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Three things we learned from Barcelona’s draw with Athletic Bilbao

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The champions dropped points at San Mames

Athletic Club v FC Barcelona - La Liga Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

Week Off Comes At A Good Time For Barcelona

Barcelona put in a tired display at San Mames which is not all that surprising given they’ve played Valencia, Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao in just over a week. In fact it’s been a gruelling 2019 so far for Barcelona with 11 games played in just 36 days.

Lionel Messi was back in the Barcelona starting XI after picking up a niggle against Valencia last weekend, but it was pretty clear the captain was not quite 100 per cent fit.

Ernesto Valverde’s No. 2, Jon Iñaki Aspiazu, admitted as much before the match: “Maybe Messi isn’t 100 per cent but he’s not far off that level,” per Sport.

Athletic Club v FC Barcelona - La Liga Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

Barcelona also had to cope without Jordi Alba and Arthur due to suspension and injuy, while Ousmane Dembele was only a late substitute as he comes back from a sprained ankle.

And then there’s Gerard Pique in defence, the only outfield player in La Liga to start all 23 games this season. He’s in great form but surely can’t keep playing every single game.

Barca’s recent exertions certainly seemed to take their toll on Sunday, and they’ll need to regroup fast as they return to Champions League action in a little over a week’s time in Lyon.

Fortunately, Barcelona now have some time to rest before their next La Liga fixture against Real Valladolid on Saturday.

The team have two days off before they return to training on Wednesday, and the short break comes at an important time.

Barca Struggled Without Alba & Arthur

The absence of Alba, Arthur and Dembele was particularly telling against Athletic Bilbao as Barcelona displayed a worrying lack of creativity.

The goalless draw was the first time Barcelona had failed to score in a La Liga match for just under a year.

Nelson Semedo filled in for Alba at left-back and did a decent job, but he could not match Alba’s attacking threat down the flank.

A lack of width was a problem all night for Barcelona, and the starting midfield of Arturo Vidal, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic was static and devoid of creativity.

Carles Alena offered a spark when he came on, and may be a better replacement for Arthur than Vidal, while Dembele arrived as a late sub and may be fit to start next time out.

Philippe Coutinho offered very little once again and will surely return to the bench when Dembele is fully fit, while Luis Suarez had a poor game and has gone right off the boil in recent weeks.

Disappointingly, Malcom did not get any game time at all despite a bright showing last time out and was left on the bench along with Kevin-Prince Boateng.

Barca Extend Lead But Title Race Takes Another Twist

Athletic Club v FC Barcelona - La Liga Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

Barca may have dropped points and missed the chance to move eight points clear at the top of La Liga but they still extended their lead to six points.

Atletico Madrid’s defeat to Real Madrid on Saturday played a part, but the champions still have some breathing room at the top of the table.

They look as though they may need it too. Real Madrid are coming into form after a turbulent campaign, Saturday’s win was their fifth in a row in La Liga.

Meanwhile, Barcelona have dropped points for their second consecutive league match.

They’ve also drawn their last three matches in a row in all competitions and won just two of their last six.

On paper their next fixture looks kind, a visit from a Real Valladolid side who are 15th and have won just one of their last nine.