Real Madrid’s faltering title defence continued as they were held to a thrilling 2-2 draw at Celta Vigo on Sunday which saw them fall 16 points behind runaway leaders Barcelona, who beat Levante 3-0 to stay nine points clear at the top of La Liga.
Real looked to be heading for a second successive league defeat after their 3-0 loss to Barca in their last outing when Daniel Wass lobbed over Keylor Navas to put Celta ahead in the 33rd minute.
Gareth Bale instantly responded by scoring twice in three minutes to put the stuttering champions in front before halftime but Celta came right back at Zinedine Zidane’s side, with Iago Aspas squandering a penalty before Maxi Gomez levelled with a header in the 82nd minute.
Aspas was denied another penalty late in the game while down at the other end Real’s Lucas Vazquez hammered the ball straight at Celta goalkeeper Ruben Blanco, while Cristiano Ronaldo fired wide of the near post.
Real stay fourth in the standings on 32 points while Barca have 48 although they have played one game more.
Real travelled to Vigo without Dani Carvajal, striker Karim Benzema and captain Sergio Ramos while Celta, who knocked Real out of the King’s Cup last season, were emboldened after drawing 1-1 with Barca in the Cup on Thursday.
Bale made his first start in the league since Sept. 20 after finally recovering from persistent muscle problems and pulled Real level after Wass’s strike with a slick first-time finish before giving them the lead by knocking a pass from Isco in with his back heel.
Celta appealed for Navas to be sent off when he felled Aspas and was only shown a yellow card while the Costa Rican was also let off when he stepped off his line before diving to his right to palm away the striker’s spot-kick.
“We made a lot of errors, we gave the ball away a lot, something we don’t normally do and we did it at important moments in the game, when we could have caused them more damage,” Real coach Zinedine Zidane told reporters.
“We have to stop making these errors and be more consistent.”
Barcelona had seen their lead over nearest challengers Atletico Madrid reduced to six points on Saturday but restored the gap to nine after Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Paulinho scored in a routine win over Levante.
Messi was back in the starting line-up after missing the King’s Cup draw with Celta Vigo on Thursday and marked his 400th game in La Liga by opening the scoring in the 12th minute, volleying Jordi Alba’s cushioned header into the net.
“We wanted to continue our run of wins and although we were favourites we knew Levante were a strong side that hadn’t lost away from home in the league since September,” said Barca coach Ernesto Valverde.
“We were very good in the first half but the pace changed in the second half and Levante could have scored.”
After the game club record signing Philippe Coutinho appeared at the Nou Camp to pose for photographs a day after completing his 142-million-pound($192.54-million) move from Liverpool to Barca
We feel like we are sinking
Real Madrid players feel like their La Liga title hopes are “sinking” into a black hole after they let a 2-1 lead against Celta Vigo slip through their fingers in the final eight minutes, leaving them 16 points adrift of leaders Barcelona.
Real were leading with eight minutes to go against Celta after Gareth Bale’s quick-fire double had overturned Daniel Wass’s opening strike.
But Maxi Gomez’s headed goal in the 82nd minute ensured the match finished in a 2-2 draw and piled more pain on Zinedine Zidane’s side, who had lost 3-0 to arch rivals and runaway leaders Barca in their last Liga outing.
“It is how it looks from the outside – we are sad, angry and we feel like we are sinking,” Brazilian defender Marcelo told reporters.
“It is one of the worst situations I’ve experienced here,” added the 29-year-old who has been with the club for over a decade.
“We’ll try to work hard and fight so we can win our next game but we don’t like this situation at all, it’s difficult because the more games you draw or lose the more pressure you are under.”
The last time Real were 16 points behind the Liga leaders was during Jose Mourinho’s tension-filled final campaign in 2012-13, when they finished 15 points adrift of Barca.
“There’s nothing else we can do other than keep our heads up and fight and do our best to start winning again,” added Marcelo, who has won four La Liga and three Champions League titles since joining Real in 2007.
“We can’t do anything more, we’re trying to play good football, to move the ball around and score goals but it’s not coming off.”
Real coach Zidane usually leaps to the defence of his players after negative results but he was not in a forgiving mood on Sunday.
“The main thing we lacked today was we didn’t play the second half,” said the Frenchman, who last season guided Real to their first Liga and European Cup double since 1958.
“We played very well in the first 45 minutes but not in the second half and a game lasts 90 minutes.”
Zidane also refused to comment on whether or not his side were out of the title race.
“We’re not going to talk about the league every weekend. If we keep losing points we’re not going to get there. We have to focus on each game now and try to win them,” he said.