BARCELONA (REUTERS) - Real Madrid's faltering title defence continued as they were held to a thrilling 2-2 draw at Celta Vigo on Sunday (Jan 7) which saw them fall 16 points behind runaway leaders Barcelona, who beat Levante 3-0 to stay nine points clear at the top of La Liga.
Real looked to be heading for a disastrous second league defeat in a row after their embarrassing 3-0 loss to Barca in their last outing when Daniel Wass lobbed over Keylor Navas to put Celta ahead in the 33rd minute.
Gareth Bale instantly responded by scoring twice in three minutes to put the stuttering champions in front before halftime but Celta came right back at Zinedine Zidane's side, with Iago Aspas squandering a penalty before Maxi Gomez levelled with a header in the 82nd minute.
Aspas was denied another penalty late in the game while down at the other end Real's Lucas Vazquez missed a gilt-edged chance to strike the winner, hammering the ball straight at Celta goalkeeper Ruben Blanco.
Real stay fourth in the standings on 32 points while Barca have 48 although they have played one game more.
Barcelona had seen their lead over nearest challengers Atletico Madrid reduced to six points on Saturday but restored the gap to nine after Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Paulinho scored in a routine if underwhelming win over Levante.
Messi was back in the starting line-up after missing the King's Cup draw with Celta Vigo on Thursday and marked his 400th game in La Liga by opening the scoring in the 12th minute, volleying Jordi Alba's cushioned header into the net.
Suarez struck his fifth goal in four games running by controlling a cross from Sergi Roberto and slamming the ball high into the net in the 38th minute.
Barca relaxed a little after the break but Brazilian international Paulinho added an extra shine to the win by tapping in as the game drew to a close, netting for the seventh time in the Liga, making him the top-scoring midfielder in the Spanish top flight.
"We wanted to continue our run of wins and although we were favourites we knew Levante were a strong side that hadn't lost away from home in the league since September," said Barca coach Ernesto Valverde.
"We were very good in the first half but the pace changed in the second half and Levante could have scored."
After the game club record signing, Philippe Coutinho appeared at the Nou Camp to pose for photographs a day after completing his 142-million-pound(S$256-million) move from Liverpool to Barca.