Barcelona lose Frenkie de Jong and Pedri to injury in Athletic Bilbao stalemate

By Sports Desk March 03, 2024

Barcelona suffered a costly evening against Athletic Bilbao as they failed to make ground on leaders Real Madrid after a goalless draw that saw Frenkie de Jong and Pedri pick up injuries.

Defeat for second-placed Girona and Real’s draw at Valencia opened up an opportunity for Barca but they were held to a stalemate at San Mames and sit eight points off top spot.

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

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

Hanging on to the ball did not translate into obvious openings, though, with a pair of set-pieces the closest they came to an early breakthrough.

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

For their part, Athletic were feeding on scraps and largely unable to make use of the ball when they made it into the final third. Barca’s flow was disrupted when De Jong went over on his ankle in the 26th minute, clearly unable to shake off the pain as Fermin Lopez took his place.

They almost grabbed an opener out of nowhere shortly after the half-hour when Cancelo tried his luck from long-range after Unai Simon’s punt up-field and caught the keeper out of position. Simon managed to back-track and get a hand on it but still needed Yeray Alvarez to clear up on the line.

With time running down on the first half Pedri went down with nobody else involved, forced out of the match and letting his emotion 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 as he let loose. Barca defenders Ronald Araujo and Pau Cubarsi were also forced into shutting down promising moves as the tide threatened to turn.

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

The hosts almost made Barca’s night even worse in added time when Dani Garcia arrived unmarked at the far post from a corner but failed to direct his header on target.

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