MADRID - A Lionel Messi penalty rescued Barcelona as they were held to a 1-1 draw at Valencia before their lead at the top was cut to nine points when Atletico Madrid clinched a 1-0 win over Real Betis.
The four-time World Player of the Year extended his record scoring run to 12 matches in the league with a penalty after 39 minutes with Valencia having taken the lead through Ever Banega.
Although Barca won their last league game at home to Osasuna, they lost a fortnight ago against Real Sociedad and this was a lacklustre display at the Mestalla.
Like Real Madrid, who lost to Granada on Sunday, Barca seemed to be suffering the effects of their 1-1 Spanish Cup semi-final first-leg but they still have a significant lead over Atletico.
A second-half Diego Costa header saw Atletico maintain their 100 per cent record at home this season and they are seven points clear of their more prestigious city rivals Real. Barcelona's assistant coach Jordi Roura admitted his side were not at their best.
"It is certainly true that we arrived after a tough game and they always take their toll. In the first half it was difficult for us to get into the game and we improved after that," said Roura, standing-in for Tito Vilanova who is having cancer treatment.
"We came with the intention of picking up three points but it is a difficult stadium to win at and generally I think the draw was fair. In five years we have won only once here. "In the second half we had more depth and we had three or four chances which we didn't take."
Barcelona rested captain Carles Puyol as former Livepool player Javier Mascherano was thrown into central defence alongside Gerard Pique while Andres Iniesta was once again chosen in attack instead of David Villa and Alexis Sanchez.