As Zinedine Zidane went on to the pitch to shake his players hands at the full-time whistle, the Real Madrid manager will have been far from happy but somewhat relieved. His team had managed a draw against Sevilla thanks to a late equaliser in stoppage time but it could have been a lot worse.
Real went behind then equalised before conceding again and looked certain to drop three points in their fight for the La Liga title. Only for late drama to save the home side’s blushes and see them claim a point.
This was the latest twist in a title race that seems to be going right down to the wire. Barcelona’s goalless draw with Atletico Madrid on Saturday offered third-placed Real the chance to leapfrog them both with just three games remaining. But a win for Zidane’s men proved elusive, they couldn’t take advantage, however, at least they did not lose.
It means that at the end of a weekend that was meant to prove decisive the table had Atletico top on 77 points, Barcelona second with 75 and Real third also on 75. Perhaps emblematic of the season, none of them could quite take the crucial step when it mattered.
Meanwhile for Sevilla, who are fourth on 71 points, they were so close to wining away at Real for the first time in 13 attempts. They were seconds away from propelling themselves back into the thick of the title race but now must come to realise that they will achieve no better than a Champions League place this season, which is still an almighty achievement for Julen Lopetegui’s side.
Story of the game
It was Sevilla who threw the greatest surprise with their starting lineup by not selecting a recognised striker. There was no start for Youssef En-Neysri or Luuk De Jong, instead Lopetegui chose to play Lucas Ocampos down the middle in a fluid 4-3-3 system.
There was no Sergio Ramos for Real, who was out with a hamstring injury picked up in training on Friday just days after returning from a lengthier layoff for the Champions League game against Chelsea.
Sevilla strutted from the off and Monday’s home defeat against Athletic Bilbao seemed very much a thing of the past. Though it did suit Real to play on the counter and they thought they had taken the lead via such means in the 12th minute.
The ball was played swiftly forward to Vinicius Junior, who passed out wide to Alvaro Odriozola on the right. The full back was just in an offside position but no flag was raised and so he took a touch before crossing low into the area.
Marcos Acuna, the Sevilla left back, allowed him space and Karim Benzema was the only Real player in the area but still he headed past Yassine Bono. It was only then that VAR intervened and ruled the goal void.
The disallowed goal demonstrated to Sevilla that it only takes a swift counter for Real to do their damage and so the visitors set about making hay in terms of the scoreline. It was in the 22nd minute that Lopetegui’s side took the lead. Casemiro’s foul gifted Sevilla a free-kick which Suso played short to Jesus Navas. The veteran Sevilla captain took a touch and then crossed into the area.
Ivan Rakitic jumped and headed down for Fernando and the Sevilla midfielder controlled the ball before shooting past Thibaut Courtois for his third goal of the campaign.
Real couldn’t afford to lose this game and their response to going behind said as much. Vinicius, who was lively down the left, teed up Casemiro but his tame shot was easily collected by Bono.
Vinicius again made progress when running at Navas but his goalbound effort was claimed by the Sevilla goalkeeper too. Bono then also had to tip over Benzema’s attempt from outside the area.
The home side were now the more dominant team and were fully aware that a defeat would scupper the advantage that the draw between Barcelona and Atletico had presented them. Luka Modric drew a save from Bono before a short corner saw Toni Kroos play to Modric who then played back to his fellow midfielder. Kroos delivered the ball into the six-yard area first time but Vinicius slotted a shot wide of the post.
Pressure eventually told on 67 minutes when Benzema won possession on halfway. He ran deep into Sevilla territory before passing to substitute Marco Asensio. The midfielder’s first touch was heavy and the chance to shoot gone, thus he played back to Casemiro who in turn move it on to Kroos. His low diagonal pass back into the area set up Asensio with a better angle and his first-time finish found it’s way into the goal.
With the scores level things were only just heating up. It reached fever pitch during an extraordinary 30 second episode. A Sevilla corner was sent in and Eder Militao rose to head away but spun and consequently the ball struck the centre-back’s arm. No penalty was awarded and so Real broke downfield. It was three versus one with Benzema leading the charge. The French striker was brought down by Bono and so a decision was there to be made by the referee.
It could have been a penalty for Sevilla or one for Real. VAR was required to clear up the situation and eventually the penalty was awarded to Sevilla for Militao’s handball in the first instance. Rakitic converted past Courtois.
Lopetegui started to believe, Sevilla started to believe. Real started to fear the worst. The current Sevilla manager, who many consider to be the best coach in La Liga this season, did manage Real for a few months in 2019 before an abrupt dismissal but he had never managed to win away at Real in three attempts. He was now so close.
In the fourth minute of stoppage time, when it seemed very little was on, Kroos tried his luck from distance. He pulled back his left foot and struck a shot from 22 yards. His attempt was travelling way wide but deflected off Sevilla defender Diego Carlos, wrong-footing Bono and travelling in.
There was even a chance for Real to clinch victory when Casemiro narrowly missed the target with a side-footed shot in the 96th minute. They couldn’t take their chance - a reason why this title race is going down to the wire.
Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane was “angry” at the awarding of the penalty to Sevilla which, had the home side’s late equaliser not arrived, would have given the visitors the victory and seriously weaken Real’s title challenge.
Sevilla’s penalty came after the referee had initially awarded a spot-kick to Real for a foul on Karim Benzema, but after a VAR check it was decided that Eder Militao had handled at the other end in the build-up.
“I was not convinced by what the referee told me, but it is what it is, he whistles,” Zidane said afterwards. “I don’t understand anything. There was a hand from Militao, but also from Sevilla.
“Today I am a little angry because they have to explain the rules of the hands to me. But it is what it is, we are not going to change anything.
“We are happy with our game, the second half has been spectacular. It was difficult for us to start in the first 25 minutes, but the second half was very good. The title is not up to us now, but we are going to fight to the end, to the death.
“We have to think about the three remaining games. I’m also upset about the game we played, because we deserved more. The players gave it their all on the field and deserved a victory.”
Real Madrid: Courtois; Odriozola, Militao, Nacho, Marcelo (Gutierrez 66); Modric (Asensio 66), Casemiro, Kroos; Valverde, Benzema, Vinicius (Hazard 79).
Sevilla: Bono; Navas, Kounde, Diego Carlos, Acuna; Rakitic (Torres 88), Fernando, Jordan (Gudelj 83); Suso (Oscar 83), Ocampos (De Jong 88), Gomez (En-Nesyri 57).
Referee: Juan Martínez Munuera.