BARCELONA, Spain - Barcelona's 0-0 draw at Osasuna on Saturday left the Spanish champion one win short of matching the league record for most victories to start the season.
Atletico Madrid could take over as the league leader with a late victory at Espanyol that would equal the 45-year-old league milestone of nine wins through the first nine rounds held by Real Madrid.
Lionel Messi went on as a substitute in the 68th minute after he recovered from a right leg injury this week, but not even Barcelona's all-time leading scorer could unlock Osasuna's defence.
The draw left Barcelona three points ahead of Madrid following its 2-0 win over Malaga thanks to goals by Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel Di Maria.
Barcelona hosts Madrid next weekend in the first clasico of the season after both play Italian rivals, AC Milan and Juventus, in the Champions League midweek.
Also, Real Sociedad broke an eight-game winless streak in all competitions with a morale-boosting 2-1 victory at Valencia before it travels to Manchester United on Tuesday in the Champions League.
Di Maria scored for Madrid seconds after halftime with a cross intended for Ronaldo that caught Malaga goalkeeper Willy Caballero out of position.
Madrid's 100-million-euro winger Gareth Bale went on for the final 15 minutes after recovering from a leg injury and earned a questionable penalty that Ronaldo converted in injury time.
Ronaldo's eighth goal of the season took him level with Messi. Both trail Atletico striker Diego Costa with 10.
"My players' attitudes were much better," said Ancelotti, who this week said his team played so poorly recently it could only improve.
"We defended well, were more aggressive and played with our lines closer together," he said. "I hope to see this same intensity in the games to come. We recovered the ball well, applied pressure well and maintained our positions. That was the difference from other games."
Ancelotti said striker Karim Benzema would be back in his squad against Juventus on Wednesday after he missed Saturday's game due to a leg knock he had picked up in training. Youngster Alvaro Morata started in his place and was Madrid's most active player in an otherwise dull first half that only saw Ronaldo hit the crossbar in the eighth minute.
While Madrid again failed to impress, it improved as the match went on and was stopped from recording a bigger win only by Caballero.
Caballero made an excellent reflex save with his left foot to deny Ronaldo from close range in the 82nd and two minutes later used his right hand to parry substitute Jese Rodriguez's low shot past his upright.
Di Maria said he wanted to see Caballero join him on Argentina's national team as it prepares for the 2014 World Cup.
"I believe Caballero deserves to go," Di Maria said.
But Caballero couldn't reach Ronaldo's well-placed spot kick after Bale went flying to the turf following what appeared to be light contact with Malaga defender Weligton.
Bale had done little before the penalty in his first action since injuring his left hamstring last month.
An organized Osasuna renounced the ball from the start but did well to keep Barcelona in check throughout.
With Messi watching, Barcelona was limited to Neymar's occasional incursions with his diabolic dribbling and a header from defender Marca Bartra that he thumped well high from outside the six-yard box in the 44th.
The first cracks began to show in Osasuna's defence in the second half when Cesc Fabregas wasted Xavi Hernandez's throughball by shooting over the bar in the 61st.
Messi went on shortly after but he was unable to get a clear look at goal as Osasuna took off its lone striker and added midfielder Francisco Punal to hang on to the point.
"We knew it would be a complicated game," said Barcelona defender Carles Puyol, who played his first game in seven months after recovering from knee surgery. "These grounds are always tough. We had our chances but just lacked that finishing touch in the final meters."
At Mestalla Stadium, Antoine Griezmann opened for Sociedad in the 41st and Ruben Pardo sent a swerving long strike just inside the post to effectively seal the result in the 59th. Dorlan Pabon snatched Valencia's consolation goal before the final whistle.