The Barcelona players wore black armbands in their match against Levante UD Saturday. This time, the band was not for remembering a former club legend or a Spanish federation official who died of old age. It was for a young Italian that the players had probably never met, never played against, and maybe, never even heard of before. Piermario Morosini, the 25 year-old midfielder of Livorno, collapsed on the pitch during a Serie B game. Medical personnel pronounced him dead of cardiac arrest by the time he had reached the hospital.
The incident echoed of a similar situation just a few weeks ago involving Bolton Wanderers’ Fabrice Muamba. Although Muamba is recovering successfully, the way the football world rallied around him was inspiring. Just as other teams supported Éric Abidal during his liver transplant earlier this week, Barcelona returned the respect to Muamba and Morosini.
It once again became painfully clear that football is more than just a game. Teams are more than just opponents. And Barcelona, is more than just a club.
Head coach Pep Guardiola decided to rest some usual starters like Piqué and Iniesta after the midweek Getafe game and the upcoming Chelsea match. Valdés, Puyol, Mascherano, Adriano, Xavi, Busquets, Thiago, Pedro, Alexis, Messi and Cesc all made the starting eleven.
Barcelona enjoyed some early chances and limited Levante’s possession. However, the underdog club that has challenged many top Spanish teams this season lived up to its reputation. The defense and goalkeeping from Levante was rock solid and difficult for Barcelona to penetrate.
Frustration began to show in the Barcelona players’ body language after 20 minutes without any headway. The feelings were only exacerbated in the 22nd minute when the referee awarded a penalty to Levante. Busquets attempted to defend the goal and had the ball shot to his arms. He was somewhat harshly called for a handball and given a yellow card. Barkero stepped up to the spot and beat Valdés, giving the home team the lead.
In the 31st minute, Barcelona earned a free kick after Ballesteros had a high foot near Cesc’s head. Seven minutes later, Adriano collided with Valdo, leaving both of the players on their backs. The referee waved play on, but Pedro López ultimately missed the goal. In the aftermath, Thiago was booked with a yellow card, presumably for dissent.
Barcelona continued to look for the equalizer, but failed to produce one before halftime. The last real action was a yellow card for Botelho after fouling Messi in the 45th minute.
The second half kicked off with a substitution. Xavi made a rare early switch with Cuenca. Cuenca took over where Xavi left off, taking many touches of the ball and involving himself from the start. Even with the introduction of another attacker, Barcelona continued its lack of goals. In the 52nd minute, Levante almost went up by two goals after a break. However, Puyol made the last minute clearance to keep the lead to one.
Two minutes later, Iniesta replaced Pedro hoping to instill more creativity in a Barcelona team that was stumped by Levante’s defense. The substitutions and Barcelona’s persistence paid off in the 64th minute when Messi equalized. Messi and Alexis played a quick one-two before Messi slotted the ball in the near post and past the goalkeeper.
With the score now level, Barcelona had renewed vigor in its performance to salvage the three point and keep the La Liga race close going into next weekend’s El Clásico. It was now Levante’s turn to be frustrated, as the 67th minute doled out two yellow cards to the side. Iborra tackled Messi just outside the box and was booked. Messi stepped up to the free kick but did not take it before Cabral joined his teammate in the referee’s book for disturbing the wall. Messi’s eventual free kick lofted over the net and out of danger for Levante.
The drama was not over yet, as another penalty was awarded, this time to Barcelona. Botelho brought down Cuenca inside the box. Although the penalty was a little soft, it may have been evening up the fairness after Levante’s penalty. Valdo and Juanfran both earned yellow cards for dissent before Messi sank the ball into the top corner to bring Barcelona into the lead.
Alexis came off for Alves in the 75th minute to give the Barcelona defense a boost after gaining the lead. Levante followed with a substitution of its own in the 80th minute. Ghezzal came on for Botelho. More substitutions occurred in the 88th minute when Levante took off Barkero and Iborra for Juanlu and Suárez.
Barcelona notched those precious three points and kept the league title race alive for another week. With El Clásico looming, Barcelona should realize how much it has to fight for. Yes, a trophy is on the line, but the players should not forget that this is what they love. They can play a game they enjoy and live out their dreams every day. If the death of Morosini means anything, it is that life is too short and you never know when or how it will end. Barcelona and culés alike should take advantage of the moments they have feeling the passion that this sport invokes.
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