Real Madrid had Sergio Ramos sent off late on and wasted a chance to gain ground in the LaLiga title race with a frustrating 0-0 draw against struggling Athletic Bilbao at San Mames on Saturday.
Barcelona's earlier draw at home to Celta Vigo gave Los Blancos the opportunity to cut the gap in LaLiga to six points, but a recurrence of their wayward finishing was largely to blame for a failure to secure victory.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Toni Kroos were both guilty for letting chances slip in the first half, while the contest might have been different had Karim Benzema not hit the post in just the eighth minute.
Defying the form that has seen them tumble to a concerning 15th, Athletic remained competitive throughout and were not without opportunities to snatch what would have been just a fourth win of the league campaign.
Instead, they will have to be content with an encouraging draw that slightly eases the mounting pressure on manager Jose Angel Ziganda.
The champions, meanwhile, remain eight points adrift of rivals Barca, although the draw was enough to nudge back into fourth ahead of next weekend's opponents Sevilla – a match Ramos will miss following his second yellow for an elbow on Aritz Aduriz.
The visitors started brightly and only the woodwork denied them an early opener, Benzema firing into the base of the left post following a deft chest-down from Isco's cross.
Keylor Navas, in his first LaLiga appearance since October, was eager to reaffirm his place as Madrid's undisputed number one and reacted well to palm away Aduriz's glancing header.
Reports suggest Kepa Arrizabalaga could become a positional rival for Navas in January and the Athletic goalkeeper was tested twice in quick succession by Ronaldo and Kroos.
The home side were creating openings of their own, though, and might have done better when Raul Garcia's miscued finish almost dropped for Aduriz.
Kroos, Ronaldo and Raphael Varane all then failed to make the most of further opportunities as Ziganda's men scrambled to the break unharmed.
Navas came under renewed pressure after the restart, first parrying Aduriz's low effort and then blanketing Markel Susaeta's attempted chip from a narrow angle.
Talismanic attacker Ronaldo almost broke deadlock out of nothing with just over 20 minutes remaining as his fierce left-footed volley fizzed just wide of the near post.
That effort inspired Madrid into exerting greater pressure going forward, but clear-cut chances were tough to extract from the resilient Rojiblancos.
And the champions' frustrating night was compounded when Ramos – who was making his return in this game as he recovers from a broken nose – was shown a second yellow for leading with the elbow on Aduriz.
Key Opta stats:
- Sergio Ramos has been sent off more times than any other player in LaLiga history (19 all as a Real Madrid player).
- Real Madrid failed to score for the third time in LaLiga this season. In the past two seasons, they played 58 games under Zidane, scoring in all of them but one (0-0 vs Atletico).
- Karim Benzema has scored the same number of goals (2) as the number of times he has hit the woodwork (2) in LaLiga this season.
- Luka Modric has played 150 LaLiga games for Real Madrid. Only five Croatians have played more games in the competition: Janko Jankovic (242), Davor Suker (239), Nikola Jerkan (203), Alen Peternac (162) and Robert Jarni (151).