MADRID (AP) Barcelona is getting some help from its rivals to stay ahead in the Spanish league despite falling into its worst slump in two years.
The defending champion failed to win for the third straight game on Saturday, being held by Athletic Bilbao to 1-1 at home. But it was enough to retain its lead after Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid couldn’t manage more than 0-0 in the derby at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.
Real Madrid hasn’t won in two consecutive games, being unable to take advantage of Barcelona’s struggles.
Atletico had won two in a row in the league, but hasn’t reached the top because of a poor start.
Real Madrid and Barcelona are tied on points, one more than Sevilla, and two more than Atletico, which extended its unbeaten streak in league matches at the Bernabeu to six.
Sevilla moved up after defeating Eibar 3-1 in a match marked by the collapse of a railing that left a few fans injured as they fell onto the pitch while celebrating a goal.
The last time Barcelona failed to win three straight league matches was in 2016.
The Madrid derby ended with goalkeepers Jan Oblak and Thibaut Courtois getting the better of the attackers in the few times the teams got near the goal.
The loudest celebration by Real Madrid fans came when Brazilian teenage sensation Vinicius Junior made his first-team debut, but he entered in the final minutes and didn’t do much.
Coach Julen Lopetegui couldn’t count on left back Marcelo and midfielder Francisco “Isco” Alarcon because of injuries. Gareth Bale was replaced at halftime with an apparent injury.
Atletico beat Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup final in the beginning of the season.
Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde put Messi in the game early in the second half, but the playmaker couldn’t rally the team to victory. He did set up an 84th-minute equalizer by Munir El Haddadi, but it was already too late.
Athletic, winless since the first round, opened the scoring before halftime through Oscar De Marco.
Sergio Busquets also was rested ahead of Barcelona’s Champions League match at Tottenham on Wednesday. He entered the match early in the second half to replace the injured Sergi Roberto.
“We have the squad and players to remain strong without depending on only one player,” Messi said. “We have to improve on many things, but this is just the beginning, the league is very long.”
Sevilla followed its 3-0 rout of Real Madrid with a 3-1 win at Eibar, a match that had to be stopped for a few minutes in the second half because fans fell onto the pitch when a railing collapsed.
Some fans were carried away on stretchers, although local media said no serious injuries were immediately reported.
The railing in the stands behind one of the goals broke as fans pressed forward following a 59th-minute penalty kick converted by Ever Banega.