SEVILLE, Spain (Reuters) - Title-chasing Barcelona were held to a 0-0 draw at Sevilla in an empty stadium on Friday as they dropped points in La Liga for the first time since the season re-started after the hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Catalans are top of the standings on 65 points from 30 games but second-placed Real Madrid, with 62, can go above their rivals if they beat Real Sociedad away on Sunday due to their superior head-to-head record. Sevilla are third on 52.
Barca’s Lionel Messi went into the match on 699 career goals but failed to get his 700th for club and country, coming closest with a first-half free kick which was headed off the line.
Sergio Reguilon had a glorious chance to snatch a winner in added time when the ball fell into his path from close range but he hit it into the ground and Barca keeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen made a comfortable save for the reigning champions.
Barca striker Luis Suarez made his first start since returning from knee surgery in an attacking trio alongside Messi and Martin Braithwaite as Antoine Griezmann dropped to the bench and the Catalans freely moved the ball around in the first half.
Messi had two free-kick attempts while ex-Sevilla midfielder Ivan Rakitic narrowly missed the target from inside the area.
There was tension just before halftime when Messi pushed Sevilla’s Diego Carlos to the ground after he had fouled Suarez and while the Argentine escaped without a booking for the incident, after which Sergio Busquets was shown a yellow card.
Sevilla re-grouped after the break and had the better chances, with Lucas Ocampos smashing a shot against Ter Stegen, who also thwarted former Barca forward Munir El Haddadi.
Suarez had the visitors’ best chance after the interval but failed to keep his stinging shot under the bar while Ter Stegen came up to contest a corner in added time, underlining Barca’s desperation to win the game and boost their title chances.
Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Ken Ferris