Barcelona slipped up with a 0-0 draw at Sevilla to hand Real Madrid a huge LaLiga title boost, as Lionel Messi was kept waiting for his 700th career goal.
Messi had scored 37 in his 38 previous outings against Sevilla, more than against any other team, but a series of threatening free-kicks were repelled by the home side this time.
Antoine Griezmann was surprisingly left out of Barcelona’s starting line-up for the clash with third-placed opposition, as Martin Braithwaite was preferred, and the visitors lacked penetration.
The draw leaves them still top of the table, but Real Madrid, with a game in hand, are just three points off the summit.
This stalemate at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium could prove a costly one for Barcelona come the end of the season, and it was almost worse for them, with Sevilla’s Sergio Reguilon, on loan from Real Madrid, squandering a glorious late chance.
Sevilla defender Jules Kounde drilled an early shot a yard wide, but Barcelona were soon on top and for a while they looked terrific.
It took two Sevilla players to stop Messi at the expense of a free-kick on the edge of the penalty area at the 20-minute mark.
Up stepped Messi, and his shot beat the wall and might have beaten Tomas Vaclik too, but the goalkeeper was done a favour by Kounde, who cleared the ball from almost on the line with a flicked header over the bar.
Messi tested Vaclik moments later with another free-kick, and the goalkeeper was more comfortable second time around.
Inevitably at the centre of things, Messi avoided punishment for shoving Diego Carlos to the ground in first-half stoppage time after the home defender fouled Suarez.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen came to Barcelona’s rescue early in the second half with a fine parry to deny Lucas Ocampos, the goalkeeper’s strong left hand keeping out a thunderous shot from a tight angle to the right of goal.
The German thwarted Munir moments later too, pushing away a vicious left-footed strike.
Vaclik tipped another Messi free-kick over his crossbar at full stretch as the game entered its final 20 minutes, before Jordi Alba made a key block at the other end as Sevilla launched a three-on-one breakaway raid.
Ocampos drew a save from Ter Stegen with a low shot but neither side could successfully plot a way to a goal, Reguilon failing to properly get hold of a close-range shot at the death, to Barcelona’s great relief.
What does it mean? – Barca set to blow their lead
For Barcelona, the advantage they held over Real Madrid when LaLiga resumed has effectively gone. Should Zinedine Zidane’s men win at Anoeta against Real Sociedad on Sunday, the teams will sit level on 65 points from 30 games, reducing the title race to an eight-game rush to glory.
Sevilla might have snatched it at the death, but you suspect they would have taken a point from this, another small step towards making certain of a Champions League place next term.
Reguilon could have been the hero – in two cities
Reguilon knew he would not be a regular at Madrid this season, so he grasped the opportunity presented by Sevilla and Julen Lopetegui, who liked him during their brief time together at the Santiago Bernabeu. In this match, he could have made himself a Real Madrid hero, only to bungle the chance that came his way in a flash right at the end of the game.
Rather than find the back of the net, from barely eight yards he hit the ball into the ground and it was all too easy for Ter Stegen.
Not Messi’s night, but you couldn’t take your eyes off him
Probing, rushing and then barely jogging and watching, Lionel Messi, at whatever pace he moved, was at the centre of operations as ever for Barcelona, and a gaggle of Sevilla heavies watched his every move.
He dropped increasingly deep to find space, a sure sign the home defence is winning the battle, but then almost carved open a chance with an audacious exchange of passes with Alba. You can never assume a battle is won against Messi. His free-kicks carried menace and with a little more luck he would have brought up that seventh career century of goals.
Athletic Bilbao visit Camp Nou on Tuesday, and it seems likely Griezmann will start after this disappointment. Sevilla go to Villarreal on Monday.
by John Skilbeck