Ten-man Sevilla missed the chance to close the gap on third-placed Valencia following a disappointing 0-0 home draw against Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.
Sevilla were handicapped by the dismissal of Ivory Coast international midfielder Koffi Romaric on 51 minutes and needed some smart saves from goalkeeper Andres Palop just to secure a point.
It was the first time since October that Sevilla had failed to score at home in the league and now lie three points behind Valencia who travel to Atletico Madrid in Sunday’s late match.
Earlier Villarreal bounced back from heavy defeats to Real Madrid and Wolfsburg with a 1-0 home victory over Deportivo La Coruna on Sunday to move six points off the European places.
Villarreal had been thrashed 6-2 by Real in the league and then 4-1 by German champions Wolfsburg in the Europa League so needed a shot in the arm and got it with a clean sheet and three points thanks to Joseba Llorente’s 35th minute goal.
A quickly-taken free-kick caught Depor off-guard as Ariel Ibagaza released Nilmar whose shot across goal was finished off by Llorente as Villarreal climbed to eighth.
Depor fall to sixth following their eighth defeat of the campaign with Real Mallorca climbing above them into fifth thanks to a late 2-1 comeback win at Valladolid.
An 83rd minute winner from Julio Alvarez clinched only Mallorca’s second away win of the season to keep up their European push although their coach Gregorio Manzano said he was relieved to reach the 40 point mark which usually guarantees safety,
“We have reached 40 points and now we have to try and fight until the end to get the team into Europe although there is a long way to go,” said Manzano.
At the other end of the table bottom side Xerez drew 1-1 with Espanyol although the point does little for their survival hopes with the club 12 points from safety.
Atletico Madrid host Valencia later on Sunday looking to transfer their cup form to the league where they are struggling down in 14th position.
Atletico have reached the Kings Cup final and are going strong in the Europa League to help compensate for their poor league season that began with aspirations to challenge for the title.
“We have a lot of goals for the remainder of this season but we are not neglecting the league,” insisted striker Diego Forlan.
On Saturday Barcelona maintained their two-point gap over Real Madrid at the summit with a 2-1 home win over Malaga that didn’t reflect their dominance.
“All games are important and from here to the end of the season, we have to make sure we make no mistakes,” said Barca midfielder Andres Iniesta. “We have to try and win every game and the good thing is that we won and we are top.”
Real were convincing winners crushing Tenerife 5-1 to make it 11 goals in their last two league matches.