Los Rojiblancos could have cut the gap to single figures, following Barca's 2-1 reverse at Real Madrid, had they managed to overcome Malaga.
But the fourth-placed hosts proved tricky opposition and just about held their own to claim a point which kept their own Champions League aspirations on track.
Atletico started positively, with Diego Costa, Joao Miranda and Arda Turan all sending shots wide within nine minutes.
It was visiting goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois who was called upon to make the first save of the game, catching a straightforward header from Lucas Piazon in the 10th minute, but opposite number Willy Caballero was given a sterner test five minutes later by a 25-yard Turan blast which he fumbled but no Atletico player could capitalise.
Martin Demichelis had a decent chance to give Malaga the lead in the 18th minute but headed wide from Joaquin's cross.
The hosts ended the half well, Vitorino Antunes drilling a left-footed shot wide and then Joaquin seeing a stoppage-time attempt well saved by Courtois, but the teams headed in at the break all square.
Clear-cut chances remained at a premium in the second period, with the teams mainly restricted to long-range efforts.
Koke, Cristian Rodriguez and Raul Garcia powered attempts wide for Atletico from just outside the box, while Piazon tried his luck for Malaga but was equally wayward.
Weligton did get a better sight of goal for Malaga 13 minutes from time but could not direct his close-range header on target.
Ten minutes later Atletico's Mario Suarez had a speculative effort caught by Caballero as the game petered out into a draw.