Real Madrid were handed the advantage in the Spanish title race on Friday night as Barcelona dropped two points against Sevilla.
It’s not in our hands anymore,’ said a down in the mouth Gerard Pique. ‘I think it’s going to be very difficult for us to win this league.’ Pushed on what seemed like an insinuation that decisions were going against Barcelona and for Real Madrid he was asked to elaborate.
‘Seeing what we have seen in these last two rounds of games, it’s going to be very difficult to win La Liga,’ he said. Was it a reference to Valencia’s goal against Madrid the previous night, ruled out for offside against Maxi Rodriguez? Or was it just frustration at 90 minutes spent trying to break down a stubborn Sevilla defence?
Pique spent the last 20 minutes as an auxiliary centre-forward but more often than not he was waiting for crosses that never came as the ball was played to Artur wide right only for the substitute to continually check back and play a pass inside.
Barcelona coach Quique Setien had gambled on leaving Antoine Griezmann on the bench and playing Martin Braithwaite but the Danish international fared no better than the Frenchman, working hard but seeing little of the ball.
Luis Suarez started the game and would play his first 90 minutes since his knee operation but he also had no joy in front of goal.
He tried his luck early on but could not beat Tomas Vaclik. Jules Kounde got forward for Sevilla to shoot just wide. And he headed off the line from a Lionel Messi free-kick.
Messi went in search of his 700th career goal but he was mobbed by white shirted defenders whenever the ball was played into him and the usually telepathic understanding with Suarez was missing in the first half.
Messi’s Argentina team-mate Ever Banega came on at half time and his range of passing lit up the game but when Munir and Lucas OCampos ran into space on to his defence splitting passes they could only blast the ball at Ter Stegen who kept his fourth clean sheet in a row.
Messi went close in the second half from another free-kick but again Vaclik was a match for the effort.
With time running out and Pique a desperate number nine trying to break the deadlock Suarez had Barcelona’s best chance.
It was Jordi Alba who crossed from the left and Suarez made good contact with the ball but was unable to get over it, watching it sail agonizingly over the top.
Sevilla then had their golden opportunity and it fell to a Real Madrid loanee. The ball dropped to Sergio Reguilon on the edge of the six-yard box but with his weaker foot he squandered the chance hitting his shot at Ter Stegen.
As the referee’s whistle blew Messi was consoled by Banega who will leave Sevilla at the end of the season. Messi had lost his temper just before half time pushing Diego Carlos over after he had been fouled.
He was lucky to escape without so much as a booking, but Barcelona’s fortune ran out over the next 45 minutes.
If Real Madrid beat Real Sociedad on Sunday they will move level on points with Barcelona and on head-to-head goal difference. The league is now theirs to lose, it showed when Pique faced the post-match interview.