Football: Real Madrid frustrated by Athletic Bilbao, fall behind Barca

Athletic's Unai Nunez, Real's Karim Benzema, Real's Luka Jovic and Athletic's Inigo Martinez jump for the ball. PHOTO: AFP

MADRID (REUTERS) - Real Madrid hit the woodwork three times but could only draw 0-0 at home to Athletic Bilbao in a frustrating final game of 2019 which meant they slipped two points behind La Liga leaders Barcelona.

Real's top scorer Karim Benzema had a shot cleared off the line in a lively first half while Toni Kroos came within inches of scoring when he waltzed through the defence and hammered a shot which Athletic keeper Unai Simon deflected on to the bar.

Substitute Nacho Fernandez rattled the bar in the second half while Serbian forward Luka Jovic left Simon flat-footed with a late header but watched as the ball bounced off the post and Sergio Ramos scuffed the rebound back at the goalkeeper.

Athletic, who beat champions Barca earlier this season, gave an astute performance in defence and also gave their hosts a few scares, with Kenan Kodro having a goal ruled out for offside and Inaki Williams forcing Thibaut Courtois to make a diving save.

It was Real's third draw in a row after 1-1 and 0-0 stalemates away to Valencia and Barca respectively, games in which they also played well but lacked composure in front of goal.

They are second in the standings on 37 points after 18 games, two behind Barca who beat Alaves 4-1 on Saturday. Athletic are seventh with 28.

"We are left with a bad taste because we hit the woodwork three times and had some other opportunities, so it's a real shame that we couldn't pick up three points," Real goalkeeper Courtois told reporters.

"Athletic set up to frustrate us, we know how they like to play but when you have so many chances it's hard not to feel like it is two points dropped.

"It feels like recently the ball just doesn't want to go in the net, we've been creating a lot of chances and we're not lacking firepower, the ball is just not going in."

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