Messi beauty among Barcelona goals but defense gut punches title hopes


That’s probably that for Barcelona’s La Liga title hopes.

The Blaugranas’ beleaguered defense threw away 2-0 and 3-2 leads at Levante, as Ronald Koeman’s men failed to overtake Atletico Madrid in the first of nine (or fewer) matches that will determine the Spanish champion.

The draw comes two days after Real Madrid threw away a chance to seize momentum in a draw with Sevilla. Real visits Granada on Thursday, a day after Atletico Madrid tangles with tricky Real Sociedad.

[ MORE: La Liga schedule, standings ]

Lionel Messi and Pedri had the visitors up two after 35 minutes but Levante’s Gonzalo Melero and Jose Luis Morales equalized in a three-minute burst before the hour mark.

Dembele added to his assist of Pedri with a 64th-minute goal, but Sergio Leon ended the shootout in the 83rd minut.

Barca’s season got off to a terrible start after the club refused to honor Lionel Messi’s request to leave, but the world’s best player rallied the club for a 19-match unbeaten league run between Dec. 13 and April 5.

But Barca has three wins, two draws, and two losses in its last eight matches and now sits a point back of Atletico Madrid and one above Real Madrid. Both Madrid sides have three matches left, while Barca has two.

For as little as it’s worth to Barcelona supporters, Messi’s goal was the latest his catalog of exceptional goals. His 29th goal of the La Liga season joins nine assists to give him an astounding goal contribution on 38 of Barcelona’s 85 goals.

Barca, however, has allowed 36 goals in La Liga play, nine times conceding two or more times in a match.

Watch the Argentine wizard readjust his body for a deflected Jordi Alba cross to smash home on the volley.