When the final whistle was heard around the Vicente Calderon, there was a sense of optimism and hope, although a feeling that an opportunity had been lost. This was the third consecutive draw between Atletico Madrid and Barcelona. In the Catalans' three previous visits to the ground they have won 2-1, but a little further back than that it has been a place of nightmares, winning just one in nine.
Atletico's ability to frustrate their opponent has returned, the pressing and harassing of the Barca players when out of possession was electric, while attacking as quickly as possible in a vertical manner.
They kept the 4-4-2 which has served them well this season, but the work rate of the two forwards David Villa and Diego Costa means it's almost six midfielders when without the ball.
Diego Simeone's well-drilled back four and the narrow midfield denied Barcelona space between the lines. This forced the away team to attempt a surprising number of crosses in the first half, as Gerardo Martino clearly targeted full-back Juanfran as the weak link. The majority of passes from both Andres Iniesta and Xavi in the final third were placed in his direction either to Pedro's feet or in behind the former winger.
The best delivery from this area was probably the first by Iniesta, but Pedro got too much on it as it sailed over. Pedro's best cross was after he beat Juanfran in a one-on-one only for Xavi to struggle to connect with a volley.
For Atletico, their chances came through brute determination, the power and pace of Costa and Arda Turan ensured it was a difficult evening for Barcelona's defence.
Iniesta was withdrawn at half-time after being fouled a number of times by the Atletico players who may have felt he was the danger man with Lionel Messi and Neymar both starting from the bench. This gave Messi his opportunity—despite some impressive touches, fleeting runs and a free header, he was largely kept at bay.
The high tempo of the game was particularly impressive, though the closing down in numbers by the Atletico players was the standout feature of the match. This was as about an exciting 0-0 as you can get without either team creating many good chances.
Simeone's team grew in the second half but failed to take advantage of their dominance. They constantly looked dangerous on the counter-attack, though lacking the cutting edge.
The win was there for the taking, and they might not get a better chance. Yet, at the same time, confidence should increase, and now there is a realisation among those who had their doubts: Atletico Madrid are very much in the title race.
If Sulley Muntari was watching, he was probably squirming uncomfortably in his chair. "If they let me choose, [I'd] rather face Atletico, it [is] the weakest opponent," he declared before the two sides were paired in the Champions League, via Peter Quinn of World Soccer Talk. It was the first time at home in the league this season that Costa didn't score, but his performance was still of the highest quality as he prodded and probed continuously.
Barcelona will point to the fact that their two star players were substitutes and the influential Iniesta left the field with an injury. Though, it was a disappointing evening for Pedro and Alexis Sanchez after their recent scoring exploits.
If the two teams can continue to match each other, it could be a special final day at Camp Nou. We are halfway through the season exactly, and Atletico are second only by goal difference. The two-team league just added a new member.