BARCELONA Sevilla's hopes of winning a first league title since 1946 suffered a severe dent after they were held to a goalless draw at home by Villarreal on Sunday, with Samir Nasri missing a penalty in the second half.
Nasri's tame effort was caught by Villarreal goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo in the 49th minute after Mario Gaspar was penalised for tussling with Vitolo in the area. Sevilla's Wissam Ben Yedder later had a goal harshly ruled out for offside.
It was an inspired performance from Villarreal keeper Asenjo, who made three top saves after keeping out Nasri's penalty, including swooping to the floor to claw away a close-range header from Vicente Iborra in the closing stages.
Despite creating chances to take all three points, the home side seemed flat a week after their five-game winning streak came to an end with a 3-1 defeat at Espanyol.
Villarreal forward Adrian Lopez missed the target with two big chances either side of the break, while Sevilla struggled to carve out clear openings down the other end as the visiting defence stayed deep and starved them of space in the final third.
Sevilla stay third in the standings on 43 points, two behind Barcelona who beat Athletic Bilbao 3-0 on Saturday and three adrift of Real Madrid, who have two games in hand after their fixture at Celta, scheduled for Sunday, was postponed.
"The team couldn't take advantage of the chances we had in the 90 minutes, our opponents were extremely defensive but we weren't dominant enough and we couldn't get the three points," said Sevilla coach Jorge Sampaoli.
"It's very frustrating to drop two points after how hopeful we were before the game. We wanted to win by any means possible and recover the ground we lost last week."
Sevilla defender Adil Rami meanwhile paid tribute to opposing goalkeeper Asenjo.
"I'm very sad with the result because we attacked for the whole game, we had a lot of chances and their goalkeeper can be very happy because he saved a point for them," the France international told BeIN Sports.
"A point today is not good for us but we'll keep working. We lacked a bit of luck today, that's all."
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Toby Davis)