In a clash of the co-leaders of La Liga, Barcelona FC outplayed Atletico Madrid throughout what turned out to be a chess match of a game. Neither side had more than a couple of shots on goal in the first half that was characterized by Barca's customary possession superiority punctuated by Atletico's consistent ability to puncture any Catalan build up.
Barcelona, playing with both Linoel Messi and Neymar on the bench in the first half, faced off against hosts Atletico who showcased why they are this year's co-leaders. The capital city side played confident football all over the pitch and seemed at times to feel like they were the ones destined to win this clash.
The game tactics of either side were in evidence early as Diego Costa was kept under wraps by a trio of defenders--Jordi Alba, Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano--who took turns marking and fouling and taunting him. While on the other side of the pitch, the likes of Pedro, Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas seemed unable to break a tight and well-marshaled Atletico defense that rarely had to count on the interventions of their goalkeeper, Frenchman Thibaut Courtois.
The game became a midfield battle that Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Sergio Busquets won handily until about the three-quarters mark at which point the compact Atletico defense would shut down any further advance.
In the second half Barca coach, Tata Martino, brought in both Messi and Neymar in a bid to take the lead on the table. But these substitutions were to no avail as both stars were not fit enough to play at their best and in Messi's case an early knee-to-knee crash saw the diminutive Argentine looking toward the bench as he hobbled around.
The tense match never developed into a game where a winner could be declared and yet the final score left things tantalizingly tight at the top, as they were. Only third placed Real Madrid, who play at mid-table Espanyol Barcelona on Sunday, have anything to gain. The merengues can cut the leaders' lead to three points with a win.