La Liga: Messi-less Barcelona Draw With Bottom-placed Huesca, Sevilla Go 4th in League Table
La Liga: Barcelona were held to a goalless draw by Huesca, who are placed at the bottom of the league table. Sevilla beat Real Betis to go fourth.
Barcelona failed to score a goal without Lionel Messi in the ranks and drew with Huesca. (Photo Credit: Reuters)
Huesca: La Liga leaders Barcelona were held to a goalless draw by basement club Huesca on Saturday after coach Ernesto Valverde made sweeping changes to his line-up ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League quarter-final decider against Manchester United.
Barca lead the standings with 74 points with six games left although their advantage was reduced to nine points after second-placed Atletico Madrid beat Celta Vigo 2-0.
With the title nearly assured after last weekend’s 2-0 win over Atletico, Valverde fielded a radically different side to the team that won 1-0 at Old Trafford in Wednesday’s first leg, making 10 changes and giving three players their league debuts.
Top scorer Lionel Messi was left at home for the game after being struck in the face by United defender Chris Smalling, Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets were also rested while both Gerard Pique and Luis Suarez were suspended.
Goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen was the only player who started at Old Trafford to make the starting line-up against Huesca, although Barca were boosted by the return of France forward Ousmane Dembele after a month out injured.
Barca midfielder Arturo Vidal was happy to admit that his side’s minds were more focused on getting beyond the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time since 2015 than on the game they were playing on Saturday.
“I think everyone that was playing today was thinking about Tuesday’s game, just like the guys who stayed at home. The Champions League is what everyone is dreaming about,” said the Chilean.
Midfielder Riqui Puig was one of Barca’s debutants and the 19-year-old produced the best moment of an uneventful first half, picking out Dembele with a wonderful pass but the Frenchman dragged his shot wide.
Brazilian forward Malcom struck the post early in the second half and team mate Carles Alena missed the target from the rebound in Barca’s best spell after the interval, while substitutes Philippe Coutinho, Jordi Alba and Arthur Melo could not improve the leaders’ attacking threat when they came on.
“There were a lot of changes and a few debuts so we’re happy in general with the game though we could have been more ambitious in attack,” added Barca coach Ernesto Valverde.
“It was a difficult situation with so many new players but I understood it was what we needed to do today.”
Huesca desperately needed a win to keep up their slim hopes of avoiding relegation but they struggled to make much of an impact and stay rooted to the bottom of the standings with 25 points from 32 games.
SEVILLA BEAT BETIS
Sevilla lifted their hopes of returning to the Champions League after they beat Real Betis 3-2 in a pulsating derby on Saturday to climb into fourth place in La Liga.
Munir El Haddadi headed the home side in front midway through the first half in a typically raucous atmosphere at the Sanchez Pizjuan but Betis levelled early in the second period through Argentina international Giovani Lo Celso.
Sevilla hit back soon after to re-take the lead in the 59th minute with a flying volley from midfielder Pablo Sarabia and Franco Vazquez promptly extended their advantage with a thumping drive from outside the area.
Cristian Tello set up a tense finale to the game by striking back for Betis in the 82nd minute with a sizzling free kick but Sevilla held on to record their first victory over their rivals in over two years.
The win took Sevilla up to fourth in the standings on 52 points, two above fifth-placed Getafe who are in action on Sunday at Real Valladolid. Betis were left ninth on 43 points.
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