Real Madrid lost more ground in the title race on Saturday after a goalless draw with Athletic Bilbao, which saw Sergio Ramos sent off.
Ramos became La Liga's most sent-off player and joined Casemiro and Dani Carvajal out of next week's clash with Sevilla as Madrid ended the game outside the top three in Spain after at least 14 rounds of a League campaign for the first time in nine years.
The defender returned after having missed Los Blancos' last three games with a broken nose, while Keylor Navas ended his two-month break from La Liga between the sticks.
As for Athletic, their season reached a new low when they lost 1-0 at home to third-tier Formentera in the Copa del Rey midweek, adding to a run of five League matches without a win.
The Basques had also beaten Madrid just twice at home in 12 years, and that run looked like extending early on as a cross into the hosts’ box picked out Karim Benzema, who chested the ball down before firing a low volley onto the left-hand post, with Kepa Arrizabalaga nowhere near it.
However, Athletic hit back through Aritz Aduria, whose powerful header at goal from a free kick was pushed away by Keylor, and should’ve been awarded at least a penalty after Dani Carvajal had hauled down Raul Garcia and Ramos clipped Aduriz in the box.
Inaki Williams then angled an effort on target, but Keylor stuck his arm out to keep Madrid at 0-0, before Toni Kroos’ daisy-cutter swerves inches wide of the left-hand post.
Cristiano Ronaldo hoped to add to his return of just two League goals when he took down Marcelo’s deep cross, but he smacked his half-volley wide from a couple of yards out.
Markel Susaeta came into life on Athletic’s left flank in the second half as he forced Keylor into parrying away his low drive and attempted lob at the near post.
Antonio Mateu Lahoz had already been criticised for his inconsistent officiating at San Mames, and the World Cup referee came under more fire when he refused Ronaldo a clear advantage after having booked Xabier Etxeita for a late lunge on Luka Modric.
The Portuguese tried to put that disappointment behind him with a volley, but he sent it a fraction wide of Kepa’s right-hand post.
Madrid began piling on the pressure as Marcelo went on to blast a cross-shot on target, which Kepa pushed away.
Zidane threw down the gauntlet by replacing Isco and Karim Benzema – two of his most trusted lieutenants – with Borja Mayoral and Mateo Kovacic, but neither were able to make an impact.
Ultimately, Ramos’ elbow caught the face of Aduriz when a high ball came in, and he was quickly shown his second yellow card.
The incident took him up to 24 sendings-off for Los Merengues, which wasn’t only a club record and set a new, all-time record of 19 red cards in La Liga.
Casemiro and Carvajal rounded off a tough evening by picking up yellow cards to join Ramos on the sidelines against Sevilla next week as Madrid failed to capitalise on Barca’s draw with Celta Vigo earlier in the day.
Athletic Bilbao 0-0 Real Madrid
Ramos sent off 86 (RM)
Athletic Bilbao: Kepa; De Marcos (Lekue 72), Etxeita, Unai Nunez, Balenziaga; Iturraspe (San Jose 39), Mikel Rico; Williams, Raul Garcia, Susaeta; Aduriz
Real Madrid: Keylor; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos; Isco (Kovacic 82); Ronaldo, Benzema (Mayoral 82)
Referee: Mateu Lahoz