Messi watches from stands as Barcelona held by Eibar

Barcelona, December 30

With Lionel Messi nursing his ankle in the stands, Barcelona fell further behind in the Spanish league after ceding their first-ever point to Eibar at Camp Nou. Halftime substitute Ousmane Dembele salvaged a 1-1 draw for Barcelona when he scored in the 67th minute. That canceled out Kike García’s opener 10 minutes earlier after a ball-control blunder by centre-back Ronald Araujo.

A second consecutive home draw meant Ronald Koeman’s side slipped to sixth place after Sevilla moved into fourth with a 2-0 win over Villarreal, who fell to fifth. Frontrunners Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid are seven points clear of Barcelona.

“Being realistic, the league title is very complicated. Nothing is impossible, but we must recognise the gap,” Koeman said. “We were missing Leo, who is always decisive, but the sensation I have is ‘how is it possible we didn’t win?’ We created chances, missed a penalty, and gave away a goal that was their only shot on target.”

Messi was forced to watch the game tucked in a winter coat with the reserves because of an unspecified right-ankle problem. It is not reported to be serious.

Already without Ansu Fati and Gerard Pique because of serious injuries, Barcelona also lost midfielder Philippe Coutinho in the final minutes with what appeared to be a left knee injury.

Coutinho is set to undergo knee surgery, the Spanish club said today. Coutinho, 28, started the game on the bench and came on in the second half but limped off the pitch during stoppage time. — Agencies

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