Ath Bilbao 0 - 0 Barcelona | 10 Feb 2019

Athletic Bilbao's Oscar de Marcos is shown a yellow card by referee Carlos del Cerro. Vincent West Reuters

Lionel Messi was short of fitness and Barcelona lacked spark as a goalless draw away to Athletic Bilbao on Sunday offered fresh hope to their rivals in the title race.

Ernesto Valverde's men returned in much more positive mood and Messi curled a 53rd-minute free-kick just over, although the Argentina global was growing increasingly irritated by Bilbao's physical approach to marking him.

Real Madrid beat Atletico Madrid in the capital derby on Saturday to move into second spot, just five points behind Barca ahead of kickoff at San Mames. "We also lacked communication today - it is the little details that make a difference".

After Real Valladolid at home next weekend, Valverde's side travel to Lyon in the Champions League and Sevilla in the league.

"Leo is fine, he played feeling 100 percent, we may have had difficulties, but the fact he played means he was ready", added Valverde, after his assistant Jon Aspiazu had said before the game that the Argentine was not yet fully fit.

"Well we were first last week, we're first this week and, if I'm not mistaken, we'll be leaders next week as well", he said".

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Ter Stegen then had to keep out an overhead kick from Raul Garcia before Yuri had a goal-bound strike deflected wide as the match continued to produce exciting moments.

Lionel Messi had Barca's best chance as his lob from outside the box hit the top of the crossbar.

Barcelona could not return to winning ways in the league, however, with Bilbao putting on a strong performance to hold the Spanish champions to a goalless draw. Raul Garcia's finish was blocked and Mikel San Jose's effort whistled inches outside of the post.

Dembele replaced Coutinho with just over 10 minutes left but Bilbao had the best chance to win it. Iker Muniain squared for Williams, who looked certain to score after wriggling free of Gerard Pique.

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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