Barca boss Gerardo Martino had named Lionel Messi and Neymar only on the substitutes bench on their respective returns from injury and illness. (Agencies)
However, after a first period devoid of clear-cut chances, Martino introduced Messi at half-time in place of the injured Andres Iniesta on Saturday.
And the four-time World Player of the Year nearly proved decisive as only a fine save from Thibaut Courtois denied him from grabbing the winner nine minutes from time.
Both sides now lie six points clear of Real Madrid, but Los Blancos can reduce that gap with a win away to Espanyol on Sunday.
"A point is fine, although we would have liked to have won. We were playing against another very strong side, which hasn't lost at home yet," Martino said afterwards.
Atletico boss Diego Simeone was similarly content with a point he believes leaves Atletico very much in the hunt for the title.
It was as competitive and close a match as you would expect between the top two teams in the Spanish league.
"Thanks to the great work of the players we have 50 points, which is a great total, and are in a privileged positon."
Encouraged by a raucous home support, Atletico started the brighter and were unlucky not to be ahead after five minutes when Gerard Pique nearly turned Arda Turan's cross into his own net following a wonderful solo run by the Turkish international.
Barca boss Gerardo Martino had named Lionel Messi and Neymar only on the substitutes bench on their respective returns from injury and illness.