Barcelona dropped points for the third time in four league games as they were held 0-0 by local rivals Espanyol in a heated Catalan derby on Saturday.
Atletico Madrid moved two points clear of Barca at the top of the table having played a game more thanks to substitute Thomas Partey’s late winner to edge past Levante 1-0.
Real Madrid now trail Atletico by five points ahead of their trip to Valencia on Sunday.
Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez hit the woodwork for Barcelona either side of half-time, but Espanyol’s physical approach was rewarded with a first point against Barca in eight matches.
“The result in general was fair based on what both teams created, although I thought we had a lot of chances,” said Barca boss Luis Enrique.
Espanyol committed 22 fouls despite a lenient approach from referee Jose Luis Gonzalez, but Luis Enrique refused to blame the officials for a stuttering start to the new year.
“Football is a contact sport,” he added.
“That is why we have a referee there to control the game.”
The first of three meetings between the sides in 10 days got off to a frenetic start with Espanyol forcing Barca onto the back foot.
At the Vicente Calderon, Atletico’s struggle for goals continued, but they were bailed out by an error from Levante ‘keeper Diego Marino 10 minutes from time.
Marino undid his good work earlier in the game as he got down brilliantly to turn Jackson Martinez’s low drive to safety.
Atletico had a big claim for a penalty turned down when Angel Correa was clipped inside the area and Stefan Savic then headed against the bar as they pushed for the opener.
Diego Simeone’s men’s luck appeared to be out when Koke unleashed a piledriver from Martinez’s knockdown against the bar.
However, their persistence was rewarded when just as against Rayo Vallecano in midweek, Partey came off the bench to make the telling contribution as he skipped through the heart of the Levante defence but his shot ought to have been stopped by Marino as it trickled into the net.
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