Barcelona’s winless streak now stands at three matches after being held to a 1-1 draw versus Athletic Bilbao on Saturday afternoon at the Camp Nou in Barcelona.
Lionel Messi started on the bench, and outside of a few early moments, the Barcelona attack failed to kick into gear. That allowed Athletic to carve out their own chances and they took a lead through Oscar De Marcos shortly before the break.
Messi’s entrance into the affair early in the second stanza changed the tone, but it wasn’t until late on that they could find a goal, with Munir scoring to at least earn a point.
Still, it marks the third consecutive LaLiga match in which Barcelona have failed to win, and surely there will be plenty of talk and questions in the next few days regarding manager Ernesto Valverde’s decision to start Messi on the bench.
Also relegated to a substitute’s role was midfield lynchpin Sergio Busquets, while a knee injury forced starting centre-back Samuel Umtiti to miss Saturday’s encounter. This all resulted in starts for Clement Lenglet in defence, Arturo Vidal in midfield and Philippe Coutinho pushing up front to fill in for Messi.
There was a nice flow to things to start and Barcelona had some good racks at goal, the closest a Luis Suarez free kick that sailed just wide. Athletic were just as dangerous, evidenced by an Inaki Williams effort that went just wide and then another empty net look for Williams that was snuffed out by Arturo Vidal.
But it was Suarez with the very best chance of the half for Barcelona when Vidal played in his South American counterpart with an inch-perfect pass, but Athletic goalkeeper Unai Simon was alert and made a superb save to deny the Uruguayan.
Athletic continued to grow into the match and they were richly rewarded shortly before half-time with the game’s opening goal through De Marcos. From the left edge of the area, Markel Susaeta curled in a ball to the back post and De Marcos, played onside by Gerard Pique, met it perfectly and beat Marc-Andre ter Stegen for the goal and a 1-0 Athletic lead.
The first change made by Valverde was Busquets for the hobbling Sergi Roberto shortly after half-time and then minutes later Messi got the green light, replacing Vidal. The Argentine brought instant energy to the Barcelona attack, and Coutinho was an inch away from equalising when his volley off a Semedo pass stung the crossbar.
The Athletic defence was providing stiff resistance. They were sunk deep in their own area and managed to cut off the intricate passing lanes in which Barcelona like to operate.
Still, there is always the Jordi Alba-Messi combination on the left flank and it looked for all the world that Messi would fire in Barcelona’s first goal, but the post spared the visiting Basques.
Messi would not be denied though and after seeing his shot blocked by Unai Simon, the Argentine pounced on the rebound and crossed for Munir, who redirected the ball into goal to bring Barcelona level 1-1.
Barcelona pushed even harder to find the late winner and the best chance came for Rakitic in stoppage time off a pass from Messi, but the Croatian fired high over the crossbar in what was their final chance of the contest.
1- Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Jordi Alba, Lenglet, Pique, Semedo; Vidal (Messi, min. 55), Rakitic, Sergi Roberto (Busquets, min. 51); Coutinho, Suarez, Dembele (Munir, min. 80).
1- Athletic Club: Unai Simon, Balenziaga, Inigo Martinez (Nolaskoain, min. 23), Yeray, De Marcos, Benat (Mikel San Jose, min. 67), Dani Garcia, Yuri, Susaeta, Raul García, Williams (Aduriz, min. 79).
Goals: 0-1, min. 41: De Marcos; 1-1, min. 84: Munir.
Referee: Jaime Latre (Aragon).
Yellow cards: Yeray (Min. 49) for Athletic, Rakitic (Min. 78) for Barcelona, Busquets (Min. 89) for Barcelona, Dani Garcia (Min. 90) for Athletic, Nolaskoain (Min. 90) for Athletic.
Red cards: None.
Stadium: Camp Nou.