Atletico Madrid will take indifferent form into their Europa League semi-final trip to Arsenal after a 0-0 home draw with Real Betis loosened their grip on second in LaLiga.
Three days on from a troubling 3-0 defeat at Real Sociedad, Diego Simeone found few answers at the Wanda Metropolitano as a toothless display sees them head to London with a solitary victory from their last five competitive outings.
They could well have been forced to stomach a first LaLiga loss at their new home had Betis midfielder Javi Garcia made the most of two clear chances either side of half-time.
Instead, Atletico had to settle for denying the away side what would have been a club-record seventh successive victory, leaving the door ajar for Real Madrid to close to within one point of them when they visit Leganes on Saturday.
Equally frustrating will be the realisation their remote title hopes are almost over, they have just four games more to play and trail Barcelona by 11 points.
But of more immediate concern is the need to address a second lacklustre showing in as many matches, with Fernando Torres falling short of convincing in his audition to partner the benched Antoine Griezmann at Emirates Stadium.
6 - Real Betis have kept clean sheets in six La Liga consecutive games for the first time ever. Impact. pic.twitter.com/AcUZd2H9Or— OptaJose (@OptaJose) April 22, 2018
Simeone recalled Torres to spearhead the attack as a switch to a three-man defence hinted at experimentation ahead of the trip to London.
While the early evidence was of a more purposeful performance than that which raised alarm bells at Sociedad, it was not until Torres wound back the clock in the 24th minute that Atleti threatened an opener.
The 34-year-old deftly took Juanfran's low cross in his stride, skipped around Marc Batra and dinked over Dani Gimenez, only to see a fast-retreating Aissa Mandi head his goal-bound attempt off the line.
Betis otherwise looked comfortable throughout the opening 45 minutes, although their hopes of securing a sixth successive clean sheet appeared to suffer a setback when Gimenez limped off with an apparent thigh problem, the goalkeeper replaced by understudy Pedro Lopez.
The half should have ended on a much brighter note for the visitors as they twice went close to breaking the deadlock, Ryad Boudebouz drawing a sharp near-post save from Jan Oblak before an untracked Garcia wastefully fired the wrong side of the upright.
24 - Atletico Madrid have had a clean sheet at half-time in 24 of their 26 games at Wanda Metropolitano in all competitions. Unbridgeable. pic.twitter.com/jDCypF0SxP— OptaJose (@OptaJose) April 22, 2018
Both sides continued to let opportunities slip after the interval as Vitolo got a volley all wrong, while Garcia somehow conspired to produce an air swing when left completely unmarked in the box.
Betis continued to grow in confidence and saw Cristian Tello's low left-footed strike agonisingly shave the outside of Oblak's post with 20 minutes remaining.
Saul Niguez then tested the woodwork himself, crashing a fine curling effort against the crossbar, but it was to be the closest his team came to a winner as even the injection of Griezmann failed to stir sustained pressure.
Quique Setien's men could well have snatched three points had Oblak not been one of Atleti's few fine performers, the shot-stopper preventing Antonio Barragan from sneaking an effort inside his near post.
In truth, a lack of cutting edge was evident across the pitch, the end result proving more palatable to Betis, who appear safe in fifth and on course for Europa League group stage qualification.
Key Opta stats:
- Real Betis have kept clean sheets in six LaLiga consecutive games for the first time ever.
- Atletico Madrid had 32.6 per cent of possession against Betis, their second lowest in a game at Wanda Metropolitano this season in all competitions (31.2 per cent versus Barcelona).
- Diego Simeone has not lost any of his 13 managerial games against Betis in all competitions (W9 D4), his most against an opponent without suffering defeat as Atletico boss.
20. Januar 2019
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