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Simeone: “I only asked the players to be themselves”

The coach was pleased with Saturday’s Camp Nou stalemate.

FC Barcelona v Atletico de Madrid - La Liga Santander Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

Atlético Madrid secured a 0-0 draw at Barcelona on Saturday, the first goalless encounter between the two teams since 2014 — and the first goalless league game between the title candidates since 1973.

The result keeps Atlético top for the time being, after Real Madrid missed an opportunity to take over first place via the head-to-head tiebreaker — los blancos drew 2-2 versus Sevilla on Sunday night.

“I’m not watching (other contenders’) games,” Simeone said post-match on Saturday. “I don’t have a good time, and I prefer not to watch them.”

LaLiga’s most intense title race in years is entering its final two weeks, and Atlético’s formula to win it for the first time since 2014 is a simple one. Three wins from three games will equal one title.

FC Barcelona v Atletico de Madrid - La Liga Santander Photo by Jose Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto via Getty Images

“We’ve had a path since December 2011 (when he arrived at Atlético), and that is to play game-by-game, as if each one were a final,” Simeone said.

Cholo praised how his players performed in the first half Saturday, when they were superior to Barcelona. They remained in control until Barça stepped up in the final 25 minutes, with Ousmane Dembélé coming close from a free header just a few minutes from time.

Jan Oblak’s 300th appearance saw him make two key stops on Lionel Messi — one, less than five minutes before halftime, ranking among his best-ever saves. The Barça talisman also curled a 90th minute free kick past the far post.

“I think we played a good game,” Simeone said. “Barcelona looked for what could hurt us, they’re a great team and Koeman has done a good job.

FC Barcelona v Atletico de Madrid - La Liga Santander Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

“The only thing I asked of the players is to be themselves,” Simeone continued. “They did it, and it fills me with joy because success comes from being able to compete every year (at the top of LaLiga).”

The heat of the title race made Saturday a good time for Atlético to boost its unbeaten run against Barcelona — the colchoneros now have not lost any of the past four meetings with the blaugrana, spanning three league games and the 2020 Supercopa semifinal in Saudi Arabia. It’s the team’s longest run without defeat to Messi and co. since a six-game stretch that encompassed all meetings from the 2013/14 season.

“(My takeaway from this game is) the team’s work, (and) not moving away from the game-by-game,” Simeone said. “Now we have to relax, rest tomorrow, and on Monday prepare for the game against Real Sociedad.

“It will always be like that, game-by-game.”