Barcelona tries to get Spanish league campaign back on track

MADRID (AP) — So far, so good for Barcelona in the Champions League. Now it’s time to get back on track in the Spanish league.

The 2-1 win over Dynamo Kyiv on Wednesday left Barcelona comfortably ahead in Group G of the Champions League with nine points from three matches. But the situation is very different at home, where the Catalan club got off to a lackluster start under coach Ronald Koeman.

Barcelona enters its match against Real Betis on Saturday in 12th place in the standings and coming off a four-match winless streak. Among its poor results was a home loss against Real Madrid in the first “clásico” of the season.

The club has eight points from six matches and currently trails leader Real Sociedad by nine, although it has two games in hand. Atlético Madrid has also played six matches but already is six points ahead of Barcelona, while Madrid is eight points in front with only one game in hand.

“We have a good dynamic going in the Champions League, but we need to change things in the Spanish league,” veteran Barcelona defender Gerard Piqué said after the win over Dynamo at the Camp Nou. “I’m convinced that we can do it. We are in good spirits. We need to start winning matches to gain confidence and keep improving.”

Barcelona is trying to keep Madrid from winning back-to-back league titles for the first time since 2007-08. The club hasn’t finished behind Atlético in the standings since the Madrid team won the title for the last time in 2013-14.

Contrary to Barcelona, Real Madrid began the year thriving in the league and struggling in the Champions League. It visits Valencia on Sunday seeking its sixth win in the last seven league matches. It had been winless in the European competition until defeating Inter Milan 3-2 on Tuesday to get back in position to advance.

“We know it’s going to be difficult to win throughout the season because there are no easy games,” Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said. “I don’t see any other team winning every game comfortably, but we know that when we play as a team we are tough to beat.”

Atlético is coming off a draw at Lokomotiv Moscow in the Champions League on Tuesday but has won three in a row in the league, where it remains the only unbeaten team. The team just signed French-born midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia from Valencia to improve its midfield after the departure of Thomas Partey to Arsenal. On Saturday, Atlético hosts promoted Cádiz, which is in fifth place and is unbeaten in five matches.

Real Sociedad, the early leader boosted by the signing of David Silva from Manchester City, hosts sixth-place Granada on Sunday looking to win its fifth league game in a row.

Piqué said it was expected for Barcelona to struggle after coming off one of its worst seasons in decades, its first without a title since 2007-08. The club has been in turmoil since the embarrassing 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich in last season’s Champions League. Since then, Lionel Messi asked to leave and president Josep Bartomeu and his board of directors resigned.

Winning the Champions League has been among Barcelona’s priorities. The club last won the European trophy in 2015.

“It won’t be easy this year but at least we have the confidence that we can achieve big things,” Piqué said. “It’s only November, there is a lot of season left.”

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

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