Substitute Thomas Partey scored his first La Liga goal as Atletico Madrid beat bottom club Levante 1-0 to go top of the table on Saturday while Barcelona were held to a 0-0 draw at Espanyol.
Hosts Atletico lacked a finishing touch in front of goal until Partey struck nine minutes from the end with a shot that squirmed away from keeper Diego Marino.
“The team is playing well and anyone could have got the goal,” the 22-year-old Partey told reporters. “I am still learning and by working hard I am having more chances to play.”
Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez both hit the woodwork as Barcelona drew with Espanyol.
Barca set a Spanish record of 180 goals in all competitions in 2015 but their normally prolific attack drew a blank against their local rivals who were strong in the challenge, especially in the first half, and succeeded in disrupting their play.
Messi hit the crossbar with a 30-metre free kick in the first half while Suarez, who has 26 goals in all competitions this season, was surprisingly wasteful in front of a gaping net in the second half as his shot hit the post.
“We always work hard in games. We have plenty of respect for our rival and we knew what we were going to encounter,” Barca keeper Claudio Bravo told reporters.
“The pitch wasn’t in the best condition but we don’t want to make excuses. We now need to rest and prepare for the next match.”
Atletico have 41 points, two more than Barca who have a game in hand. Third-placed Real Madrid are on 36 points and visit Valencia on Sunday.
Elsewhere, Charles and Raul Albentosa gave mid-table Malaga a 2-0 victory over fifth-placed Celta Vigo.
Keeper Ruben Blanco could have done better with both goals and was then red-carded in the 64th minute after fouling Nordin Amrabat to concede a penalty.
Amrabat took the spot kick but it was saved by substitute keeper Sergio Alvarez.
In Madrid, Saul Niguez almost gave Atletico the lead inside two minutes with a near-post header from a corner that went just over the crossbar.
Jackson Martinez had an effort well saved by Marino before defender Stefan Savic nodded the ball against the top of the bar from a corner.
At the other end Verza had a golden chance to put Levante in front on the half hour but fired wide.
Atletico midfielder Koke then cracked a half-volley against the underside of the bar from 25 metres after 54 minutes and a cross from Luciano Vietto also thumped the woodwork.
The home side’s attempts were becoming ever more desperate before Partey, on the pitch for seven minutes, burst through the centre of the penalty area and Marino was unable to hold his shot as the ball crept over the line.
It was the first of three meetings in two weeks between the two Catalan teams who also clash in the King’s Cup on Wednesday.
Espanyol battled hard, conceding a number of free kicks and also unsettling the Barca players at set-plays.
Alvaro Gonzalez and Javier Mascherano were booked for pushing and shoving at a corner before Espanyol went close to taking the lead when Alvaro flicked on at the near post and Gerard Pique cleared the ball off the line.
Messi almost gave Barca the lead with a free kick that came back off the woodwork after 36 minutes.
Barca raised their tempo at the start of the second half and 11th-placed Espanyol were stretched at the back with Messi and Neymar going close.
Suarez then went past keeper Pau Lopez and evaded a challenge from Alvaro but, with the hard work done, struck the woodwork.