Cesc Fabregas struck with six minutes remaining to give Barcelona a 1-0 victory over Levante and take his side one step closer to regaining the La Liga title.
David Villa had missed a first-half penalty at Camp Nou and, with the match entering its final minutes, it appeared that Barcelona’s lead would be cut to 11 points following second-placed Real Madrid’s victory over Real Betis earlier in the day.
But Fabregas’s fine finish secured the three points to take the Blaugrana to within two wins of the championship, which assistant coach Jordi Roura continues to claim is their priority despite a Champions League semifinal with Bayern Munich coming up on Tuesday.
Yet that first leg was clearly in the thoughts of manager Tito Vilanova judging by his team selection. Unsurprisingly, Lionel Messi was not risked as he continues his return to fitness, while Sergio Busquets, Xavi and Jordi Alba all started on the bench. As part of a much-changed defense, Eric Abidal made his first start since returning from a Liver transplant.
Andres Iniesta was also in the lineup and it was the World Cup winner that went to ground under seemingly minimal contact from Simao that led to the award of a spot kick.
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With 15 minutes gone, a goal could have potentially opened the floodgates, but Villa saw his spot-kick saved by Keylor Navas in the Levante goal.
Levante had been in woeful form of late and seen their hopes of European qualification ended by a run of just one win from their last 10 league games, yet they were admirably keeping an admittedly below-par Barca at bay.
That was until the 84th minute. Substitute Alexis Sanchez played a key part in the goal as he showed good skill down the right before picking out Fabregas in the area with an incisive pass and the former Arsenal man produced a decisive finish low into the corner from 16 yards as Camp Nou breathed a collective sigh of relief.