Madrid - Real Madrid's draw at home to Villarreal in La Liga on Sunday not only cut their lead over second-placed Barcelona to two points but also means the 'Clasico' in three weeks time is likely to have added piquancy.
Real and Barca each have two more domestic league games before the clash at the Nou Camp, the European champions playing at Athletic Bilbao and at home to Levante and the Catalans hosting Rayo Vallecano and travelling to Eibar.
If the gap stays the same, as is likely, a win for Real in the lair of their arch army would put them in an extremely strong position with 10 games left, while success for Barca would give them an edge but a less commanding one.
Luis Enrique's side lost 3-1 at the Bernabeu in October so unless Barca manage to match or better that result Real will have the head-to-head advantage that is used to separate teams who finish level on points at the end of the campaign.
Real coach Carlo Ancelotti complained of a lack of speed and shooting accuracy after Sunday's 1-1 stalemate against a Villarreal side resting many of their regulars ahead of Wednesday's King's Cup semi-final, second leg at home to Barca.
Real had a host of chances in the second half and La Liga top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo, who put Real ahead from the penalty spot just after halftime, was particularly wasteful, firing off 13 efforts on goal.
To be sure, Ancelotti is unlikely to be have lost too much sleep as Real are still well placed to win their first La Liga title since 2011-12 under Jose Mourinho.
They also have one foot in the last eight of the Champions League after winning their last 16, first leg at Schalke 04 last month 2-0 and host the Bundesliga side for the return on March 10.
"The team is improving," Ancelotti told a news conference after the Villarreal game.
"We've dropped two points but La Liga will be decided in the final match," the Italian added.
"We have to focus on the two-point lead we've got, which isn't much, but is a lead we must make the most of. Now we have to carry on and in the next game, which will be difficult, try to produce a good reaction."