Levante's defender Sergio Ballesteros celebrates his win as Villarreal suffer their first home defeat [AFP]

Local rivals Levante handed Villarreal their first home defeat this season with a 1-0 defeat at El Madrigal Stadium in Spain's Primera Division on Saturday.

Villarreal wasted a chance to close the gap with second-placed Real Madrid to three points as they failed to penetrate a highly effective defensive Levante line-up.

Levante frustrated their rivals and the only goal came three minutes after half time when forward Valdo broke through, rounded former Spain international goalkeeper Diego Lopez and slammed the ball high into the net.

Levante's second straight win lifted them into 18th place, one point from safety. Villarreal remain in third place, behind Real Madrid, who stay six points clear before their game against Real Sociedad on Sunday.

Barcelona made history in the late game when they won a 16th successive match to beat the previous mark of 15 in a row set by the great 1960-1961 Real Madrid team of Alfredo Di Stefano.

Lionel Messi was the star of the champions' show with a hat-trick in the 3-0 win over Atletico Madrid at Camp Nou.

Barcelona now have a 10-point lead over Real Madrid. 

Squandered chance

Struggling Levante were given little hope going into the game against Villarreal, who had not been beaten at home since May last year and had only drawn one game this season against Valencia.

However, a complacent Villarreal clearly looked as though they had underestimated their neighbours as Levante took the game to them and had the better chances in the first half.

Straight after the restart and Levante got the only goal of the game with Valdo rounding the keeper and then sliding the ball home with aplomb.

Villarreal tried to raise their game but were unable to break down a resolute Levante defence.

Brazil striker Nilmar started for the first time for Villarreal in 2011 after missing a month of action recovering from knee surgery.

Bilbao firing

Athletic Bilbao boosted their chances of a place in Europe next season when goals from David Lopez, Gaizka Toquero and Fernando Llorente gave them a 3-0 home win over 10-man Sporting Gijon.

Results & fixtures

Saturday February 5

 Almeria 3-2 Espanyol
 At Bilbao 3-0 Sporting Gijon
 Getafe 4-1 Deportivo
 Osasuna 1-1 Mallorca
 Zaragoza 1-1 Santander
 Villarreal 0-1 Levante
 Barcelona 3-0 At Madrid

Sunday February 6

 Sevilla v Malaga
 R Madrid v R Sociedad
 Valencia v Hercules

The victory lifted the Basque club to fifth place above Espanyol, who were three goals down by the 18th minute at Almeria and eventually lost 3-2.

Lopez put Bilbao ahead from the penalty spot in the 16th minute at the San Mames after Llorente was impeded by Gregory and the French defender was dismissed for a second yellow card.

Iker Muniain set up Toquero just before the half hour when he weaved his way to the byline and pulled the ball back for the balding striker to fire past keeper Ivan Cuellar.

Spain striker Llorente tapped in the home side's third from Markel Susaeta's low cross with around 20 minutes left.

"The team is on a roll,'' said Bilbao coach Joaquin Caparros.

"Four straight wins give us a lot of confidence heading forward.''

In other games on Saturday, Getafe thumped visiting Deportivo Coruna 4-1 and Real Mallorca were held to a 1-1 draw at Osasuna as Japanese midfielder Akihiro Ienaga made his debut for the Balearic Islands club.

Real Zaragoza and Racing Santander played out a 1-1 stalemate in Zaragoza. 

Source: Agencies