Diego Simeone was impressed with Espanyol's "almost perfect" defending as Atletico Madrid were held to a 0-0 draw at Vicente Calderon on Saturday.
Atletico were looking to take full advantage of the top three in La Liga all dropping points, as third-place Sevilla lost at Granada, while Real Madrid and Barcelona played out a 1-1 draw in El Clasico.
But Simeone's men struggled against a defensively shrewd Espanyol side, as Quique Sanchez Flores returned to the Calderon and saw his team pick up a fifth successive clean sheet in La Liga, meaning Diego Lopez has now gone 496 minutes without conceding.
496 - Diego López has gone 496 minutes without conceding a goal, the best run of any goalkeeper in La Liga this season. Bolt. — OptaJose (@OptaJose) December 3, 2016
"The match was intense," Simeone told reporters. "Espanyol did good defensive work, which was almost perfect.
"In the second half we had chances with [Antoine] Griezmann and [Nico] Gaitan, [but] the draw was fair. Espanyol locked themselves [defensively] very well and also created danger. A mistake for either team and the other would have won. We lacked forcefulness, they defended."
Simeone insisted he is not giving the title race much thought, relaxed in the knowledge that every team vying for a spot in the top four will encounter difficulties sooner or later, before adding that finishing higher than third would be overachieving.
"The championship is long and there will be difficulties for everyone. Whoever copes best [with those difficulties] will be closer to the top," he continued.
"But I prefer the think about how my team gave everything, we forced our rival to defend brilliantly and you have to congratulate them.
"They played a good game defensively and we have sometimes done that too - we have won playing like Espanyol have.
"I have changed absolutely nothing [with respect to their target]. The goal is to finish third – I am calm."
The result leaves Atletico two points behind third-placed Sevilla and nine adrift of pacesetters Real Madrid.