Title-chasing Barcelona held

Barca fail to capitalize on Madrid stumble

BARCELONA: Title-chasing Barcelona were held to a 0-0 draw by Girona at Camp Nou on Monday, extending their lead on Real Madrid at the top of La Liga by one point, now sitting 13 clear with 10 games remaining. Still smarting from their Clasico humiliation by Madrid last week in the Copa del Rey, Barcelona were far from their best in a Catalan derby clash, despite the motivation of seeing the champions lose on Saturday against Villarreal. Girona, mid-table, were solid and forced Xavi Hernandez’s side to drop points at home in La Liga for only the third time this season.

Barcelona secured their 21st clean sheet in the top flight but were not able to fully capitalize on Real Madrid’s stumble, as they bid to win La Liga for the first time since 2019. “As the minutes passed, they started to gain confidence in defense, and we were struggling to make the final pass or take our chances,” Barca captain Sergio Busquets told DAZN. “Our objective remains the same, to win La Liga, and to try to win it as soon as possible. We’re 13 points clear, but our objective remains the same.”

Xavi, still without several key players including Pedri and Ousmane Dembele, lined up with Ansu Fati and Raphinha alongside La Liga’s top scorer Robert Lewandowski up front. The Polish forward came close to opening the scoring on four minutes after being teed up by Fati, whipping an effort onto the roof of the net. Barcelona supporters chanted Lionel Messi’s name again after 10 minutes, representing the World Cup winner’s former Barca shirt number, amid hopes he could return to his former club after his Paris Saint-Germain contract expires.

“Leo generates excitement, they have chanted his name in two games now, we’ll see what happens,” Xavi told reporters. “We are focused on this, we have to win La Liga.” Barcelona came close again when Girona defender Santi Bueno almost put through his own net but goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga reacted well to slide in and divert the ball to safety. The former Tottenham goalkeeper saved well from Raphinha at his near post and then clawed away a Ronald Araujo effort from the resulting corner. Barcelona appealed that the ball had gone in but with the help of VAR – La Liga does not use goal-line technology – officials decided the ball did not cross the line.

Girona blow chance Eric Garcia headed over from a corner early in the second half as Barcelona kept looking for the opener. However the best chance of the game fell to the visitors, with Taty Castellanos spurning the opportunity by firing wide when through on goal, with Ivan Martin alongside in support, ready for a tap-in. Xavi threw on defender Jordi Alba as a left winger as he looked for better delivery in the final third, and he made an instant impact with a dangerous cross and some neat interplay with Lewandowski.

Gazzaniga made another fine save to tip over Gavi’s header from a corner in stoppage time as Barcelona finally showed some urgency, but it was too late. Lewandowski had a late backheel deflected wide as Girona clung on for the draw. The Catalans took a meek step towards their title dream, extending their lead on Madrid by a point. “If we win it, we have to celebrate it big time, inside (the club) we value it a lot,” added Xavi, who had complained at the weekend that some critics were trying to play down Barcelona’s season. “We would absolutely have taken being 13 points clear, at the start of the season.” – AFP

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