Real Madrid were the only one of the top three teams in LaLiga not playing on Saturday, but might just have emerged as the big winners anyway after Barcelona fc and Atletico Madrid cancelled each other out in a 0-0 draw at the Camp Nou.
Much like the title race itself, the outcome of this fixture was in doubt until the final stages and, despite the best attempts and endeavour of Luis Suarez against his former club, there was perhaps too much focus from both sides on what they might lose with a mistake rather than seeking out the risk and rewards for victory.
The onus was on the Catalan side to push for the three points, with Atletico two clear at the top and with Real Madrid, second in the table at kick-off, hosting fourth-placed Sevilla on Sunday night.
Barcelona dominated the early possession as expected, though it was Atleti’s Angel Correa who had the first real sight of goal, side-footing an effort after a low cross from the left – but Clement Lenglet made a fine block to divert the effort wide.
The only other notable efforts in the opening half-hour came from Thomas Lemar and Antoine Griezmann, both strikes which led to routine saves, but the Atletico winger soon had to be replaced due to an apparent strain and Barca midfielder Sergio Busquets quickly followed him down the tunnel after a head injury.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen then had to make saves from Marcos Llorente and Suarez in quick succession as Atletico’s counter-attacking speed proved problematic for the home side, but Lionel Messi provided a cameo of his enduring quality just before half time as he evaded five defenders and clipped a shot toward the near post – only for Jan Oblak to produce a fantastic fingertip save.
Atletico started the second half with more control of the ball and a few half-openings of goal, but they never really tested Ter Stegen any further and, after the hour mark, the home team came back into the match.
Substitute Ronald Araujo headed home a cross with 20 minutes to play only to be denied by the ioffside flag, before Suarez rattled a loose ball into the net at the other end one minute later – but the whistle had already gone for a foul by Yannick Carrasco on Gerard Pique.
Given the tight nature at the top of the table the match grew predictably tighter and tenser the longer it went on, but Ousmane Dembele had a great chance in the final five minutes after he raced onto a cross which was stood up to the far post – only to powerfully head over the bar on the run.
Messi again went close with a free-kick in the closing stages, curling just past the upright, and while Suarez did force another corner against his former side to give Atletico one last chance at snatching the points, there were no real further moments of danger and both outfits had to settle for a share of the spoils.
The result leaves Atletico on 77 points with three games to play and Barcelona two points back, with Real on 74 but with a game in hand on both. As Real have the better head-to-head with Atletico this season, they can now win the league title if they win their remaining four fixtures.
Now it’ll be a case of waiting for Sunday night’s game – and, for Barca and Atletico, hoping Sevilla can cause another twist in the race by taking a result at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano.
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