Today’s match was highly anticipated as Barça was facing a challenge difficult to predict. Despite FC Barcelona’s good form, the team was playing Levante away, a trip that has proven to be complicated in the past. With that in mind, Barça started the game doing what it does best: controlling the ball and pressing the rivals from the first line of attack. It worked, but Levante provided a very ordered structure in the back, with at least 5 players present at every moment. They were also quick at attacking, which was even more evident after some time had passed. Balls were easily lost by Barça’s attack, as precision was not at its best, and Levante took advantage of that lack of concentration. They had two good chances to score through Barkero (12 min) and the dangerous Martins (38 min). Barça, in the mean time, tried too hard from the center of the attack. There were some good combinations between Messi and Xavi, while Cesc was a bit off and not reading the last pass well.
The minutes went by and Barça still wasn’t setting the tone of the game. Fortunately, Piqué and Puyol helped the team to balance the defense, and Levante didn’t create more than the good chances mentioned above. On the wing, Jordi Alba went to attack a few times, combining with Iniesta, his best partner on the pitch last night, showing his skills both in attack and defense. On the right wing, Montoya came in early for Dani Alves, who suffered a minor muscular injury. With this substitution, Barça had 11 home grown players on the pitch.
In the second half however, things changed. It seemed that Barça improved its precision and widened the attack considerably (with the same players), while Levante started to fall apart. Surely the home side felt the great effort made in the previous 45 minutes, as the difference between both teams became obvious. Barça also realised that they needed to broaden the attack, use the wings more and deepen the passes, and so they did. They found spaces where they hadn’t in the first half, and the four goals arrived in the first 20 minutes of the second half. Two magic assists by Iniesta helped Messi to score twice. Then, Iniesta himself scored a wonderful goal, and just minutes after that, Iniesta served Cesc with another deep pass, to seal the victory. Iniesta shined as a sort of right/left winger going into midfield. Xavi and Cesc conducted the team, with two different approaches and speeds that combined, surprising Levante over the entire second half.
Levante didn’t come close to Víctor Valdés again as ball recovery came back at its best, due to good performances in recovering lost balls in the midfield. This was also due to the performances of Martín Montoya and Jordi Alba, two players that, apart from being good weapons in attack (especially Alba), also hunt down their rivals to get the ball from them.
In the last minutes of the game, the classic penalty that was not a penalty got awarded to Levante. Valdés, in an inspired night, grabbed the ball twice from Barkero, and the clean sheet was maintained.
A solid performance by Barça, especially the second half, which was probably the best 45 minutes the team has played so far this year in La Liga. And the good news doesn’t stop there: the team welcomed back Thiago Alcántara, and also Adriano. Injuries are healing, the defense is recovering, and the forward line showed creativity and surprise.
Image: JOSE JORDAN – AFP