Thursday, October 17, 2019 | ePaper
Barca fails to score at Bilbao, Real Madrid 6 points back
AP, Spain :
FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi (left) duels for the ball beside Athletic Bilbao's Markel Susaeta during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Athletic Bilbao and FC Barcelona at San Mames stadium, in Bilbao, northern Spain on Sunday.
Barcelona needed goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen to put in a superb performance as the Spanish league leader failed to score and dropped points at Athletic Bilbao in a 0-0 draw on Sunday.
The result ended Barcelona's run of 37 league games where it scored at least one goal. Its last league game without a goal was a 0-0 draw with Getafe on Feb. 11, 2018.
Barcelona has now drawn three games in a row and is showing signs of fatigue as the season enters a critical phase. It was held 2-2 by Valencia in the last round and drew 1-1 with Real Madrid in their Copa del Rey first-leg semifinal on Wednesday.
The defending league champions left San Mames Stadium six points ahead of Madrid, which is hitting its stride and moved past Atletico Madrid into second place by winning the capital derby on Saturday.
Ter Stegen made one-handed saves to deny Markel Susaeta and Inaki Williams in each half.
"I had to stop both of them, one way or another," Ter Stegen said.
The Germany goalkeeper did all he could - and then some - to turn away Susaeta's long, dipping strike in the 17th minute that looked goal-bound until Ter Stegen leapt back toward his far post and stretched up to palm the ball over the bar. He added a fine reflex stab to parry Williams' close-range shot in the 82nd. He also had two more routine saves to stop Raul Garcia's bicycle kick and another late effort by Williams.
"You have to play very well to take a point from Barcelona, but the best chances were for us," said Bilbao coach Gaizka Garitano, who has turned the Basque Country club around after taking over in December. "Ter Stegen was outstanding. They have a great goalkeeper who made two excellent saves."
Lionel Messi returned to Barcelona's starting lineup after playing just the final half-hour against Madrid midweek. Messi had been doubtful for that cup match after an unspecified leg injury picked up against Valencia.
Messi provided Luis Suarez with a well-placed cross that the striker was unable to connect with in the 22nd.
Messi was sent tumbling to the turf by Bilbao's defenders on several occasions, as they refused to let him reach the area in a scoring position.
"Leo is fine and played at 100 percent," said Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde. "It was difficult to break through the wall of defenders they put in front of him."
Messi provided the only threats from a Barcelona that was missing the attacking verve of right back Jordi Alba and the control provided by midfielder Arthur. Alba was serving a one-game suspension while Arthur is sidelined for around a month with a muscle injury in his left leg.