Dembele stakes claim to big role at Barca with another goal

(AP Photo/Jose Ignacio Unanue)

By JOSEPH WILSON

Associated Press

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Ousmane Dembele came to Barcelona's rescue for a third time this season on Saturday, when the France forward struck a second-half winner to complete a comeback at Real Sociedad 2-1.

Dembele was quickest to a poor clearance of a corner kick by Sociedad's defense in the 66th minute, rifling a left-footed shot through a crowd while goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli was off his line.

The goal gave the defending champions four wins in as many rounds of the Spanish league. That left Barcelona alone at the top of the table at two points ahead of Real Madrid, which drew at Athletic Bilbao 1-1.

Dembele also scored winning goals for Barcelona in a 1-0 victory at Valladolid in Round 2, and in a 2-1 victory over Sevilla in the season-opening Spanish Super Cup in August. He also contributed a goal in an 8-2 rout of Huesca two weeks ago.

Dembele's goals have quickly silenced his critics at Camp Nou after an injury-hit first season left many of the club's fans wondering if he could adapt to Barcelona's demanding passing style. He managed only four goals in 23 appearances in his first campaign after Barcelona paid a then club-record transfer of 105 million euros (then $124 million) for him in 2017.

Dembele, who helped France win the World Cup in July, has the spot in the starting 11 alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez that once belonged to Neymar.

Suarez started Barcelona's fightback three minutes before Dembele scored, cancelling out Aritz Ilustondo's first-half goal for Sociedad.

"These are the kinds of matches that decide la Liga," Suarez said.

Real Madrid finally missed the goals of former star Cristiano Ronaldo when its attack failed to produce at Bilbao.

Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale, Ronaldo's old strike partners, combined for seven goals through Madrid's wins in the first three rounds.

But neither forward threatened Bilbao's net, with Bale instead turning assist-maker for substitute Francisco "Isco" Alarcon's header equalizer. That second-half goal salvaged a point and cancelled out Iker Muniain's first-half goal for the hosts.

"We improved in the second and had the chances, but we were lacking that scoring touch," Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui said.

Teenager Borja Garces enjoyed a promising debut for Atletico Madrid, scoring on the final kick of the match to salvage a 1-1 draw at home with Eibar.

The stalemate, however, left Atletico with just one win, and seven points adrift of Barcelona.

"It was a bittersweet debut, you can say, since we didn't get the win," said the 19-year-old Garces, who went on as a substitute in the 71st minute.

Valencia remained winless after being held to a dull 0-0 draw at home by Real Betis.

Valencia finished the league in fourth last season to make a long-awaited return to the Champions League, which it starts by hosting Juventus on Wednesday.

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Updated September 15, 2018

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