Barcelona lose De Jong and Pedri to injury in Athletic Bilbao stalemate


Barcelona suffered a costly evening against Athletic Bilbao as they failed to get a hold on leaders Real Madrid after a goalless draw that saw Frenkie de Jong and Pedri injured.

Defeating second-placed Girona and drawing Real in Valencia opened up opportunities for Barca, but they found themselves deadlocked at San Mames, eight points off top spot.

Worse still, they lost midfielders De Jong and Pedri in the first half, with the latter unable to hold back tears as he reflected on the latest in a string of fitness setbacks.

Ernesto Valverde’s side struggled for time on the ball in the opening stages, his former club Barcelona enjoying plenty of possession as Joao Cancelo established himself as the liveliest outlet on the park.

Possession didn’t translate into obvious openings, although they came closest to an early breakthrough with a couple of plays.

Andreas Christensen headed over Ilkay Gundogan’s free-kick and Jules Kounde’s ambitious corner also cleared the crossbar.

Athletic fed scraps and were largely unable to capitalize on the ball as it entered the final third. Barca’s flow was disrupted when De Jong sprained his ankle in the 26th minute and was apparently unable to shake off the pain as Fermin Lopez took his place.

They nearly grabbed the opener shortly after the half-hour when Cancelo tried his luck from distance following Unai Simon’s punt into the box and caught the keeper out of position. Simon managed to back up and get a hand, but still needed Yeray Alvarez to break free on the line.

With time winding down in the first half, Pedri collapsed with no one else involved, was forced to leave the game and let his emotions get the better of him as he returned to the dugout.

Athletic came alive at the start of the second period, captain Inaki Williams twice finding space in behind and twice missing the target when he got loose. Barca defenders Ronald Araujo and Pau Cubarsi were also forced to halt promising moves as the tide threatened to turn.

Alex Berenguer had some promising breaks but floundered when it came to the end product, while 16-year-old Lamine Yamal, Pedri’s replacement, saw a penalty shout at the other end.

The visitors almost made Barca’s night worse in extra-time when Dani Garcia arrived unmarked at the far post from a corner but failed to direct his header home.

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