BILBAO, Spain – Real Madrid failed to gain ground on first-placed FC Barcelona in Saturday 14th-round action in the Spanish league, having to settle for a scoreless draw against host Athletic Bilbao.
Both teams had chances on the opponent’s goal in the first half at San Mames Stadium in this northern city, with the best opportunity coming on a shot by Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema in the seventh minute that clanked off the woodwork.
Isco set up the play with a cross from the left side that found the Frenchman, who maneuvered around Mikel Balenziaga and fired a left-footed shot that nearly found the mark.
But Athletic responded after that early scare, dictating the play on the field and nearly finding the back of the net on its first scoring opportunity – a point-blank header by Aritz Aduriz that goalie Keylor Navas managed to deflect.
The hosts also got off to a strong start in the second half, but the Blancos then seized complete control and threatened the opposing goal with a volley by Cristiano Ronaldo and two potent blasts off the foot of Marcelo, one of which was deflected away by Athletic Bilbao net minder Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Real Madrid maintained that momentum until defender Sergio Ramos was sent off for a second yellow card in the 87th minute, after which the home side tried unsuccessfully to notch the late winner.
With the draw, Real Madrid (28 points) remains in fourth place in the La Liga standings.
The defending champions are still eight points behind league-leading FC Barcelona (36 points), which drew 2-2 Saturday with Celta Vigo; but they now trail third-placed Atletico Madrid, a 2-1 winner Saturday over Real Sociedad, by two points.
Second-placed Valencia (31 points) can move within two points of Barcelona with a win Sunday over Getafe.
Athletic Bilbao has suffered through a frustrating season to this point and currently is in 15th place with just 14 points.