• La Liga

Atletico and Barcelona share spoils

ESPN staff
January 11, 2014
Lionel Messi came off the bench for Barcelona © Getty Images

Barcelona remain top of the Primera Division after their top-of-the-table clash with Atletico Madrid failed to live up to its billing and finished goalless.

Lionel Messi and Neymar started the game on the bench and even when both emerged in the second half, neither were able to give their side an attacking edge against a highly disciplined Atletico outfit, though Messi forced one of few saves from Atletico goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois with 10 minutes remaining.

Diego Simeone's men showed marginally more ambition than their visitors, their best chances falling to Diego Costa, who never gave Victor Valdes too much trouble, and Arda Turan, who should have made the Barca stopper work harder when presented with a rare shot on goal in the second half.

There were a couple of nervy moments for the hosts in injury time as Barca circled the area, but the Atleti defence held on. The two teams went into the game top of the table, both on 49 points but Barca leading due to a superior goal difference.

With Messi only recently returned from two months on the sidelines with a hamstring injury and Neymar suffering from a bout of gastroenteritis during the week, Barca coach Gerardo Martino opted for an attacking trio of Pedro, Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez, while Simeone was able to field a full-strength team.

The packed Vicente Calderon made for a deafening noise at the start and Atleti began well, Arda forcing a corner within five minutes played and then Costa having the first shot on target, caught by Valdes.

Barca began to take control of the ball, but their only chances in the opening 45 minutes were an effort from Pedro that was no trouble for Courtois and a header from the Canary Islander which went well over the bar, plus a tame shot from Gerard Pique which caused Courtois more trouble than was necessary.

Atleti came closest to scoring when Miranda flicked a header from a corner to the back post but Costa was unable to connect with it. Messi was brought on immediately after the break for Andres Iniesta, who had been stifled, not always legally, by Atleti.

The first decent chance of the second half occured 15 minutes after the interval, Turan breaking and playing in Costa, but the Brazilian miscued. Neymar replaced Alexis with 24 minutes remaining as Barca looked to break down their rugged opponents.

In one of few attempts from the visitors in the second half, Messi glanced a header wide following a cross from Alba. Tensions mounted as the clock ran down and Atleti showed more ambition in the search for a winner.

Raul Garcia replaced Villa during a spell of presure from the hosts in which Costa headed over the bar and Valdes repelled a shot from Arda.

With 10 minutes remaining Barca broke due to an error from Juanfran and Messi galloped into the box, skipping over a challenge and forcing a smart save from Courtois. Though the result changes little for either side involved, the draw will be welcomed by Real Madrid, who can close the gap on their two title rivals to three points with a win at Espanyol on Sunday.

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