Marc-Andre Ter Stegen produced two fine saves to deny Athletic Bilbao victory as a lacklustre Barcelona were held to a goalless draw at the Estadio San Mames.
Ter Stegen turned away Markel Susaeta’s arcing shot before the break and that produced a superb reflex stop to repel Inaki Williams’ effort from point-blank range as time ran down on a night when the LaLiga leaders were unable to restore their eight-point advantage over second-placed Real Madrid.
Indeed, had it not been for the German, they might even have left empty-handed with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez misfiring as Gaizka Garitano’s men started and finished strongly.
Bilbao signalled their intention to press the visitors from the off and saw appeals for an early penalty waved away after Oscar De Marcos flicked the ball against Nelson Semedo’s arm inside the area.
The visitors eased themselves into the game as Messi and Suarez, prompted by Philippe Coutinho, started to make their presence felt, although Athletic were handed an 11th-minute opportunity when Yuri Berchiche intercepted Arturo Vidal’s loose pass and raced forward before firing just wide.
Ter Stegen had to pull off a fine save to keep out Susaeta’s curling left-foot shot six minutes later and Barcelona were less than comfortable in dealing with the two corners which followed in quick succession.
Suarez glanced a 22nd-minute header wide from Messi’s inviting cross as Barca responded, but Ter Stegen was called upon once again to keep out Raul Garcia’s acrobatic volley two minutes later.
Messi clipped a shot onto the top of the crossbar and over after goalkeeper Iago Herrerin had raced from his line to deny Semedo and then forced Herrerin into an inelegant save at his near post, but Raul Garcia saw a shot deflected wide by Sergi Roberto four minutes before the break.
Ernesto Valverde’s men returned in much more positive mood and Messi curled a 53rd-minute free-kick just over, although the Argentina international was growing increasingly irritated by Bilbao’s physical approach to marking him.
Substitute Mikel San Jose blasted just wide as the home side finally managed to put together a second-half attack with 65 minutes gone and Williams saw an audacious flick from De Marcos’ cross blocked six minutes later.
Suarez stabbed wide with the outside of his right foot after turning on Messi’s 74th-minute pass, but Gerard Pique did just enough at the other end to prevent Williams from making meaningful contact with substitute Iker Muniain’s free-kick five minutes later.
Ter Stegen made an instinctive save to keep out Williams’ close-range shot after he had been picked out in front of goal by Muniain with eight minutes remaining, and although Athletic saw De Marcos dismissed for a second bookable offence in stoppage time, there was to be no late drama.
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