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Barcelona held by impressive Bilbao

Pin Messi couldn't break down a stubborn Bilbao defence. EFE
Messi couldn't break down a stubborn Bilbao defence. EFE

Barcelona held by impressive Bilbao

Lionel Messi returned to the Barcelona starting XI but was unable to inspire his side to victory against a stubborn Athletic Bilbao.

The points were shared when the two sides met at the Camp Nou earlier in the season, and it was a similarly even affair here at the San Mames Stadium. Barcelona knew they could extend their lead at the top of La Liga to eight points with victory, but it was the home side that started with the greater intensity.

Markel Susaeta forced one of the saves of the season from Marc-Andre ter Stegen early on with a shot from distance, and shortly afterwards Raul Garcia almost scored a similarly spectacular goal. The Bilbao midfielder flicked the ball into the air inside the penalty area and went for goal with an audacious bicycle kick, only for his strike to be parried by ter Stegen.

Barcelona had chances of their own, with Messi having a couple of decent shots on goal before the break, but were struggling to get a foothold on the game. They had a penalty shout early in the second half, when the ball appeared to strike Bilbao's Oscar de Marcos on the forearm, but nothing was given. It was only in the final third of the game that Barcelona really took control of the ball, but as they pushed forward they were vulnerable to conceding chances on the break. Inaki Williams in particular was guilty of missing a couple of gilt-edged chances for Bilbao.

With the game nearing its end, five minutes were added on by the referee. Cue controversy. First the hosts went down to 10 men, with Oscar de Marcos being sent off for a second bookable offence, before Barcelona had a huge penalty appeal in the last minute. Nelson Semedo was clattered into as he turned inside the area, with the referee deciding he had got the ball. Replays appeared to show otherwise.

Not that Bilbao will care - they pick up a solid point against the table-toppers and increase their gap with the relegation zone from two points to three. Barcelona have seen their lead over rivals Real Madrid chopped down to six points, and will see this game as an opportunity missed to create a bit of breathing space. We could yet be in store for an exciting title race.

Charles Whitehead

Charles Whitehead

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