Barcelona made to sweat for draw by impressive Bilbao

Athletic Bilbao’s Inigo Martinez in action with Barcelona’s Luis Suarez. (Reuters pic)

BILBAO: La Liga leaders Barcelona handed more momentum to Real Madrid in the title race by drawing 0-0 at Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, only avoiding defeat thanks to some outstanding saves from goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

The Germany keeper twice thwarted Athletic forward Inaki Williams and kept out a stinging drive from Markel Susaeta in an intense and entertaining game in which the champions came under heavy pressure throughout.

With Lionel Messi hampered by a recent thigh problem and influential left back Jordi Alba suspended, Barca were far from their usual best, creating few clear opportunities and ending the game defending deep as Bilbao continued to attack.

The impressive home side were left frustrated by the sending off of Oscar de Marcos in added time for a second yellow card, but there was barely any time left for Barca to take advantage and they had to settle for a second straight league stalemate after last week’s 2-2 draw at home to Valencia.

Barca top the standings after 23 games with 51 points, six ahead of a resurgent Real Madrid.