Champions Barcelona let Real Madrid firmly back into La Liga title race following a 0-0 draw at neighbors Espanyol on Saturday, meaning Madrid could move to within one point of their rivals with a home win over Valencia.
Barca had Dani Alves sent off on the hour mark and the treble winners failed to score in the league for the first time in six months.
It was the first derby at Espanyol’s Cornella El-Prat Stadium and a bad one for Barcelona, who saw a run of seven straight wins come to an end as they failed to find the back of the net in La Liga for the first time since a 0-0 draw at Valencia on Oct. 17.
Coach Pep Guardiola will hope the draw is just a blip as his side look to get over the finishing line with just five games left in the season.
“I am happy with the point against a good team,” said Guardiola. “We beat [Real] Madrid home and away and have only lost one game. We have got our 84 points by going out like we did tonight.”
Atletico Madrid fell to a 2-1 defeat at Villarreal ahead of Thursday’s Europa League semi-final first leg against Liverpool.
First half goals from Diego Godin and Giuseppe Rossi helped Villarreal go sixth, a point ahead of Athletic Bilbao.
Sergio “Kun” Aguero pulled a goal back for Atletico on 64 minutes, but it was not enough, and their 15 league losses leave them nine points behind Villarreal.
Barca hit the crossbar in the eighth minute with Pedro’s mis-hit cross crashing off the top of the woodwork to safety.
Forward Pablo Osvaldo had a chance for the hosts but shot over when well placed and Joan Verdu glanced a header wide on 26 minutes.
Barca were not at the races in the first half and goalkeeper Victor Valdes pulled off a fine stop just before halftime to keep the scores level.
A cross from the left found Osvaldo in the penalty area, but the striker’s side-footed effort was pushed on to the post brilliantly by Valdes.
On 55 minutes Guardiola brought on Seydou Keita and Thierry Henry to inject some attacking threat, but five minutes later the champions were reduced to ten men.
Alves pulled down Jose Callejon close to the half-way line to pick up a second yellow card.
Elsewhere Sevilla climbed up to fourth with a comfortable 3-0 home win over nine man Sporting Gijon, taking them two points above Real Mallorca in the Champions League race.
Sevilla had lost to Valladolid on Tuesday but bounced back with an early goal from striker Frederic Kanoute putting them ahead before Luis Fabiano and Juan Cala scored second half goals to propel Sevilla into fourth place.
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