Barcelona falls to Benfica in another demoralizing Champions League loss

Benfica's Valentino Lazaro, left challenges for the ball with Barcelona's Sergino Dest during a Group E Champions League soccer match between Benfica and Barcelona at the Luz stadium in Lisbon, Portugal, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021. (Armando Franca/AP)

LISBON, Portugal -- After yet another demoralizing loss, struggling Barcelona faces a grim future in the Champions League.

The Catalan club followed its 3-0 opening loss against Bayern Munich with another 3-0 defeat at Benfica on Wednesday. Bottom of its group, Barcelona suddenly sees itself in danger of not reaching the knockout stage for the first time since 2001.

"We are in a critical situation,'' Barcelona captain Sergio Busquets said. "We have zero points after the first two rounds.''

Darwin Nunez scored twice -- including three minutes into the match -- and Rafa Silva added another goal at the Stadium of Light to help Benfica end a 60-year winless streak against Barcelona. It was its second victory in eight matches against the Catalan club.

Bayern cruised past Dynamo Kyiv in Germany in the other Group E match to reach six points from two matches. Benfica, which had opened with a draw at Dynamo, has four points, three more than Dynamo. Barcelona stayed on zero points ahead of consecutive matches against Dynamo.

"We need to win our next two matches against Dynamo and then we'll see what happens,'' Busquets said. "We have to think positively and work to improve many things.''

The loss added more pressure on Barcelona coach Ronaldo Koeman, who hasn't been able to make the team perform and has been at odds with club president Joan Laporta and even some of the players. The Dutch coach has said Barcelona has no significant chances of winning any titles this season.

"I don't want to answer any more questions about my future because it is out of my hands,'' Koeman said. "In the end the coach is always responsible. I feel I have the support from my players. I don't know if I have it from the club.''

Last season Barcelona failed to reach the quarterfinals for the first time since 2006-07, losing to Paris Saint-Germain in the round of 16 and ending its record run of 13 consecutive last-eight appearances.

Without Lionel Messi for the first time in nearly two decades, Barcelona has won only one of its last five games in all competitions, a disappointing run that started with the loss to Bayern at the Camp Nou Stadium. It has won only three times in eight matches in all competitions this season.

It was Barcelona's fifth straight Champions League match without a win, having conceded 14 goals during that run. It didn't have a single shot on target from eight attempts on Wednesday.

Benfica's only other victory against Barcelona had come in the 1961 European Cup final the first time the clubs met.

Benfica, which started its Champions League campaign in the third qualifying round, is unbeaten in 13 matches overall this season, with 11 wins.

The hosts looked the more dangerous team from the start, as Barcelona struggled to take control and create opportunities.

Benfica opened the scoring in the game's first shot on goal, with Nunez finding the net from inside the area after easily getting past Barcelona defender Eric Garcia, who was sent off with a second yellow card in the 87th.

Nunez almost added to the lead in the 52nd when Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen clumsily left his area and allowed the Uruguay forward to have an open shot into the net, which ended hitting the post from very long range.

Silva scored the second in the 69th from close range after a failed attempt by Joao Mario, and Nunez sealed the victory by converting a 79th-minute penalty kick after a handball by Barcelona defender Sergino Dest.

Koeman, a former Benfica coach, started the match with three central defenders but switched formations just past the half-hour mark by replacing Gerard Pique with teenage midfielder Gavi.

Koeman had the return of Pedri Gonzalez to midfield after the youngster was sidelined by an injury layoff. Jordi Alba and Ousmane Dembele remain out injured.

Benfica lost forward Valentino Lazaro because of an injury before halftime.

Benfica's next Champions League match will be at home against Bayern in October. Barcelona hosts Dynamo before travelling to Ukraine.

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