Barcelona squandered a two-goal lead from goals by Lionel Messi and Neymar to stumble to a 2-2 draw at Sevilla on Saturday, letting Real Madrid pull within two points of the Spanish league leader.
Messi and Neymar both scored stunning strikes to give Barcelona a commanding lead just after the half-hour mark at Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium.
But Ever Banega pulled one back against the run of play in the 38th, and substitute Kevin Gameiro capped a counterattack with six minutes to play to keep Sevilla undefeated at home in 32 straight games. Sevilla tightened the title race with seven rounds remaining while moving level on points with fourth-place Valencia.
Cristiano Ronaldo made sure Madrid kept the pressure on the pacesetters earlier Saturday by scoring his league-leading 38th goal in a 3-0 win at home over Eibar.
Third-place Atletico Madrid also dropped two points at Malaga in an exciting 2-2 draw, three days before the defending league champions host Madrid in the Champions League quarterfinals.
Barcelona coach Luis Enrique could not have asked for a better start, with this stars scoring and Barcelona’s possession-based style defusing Sevilla’s up-tempo attack.
Messi seemed to be well defended as he dribbled into the area from the right side in the 14th, but one quick touch later he had the angle he needed to use his left boot to curl a strike around goalkeeper Sergio Rico.
Neymar soon followed in the 31st with his first goal in eight games. His strike was just as silky smooth as he bent a free kick from the left edge of the area just over the top of the wall and so close to the near post that Rico made no move to stop it.
Barcelona looked close to getting a third goal until Banega fired a blistering strike from long range that goalkeeper Claudio Bravo could only push off his post and into the net.
While Messi and Neymar shone, Luis Suarez missed three clear chances to add to their goals. The best came in the 50th when he sailed a shot over the bar after Andres Iniesta had drawn Rico off his line.
The match tilted in Sevilla’s favor after coach Unai Emery made all three substitutions midway through the second half. Substitute Jose Antonio Reyes started the decisive counterattack that ended with Aleix Vidal crossing for Gameiro to redirect the ball home.
Barcelona will now have to regroup for its trip to Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League on Wednesday, before it faces a second-straight league test against Valencia next round.
Madrid had no such trouble at home against the promoted Eibar.
Ronaldo scored a bouncing free kick that goalkeeper Xabi Irureta could have done more to keep out in the 21st.
“It’s surprising how eager Ronaldo is to play and score. That’s what makes him different from other strikers,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “Ronaldo is enjoying the way we play because the team is playing at a fast pace and that gives him more freedom in front of the net.”
Little-used striker Javier Hernandez doubled the lead in the 31st, and youngster Jese Rodriguez capped the one-sided match in the 83rd.
Atletico needed Antoine Griezmann to salvage a point by scoring his 17th and 18th league goals of the campaign. Atletico’s draw kept it in third place, now seven points behind Madrid.
Griezmann got his first goal in the 25th when Malaga goalie Carlos Kameni spilled a throw-in, and the forward only had to tap the ball in.
Fortune swung Malaga’s way in the 37th when Atletico’s Fernando Torres scored an own goal while trying to clear a corner kick.
The second half featured a series of scoring chances for both sides at La Rosaleda Stadium. Samuel Garcia chipped goalie Jan Oblak to put Malaga ahead in the 71st, only for Griezmann to fire in his second goal in the 78th.
Later, Celta Vigo hosts Rayo Vallecano, while Granada visits Almeria.