Levante 1-2 Barcelona: Messi double saves Barca as Argentine joins Cristiano Ronaldo on record 41 La Liga goals
Pep Guardiola's men were awarded a contentious spot kick as they came from behind to beat the Granotas and narrow the gap once again on league leaders Real Madrid
By Luke Matthews
Barcelona had a controversial penalty to thank as they ground out a narrow 2-1 win at Levante to close the gap on Liga leaders Real Madrid back to four points ahead of next weekend's Clasico meeting.
Jose Barkero gave the home team a surprise lead with a penalty before Lionel Messi levelled with half an hour to go. The Argentine then stepped up to score a spot kick to bring his league tally this campaign to 41 goals, joining Cristiano Ronaldo in breaking the Portuguese's record of 40 from last term.
Barcelona started the game brightly and after some early spells in possession, forged their first opportunity on goal in the 10th minute. Alexis Sanchez's cross found Thiago Alcantara in the box six yards out yet the midfielder could only flick his header wide of the mark.
Nine minutes later Thiago should have done better again with his head following Messi's inviting free kick. The young midfielder was able to ghost past his marker but headed his effort straight into the grateful arms of Gustavo Munua.
In the 22nd minute the home side were awarded a penalty against the run of play. Barkero's corner was parried by Victor Valdes with Juanfran's follow-up striking the hand of Sergio Busquets, earning the defensive midfielder a yellow card in the process. Barkero calmly stepped up to slam the ball down the centre of the goal with Valdes diving to his left.
Despite the Blaugrana continuing to dominate possession, they could have gone into half-time two goals down when Levante created a glorious chance in the 38th minute. Adriano and Valdo's collision left Pedro Lopez with plenty of space to attack the Barca goal down the wing. The full-back cut infield before dragging his shot narrowly wide of the goal from the edge of the box.
Although the Catalan giants kept possession well in the early stages of the second half, a sloppy pass from Thiago nearly allowed Levante to double their lead. Arouna Kone took the ball off the Spain international before charging upfield and sliding it to Barkero in the Barca penalty area. The playmaker attempted to play the return ball with Valdes out of his goal but Carles Puyol was on hand to mop up the danger.
With Barcelona stepping up the tempo they got their just reward in the 64th minute when Messi equalised. The Argentine played a clever one-two with Alexis before curling the ball into the far corner of the net from the edge of the box - the attacker now scoring in 10 consecutive Liga games, equalling a record held by Ronaldo and Mariano Martin.
On 71 minutes Guardiola's men were awarded a controversial penalty after Isaac Cuenca and Pedro Botelho collided in the box with the assistant referee flagging for a spot kick to be given. Messi stepped up to smash the ball into the top corner, sending Munua the wrong way to draw level with Cristiano Ronaldo in the race for the Pichichi prize awarded to La Liga's top goalscorer. Both men are now on 41 Liga goals this term.
Levante attempted to fight back yet Barca comfortably saw out the game to claim a priceless win in Valencia.
Barca now travel to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday for the first leg of their Champions League semi-final against Chelsea before welcoming Real Madrid to Camp Nou next weekend in a pivotal Primera Division clash, while Levante are next in action at Sevilla on April 21.
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