The LaLiga Santander title race has taken a new turn as league leaders Barcelona were held to a 0-0 draw with Sevilla on Friday night at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.
It was an enthralling chess match between coaches Quique Setien and Julen Lopetegui, with plenty of back and forth, but the final product was lacking on both ends and the final result is a point apiece to open the doors to first place for Real Madrid.
With a win on Sunday in San Sebastian against Real Sociedad, Los Blancos would take over as league leaders on head-to-head advantage.
For the first time since LaLiga’s resumption, Antoine Griezmann found himself on the bench, while Luis Suarez got the nod up top along with Martin Braithwaite and Lionel Messi.
Clement Lenglet partnered with Gerard Pique at centre-back, while Nelson Semedo started instead of the injured Sergi Roberto and Arturo Vidal and Ivan Rakitic accompanied Sergio Busquets in midfield.
Both teams few a threw punches in the first half hour, with the best effort for the hosts a Jules Kounde shot that skidded across goal.
Then, there was a Messi freekick that Kounde headed away off the line.
Arguably the most exciting bit of action came at the end when Messi pushed Diego Carlos to the ground after a challenge and a small fracas followed that produced yellow cards for Busquets and Fernando, but not for the Argentine or the Brazilian.
To start the second stanza, Lopetegui brought on Ever Banega and it sparked the Sevilla attack, with Lucas Ocampos nearly breaking the deadlock after a quickly taken freekick from Jesus Navas, only for a reaction save from Marc-Andre ter Stegen to keep things scoreless.
Setien sought more control in midfield, so Braithwaite was taken off and replaced with Arthur.
Yet, while the back-and-forth continued, Messi was being kept under wraps by the likes of Joan Jordan, Kounde and the rest of the Sevilla defence.
Sevilla‘s first good chance to score in the second half came with a quarter of an hour remaining as they launched a counter attack in which they had numbers on the Barcelona defence, but a last-gasp intervention from Jordi Alba spoiled the chance.
In search of a cutting edge, Setien summoned Griezmann off the bench for Vidal and then later Riqui Puig for Rakitic.
The final minutes were a frenzy, first with a Jordi Alba cross that Suarez one-timed over the crossbar, followed by Sergio Reguilon shooting right at Ter Stegen when all alone in front of goal.
In the end, no winner was to be had, as Barcelona retreated to the locker room knowing that their place atop the table was a lot less stable.
0.- Sevilla: Vaclik, Jesus Navas, Kounde, Diego Carlos, Reguilon, Fernando, Jordan (Gudelj, min. 69), Oliver (Banega, min. 46), Ocampos (Mudo Vazquez, min. 84), Munir (Suso, min. 59), De Jong (En-Nesyri, min. 68).
0.- Barcelona: Ter Stegen, Semedo, Pique, Lenglet, Jordi Alba, Busquets, Arturo Vidal (Griezmann, min. 77), Rakitic (Riqui Puig, min. 89), Messi, Braithwaite (Arthur, min. 63), Luis Suarez.
Referee: Gonzalez Gonzalez (Castilla y Leon).
Yellow cards: Reguilon (Min. 26) for Sevilla, Pique (Min. 39) for Barcelona, Busquets (Min. 45+3) for Barcelona, Fernando (Min. 45+3) for Sevilla, Banega (Min. 62) for Sevilla,
Red cards: None
Stadium: Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan