Atletico midfielder Thomas Partey struck with nine minutes to go to propel Atlético to the top of the Liga, bottom-of-the-table Levante having frustrated Diego Simeone’s men in Madrid. Atlético had the better of the first half, and both Koke and Juanfran struck the crossbar in the second period, but they were able to take full advantage of Barcelona’s earlier slip as the Ghanaian battled through to finish.
Barcelona were denied a goal for the first time in the Liga this season as their city derby against Espanyol ended goalless, Barcelona’s first 0-0 in all competitions since December 2014.
Manager Luis Enrique opted to name an identical side to the one which beat River Plate in the FIFA Club World Cup final.
However, the visitors were unable to find a breakthrough as both Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez saw efforts come back off the woodwork.
Lionel Messi found the post with a free-kick in the first half, Andrés Iniesta had an effort ruled out for offside, and Luis Suárez hit the woodwork, but Espanyol got due reward for a resolute defensive performance.
The two teams will not need to wait long to renew rivalries, with the first leg of a Copa del Rey last-16 tie set for the Nou Camp on Wednesday.
Saturday’s late match in the Primera Division saw Malaga beat Celta Vigo 2-0 with first-half goals from Brazilian forward Charles and defender Raul Albentosa.
Celta Vigo, who could have gone fourth with a win, finished the game with 10 men following the sending off of goalkeeper Ruben Blanco for a foul on Nordin Amrabat. Substitute Sergio Alvarez, though, saved Amrabat’s penalty.