Costa double propels Atletico to top spot
Atletico Madrid's forward Diego da Silva Costa scores on a penalty kick during a Spanish league football match against Levante at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid on December 21, 2013
Andreas Ivanschitz had stunned the Vicente Calderon inside two minutes as he slotted home the first league goal Atletico had conceded at home since early October.
However, Atletico gradually took control of the game and were deservedly level when Diego Godin headed home Juanfran's cross on the half hour mark.
Costa then put the hosts in front two minutes after the break, but Levante responded as a wonderful individual effort from Pedro Rios brought them level 10 minutes later.
Atletico weren't to be denied, though, and when Ruben Garcia clipped Juanfran inside the area 13 minutes from time, Costa's spot-kick just had enough power to beat Keylor Navas.
Barcelona can restore top spot if they beat Getafe away on Sunday, whilst Real Madrid can also cut the eight-point gap between them and their city rivals when they travel to Valencia.
Before kick-off on Saturday the talk was of Atletico racking up the score to ensure top spot at Christmas for the first time since 1996.
But they were rocked by the first attack of the game when Nikos Karabelas played in Ivanschitz to slot across goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois into the far corner.
Courtois then had to produce a stunning save from David Barral to prevent Levante making it 2-0.
However, Atletico finally settled and were level when Juanfran's in-swinging cross was met powerfully by Godin.
Costa should then have put Atletico in front when he was played in on goal, but Navas got an important touch as the striker tried to round him.
The Brazilian-born striker then just failed to reach David Villa's deflected cross, before Villa himself was just inches away from connecting with Arda Turan's cross moments later.
However, Atletico were given a huge let off just before the break when Barral appeared to have been upended by Courtois as he bore down on goal, but referee Jose Luis Gonzalez remained unmoved.
Costa did finally get the goal which moved him ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo as La Liga's top scorer just two minutes after the restart with a sensational volley at the back post from Gabi's free-kick.
The lead lasted only 10 minutes as the hosts were caught out from their own corner and Rios galloped clear on the counter-attack before drilling low past Courtois from the edge of the area.
Atletico then poured forward in search of a winner and were rewarded when Juanfran enticed a naive challenge from Garcia and Costa rolled home his 19th league goal of the season.
Levante's frustration was encapsulated as their captain Juanfran saw a red card in stoppage time for lashing out at Filipe Luis.
Earlier, Sevilla enhanced their chances of Champions League football next season with a 2-1 win away to Villarreal.
Goals from Cala and Carlos Bacca put the visitors on course for the three points before Jeremy Perbet pulled a late goal back from the penalty spot.
Real Betis remain rooted to the foot of the table after they lost 1-0 at home to fellow strugglers Almeria.