Top of the table La Liga clash between Atletico Madrid and FC Barcelona ended in a 0-0 draw which will probably please Barcelona more than Atletico but which confirms both sides as firm candidates for this season’s Spanish league title.

The result is also well received by Real Madrid, who can move to within three points of the pair if they can win away to Espanyol Sunday. If anyone was expecting the ‘game of the season’ to be a feast of free-flowing football, they were to be disappointed, especially in a first half where caution was the watchword of Barca coach Tata Martino, reports Xinhua.

While the match was tense and fascinating, it failed to produce many chances as defences and midfields had the upper hand.

Martino left fit again Lionel Messi on the subs’ bench along with Neymar and started with an attack consisting of in-form trio of Pedro Rodriguez, Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabrigas, all of whom have scored in Messi’s absence.

For Atletico’s part, Diego Simeone started with former Barca striker David Villa, partnering Diego Costa, but it was not to be Villa’s night as both sides looked to stifle their rivals with Atletico aiming to stop Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets moving the ball with their usual ease.

Barca had more of the possession while Atletico looked for Costa and Arda Turam to cause problems on the break, although the closest they came was a header from Joao Miranda following a corner.

Things changed in the second period which kicked off with Messi replacing Iniesta, who had taken a knock in the first half after colliding with Gabi Fernandez. Messi gave Atletico more to think about and should have at least made Atletico goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois work following good work from Jordi Alba down the Barca left. Messi arrived unmarked but his header drifted wide of the far post.

At the other end, Turam also forced a save from Valdes while Messi finally called Courtois into action. In the end, Martino appeared to settle for a point when he changed Pedro for Sergio Roberto.

The result means Barca have reached the midway point of the season on top of the table. It is good for Spanish football that Atletico are the third title challenger to swing the balance in what was becoming a slightly boring head-to-head between Barca and Real Madrid in recent years.

More In: Football | Sport