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Three talking points from Athletic Club 0-0 Barcelona

Opportunity missed for toothless Barcelona

Barcelona missed a great opportunity to take advantage of Real Madrid and Girona dropping points after being held at San Mames.

The Catalans had the opportunity to put some pressure on the league leaders but could only take a point away from the Basque country and never really looked like winning.

Madrid’s controversial 2-2 draw against Valencia had meant a win for Barca would have cut the gap to six points and potentially breathed life into the title race.

Yet Barca remain eight points behind and stay in third, still a point behind Girona after their defeat to Mallorca. Coincidentally Barca play Javier Aguirre’s side next in La Liga on Friday.

Barca struggled to create chances against Athletic, managed just two shots on target and failed to score for the first time since August – a run of 25 games.

Raphinha started the game but was fairly anonymous and was thoroughly outshone by Lamine Yamal after he arrived as a substitute.

Robert Lewandowski also had a quiet game, Joao Felix offered little after coming on as a sub, while Marc Guiu and Vitor Roque didn’t make it off the bench at all.

Xavi admitted after the final whistle hadn’t played well and had missed a big opportunity to put pressure on Real Madrid ahead of the business end of the season.

“Really tough game but I think we didn’t play well. It was not our best version today. I am not happy, not satisfied, it was a very good opportunity to reach second place and still in the race six points behind. It’s not enough today,” he said.

“We didn’t play well. We cannot be happy today because we need to do more. Everybody, me as a coach, the players. OK, we need to improve. It’s a very big opportunity that we missed today.”

You can say that again.

Problems pile up for Xavi ahead of Napoli tie

Barcelona’s draw with Athletic also brought all sorts of problems for Xavi as he lost Pedri and Frenkie de Jong to injury just over a week before a crunch Champions League clash with Napoli.

Xavi was clearly fearing the worst after the game. The Barca boss said he was saddened by the two injuries and expected both players to miss at least a few games.

Given Pedri’s injury record it is, sadly, hard not to think the worst. The stats speak volumes. Since the 2020-21 season – when Pedri played 72 matches – he’s missed 71 games with nine different injuries.

Barcelona are already without key midfielder Gavi due to injury but are now potentially set to face Napoli without De Jong and Pedri too. A difficult game just got that bit harder.

And that’s not all Xavi has to worry about either. The Barca boss has a La Liga clash with Mallorca to think about on Friday first. De Jong and Pedri are clearly out of that one, while Xavi and Ronald Araujo will also miss out due to suspension after picking up their fifth bookings of the season.

Xavi actually now has 15 yellow cards since taking charges of Barca in 2021. According to Opta, no other coach in the Spanish top flight has seen more than Xavi in that time.

Why did Barcelona bring Vitor Roque in early?

Barcelona may have struggled to create chances all night but the situation still did not tempt Xavi into calling for Vitor Roque on the bench.

The Catalans made a big effort to bring the Brazilian in early from Athletico Paranaense and are clearly going to take things slowly with their new signing.

Xavi explained his lack of minutes ahead of the game, pointing to his ankle injury and the fact he needs time to adjust to a new team and a new league.

Athletic Club v FC Barcelona - LaLiga EA Sports

Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images

All of which is completely understandable. Yet with Barca crying out for some attacking inspiration it still seemed an curious decision to leave him on the bench at San Mames, particularly when a win could have put Barca back in the title race.

Vitor Roque has now played 164 minutes out of a possible 720 in the league, scoring twice in that time and also picking up a very harsh red card.

The sending off and Robert Lewandowski’s return to goalscoring form have also been factors in his lack of minutes, but it’s still something of a surprise to see him being used so sparingly and fail to get a run out at all at San Mames.

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