Sports

Barcelona discouraged by setbacks ahead of Madrid clasico

FC Barcelona's head manager Luis Enrique, gives instructions during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between FC Barcelona and Real Sociedad, at Anoeta stadium in San Sebastian, northern Spain, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)

FC Barcelona's head manager Luis Enrique, gives instructions during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between FC Barcelona and Real Sociedad, at Anoeta stadium in San Sebastian, northern Spain, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)

MADRID — Barcelona players are unusually downbeat ahead of one of their most important games of the season.

The Catalan club will enter the first "clasico" of the season against Real Madrid filled with doubts after a couple of disappointing performances in the Spanish league.

Barcelona was outplayed throughout the 1-1 draw at Real Sociedad on Sunday for its second consecutive setback in the league. It had also been held to a 0-0 home draw against Malaga in the previous round.

The results left the two-time champions six points behind Madrid ahead of Saturday's much-anticipated game at Camp Nou.

"It was a day when very few things worked," Barcelona defender Gerard Pique said after the draw against Sociedad. "The team didn't play in the first half. We improved in the second, but it will be very difficult to win La Liga playing like this."

Sunday's performance left Enrique welcoming the draw, while admitting that Barcelona was dominated by its opponent, something that doesn't happen very often to the European powerhouse.

"We played our worst match of the season. The opponents were far superior," he said. "Football is so special that we almost won with a chance ... but it wouldn't have been fair."

Barcelona escaped an even worse result because a second-half goal by Sociedad was incorrectly disallowed for offside. The hosts also were denied by the woodwork twice near the end of the game.

"When an opponent plays better we have to admit it," Barcelona defender Jordi Alba said.

Enrique said things must change for the clasico, when a loss would leave Barcelona nine points behind Madrid and in a difficult position to try to win the title for a third straight time. Even a draw would not be a good result considering the rival's advantage.

"We are still in the 13th round, you can't discount the two-time defending champions. There is still a long way to go," Enrique said. "We will play against the leader and the direct matchups could be decisive. We will be at home and things will be different."

Barcelona lost to Madrid the last time the teams played at Camp Nou, a result that brought Madrid back into the title hunt with only a few rounds left last season. The loss also put an end to Barcelona's 39-game unbeaten streak.

Now it's Madrid coming in with the league lead and an unbeaten run. Zinedine Zidane's team hasn't lost in 31 matches, dating back to a 2-0 setback at Wolfsburg in the Champions league last season.

"The game against Madrid is one everybody wants to win," Alba said. "If we win it, we are right back in the fight for La Liga."

Before the clasico, Barcelona makes its Copa del Rey debut by playing at Hercules in the first leg of the competition's round of 32 on Wednesday. Luis Enrique is expected to rest nearly all of his top players.

Madrid plays the second leg against Cultural Leonesa on the same day and is also expected to play with second-stringers. It won the first game 7-1.

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