Neymar and Cesc Fabregas then passed up great chances to put Barca in front at the beginning of the second period before Messi was finally introduced for the final quarter.
However, even the Argentine couldn’t open the door as Osasuna stood firm to prevent Barca scoring in the league for the first time since January 2012.
“With the performance of the team and the chances we had, normally it would be enough for Barcelona to win but today it wasn’t to be,” lamented Barca coach Gerardo Martino.
Martino had decided to hand a surprise start to captain Carles Puyol after seven months out due to knee surgery, but left Messi on the bench as he returned from a thigh strain. Barca’s best chance in the first half came from a set-piece when Bartra headed over when completely unmarked from Xavi’s corner in stoppage time.
Barca had to settle for a point which leaves them just three points ahead of Real Madrid heading into next Saturday’s El Clasico at the Camp Nou.
Madrid cut the gap earlier on Saturday with a routine 2-0 win over Malaga at the Santiago Bernabeu. Gareth Bale made his return to action for Los Blancos as a late substitute and won the penalty which Cristiano Ronaldo converted to seal the points after Angel di Maria had given Madrid the lead.
It was a much improved all round performance from Madrid, who were only denied a far more comfortable margin of victory due to a series of wonderful saves by Malaga keeper Willy Caballero.