PHOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ-FCB

The title race is still on as Barça chalked up yet another win to stay in touch with Real Madrid, who had earlier beaten Sporting 3-1, but it was hard work for Guardiola’s men, who had to come back from one down after Barkero had scored a first half penalty to give the hosts the lead. Barça were unable to pull level until the hour mark, when Messi took over, firing n a left footed drive from the edge of the box and then hammering home a brilliant penalty after Cuenca had been bundled over in the box.

Attention now switches to Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final against Chelsea, with the big one against Real Madrid at the Camp Nou next weekend on the horizon.

Early control

Barça began the game seven points adrift at the top, but they showed no nerves as they set about overcoming fifth placed Levante. With Alexis and Pedro both playing wide, there might not have been a natural target man up front, but Guardiola’s team were soon carving out chances, as both Pedro and Messi tested Munúa and Thiago had a couple of good headed chances. The visitors were in charge, but Levante’s massed defence was always going to limit the clear chances on offer.

Barkero penalty

Levante were always going to be a danger on the break though and when once such speedy break resulted in a corner, the ref blew for a penalty after Busquets handled in the box and Barkero strode up to fire past Valdes and give his team the lead. In truth, Barça then found it hard to settle into their rhythm and looked a little slow as they tried to find their way through Levante’s defence for the equaliser and found it hard to create too many chances before the break.

Messi leads the fightback

At the start of the second half, Guardiola brought on Cuenca for Xavi and soon after replaced Pedro with Iniesta as he looked to dominate in the middle and open up the flanks, particularly through Cuenca, who started the move that ended in Messi’s equaliser on the hour mark. The Argentinean played a quick one-two on the edge of the box and curled in a great shot to set up an exciting last half hour.

Messi seals the win

Cuenca was also key to the winning goal when he was bundled over by Bothelo as he ran on to a clever return pass from Cesc. Despite the home players’ protestations, the ref pointed to the spot and Messi hammered the penalty home high to the keeper’s left for the winner. There was no way that Barça were going to let such a hard won lead slip and they controlled the game as the clock ran down to take the three point.