Ten man Real Madrid stuttered to a miserable point against Athletic Bilbao at San Mames, failing to create any clear cut chances in a game of poor quality.
The best chances of the game fell to Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo, who have both been struggling in front of goal lately. Creating chances for themselves, the pair both hit the post in a game of very few chances on a cold night in Bilbao, where Sergio Ramos saw red late on in a below-par performance.
At San Mamés, the visitors started on the front foot, hoping to capitalize on the two points league leaders Barcelona dropped against Celta Vigo earlier in the day. The first chance of the night fell to French international Benzema, with Isco teeing up the Los Merengues striker, who crossed for the former Lyon man to control the ball on his chest and hit the post early on.
With the home crowd behind them, Los Leones fought back with the first opportunity falling to Aritz Aduriz, as the Spanish international flashed a header across goal from a whipped in delivery, which was parried out by Keylor Navas into a dangerous area.
The two teams then traded blows in the first half, counter attacking with pace as both Ronaldo and Kroos fired shots from twenty five yards out, each testing the capability of Kepa Arrizabalaga.
In the best chance for the hosts in the first half, a clever one-two between Iñaki Williams and Markel Susaeta allowed the promising winger the rare space inside the box to get away a shot, testing Navas with a low drive.
Sensing a shift in momentum, Bilbao again were inches away from the first goal with Aduriz coming close, just lacking the pace to get on the end of a square pass from Raul Garcia, after a dangerous set piece.
With the game picking up close to the half time whistle, Toni Kroos had an excellent opportunity to take the lead, showcasing his ambidexterity by unleashing a rasping left-footed strike from the edge of the area, skimming just wide of the post.
And while the German midfielder struggled to find the back of the net, his team mate Ronaldo, who continues to struggle by his standards in front of goal, highlighted Los Blancos stuttering form. A poor effort, collecting the ball from a Marcelo cross, dragging it on to his left foot before scuffing wide.
Starting the second half in a more positive fashion after an initial forty five minutes of limited clear-cut chances, the home side came close to opening the account on the night with danger man Aduriz again working the goalkeeper, fizzing a powerful low-strike which needed the intervention of Navas.
Not for the first time in the game, referee Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz is jeered by the crowd for making a contentious decision, after it appears that ex-Atletico Madrid midfielder Garcia is clipped in the box when jumping for a clear header at goal.
As both teams looked for a moment of magic in a game that lacked creativity, the ‘moment’ of the second half fell to Ronaldo. Much to the annoyance of the players and the coaching staff, including an incensed Zinedine Zidane on the sidelines, match official Lahoz was again called into question.
With play maker Luka Modric heroically throwing himself into a challenge on the halfway line to play the Portuguese talisman through, Xabier Etxeita swiped at the Croatian’s leg leading to a yellow card, to interrupt a clear last-man opportunity, which was abruptly and prematurely stopped by Lahoz.
So close to breaking the deadlock, Ronaldo began to show his usual influence in the game, taking matters into his own hands in the final twenty minutes. Taking the ball down on his chest, the 32-year-old lashed a volley across the goal, which ricocheted off the post again to keep the visitors at bay.
Pushing for a goal that would close the game on Barcelona to six points at the top of La Liga, it was again Ronaldo who had the chances in the final stages, twice coming close with headers that lacked power or accuracy in a desperate climax.
To make matters worse, Real Madrid had to finish the game with ten men as captain Sergio Ramos received his marching orders after a second bookable offence, elbowing Aduriz to earn his 19th La Liga red and 24th overall in a distinguished but aggressive career.