Barcelona 1-1 Athletic Bilbao: Barca go three games without a win
Lionel Messi and Sergio Busquets on bench as Barcelona drop points
Last Updated: 29/09/18 10:15pm
Barcelona's struggles continued as they dropped points for the third game in a row with a 1-1 draw at home to Athletic Bilbao.
Substitute Munir El Haddadi averted a first home defeat for Barca in more than two years by sliding in an equaliser in the 84th minute, meeting a cross from substitute Lionel Messi who had been sent on along with Sergio Busquets in the second half.
Oscar de Marcos had given Bilbao a deserved lead in the 41st minute with a volley after Inaki Williams missed two clear chances to score for the Basque side, who had not picked up a point at the Nou Camp since 2004 when current Barca coach Ernesto Valverde was in charge.
Barca remained top of the table with 14 points from seven games, but that was dependent on the outcome of Real Madrid's result against cross-city rivals Atletico later on Saturday.
Despite drawing at home to Girona and losing at minnows Leganes after starting without key first-teamers such as Luis Suarez, Jordi Alba and Samuel Umtiti, Barca coach Valverde made the eye-catching decision to field a team without midfield anchor Busquets and all-time top scorer Messi.
The coach said the pair needed some rest to cope with a crammed schedule, with Barca visiting Tottenham in the Champions League next week.
"I have to judge the games we have coming up and we have four games in the space of 10 days, I have to think about what might happen and I thought Leo and Busquets had to rest, knowing that we have a very tough game on Wednesday and we have a large squad," he told a news conference.
"I know it was a risky decision but if it had gone well no-one would have even asked me about it. When I take a decision like this, I think in the best interests of the team and the club. Sergi Roberto got injured today, imagine if Messi had."
The Catalan side made a strong start and had an early penalty appeal waved away when Philippe Coutinho went over in the area but Bilbao, who were beaten 3-0 at home by Villarreal in midweek, soon started to put their stamp on the game.
Williams narrowly missed the target as he struck a bouncing ball around the area and the forward later rounded Marc-Andre ter Stegen but failed to capitalise.
Barca had sporadic chances down the other end, as Luis Suarez struck wide from a free kick and was then thwarted by goalkeeper Unai Simon at point blank range, but Athletic made it third time lucky when De Marcos slid in to convert a Markel Susaetas cross.
Messi was brought on 10 minutes into the second period to a rousing reception from the home fans and Barca's play instantly improved, with the Argentine smashing a shot against the post and narrowly firing wide, after Coutinho had struck the crossbar.
Bilbao's resistance finally caved in when Munir turned in Messi's low cross and Ivan Rakitic had a final chance to win it late on for the Catalans, but sent the ball flying over the bar.
Elsewhere, Valencia won 1-0 at Real Sociedad thanks to a first-half goal from Kevin Gameiro and Sevilla beat Eibar 3-1.
Andre Silva gave Sevilla the lead before two goals from Ever Banega, the first of which saw fans injured after a barrier collapsed.