Saturday 23 September 2017

Barcelona feel loss of Messi with second straight defeat

Barcelona's Neymar (L) is challenged by Athletic Bilbao's Carlos Gurpegui (2nd L) during their Spanish first division soccer match at San Mames stadium in Bilbao
Barcelona's Neymar (L) is challenged by Athletic Bilbao's Carlos Gurpegui (2nd L) during their Spanish first division soccer match at San Mames stadium in Bilbao
Neymar of FC Barcelona reacts during the La Liga match between Athletic Club and FC Barcelona at San Mames Stadium on December 1, 2013 in Bilbao, Spain

Barcelona lost their second straight game without injured star Lionel Messi when Athletic Bilbao handed the defending Spanish league champions a 1-0 defeat at San Mames.

Barcelona lost their second straight game without injured star Lionel Messi when Athletic Bilbao handed the defending Spanish league champions a 1-0 defeat at San Mames.

Iker Muniain scored the winner in the 70th minute after Bilbao's willingness for hard work won them the ball and sparked a counter-attack which ended with a clinical finish.

Neymar was again assigned to pick up Messi's goalscoring duties, but when he wasn't frustrated by a slippery surface, Bilbao's defence got the better of him. The defeat leaves Barca level on points with Atletico Madrid and three ahead of Real Madrid after both won on Saturday.

Barcelona's first defeat in the league following 13 wins and one draw came five days after a 2-1 loss at 10-man Ajax in the Champions League. Barcelona hadn't suffered consecutive defeats since March.

"This game had nothing to do with the one at Ajax," said midfielder Sergio Busquets. "Two losses have come in a row, but we have to keep going forward. Sure we made mistakes, but we also did things well. We played a good, wide-open game against a great rival that knew how to pressure us."

THRILLING

In Italy, Fernando Llorente struck at the death to both break the tension of a thrilling encounter with Udinese in Turin and fire Juventus three points clear of Roma at the top of the Serie A table.

The meeting, which somehow ended 1-0, might have been a goalfest if not for remarkable displays of goalkeeping from Gianluigi Buffon and his visiting counterpart Zeljko Brkic.

The veteran Juventus 'keeper was particularly impressive in steering the reigning champions through a sixth league game without conceding a goal.

Serbian international Brkic stood firm in the final half hour as Antonio Conte's men steadily turned the screw but Spain international Llorente burst his bubble with a header in the first minute of three added on at the Juventus Stadium. The three points gave Juve a cushion on previous runaway leaders Roma, who were earlier held 1-1 in Atalanta.

In Germany, Bayer Leverkusen's sporting director Rudi Voeller was taken to hospital suffering from renal colic on Saturday, completing a dramatic week at the Bundesliga club famed for coming second.

Leverkusen bounced back from Wednesday's 5-0 home defeat to Manchester United with a 3-0 win over Nuremberg but their relief was offset by concerns about the health of the former Germany striker.

Arjen Robben scored twice for unbeaten Bayern Munich as they saw off bottom side Eintracht Braunschweig 2-0. Robben scored in just the second minute after Mario Goetze picked him out.

He headed home from a rebound and added his second in the 30th minute when he cut inside two defenders before letting fly.

Irish Independent

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