Diego Costa saw a penalty saved as Sevilla and Atletico Madrid each failed to capitalise on Barcelona’s defeat earlier on Saturday, playing out a 1-1 draw in Diego Simeone’s 300th game as a LaLiga coach.
Barca had collapsed at Levante and, with Real Madrid not in action until later in the day, the winner of this clash would top the table.
But Atleti – hailed as “one of the best five teams in the world” by Sevilla coach Julen Lopetegui this week – failed to fire for 45 minutes and trailed to Franco Vazquez’s header.
Costa arrived from the bench at half-time and Simeone’s men started to turn the screw, equalising through Alvaro Morata.
Then Costa, who earlier saw a goal disallowed by the VAR, was denied by Tomas Vaclik with 18 minutes remaining as Atleti fell short of the three points that would take them to the summit.
Simeone had hinted at changes for this match and, after a midweek draw with Deportivo Alaves, he reverted to the XI that defeated Athletic Bilbao last week, with Morata preferred to Costa.
But chances were at a premium for both sides early on, before some uncharacteristically slack Atletico defending allowed Vazquez to nod the opener after 28 minutes.
Ever Banega delivered a free-kick from the right corner of the penalty area and Vazquez, allowed to drift into space in the middle of the box, sent a downward header beyond Jan Oblak, who got a hand to the ball and might have done better.
Costa’s introduction at the interval appeared to have paid off after just 10 minutes of the second half as he towered above his marker to head into the net, yet VAR intervened as Angel Correa, supplying the cross, was marginally offside.
Sevilla were now on the back foot, though, and another move down the right soon led to the leveller as Santiago Arias – also a substitute – stood the ball up for Morata to nod in.
Luuk de Jong wastefully headed wide at the other end, before Costa was given the opportunity to seal a turnaround from 12 yards when Koke was clipped by Nemanja Gudelj as he headed away from goal on the edge of the area.
Vaclik produced an excellent stop from the firm spot-kick, however, and Sevilla held on, surviving in part thanks to a miraculous stoppage-time block from Jules Kounde on the goal line as Morata pounced on a rebound.
What does it mean? Atleti issues to iron out
Coming into this match, Simeone acknowledged he had not known his best XI up to this stage. That still appeared to be the case at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan. Atletico looked much better once Costa replaced Thomas Lemar, sending Correa out wide. An off-colour opening 45 minutes cost the visitors the chance to go top, although Costa’s spot-kick would still have been enough.
Vaclik keeps Costa out
The twin threats of Costa and Morata were too much for Sevilla to handle, with the two men finding space in the area in quick succession for the offside goal and the equaliser that followed. But Vaclik stepped up when Costa looked to hit the net for the second time, protecting a precious point.
As Simeone considers his options, the one man he would have expect to be able to rely on is Oblak. One of the most consistent, outstanding goalkeepers in world football, he should be disappointed with his failure to deal with Vazquez’s header in a tight first half. It was the tale of two goalkeepers in Seville.
A busy week sees Atletico travel to Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League before hosting Espanyol in LaLiga game 301 for Simeone. Sevilla play Dudelange in the Europa League ahead of their local derby at Real Betis.
beIN SPORTS, the biggest show