Barcelona draws blank against city rival Espanyol

    Story highlights

    • Barcelona held to goalless draw by Espanyol
    • Catalans could be replaced atop La Liga table by Espanyol

    (CNN)Futbol Club Barcelona experienced a trophy laden 2015 but the reigning Spanish, European and World Club champions endured a stuttering start to the new year as it was held to a scoreless draw by city rivals Espanyol Saturday.

    Although Barca fielded it's potent attacking triumvirate of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez, it failed to create the opportunities that brought 180 goals in all competitions last year.
    The result enabled Atletico Madrid to claim top spot in the La Liga table above Barca (which has played a game less) as it defeated Levante 1-0 later Saturday thanks to a late goal from Thomas Teye Partey.
    Barcelona playmaker Andres Iniesta leaves the pitch dejected at the end of Saturday's match with Espanyol.
    Yet evening events in Madrid were of little concern when Catalan pride was at stake at the Estadi Cornella-El Prat in the early afternoon.
    Barcelona started fast and had the better of early proceedings, notching up an impressive 75% possession in the first period.
    But its assorted superstars struggled to transfer dominance of the ball into chances as Espanyol pressed and harried, affording Barca little time on the ball.
    Lionel Messi came closest to breaking the deadlock when he struck juncture of post and crossbar from a free kick just before the interval.
    Messi's strike partner Luis Suarez then hit the woodwork early in the second half after springing the Espanyol offside trap.
    Another Messi free-kick sailed wide late on and with it any chance of victory and local bragging rights. Espanyol may even consider itself unlucky not to have taken all three points.
    Barca keeper Claudio Bravo saved well from Alvaro Gonzalez early in the first half while Hernan Perez came close to breaking the deadlock at the beginning of the second half.
    For Barca boss, Luis Enrique, the result was not the ideal one. But he admitted it was hard to begrudge the effort of Espanyol which currently sits mid-table after winning only once in its last eight outings and changing coach last month.
    "The result was fair for both teams," Enrique told reporters after the match.
    "We created chances but Espanyol defended well. They were very intense but that was something we knew before the game."
    Neymar struggled to get behind a determined Espanyol rearguard.
    Espanyol's recently appointed coach, Constantin Galca, praised the effort of his players and insisted they would deliver the same level of performance when the sides meet again in the last 16 of the Copa Del Rey on Wednesday.
    "Barcelona had some clear chances. They started very well in the first 20 minutes of the second-half, but we stayed together and played to our strengths," Galcan said.
    "Physically they (the players) ran a lot, but they are professionals. They will recover and be ready for the next game."