Roberto, Barcelona edge last-place Almeria to regain third place in Spanish league
MADRID (AP) — It was yet another lackluster performance by Barcelona, drawing jeers from the home fans upset with the team's struggles against the only winless team in the Spanish league so far.
Some of the jeers came even after Barcelona found a way to beat last-place Almeria 3-2 on Wednesday, a much-needed hard-fought victory that ended a three-game winless streak and moved the Catalan club back to third place.
“We understand why the fans aren't too happy, we aren't either,” Barcelona midfielder Sergi Roberto said. “But we have to be more united than ever now. We need the fans behind us. Hopefully we will begin next year with the right foot.”
Roberto scored twice and Raphinha once for Barcelona, which moved three points ahead of fourth-place Atletico Madrid. The Catalan club trails Real Madrid by four points and leader Girona by six points. Madrid visits Alaves on Thursday, while Girona is at Real Betis.
Almeria is the only team yet to win a Spanish league match this season. The Saudi-owned club hasn’t won in 21 straight league games, going back to last season.
Barcelona struggled to impose itself against its minnow opponent and needed an 83rd-minute winner by Roberto to secure the home victory after twice relinquishing a lead at the Lluis Companys Olympic Stadium in Montjuic.
Raphinha opened the scoring in the 33rd and Léo Baptistão equalized in the 41st. In the second half, Roberto put the hosts ahead again in the 60th before Edgar González evened the match in the 71st after Barcelona goalkeeper Iñaki Peña collided with defender Ronald Araujo while going for a ball inside the area.
Peña, who started in place of the injured Marc-André ter Stegen, made a tough save in the 86th to help Barcelona preserve the lead.
“We suffered more than we expected and more than we deserved,” Barcelona coach Xavi Hernández said. “We had 30 shots on goal and gifted two goals. The first half was unacceptable, but the second was better. It's been like this for a month and a half or two.”
Xavi's team has conceded 21 goals in 18 matches, one more than it allowed after all the 38 games last season.
Barcelona was coming off a 1-1 draw at Valencia and a 4-2 loss to Girona at home. It also lost 3-2 to Antwerp to close out its group-stage campaign in the Champions League, although it advanced to the knockout round for the first time after two consecutive early eliminations.
Barcelona has won all of its eight home matches against Almeria in the league, but had lost its last game against the southern Spanish club in February. Barcelona had been unbeaten in its previous 13 matches against Almeria.
Almeria had drawn two of its last three league matches — 0-0 against Real Betis and 0-0 at Mallorca. It stayed in last place with five points — nine points from safety.
Almeria’s lone win in 20 matches this season was against third-division club Tavalera in the first round of the Copa del Rey. It was eventually eliminated by fourth-division team Barbastro in the second round.
Barcelona played with a depleted squad that included the absences of the suspended Frenkie de Jong and the injured Pedri. Roberto started as the defensive midfielder.
Fifth-place Athletic Bilbao defeated ninth-place Las Palmas 1-0 at home with Unai Gómez scoring the winner four minutes into stoppage time.
Villarreal moved further away from the relegation zone by defeating Celta Vigo 3-2 to end a three-match winless run in the league. Celta, which has only one win in its last 14 league games, stayed in 18th place, inside the demotion zone. Villarreal was 13th.
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