Athletic Bilbao 0-0 Barcelona
Athletic Bilbao ended the weekend in La Liga with a superb performance to hold champions Barcelona to a goalless draw in the Basque.
Almost 47,000 passionate fans at the Saint Mames roared their side on as they pushed Barca to the limit and fully deserved to take a point from the champions, finishing with ten men after Oscar de Marcos picked up a late red card.
Coach Gaizka Garitano has lifted Los Leones away from the drop zone and tonight they had the better of the chances. The pre-match odds here at us had the draw at 3.70 and that was the least the hosts deserved. The striking La Liga news from yesterday was Real Madrid’s 1-3 win against Atletico which put down a challenge to Barcelona as Los Blancos climbed into second place and just five points behind the Catalans.
But Ernesto Valverde won’t be unhappy to take a point from this tough encounter and stretch the lead to six.
Highlights of the game
Athletic started the game brightly, determined to erase the memory of defeat to Real Sociedad in last week’s Basque derby, and Yuri came very close with a long-range shot in the first real chance of the game. And then Raul Garcia brought a good save from Ter Stegen with a shot heading in the bottom right corner.
The hosts continued to have the better of the opening half and Yeray Alvarez got on the end of a cross by Benat Etxebarria but his header was blocked. Barca fans were sweating on the fitness of Leo Messi and were relieved to see their talisman make a start, and as the half wore on he began to make an impact, first taking a pass from Luis Suarez and forcing a good save by Iago Herrerin before having a shot blocked just before the break.
At the other end, Garcia came very close with another shot as the two teams headed in level at half time.
After a rather subdued first half, Barcelona came out on the attack and Philippe Coutinho was the first to have a shot at goal blocked, before Messi came close with a free-kick but fired just over the bar. Ivan Rakitic combined well with Arturo Vidal but the Chilean’s shot flew wide of Herrerin’s right-hand post.
With 20 minutes to go both teams searched for a winner, with Barca’s Carlos Alena having a shot blocked before Athletic Bilbao top scorer Inaki Williams had his effort charged down. Then Messi teed Suarez up but his shot fizzed just wide of the post.
The hosts had a golden opportunity on 78 minutes after Sergio Busquets fouled Williams, and when Iker Muniain swung the free-kick over Williams had a point-blank header but it flew wide. Moments later the two combined again and Williams’ shot was well saved in the bottom corner by Ter Stegen. And as the hosts ramped up the pressure Garcia brought another strong save from the Barca keeper. Then it was Williams turn to test him again in the bottom left corner after taking a pass from Mikel San Jose.
In a dramatic finish, Barcelona almost snatched a winner after Athletic’s Oscar de Marcos saw red after taking a second booking. Ousmane Dembele had a good chance to win it but his shot was well saved by Herrerin as the hosts deservedly held on for a point.
In a tight first half, Barca dominated possession with 65 per cent of the ball, but the hosts made more use of it, having seven shots to the visitors’ four and two to one on target.
It was the same pattern in the second half with Barca hogging the ball and Athletic Bilbao keeping Ter Stegen busy with five shots to two on target.
Having been held at the Camp Nou by Valencia last week, this was another tough test for Barca and they’ll be satisfied to leave the Basque with a point. That’s two draws between these two sides this season and we shouldn’t have been too surprised to see a goalless draw. Barca has earned seven clean sheets in ten games while Los Leones have had eight shutouts in 13.
Athletic Bilbao has a chance to keep a superb run going with a trip to bottom club Huesca, but they will go in with their eyes open, as the strugglers have won three in the last six and are putting up a real fight in an unlikely survival bid.
Barca returns to the Camp Nou to take on Real Valladolid and should keep Los Blancos at arms length with another win. The La Liga 2019 betting odds say Barca fans shouldn’t worry too much…but their El Clasico rivals are back in the hunt after five consecutive wins.
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