Real defender Eder Militao was sent off in the ninth minute of a highly eventful game for denying Sergio Leon a clear scoring chance but the champions took the lead in the 14th with a superb goal on the counter-attack from Marco Asensio.
– Player Ratings: Red-carded Militao 3/10, Odriozola 5/10
Levante’s talismanic forward Jose Luis Morales equalised with an unstoppable first-time finish in the 32nd minute and his side earned a penalty in the second half but Real goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois palmed away Marti’s spot-kick.
Marti had the final say, though, teeing himself up to blast a shot past Courtois in the 78th minute and clinch an unlikely Levante win that left second-placed Real seven points behind leaders Atletico Madrid, who have two games in hand.
David Bettoni, speaking in place of Zinedine Zidane as he continues his recovery from COVID-19, refused to give up on winning La Liga.
“The idea of this club is always to fight until the end for every trophy,” he said. “With 10 against 11 it’s a positive sign, the effort of the players, I know people who love Real Madrid will have seen the same thing. Disappointed yes, it’s normal, it’s painful for everyone, but the team fought until the end.”
As well as missing Zidane, injured captain Sergio Ramos sat in the stands wearing a mask but could still be heard yelling at his teammates and the referee.
After seeing Militao dismissed following a VAR review, Madrid responded perfectly and Toni Kroos threaded a precision pass into the path of Asensio, who raced through and slotted confidently into the bottom corner.
Levante kept their cool and after Courtois made an outstanding double save to preserve his side’s lead, there was little he could do to keep out Morales’s effort.
The visitors then dominated the second half as Real’s tired legs gave way and substitute Vinicius Jr. made a careless late tackle on Levante’s Carlos Clerc, which was first given as a free kick then upgraded to a penalty after a VAR review.
Marti spurned a glorious chance to put his side in front, but just as he had done against Osasuna earlier in the season, he made amends for his penalty miss by giving his side the lead.
“With a red card after seven or eight minutes, the game is difficult,” Courtois said postmatch. “We fought, we made it 1-0, they scored a good goal, we kept fighting, and we had a chance on the counter that we didn’t take. Then it was a shame to concede from a corner. There wasn’t much play after that.
“You always have to fight. The league is played until May, it isn’t decided in January. But obviously they keep winning. They’re there at the top. We have to react now and win our games. You have to hope that you win and others lose, that’s football.”
Match-winner Marti dismissed Real’s complaints about the decisions, saying they had been fortunate not to concede a penalty for Mendy’s challenge just before Asensio’s goal.
“There were many key moments in the match,” he said.
“Things should have gone in our favour with the sending off but we weren’t able to respond at first and were 1-0 down to a great Madrid side. But we waited for the right moment to pounce.”
ESPN’s Madrid correspondent Alex Kirkland contributed to this report.