Barca, Atletico content with draw, Real lurking

Sun Jan 12, 2014 4:59am EST
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MADRID (Reuters) - Barcelona and Atletico Madrid were satisfied with a share of the spoils after they canceled each other out in an intense 0-0 draw on Saturday that moved the joint La Liga leaders on to 50 points at the midpoint of the season.

The stalemate at the Calderon, during which genuine scoring chances were few and far between, means Barca still lead on goal difference after 19 matches but it opens the way for third-placed Real Madrid to close to within three points if they can beat mid-table Espanyol later on Sunday (1.00 p.m. ET).

Barca coach Gerardo Martino was forced at halftime to bring on Lionel Messi, who only returned to action on Wednesday after a two-month injury absence, after Andres Iniesta suffered a knock to his left knee.

However, not even the introduction of the Argentine World Player of the Year or Brazil forward Neymar, who missed Wednesday's King's Cup game against Getafe due to illness, with around 20 minutes left broke the deadlock as neither made much impact on a resolute Atletico defense.

"The point is positive if we consider that we played at the stadium of a team that had maximum points at home," Martino told a post-match news conference.

"We wanted to win the match but we have nothing to reproach ourselves for," added the Argentine.

"It's not a bad thing to end the first half of the season with 50 points and I have the feeling that the game will make us even stronger."

Martino said he was pleased with the way his players prevented Atletico from launching their trademark counter attacks and their effectiveness in closing down their opponents.

"We were slower in moving the ball around and we were lacking a little in dynamism," he added.   Continued...

Barcelona's Jordi Alba (C) fights for the ball with Atletico Madrid's Diego Costa (R) during their Spanish first division soccer match at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid January 11, 2014. REUTERS/Juan Medina