BARCELONA, Spain — Real Madrid dropped its first points under coach Zinedine Zidane in a 1-1 draw at Real Betis on Sunday, while Atletico Madrid failed to regain the Spanish league lead from Barcelona after finishing goalless against 10-man Sevilla.
Madrid could only muster a second-half goal by Karim Benzema to cancel out Alvaro Cejudo’s stunner. Despite seeing his team fall four points adrift of the pace-setting pair, Zidane tried to be upbeat about Madrid’s performance and prospects.
"We dropped two points, that is the negative part, but there were positive things too. And we have to think we can overcome, this because the league is very long," Zidane said. "We deserved much more from the game we played. We were unlucky."
Barcelona emerged as the big beneficiary of the weekend after Atletico’s stumble left it ahead on goal difference thanks to Saturday’s 2-1 win at Malaga. The title-holders will also have a game in hand after they host Atletico next weekend in a highly anticipated meeting between the last two league champions.
Zidane had overseen two lopsided wins in the comfort of Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium since taking over from the much-maligned Rafa Benitez.
But Madrid’s slip in Seville showed that it will take more than a change of coach to remedy its ills on the road, where it has now won just four of its 10 league games this season.
"We know (the title) is going to be tough," Madrid defender Pepe said.
Zidane appeared to have been given an easy first outing.
Betis, which returned to the topflight this season, was winless in 10 matches across all competitions and lost 5-0 to Madrid the last time they visited two seasons ago.
But a brilliant goal from Cejudo, some fine goalkeeping from former Madrid goalie Antonio Adan, and Madrid's own lack of a finishing touch added up to another setback for the powerhouse.
"Many things have to go right for you to take a point from Madrid. You have to make the most of your scoring chances and hope that they don't have a good day," said Betis manager Juan Merino. "This gives me a boost of confidence."
Betis couldn't have asked for a better start, when its determined initial push ended with a great goal that ignited the home fans at Benito Villamarin Stadium.
After Ruben Castro forced Madrid goalie Keylor Navas to save his strike, Betis' Fabian Ruiz fended off Pepe to win the rebound that fell for Cejudo to unleash a powerful volley that flew inside the upright.
Madrid still had 82 minutes to turn the result around, but, with Gareth Bale out injured, Cristiano Ronaldo squandered a good chance near the half-hour mark.
Madrid came out looking for an equalizer after the break and Benzema finally found one in the 71st when he smashed in James Rodriguez's pass.
Madrid peppered Betis with shots for the rest of the match, and only a superb one-handed save by Adan denied Benzema from scoring a winner.
In the capital, Atletico never went closer than Antoine Griezmann's header of the post in the 53rd.
Sevilla then dug in and held on after Victor "Vitolo" Machin earned a second booking in the 61st, with coach Unai Emery being sent off moments later for protesting the referee's decision.
Emery's starting 11 was loaded with defensive players, and his game plan succeeded in ending Atletico's nine-game winning streak at its Vicente Calderon Stadium.
Atletico has based its title bid on an excellent defence and players rising to the occasion to get goals that its strikers, with the notable exception of Griezmann, have failed to produce.
With Fernando Torres watching from the stands, Atletico coach Diego Simeone sent on attacking players Yannick Carrasco, Jackson Martinez and Angel Correa after Sevilla lost Vitolo, but the visitors withstood the onslaught.
Elsewhere, Alvaro Negredo's stoppage-time header snatched Valencia a 1-1 draw at Deportivo La Coruna, after the hosts had dominated but failed to add to Lucas Perez's first-half goal.
Aritz Aduriz also scored two goals to lead Athletic Bilbao's 5-2 home win over Eibar in a Basque Country derby.