Barcelona held 0-0 at Espanyol
BARCELONA, SPAIN >> Barcelona drew for a third time in four rounds of the Spanish league after being held to 0-0 at crosstown rival Espanyol on Saturday.
Espanyol's defense limited Barcelona to Lionel Messi's free kick that hit the goal frame in the first half, and Luis Suarez's shot which went off the post 10 minutes into the second half.
Espanyol succeeded where 30 consecutive league rivals had failed to hold Barcelona scoreless. The last opponent to do so was Malaga in a 1-0 win over Barcelona on Feb. 21 last season.
Espanyol also ended a run of 11 straight games of at least one goal from a member of Barcelona's strike trio of Messi, Suarez and Neymar, who combined for 137 goals in 2015.
"They played well and with the intensity we expected," Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said. "Espanyol always plays with that level of physicality, and it is always easier to destroy than create. The result was fair given what both teams generated, even though we had our chances."
Barcelona has a one-point lead and a game to play, but the defending champions' latest stumble gave second-place Atletico Madrid the opportunity to provisionally move to the top of the table with a win over bottom side Levante late.
The slip, which came after draws at Valencia and against Deportivo La Coruna — followed by a victory over Real Betis in the last round — also let Real Madrid stay close. Third-place Madrid trails Barcelona by three points before visiting Valencia on Sunday.
Espanyol's pressure succeeded in disarming Barcelona's talented attack for most of the match.
"We have drawn against the best team in the world," said Espanyol coach Constantin Galca, whose team provisionally edged into 11th place after his third match in charge.
"I'm satisfied with our work in defense, but we are still lacking in attack," the former Espanyol player said. "We have to create more scoring chances."
In one of its most subdued halves this season, Barcelona could seriously threaten Pau Lopez's goal only late in the first half when Messi earned a foul and proceeded to curl his free kick off the corner of the goalframe.
Otherwise, the opening stretch was controlled by Espanyol's defense, with tempers momentarily flaring between Alvaro Gonalez and Barcelona's Javier Mascherano as both were booked for shoving.
The tone changed briefly after halftime when Suarez dribbled through the area and laid off for Neymar, whose shot from close range was blocked by defender Victor Alvarez.
Messi was next to fire a shot off a defender, before Hernan Perez created Espanyol's only scoring chance all alone when he dribbled by two Barcelona players before sending his shot just wide of the post.
Suarez squandered a great opportunity when he struck the upright from an angle after dribbling past Lopez.
Espanyol then settled down at the back and gave its fans the chance to celebrate the stalemate against its powerful neighbors like a victory.
Barcelona won't have to wait long to avenge the lost points. The Catalan capital's first-division teams will play again in the round of 16 of the Copa del Rey on Wednesday and Jan. 13.
"We didn't play well, but these derbies are played to the limit, and we have taken note for the cup," Barcelona's Andres Iniesta said. "We keep adding up points, we have a game in hand, and there is a long way to go. This isn't a setback."
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