Real Madrid finished off 2019 with a second successive 0-0 draw and gave Barcelona an inch in the La Liga title race, as they laboured to a goalless home point against Athletic Club on Sunday evening.
Zinedine Zidane opted to freshen things up from that stalemate during the week. Eder Militao, Luka Modric, Rodrygo and Vinicius Junior were all reintroduced, hoping to do their bit to keep the pressure on their title rivals.
Barcelona had responded to that midweek draw with a rampant 4-1 victory over Deportivo Alaves 24 hours earlier, moving themselves three points clear at the top, so a win against an Athletic side that had conceded just 12 goals in their opening 17 league matches was a must for Real – but that was never going to be easy.
And so it proved. The home side dominated the territory in the early proceedings, but an effort cleared off the line by Unai Nunez after Karim Benzema had neatly rounded Unai Simon was as close as they came in the first half.
Kenan Kodro had a goal ruled out for offside in one of the visitors’ few threatening ventures forward, but they were largely content to sit in and frustrate their more esteemed hosts, and with the clock ticking down, Gareth Bale and and Luka Jovic were thrown on in an increasingly cagey second 45 to try and make something happen.
Toni Kroos stung the crossbar and Jovic later clipped the post with a deft header, but Gaizka Garitano’s men stood strong in the face of pressure.
FBL-ESP-LIGA-REAL MADRID-ATHLETIC BILBAO
Real had as many as 20 efforts at goal, but the eight that hit Simon’s target were dealt with well, and it finished with a point that will frustrate Zidane’s men ahead of their brief winter break that comes to an end with a trip to Getafe on January 4.
For now, it’s advantage Barcelona in the title race.