Barcelona and Atletico Madrid cancelled each other at the Camp Nou and that meant a win-win for Real Madrid who now know they will be champions if they get maximum points from their last four games, starting Sunday at home to Sevilla.
Barcelona’s best chance came five minutes from time when Ousmane Dembele had a free header on the edge of the six-yard box from Jordi Alba’s cross but got under it to send it sailing over Marc Andre ter Stegen’s bar.
Messi won an 89th minute free-kick but sent it just high and just wide. Neither he nor his old pal Luis Suarez would get the win they so wanted.
Barcelona’s Lionel Messi rues a missed opportunity during the stalemate with Atletico Madrid
Ilaix Moriba heads a chance wide for Barcelona in Saturday’s goalless draw at the Nou Camp
The embrace between the two came just seconds before kick-off. There was one for Sergio Busquets and Jorid Alba too. Barcelona had played some of Suarez greatest goals for them during the warm-up but with the title at stake the Uruguayan seemed oblivious to the tribute.
Atletico started well. Thomas Lemar had a shot saved by Marc-Andre ter Stegen. Suarez was fouled by Gerard Pique and took the free-kick himself which was saved by Ter Stegen.
Messi linked up with Antoine Griezmann, who had no such affection shown him by former Atletico team-mates. But the Frenchman’s pass went long.
After 12 minutes Saul Niguez replaced the hamstrung Thomas Lemar and Barcelona were soon forced into a change too.
Atletico striker Luis Suarez, facing his former club, is thwarted by Marc-Andre ter Stegen
Suarez wasn’t happy with the German goalkeeper’s actions, claiming there was contact
Barcelona (3-1-4-2): Ter Stegen; Mingueza (Araujo 46), Pique, Lenglet; Busquets (Moriba 32); Dest (Dembele 75), De Jong, Pedri (Sergi Roberto 75), Alba; Messi (c), Griezmann
Substitutes not used: Neto (GK); Braithwaite, Comas, Firpo, Pjanic, Puig, Umtiti
Manager: Ronald Koeman
Booked: Moriba, Alba, Pique
Atletico Madrid (4-4-2): Oblak; Savic, Felipe, Hermoso, Koke (c); Trippier, Llorente, Lemar (Saul 13 (Joao Felix 67)), Carrasco; Correa (Kondogbia 73), Suarez
Substitutes not used: Grbic (GK); Dembele, Gimenez, Herrera, Renan Lodi, Torreira, Vitolo, Vrsaljko
Manager: Diego Simeone
Booked: Saul, Felipe, Koke
Referee: A Lahoz
Busquets and Stefan Savic clashed heads and there was a drinks break in the 22 degrees heat while the midfielder received treatment.
Griezmann had a shot saved by Oblak while Barcelona were down to ten men. Busquets came back on but was soon dizzy again sitting down in the centre-circle before being replaced by Ilaix Moriba.
Suarez was always a threat in the first half and he began to clash with former team-mates. He was caught in the face by Pique in one clash and when Ter Stegen got a hand to both the ball and Suarez’ head.
The keeper shouted ‘no no no!’ when Suarez stayed down holding his head hoping for a penalty.
Suarez had earlier seen his shot saved by Ter Stegen at his near post. The keeper also saved from Marcos Llorente as Atletico had the better of things.
Saul was booked for a foul on Messi who lifted the tone considerably 10 minutes before the break weaving past four Atletico defenders. Oblak turned his shot away for a corner.
When the half time whistle blew it was Atletico Madrid who could be happier with the performance, and Real Madrid supporters who could be happiest with the result as things stood.
There were chances in the first minute of the second half with Clement Lenglet twisting to send a header over when half time substitute Ronald Araujo was better placed.
Lionel Messi is fouled by Saul Niguez – one of many occasions the Argentine was brought down
Messi wasn’t able to inspire Barcelona to a victory that would have boosted their title hopes
At the other end Suarez pounced on a Lenglet error and won a corner with a saved shot. Barcelona were still surprisingly cautious with three centre-backs marking Suarez. Pique did get forward on the hour to get a glancing header to a floated Messi cross but Oblak saved.
It was the cue for Atletico to prepare Joao Felix but he was still waiting to come on when Koke pulled Messi down on the edge of the area to earn a booking.
Messi’s free-kick was creeping in at the far post when Oblak made the save of the game to push it out for a corner.
Simeone’s next move was to bring on the Portuguese for Saul, the sub subbed and Carrasco to left wing-back.
Both teams had the ball in the back of the net but Araujo was offside when he headed in and when Suarez scored from a rebound the whistle had already been blown for a foul from Carrasco on Pique.
With 20 minutes left the touchline-banned Ronaldo Koeman sent word down to the technical area for Ousmane Dembele to come on.
Atletico suffered an early blow when Thomas Lemar was forced off with an injury
Sergio Busquets was forced off with a head injury having initially tried to continue playing
The lively Sergino Dest crosses the ball after getting beyond Atletico defender Mario Hermoso
Barcelona forward Antoine Griezmann competes for the ball with Atletico midfield Koke
Old friends Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez enjoy a chat while waiting for the kick-off
He won a free-kick but Messi wasted it giving it straight to an Atletico player. Fortunately for Barcelona that player was Joao Felix who took an age to launch the counter giving Messi time to get back and help snuff out the chance.
He’s more dangerous closer to the penalty area and he found Suarez but the Uruguayan failed to find Carrasco. The Belgian then tried to find Suarez but overhit his cross and Atletico’s last decent chance was gone
They are still top but if Real Madrid beat Sevilla they will be second – and Barcelona third – with three games to go. It’s in Real Madrid’s hands now.
RE-LIVE THE ACTION AS IT UNFOLDED BELOW WITH ADAM SHERGOLD