Recap: Barcelona vs. Levante 3–0

Luis Suarez strikes Barcelona’s second goal of the day. Photograph: Albert Gea/Reuters

Returning to league action for the first time in 2018, Barcelona faced 16th place Levante in a fixture the Blaugrana were expected to easily win.

Outshooting Levante 16–9 and dominating possession, Barca did not disappoint and danced it’s way to an eventually simple 3–0 victory despite heavy changes to the lineup after the midweek draw with Celta Vigo in the Copa del Rey.  Levante meanwhile now sit just three points above the relegation zone.

After leaving Messi and Suarez out of the squad for the cup, Valverde recalled them to the starting 11 to make their first appearances of 2018. Ousmane Dembele also continued his reintroduction to the team with his first start since returning to the pitch Wednesday. After a grueling run of games due to a lack of available center-backs, Pique dropped to the bench in favor of Mascherano, who has returned from injury. With a deal with Hebei Fortune agreed and Yeray Mina rumored to be joining in the coming days from Palmeiras, this match may have been one of Mascherano’s last for the Cules. Busquets missed the game because of disciplinary points while new star man Philippe Coutinho will have to wait for his debut after his 142 million switch from Liverpool yesterday.

Barca looked intent to attack early and struck up an almost 4–2–4 formation with Dembele and Messi overloading the right wing. However, Levante found the better of the chances in the opening exchanges. Sloppy play from Rakitic and Paulinho in center midfield led to a number of early chances for Levante, who were spearheaded by young Ghanaian striker Emmanuel Boateng, but the Granotas were unable capitalize as Boateng cut an isolated figure.

In the tenth minute Barcelona nearly drew first blood, when Alba’s cutback found Suarez in the box. Not quite able to position his body correctly, El Pistolero badly mishit the ball. Just a few minutes Alba would get his assist. After Dembele flashed some dribbling skills, he released Sergi Roberto, whose resulting cross Levante could only clear as far as Messi. The Argentine deftly chipped the ball to Alba who headed it back for Messi to half-volley. After bouncing into the post, the ball bounded across the line for the opener.

Barcelona nearly doubled its score, but strong goalkeeping from former La Masia player Oier Olazabal kept Levante in the game. While Levante continued to lack conviction in their finishing, in the 38th minute, Alba’s counterpart, Roberto, teased in a delicious cross to Suarez after controlling Mascherano’s raking long pass. With one touch as a set-up, Barcelona’s No. 9 torched an acrobatic finish into the top left corner. Alba and Roberto are now tied for third in the La Liga assist standings with six a piece.

At halftime, the Blaugrana had complete control, but the Granotas nearly pulled one back early in the second half were it not for an excellent save from Ter-Stegen, who flew to meet left winger Ivi’s thunderbolt.

The second period lacked incisive attacking from both terms and Valverde’s morphing of Barcelona’s formation into a 4–3–3 with Messi as a false nine made it easier for Levante in its 4–5–1 formation to mark opposition players. The manager continued to wind down the affair by removing Dembele in the 67th minute for right-back Nelson Semedo. Valverde later removed Iniesta and Roberto for Gomes and La Liga debutant Arnaiz, who both starred against Vigo.

In the 87th minute Rakitic almost sprung Levante’s trap when he appeared to drop a perfectly weighted long ball onto Messi’s foot, but after ringing the upright, the linesman called the ball back for offsides. However, Barcelona would get a third from Paulinho, his seventh of the season. After parting a sea of Levante players with some delicate dribbling, Messi flashed a ball across the face of the goal which Suarez instinctively dummied for the Brazilian.

With this win in hand, Barca now await Celta Vigo for the second leg of the Copa del Rey.

All statistics provided by WhoScored


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