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Real Madrid breathing down Barcelona's neck

Just six points separate Barça from second placed Real Madrid, with Solari's men making ground after we all felt the title race was a foregone conclusion some weeks ago. There is still the small matter of a Clásico to be staged at the Bernabéu at the beginning of March along with the Copa del Rey second leg. Real Madrid are in the title hunt and the latest benchmark of where both teams are was epitomised from this weekend's action. Madrid were impressive in the capital city derby with a 1-3 win over Atleti at the Metropolitano whilst Barça laboured to a 0-0 draw at San Mamés where keeper Ter Stegen was key for Valverde's men.

Barcelona's German goalkeeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen

No respite

It's true that Athletic have become a more solid proposition with new coach Garitano and a there is a new, fresh spirit at the club inspired by the change of president. The home side dominated the action in the first half and towards the end of the contest too. Barça did have the upper hand at the beginning of the second period but failed to trouble the scoreboard with Messi particulary quiet. The Argentine played well, as he always does but failed to deliver tose lightning bursts into the opposing area when he's at his most threatening. He looked sluggish at times but given the current spate of key games coming thick and fast, is not in a position to rest as the impact on the team is far too clear. At San Mamés last night the best player for the Catalan outfit was Ter Stegen and that's not the first time this season.

Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi (R) vies with Athletic Bilbao's Spanish defender Inigo Martinez during the Spanish league football match Athletic Club Bilbao against FC Barcelona

Lurking

Messi is at the heart of everything that Barça do and his condition will impact on how they perform over the next few weeks. If he recovers full fitness, Barça can recover their "turbo" and make Madrid's hopes of catching up impossible. However having a not fully fit Messi does little for Barcelona as was witnessed last night in a game that both Arturo Vidal and Coutinho will want to quickly forget. It's true that the return of Dembélé did improve things but only really a 100% fit Lionel Messi is a game-changer. It's time to gauge the "shit-scared-omoter" as Hugo Gatti would say! The sight of Real Madrid lurking in second place as the league enters the final stages is the last thing that Barcelona anticipated or least expected at this juncture.