real madrid luka modrić.jpg
Photograph: EPA/BALLESTEROS

Real Madrid stayed in the Spanish title race with a late 2-1 win at lowly Granada Sunday, thanks to a winner just five minutes from time from Luka Modric.

Karim Benzema gave the whites the lead in the 30th minute by turning in a centre from Dani Carvajal, only for Youssef El Arabi to level for lively Granada on the hour, after Modric had lucklessly run into the referee and lost the ball.

A draw would have effectively left Zinedine Zidane's team out of the title race so they poured forward desperately for a second goal.

This came in the 8th minute, when Modric beat Granada keeper Andres Fernandez with a powerful drive from 20 metres out.

"Luka is a very important player for us," Real captain Sergio Ramos said.

"Not only did he score a wonderful winning goal for us, he was in charge of the midfield from start to finish."

It was Real's first away in four games and it left them in third place, just one point behind second-placed Atletico Madrid and four behind leaders Barcelona, who have a game in hand.

Meanwhile, Granada stay second bottom, in massive danger.

"I really think a draw would have been a fairer result today. We certainly did not deserve to lose," Granada defender David Lomban said.

Earlier Sunday, Barca went three points clear with a laboured 2-0 win at bottom team Levante.

Barca had a more difficult time than expected and needed an own goal in the 21st minute from Levante veteran David Navarro - who was trying to clear a centre from Jordi Alba - to go ahead.

Barca's much-vaunted 'MSN' forward line of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar was uninspired and sluggish, unlike in Wednesday's 7-0 cup destruction of Valencia.

Lively Levante - who are three points adrift at the bottom - forced several sharp saves from Barca keeper Claudio Bravo, and Jose Morales hit Bravo's far post in the 37th minute when he seemed likely to make it 1-1.

Suarez clinched the win by making it 2-0 in stoppage time, after a quick break engineered by Messi, with Levante pouring forward in search of an equalizer and leaving massive gaps at the back.

It was Suarez' 36th goal of the season and put him back atop the Liga scorers' chart.

"The important thing is not my goals record but three points," Suarez said.

"We weren't brilliant today, I admit that. But people can't expect us to be perfect ... We did enough to win, and these points are very important for us."

Meanwhile, it was Barca's 10th straight win in all competitions - in the 100th game in charge of Luis Enrique - and their 28th match unbeaten, equalling a club record.

"To win without playing well is sometimes important," Barca veteran Javier Mascherano said.

"I'll be the first to admit that this was not our best performance of the season ... But I thought we were always in control, and always likely to win."

Meanwhile, Levante's Morales said: "We turned in a good display today and I think the fans are proud of us.

"What decided the match was that they were a bit luckier than us - and the fact that they have a lot more individual quality, to be honest."

And Levante coach Rubi said: "We did exactly what we had to do today, but we were just unlucky. There really isn't much more of an analysis to make."

Barca are three points clear, with a game in hand, of an Atletico Madrid side that beat Eibar 3-1 Saturday.

Also Sunday, crisis club Valencia crashed 1-0 at Real Betis, on a goal from veteran Ruben Castro.

The win took Betis up to 12th, one place above a Valencia side that has failed to win in la Liga in 12 matches - picking up just seven points in the process.

The latest defeat could spell the sack for Valencia coach Gary Neville, whose team are only four points above the relegation zone.

Sunday will also saw a 1-1 draw between seventh-placed Celta Vigo and, who are fifth.

Sevilla had Federico Fazio sent off after just 25 minutes but soon afterwards went ahead through fellow defender Daniel Carrico. Claudio Beauvue levelled for Celta in the 64th minute. 

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