Hours before the San Mames roared and the Bilbao rain teemed, Real Madrid surely sensed opportunity. Barcelona had stumbled at home against Celta Vigo. The La Liga leaders had offered Real an opportunity. An opportunity to recoup two points, and to pull to within six in the title race.
But if there has been a story of Real Madrid’s 2017-18 season thus far, it has been missed opportunity. And sure enough, Saturday evening was full of it.
Los Blancos couldn’t crack Athletic Bilbao in a 0-0 draw overflowing with frustration. Sergio Ramos was sent off late on after several Madrid chances had come and gone. They managed to get just four of their 19 shots on target.
At the final whistle, Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane turned and trudged down the tunnel. He knew exactly what his team had thrown away.
The reigning La Liga champs weren’t outplayed or underwhelming, but, for not the first time this season, they floundered in front of goal. They clipped posts and screwed shots wide.
Heads sunk into hands as the clock ticked and a goal refused to arrive.
After dropping several points at home in August and September, Madrid has now taken two points from its last three road matches. Those eight points are the difference between it and Barcelona.
Earlier in the day, Atletico Madrid had taken advantage of the opportunity Barcelona mistakenly presented. Atletico moved to within two games courtesy of Antoine Griezmann’s 88th minute winner against his old club:
But Real Madrid couldn’t. Ramos and Dani Carvajal will both be suspended for Real’s next match, against fifth-place Sevilla. A day that could have been a turning point in the title race instead drove home the wedge between Real and the top of the table.