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FC Barcelona may have failed to score for the first time in 37 games, but there was also some bright news to bring home from San Mamés on Sunday night. A point is still a point, and thanks to Atlético losing the Madrid derby the day before, Barça are now even further ahead in the title race – six points following this weekend’s fixtures.
With Leo Messi back in the starting line-up and Nélson Semedo switching to the left to cover for the suspended Jordi Alba, Barça never quite got to full grips with the kind of game that was more suited to the Athletic game-plan than their own, and very much had Marc-André ter Stegen to thank for ensuring that they had a valuable point to show for it at the end.
Barça had the possession but without doing too much with it. Before they had given Iago Herrerín anything to worry about, Athletic had racked up six shots, two of which would have been goals had it not been for some stupendous work from their own goalkeeper.
Ter Stegen heroics
It’s not that the league leaders were doing anything wrong. But things just weren’t clicking together as seamlessly as they usually do. Especially in the final third, and despite the inevitable strokes of genius from Messi, ultimately frustrated in his quest to score in his ninth game in a row, the flame was a flicker rather than a blaze.
The script changed after the break. The intensity was all coming from Barça now. But despite being pegged in their own half, it was Athletic, and Mikel San José with a long drive, who had probably come closest to breaking the very tight deadlock as we headed into the last quarter of an hour.
Fresh from being declared fully fit, we got to see the welcome sight of Ousmane Dembélé back in action for those closing 15 minutes. And those minutes were the most frenetic of the whole game, with both teams using up everything left in the tank in search of the elusive goal.
The most fascinating of the many battles on the pitch was the one between Iñaki Williams and Ter Stegen. The Athletic striker will be having nightmares about the German this evening. No matter what he did, the Barça keeper was better.
Barça’s hopes took a late boost in the closing minutes when Oscar De Marcos was ushered off for a second bookable offence, but time ran out and this one was ending in stalemate.
Barça now have a welcome break ahead with no midweek fixture as they prepare for the visit of Real Valladolid next Saturday and the resumption of their Champions League bid after that.
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