MADRID, Jan 11 (Reuters) - Barcelona and Atletico Madrid stayed locked together at the top of La Liga after they played out an intense 0-0 draw with few genuine chances at the Calderon stadium on Saturday.
Not even Barca's introduction of fit-again forward Lionel Messi at halftime or their Brazil forward Neymar with just over 20 minutes left could break the deadlock and both sides now have 50 points at the halfway stage of the campaign.
The result was good news for third-placed Real Madrid, who can close to within three points of the joint leaders with a win at Espanyol on Sunday (1800 GMT).
Atletico made the stronger start in front of their vociferous fans and Arda Turan and Diego Costa created some early danger for the Barcelona defence.
However, the visitors gradually began to exert their customary control and threatened the home goal in the 33rd minute when Pedro headed Andres Iniesta's cross over the bar.
Iniesta took a knock to the knee in the first half and was taken off as a precaution at the break.
The Spain playmaker made way for World Player of the Year Messi, who on Wednesday played for the first time in almost two months since recovering from a thigh strain and scored twice in a 4-0 King's Cup last 16, first leg win at home to Getafe.
The Argentina international drew a fine save from Atletico goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois with a fizzing low shot in the 81st minute but otherwise made little impact against a typically resolute home defence.
The Atletico fans, whose team have not won the league since 1996, appeared satisfied with the draw against their vastly wealthier rivals after the whistle, chanting "Atleti! Atleti" as the players swapped shirts and trooped off the pitch. (Reporting by Iain Rogers, editing by Ken Ferris)