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Advantage Real Madrid: Barcelona and Atletico miss their chance to take control of La Liga title race

19:38 GMT+3 08/05/2021
Messi Benzema Suarez GFX
Los Blancos now know that four wins from their final four league games will be enough for them to defend their crown after stalemate at Camp Nou

Match statistics: Barcelona 0-0 Atletico Madrid

With Jan Oblak vulnerable for the first time, the perfectly-placed Ousmane Dembele headed the ball over the bar.

At the other end, Luis Suarez kicked thin air as the ball rolled across his path, his chance to punish Barcelona for forcing him out last summer disappearing in front of his eyes.

Back in the Spanish capital, Real Madrid supporters let out nervous chuckles. In a clash between La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid and title pretenders Barcelona, it was the reigning champions who won.

Barca and Atletico drew 0-0 at Camp Nou, in a tense, terse clash, that suited neither team. Atletico stay top, on 77 points, Barcelona second, on 75, but if Real Madrid beat Sevilla on Sunday they will be in control of La Liga.

A victory takes Zinedine Zidane’s side to 77 too, and they have the superior head-to-head record over their city rivals.

Four wins from their final four games for Real Madrid, and the title is theirs. After their shipwreck at Stamford Bridge, they can yet salvage something from the season.

In Catalunya, the still suspended Ronald Koeman watched on from the back of the presidential box as his team started slowly. Atletico’s gameplan would have been the same regardless of their situation, play for the 0-0 and then try to plunder a late winner.

Oscar Mingueza and Sergino Dest were shaky, with Atletico finding some joy down Barcelona’s right-hand side. Thomas Lemar, before an injury saw him replaced early on, and Yannick Carrasco were creating danger, with Atletico starting to dominate after Sergio Busquets was forced off with a head injury.

Belgium winger Carrasco, who scored the only goal in Atletico’s 1-0 win over Barcelona in November, was the visitors’s most influential player, tying Mingueza in knots.

At the other end, Lionel Messi created Barcelona’s best opportunity, with a typically mazy dribble and a strike that Jan Oblak did well to tip wide. It would have been up there with the Argentine’s very best had it gone in.

Slovenia goalkeeper Oblak, on his 300th appearance for Atletico, put in a typically impressive performance, denying Gerard Pique from close range, among other saves. The Barca centre-back mainly had his hands full at the other end in an entertaining battle with former Blaugrana hitman Suarez on his first return to Camp Nou.

The Uruguayan was typically combative, fouling his friend and former neighbour Messi in the opening stages, then going down holding his head after a clash with Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Suarez was not the only one to occupy himself with keeping Barcelona’s No.10 down, either, with the nine fouls Messi suffered more than in any other La Liga game he has played in.

This match laid bare why he wants to play with Neymar again. The Brazilian was not just on his wavelength when it comes to constructing moves, but is also one of the best dribblers in the world and willing to take the heat, sparing Messi’s legs at nearly 34 years old.

The confirmation of his former team-mate signing a new contract at Paris Saint-Germain just hours before kick-off will not have pleased him.

Like Oblak, Ter Stegen too was busy as he brushed aside recent concerns about his form to deny Atletico with some good saves when necessary.

Those saves were, perhaps, too good for some Barcelona fans, for whom a defeat would have been preferable to a draw due of the battle lines between them and Real Madrid.

Atletico winning another title, their first since 2014, would be far the lesser evil than Zidane retaining his Spanish crown.

This draw, though, handed the impetus back to the white half of Madrid.