Los Blancos are nine points from the Catalans and can cut that down to six with a Clasico victory, but only thanks to one of the worst refereeing decisions of the season on Sunday.
Madrid scraped a 2-1 win at Levante, needing two penalties to beat the spirited east coast side, the second of which was a ludicrous decision that called into question the whole VAR system.
Somehow, even with the ability to use video replays, the officials contrived to give Real Madrid their second penalty of the night - when Casemiro flung himself to the ground after the slightest brush from Cheik Doucoure.
The Levante midfielder swiped wildly at the ball and missed, but barely made any contact with the Brazilian midfielder who dived horrendously to the turf.
Even if referee Iglesias Villanueva could be forgiven for getting the decision wrong in the first place, it is inexplicable that those watching in the video booth could allow the decision to pass without asking the official to take a second look.
It was a clear and obvious mistake to give Madrid the penalty and the referee needed to take a second look.
After complaining about it heavily, Real Madrid have ended up reaping the benefit from several VAR decisions in recent weeks.
From Atletico’s complaints after Real got the rub of the green in the derby, to Ajax’s frustration as their opening goal in the Champions League was scrapped thanks to the technology, Madrid have a lot to be grateful for.
Substitute Gareth Bale dispatched the spot kick to win this game for Madrid, but the controversy will rumble on.
The first penalty was a much clearer-cut affair, with Enis Bardhi needlessly, and deliberately, handling the ball inside his area, and Karim Benzema dispatched the spot kick calmly.
VAR was used on that occasion too, correctly calling the play back after the referee failed to spot the infringement in the first place.
Despite taking the lead, Madrid were not playing well. That’s been a theme recently, having also failed to impress against Ajax, despite their win, and in the calamitous 3-1 defeat by Girona last weekend.
Real Madrid clearly missed captain Sergio Ramos, sent off in that game.
The defence was split open on several occasions and Levante striker Roger Marti twice hit the post.
The skipper’s absence finally told when the hosts forced their leveller. Always-exciting winger Jose Luis Morales made inroads down the left and slung a ball into the box for Roger. It was third time lucky for the striker, who finished coolly, giving Thibaut Courtois no chance of reaching his strike.
Levante enjoyed the better of the game, with the exception of the occasional bright spark from Vinicius Junior, but Casemiro’s outrageous dive turned the game in Madrid’s favour.
Nacho Fernandez was sent off late on and will miss next Saturday’s Clasico, but Ramos will be back from suspension, so it’s not a problem for Santiago Solari.
Much more of an issue is the team’s level of performance, which has dipped suddenly, just when it seemed he had dragged them back to where they belong.