrid more calmly - and even with confidence. First, Madrid will host Osasuna on Wednesday.

While its men's team struggles, the Barcelona women's side is flying high after crushing top rival Atletico Madrid 6-1 on Saturday to take the league lead.

Atletico got off to a good start at Barcelona with an early goal. Barcelona rallied after an equalizing penalty by Jennifer Hermoso. Nigeria striker Asisat Oshoala fueled the rout with two well-taken goals.

Barcelona has been the main challenger to Atletico, which has won the last three titles.

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Updated September 23, 2019

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