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Messi-less Barcelona beaten again in Bilbao Ronaldo injury free and ready to return to action

MADRID, Dec 2, (Agencies): Barcelona slipped to a second consecutive defeat for the first time since April 2012 as they lost for the first time in the league this season 1-0 away to Athletic Bilbao on Sunday. Barcelona had suffered their first defeat under coach Gerardo Martino against Ajax in midweek and Athletic appeared to learn from the Dutch champions’ approach as, without the injured Lionel Messi, Barca struggled to impose themselves on the game. Iker Muniain slotted home the only goal of the game from Markel Susaeta’s cross 20 minutes from time as a third straight win moved the Basques into fourth. The Catalans remain top of La Liga on goal difference only from Atletico Madrid with Real Madrid now just three points behind the leaders. And the champions were left to complain about referee Juan Martinez Manuera’s decision to only show Ander Iturraspe a yellow card when he pulled back Neymar as the Brazilian bore down on goal with the score still at 0-0.

“They are a god team and it is difficult when we have chances and don’t take them,” said midfielder Sergio Busquets. “And yes the referee didn’t do his job well either because it is a red card and that made it more difficult. “I think that would have changed the game. He was through on the goalkeeper, I don’t know where (Mikel) Balenziaga was but it was a clear one-on-one and for me it is a red card.” On top of Messi’s absence, Barca were also missing Victor Valdes and Dani Alves and Busquets insisted they have to concentrate on not losing any more ground in the two league games that remain before the winter break with Messi and Valdes due back in January.

“We shouldn’t be alarmed. We need to keep going, win the two games between now and the end of the year and learn from the mistakes we have made.” Neymar had Barcelona’s best effort of the first-half with a curling effort that was brilliantly tipped over the bar by Gorka Iraizoz. However, it was the hosts that had the better of the chances before the break as Muniain fluffed his lines after Andoni Iraola’s cross was deflected perfectly into his path before Gorka Toquero headed wide when unmarked from Muniain’s cross. Meanwhile,  Cristiano Ronaldo has recovered from a muscle strain and is ready to return to action, the Real Madrid and Portugal forward said on Monday.

Ronaldo damaged a hamstring in Real’s La Liga match at Almeria on Nov 23 and missed last week’s Champions League win over Galatasaray and Saturday’s La Liga success against Real Valladolid. “I no longer have an injury,” Ronaldo said at an awards ceremony in Madrid. “I have been fine for a couple of days,” added the 28-year-old, who has been on scintillating form this season. “We preferred not to push things against Valladolid but I will be there for the next game for sure.” Ronaldo netted 14 goals in his last seven appearances for club and country before his injury and is one of the favourites to scoop the FIFA Ballon d’Or when the footballer of the year award is announced next month.

The former Manchester United man was the last player to win in 2008 before Barcelona’s Argentine forward Lionel Messi took the next four. “I am on good form,” Ronaldo said. “It’s possible that it is the best start to the season of my career but the past few years have also been very good.” Real’s next match is a King’s Cup last 32, first leg at third-tier Olimpic de Xativa on Saturday and they play at FC Copenhagen in the Champions League the following Tuesday. The nine-times European champions are already through to the last 16 as Group B winners.

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