Carlo Ancelotti's side produced a much-improved derby display, but was unable to turn their possession into anything more tangible and the tie is still wide open.
MADRID -- Perhaps it should have been expected. With so much at stake, two teams that know each other so well failed to deliver a classic in this match - their seventh showdown of the season already. A scoreless game leaves the tie wide open for its second installment at the Santiago Bernabeu next week, but Madrid let Atleti off the hook here.
It was an improvement for Real. Carlo Ancelotti's men had failed to beat Atleti since the Champions League final last May, with four defeats and two draws since then. On Tuesday, they missed the chance to draw a line under that wretched record - and Atleti will have nothing to fear ahead of the return match next Wednesday.
Nevertheless, this was infinitely better than their last trip to the Vicente Calderon, the 4-0 defeat to Diego Simeone's side in February. But it could have been much more satisfactory for Los Blancos.
Gareth Bale, much-criticized coming into this fixture, missed a glorious chance to open the scoring early in the game when he shot straight at Jan Oblak. Atletico affords few such opportunities to its rivals and afterwards, Madrid was restricted mainly to long-range efforts.
In the second half, the disappointing Karim Benzema laid the ball back to Cristiano Ronaldo when he should have shot himself from a fantastic opening. Again it was a let-off for Atleti and the home side finished the game on top, looking more likely to score themselves and willed on by their vocal fans.
In many ways, this match followed the pattern of recent derby encounters: Madrid made the play, Atleti absorbed the pressure. This time, however, Ancelotti's side did at least manage to keep a clean sheet, playing with much more intensity than in the past few games against their city rivals.
That intensity nearly boiled over when Mario Mandzukic was left bloodied by a stray elbow from Sergio Ramos. The Atletico striker cut a furious figure prowling the pitch and the touchline hunting for retribution. But it showed that Real was up for the fight against an Atletico side often accused of being over physical.
Real's controlled aggression could be key. When Atletico has scored first against Madrid, Los Blancos find it almost impossible to break down the disciplined defence in front of them. They managed it in epic style in the Champions League final as Sergio Ramos headed home deep into added time, but they have been frustrated by Simeone's side ever since.
With no goals in this match, the first one will still be vital. Effectively it is only halftime and Atleti will have no fear because it has already claimed two score draws and a win at the Bernabeu in 2014-15. Any of those results repeated would take the club through to the semifinals for a second season in succession.
So although Madrid's malaise in the fixture was brought to an end by an improved performance down by the river, the European champions missed a wonderful chance to bury their derby demons,