Atletico miss chance as Barca held
Barcelona and Atletico Madrid both stumbled to draws on Sunday, tightening La Liga's title race with Real Madrid now only one point behind the joint-leaders.
Barcelona's potent attack was held 1-1 at Levante, which left the door open for Atletico to later claim sole possession of the league lead.
But Atletico conceded a second-half penalty at home against Sevilla to also finish 1-1 and squander their chance to rise above the champions in the standings for the first time since September 2010.
Real Madrid trailed the top two by five points two weeks ago, but while they have kept on winning, most recently with a 5-0 rout of Real Betis on Saturday, Barcelona and Atletico drew with each other last round and have slipped again just past the season's midway mark.
Levante went ahead through Loukas Vyntra's 10th-minute header from a corner kick, and their staunch defence did enough to take a measure of vengeance for the 7-0 thrashing Barcelona dealt the club in the season opener.
Gerard Pique made up for his slack marking on Levante's goal by levelling for Barcelona in the 19th minute, jumping higher than a pair of defenders to redirect Xavi Hernandez's corner inside the far post.
Levante lived up to their reputation as one of the league's best defences by packing the area and largely limiting the visitors to long strikes that either crashed into bodies or sailed harmlessly wide.
Lionel Messi, in his fourth game back after a long injury layoff, worked a one-two passing combination in close quarters with Cesc Fabregas to manufacture Barcelona's best chance in the 59th minute, but goalkeeper Keylor Navas saved Messi's shot. Defender Juanfran Garcia was well positioned to block Xavi's follow-up attempt, and three minutes later the centre-back used his foot to turn away Messi's goal-bound strike.
Atletico started brightly when David Villa rifled in a clearance by Sevilla goalkeeper Beto in the 18th minute at Vicente Calderon Stadium. But they didn't seriously threaten to extend their advantage and were undone when defender Juanfran Torres pulled Sevilla striker Carlos Bacca down by his shirt in the area.
Ivan Rakitic fired the spot-kick into the corner of the net, just out of the reach of goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois for the 73rd-minute equaliser.
Sevilla finished with 10 men when Alberto Moreno was sent off for a straight red card for a poor tackle in the 90th minute.
Elsewhere, striker Ikechukwu Uche scored his sixth goal in his past three league games to help Villarreal beat Almeria 2-0. Uche's strike against lowly Almeria was his 12th league goal this season, tying him with Sociedad's Antoine Griezmann as the competition's third-leading scorers.
Bruno Soriano made sure of the win with a late penalty after Jonathan Pereira was brought down by Rafita. Villarreal provisionally moved into fourth place with their third straight victory. Athletic Bilbao can reclaim Spain's last Champions League spot when they play Valladolid on Monday.
Getafe erased a two-goal deficit to earn a 2-2 draw at home with Real Sociedad. Two headed goals from Imanol Agirretxe gave the Basque side an early lead but the hosts, helped by a soaked pitch which limited La Real's ability to move the ball around, responded with goals by Ciprian Marica and Pedro Leon.
Borja Fernandez was sent off in the second half for picking up two yellow cards but La Real were unable to take advantage.
The 44-year-old Garrido took the reins of the Andalusian club after current West Brom boss Pepe Mel was fired in December.
However, Garrido was also shown the door after failing to win a single La Liga game in his short tenure.