Barcelona remain in contention for a second treble in four seasons ahead of their Champions League semi-final trip to Chelsea following an unconvincing 2-1 La Liga victory away to surprise top-four challengers Levante.
Pep Guardiola’s side needed to defeat the overachievers to maintain their title chances because Real Madrid has come from behind to beat Sporting Gijon 3-1 earlier on Saturday, but trailed until a 64th-minute intervention by Lionel Messi.
The Ballon d’Or holder stepped up to seal the win from the penalty spot eight minutes later after a highly controversial award, one of several calls in Barcelona’s favour as the closing stages in a match in which they struggled.
There will no doubt be cries of conspiracy in the capital, as the result ensured that the champions remain four points behind Real Madrid heading into next weekend’s Clasico in Catalonia and 12/5 to finish first for the fourth straight year.
It will also irritate Chelsea, who like their former boss Jose Mourinho have accused Barcelona of receiving preferential treatment at their expense in the past, most notably when they prevailed in a Champions League semi-final clash in 2008-09.
The Blues are unbeaten in five against the widely perceived best team in the world yet have been eliminated in three of their five knockout collisions in the competition and are 1/7 to be sent packing again. They are 9/2 to qualify.
To do that they will realistically have to do what only Inter and Arsenal have managed to Barcelona in the last five seasons and overcome them in the first leg on Wednesday, a 7/2 prospect.
The importance of the other semi-final to Bayern Munich increased after a 0-0 domestic draw at home to Mainz effectively ended their Bundesliga challenge. The German giants are 6/4 to dump out Real Madrid.