It seemed as if Real Madrid's title hopes were alive again. Barcelona's second successive draw in the Primera Division meant Los Blancos could close the gap to six points by beating Athletic Club at San Mames on Saturday. But it was another opportunity missed in the end.
Zinedine Zidane's side were without Gareth Bale, rested as a precaution after returning from injury impressively against Fuenlabrada in the Copa del Rey on Tuesday night - and how he was missed in the Basque Country.
Isco is a fantastic footballer, but Madrid's attack lacks dynamism and pace in his presence. Particularly away from home, Bale's running can help to stretch rival defences and provide space for Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema. Instead, it was all too predictable.
The same can be said of Zidane's line-up. Everybody knows the team he will pick at the moment and exactly how they will play. Constant crossing into the area is not a wise tactic against a tall and physical side like Athletic, either - and it did not work again in this match.
Madrid needed a penalty to beat lowly Malaga at home last weekend, with Ronaldo netting on the rebound after his spot-kick had been saved. And there is the feeling that Real are not finishing teams off at the moment.
Ronaldo and Benzema have just two goals each in La Liga, while Bale has been sidelined for much of the campaign. Nevertheless, Saturday's game in Bilbao was one Madrid would have found a way to win in 2016-17. This season, however, it is a different story.
The champions have already lost at home to Betis, with draws at the Bernabeu against Levante and Valencia. And on the road, they surprisingly went down at Girona, having to settle for a point at Atletico and now Athletic as well.
Such results are not good enough for a team aspiring to be champions and although there is a Clasico clash to come at the Bernabeu on December 23, even a win will only reduce the deficit to five points as things stand. And that match also comes at a tough time for Los Blancos, just days after they conclude their participation in the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi.
The draw at San Mames sees Madrid in fourth, eight points adrift of Barcelona and level with fifth-placed Sevilla, their rivals at the Bernabeu in the next round of matches. And it could have been worse, too.
Sergio Ramos, sent off for a record 19th time in La Liga, was fortunate not to concede a penalty, as was Marcelo right at the end, while bookings for Casemiro and Dani Carvajal mean they are now suspended for the visit of Sevilla.
In the final half an hour of the match, Athletic could barely string three passes together as Madrid launched a wave of attacks that looked likely to bring a vital victory.
Instead, however, it all proved futile. Too predictable and too pedestrian, Zidane's side have lost their killer instinct and this missed opportunity means it is a long way back now for Los Blancos. On this form, it looks unlikely they will close the gap.