A much-changed Barcelona were held to a 0-0 draw by Huesca on Saturday as they moved 12 points clear of second-place Atletico Madrid at the top of LaLiga.
Head coach Ernesto Valverde left out Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique and Ivan Rakitic against LaLiga’s bottom club, who have only won five matches all season.
The result is unlikely to do much good to their survival chances, but Barca remain firmly on course for the title and will be grateful to have rested several key performers ahead of the Champions League quarter-final second leg against Manchester United.
Barca made 10 changes to the side that beat United 1-0 on Wednesday, with debuts for Moussa Wague and Jean-Clair Todibo and first LaLiga appearances for the club for Riqui Puig and Jeison Murillo.
Ousmane Dembele also made his first start since March 2, having recovered from a thigh injury, as he looks to regain full sharpness ahead of a crucial run of matches.
Roberto Santamaria did well to tip a Dembele effort around the post after a fine reverse pass from Puig, but chances were scarce early on for Valverde’s makeshift side.
The visitors had little to concern them in front of their own goal in the first half, but Marc-Andre ter Stegen – the only player to keep his place from the win at United – made a timely intervention with his leg to deny Enric Gallego a shot on the turn.
Malcom then struck a swerving shot that fooled Santamaria but smacked against the left-hand post, and Dembele blasted another decent opportunity wide, but there was to be no breakthrough.
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Valverde will be pleased to have been able to rest so many of his top performers, as well as give Dembele an important run-out, ahead of the return meeting with United.
The back-up options fielded here did well enough to earn a draw that moves Barca 12 points clear at the top of the table, and even though Atletico can close the gap to nine if they beat Celta Vigo, the title race is firmly still in the champions’ hands.
As for Huesca, they are five points from safety at the foot of the table and their situation is beginning to look bleak.
Puig the pick of a peculiar bunch
It might have been something of a strange line-up, but Puig took his chance to impress in his first league outing. The 19-year-old was industrious with and without the ball and certainly did not seem intimidated by a few heavy challenges.
Malcom in a muddle
This was only Malcom’s third start in LaLiga, but it was probably his least effective. He was not great in possession and made a mess of a few promising positions down the Barca left – although he was unlucky to hit the woodwork.
Barca face United at Camp Nou on Tuesday and host Real Sociedad in LaLiga next Saturday. Huesca have a week off before a potentially critical trip to second-bottom Rayo Vallecano.
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