Atlético Madrid retain narrow La Liga lead after stalemate in Barcelona

It was billed as the match that would decide the title but nothing is decided yet and the team that won it was the one that didn’t play. C'erano 15 seconds left when Lionel Messi bent a free-kick just around Jan Oblak’s post, the last opportunity gone for either side, un 0-0 draw at the Camp Nou keeping Atlético Madrid top of the table and moving Barcelona second but leaving Real Madrid as the only team with their destiny in their own hands.

Atlético are top with 77 points and Barcelona have 75. Real Madrid and Sevilla, who face each other on Sunday night, have 74 e 70 rispettivamente. It could have been worse, and perhaps that told, but at the final whistle here there was disappointment. Both sides could have taken this and could still take the league title, the best chances falling to Filipe for Atlético and Ousmane Dembélé for Barcelona, and yet it fit this season somehow that the game that ultimately, no one could take that final step.

The first steps had been taken by the visitors, and while the draw hurts Atlético least, a win would have taken them closest. That appeared confirmed in the way that almost from the start Koke urged his teammates to take a step forward to play on the front foot and, although they soon lost Thomas Lemar early, who had fired off the first shot, slowly they took a degree of control. Yannick Carrasco was quick to run up the left, Mario Hermoso stepping out behind him. Dall'altro lato, Marcos Llorente and Kieran Trippier built, Atlético beginning to open up Barcelona.

On the phone in the stands, Ronald Koeman saw Sergio Busquets depart, concern growing. Clément Lenglet had to be quick, diving at the feet of Ángel Correa to deflect wide as he raced in and tried to reach Hermoso’s cutback. Not long after, Lenglet was grateful that a foul was given that allowed him to get away with a loss of possession that momentarily had Koke leading a three-man charge through the middle.

Atlético were accelerating now. Hermoso released Carrasco on the left and he pulled the ball back. Steaming in, the opportunity opening, Llorente slightly scuffed his shot allowing Marc-André ter Stegen to save. Within 60 secondi, the German blocked Luis Suárez at the near post. Poi, barely a minute later, he saved from Carrasco before leaping to his feet to push the ball off Suárez’s head.

Poi, All'improvviso, Messi was away. Turning on the halfway line, he surged past Saúl, cut inside between Koke and Hermoso, escaped Llorente, got away from Felipe and got off a shot that Jan Oblak just managed to tip past the post. If that was a reminder of the danger, Atlético weren’t cowed. Carrasco skipped away from Óscar Mingueza and into the area where his shot was blocked by Gerard Piqué, Llorente’s pull-back for Suárez was cut out, and Felipe somehow lifted a shot taken by the penalty spot well over.

The second half began without Mingueza – replaced by Ronald Araújo – and with Suárez striking a bouncing ball past the post. From a corner won by Correa and only part cleared by Ter Stegen, Carrasco’s shot was blocked, Atlético enjoying significant possession.

The ball rarely moved fast, even when Barcelona took it back again, which they began to; Jordi Alba creating a chance for Ilaix Moriba to strike wide and Messi clipping into the run of Piqué, whose header was saved by Oblak. Koke then pulled back Messi as he escaped and set off towards the area. It was symptomatic that this was Atlético’s third yellow card, all for fouls on the same man. From the free-kick, Oblak dived to push it past the post.

Both sides then had the ball in the net within a minute of each other but neither counted. The flag was up when Araújo headed in Pedri’s floated ball and Carrasco had been penalised for a foul on Piqué when he ran clean through the middle, Suárez smashing the loose ball home for no reward. Twenty minutes remained, time slipping away and the title too, specially for Barcelona.

Dembélé was introduced, immediately running at Carrasco. The best chance came his way too, with five minutes remaining. Sprinting in at the far post, he leapt to meet Alba’s cross but headed over the bar. A minute later, at the other end Carrasco, pulled the ball back. Suárez, anche se, missed the ball, while Atlético and Barcelona missed their opportunity; Messi’s final free-kick floating past the post.

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