Goalkeeper Manu Herrera was in fine form as Elche held Barcelona to a goalless draw on Sunday.
Xavi was left out of the starting XI for Barca as they looked for the win that would take the title race into the last weekend. Cesc Fabregas replaced the veteran, whilst Neymar also missed out, so Alexis Sanchez, Lionel Messi and Pedro kept their places in the front-three.
And it was the visitors who got off to the brighter start, playing their usual possession game to good effect. Pace out wide looked key early on, as Pedro raced down the left, but his cross was gathered well by Manu.
And it was the Spain winger who almost created the first goal inside 15 minutes. The Masia graduate went down the left, cut back for Andres Iniesta on the edge of the area, but the World Cup-winning midfielder’s volley forced Manu into a spectacular acrobatic save.
Fran Escriba’s men were clearly second-best, struggling to keep the Catalans at bay. But a mixture of good goalkeeping and poor finishing was keeping the scoreline at 0-0. When they did have a chance though, the Franjiverdes had to take it – so they rued Garry Rodrigues’ effort on 25 minutes. A cross from Damian Suarez found the Cape Verde man inside the area, but his first time shot went over the bar when it looked easier to hit the target.
Still the Blaugrana came looking for the opener, as first Messi, then Pedro went close to hitting the back of the net. The Argentine was stopped by Manu though, and the diminutive Spaniard was kept out by the side-netting.
After the break, the game continued as if the interval hadn’t even happened, as Barca came flying out of the blocks and should have registered a goal. Messi, racing through on goal, would have been a sure-fire to score – instead, he rattled his shot off of Manu.
It was now end-to-end stuff at Manuel Martinez Valero. Pedro had an effort wide on the hour, whilst Coro could have put the hosts in front, but for a good save from Pinto. The Blaugrana players were doing everything to score and keep the League dream alive.
Manu however, was in irresistible form, with his backline clearing everything that came into the area. A dangerous cross from Cristian Tello was dealt with, as was a cutting Iniesta through ball.
At the other end, Elche were still creating their chances, and should have dealt the cruellest of blows to the visitors late on. A superb pass from Richmond Boakye found Rodrigues, but the winger could only fire over from close range after fighting off Javier Mascherano.
Elche 0-0 Barcelona
Elche: Manu H., Damián, Lombán, Pelegrín, D. Cisma, R. Pérez, C. Sánchez, J. Márquez, Rodrigues, Carles Gil (Boakye 81), Coro
Barcelona: Pinto; Alves, Bartra, Mascherano, Adriano; Cesc (Xavi 81), Busquets, Iniesta; Alexis, Messi, Pedro (Tello 70)