Barcelona continued with their perfect start to the 2015-16 La Liga season with a win against Levante. After a scoreless first half it appeared Barcelona would find it difficult to continue their streak, but three quick goals from Marc Bartra, Neymar and Lionel Messiwere enough for the Catalans to make it four wins out of four games. Víctor Casadesús scored what proved to only be a consolidation goal midway through the second half as Messi would late in the game add another insurance goal.
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Barcelona’s lineup was quite a surprise. It started at the back where Jordi Alba was given a rare night off and was replaced by Adriano Correia. Joining him in front of Marc-Andre ter Stegen were Dani Alves, Bartra and Javier Mascherano. Though that was the least surprising part. The midfield, despite different early reports, featured only Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitić. Playing in front of them, behind the striker Sandro Ramirez, was Messi as a central attacking midfielder, a No. 10 if you will. On the wings were Neymar and another youngster, Munir El Haddadi.
Levante started the match from midfield, but, as expected, it were Barcelona who immediately took possession of the ball and started pushing forward for the early breakthrough. Playing a deep line with five at the back, Levante’s game plan was no surprise – hold a solid defensive line and hope for a chance on a quick counter-attack. Or that ter Stegen gets too far off the line…
It wasn’t one of the most exciting starts to the game as Barcelona dominated the ball while Levante hung back and never really thought twice about just heaving the ball as far away as possible when they gained possession. But Barcelona struggled to break through Levante’s organized defensive ranks, and the Catalans didn’t get a good look on goal until the 15th minute when Messi almost capitalized on a little game of penalty box flipper, but his end product was easily saved by Ruben.
That minute also marked the beginning of a time in which Levante opened up their ranks a bit and even launched their first attack(s) of the game, but the defensive line and ter Stegen did their job excellently. With Levante now thinking about attacking, Barcelona suddenly had a bit more space in the visitors’ third. Barcelona’s first really good scoring chance came in the 22nd minute when Messi sprung Neymar, but with plenty of time and space, the Brazilian rushed his shot and badly missed the target. Just six minute later, Barcelona would have their best chance of the match up to this point. After a long ball from Barcelona’s third, the Catalans would go on a three-on-two, but Munir decided to do everything on his own. In all, it wasn’t a bad try from the youngster, but the goalkeeper made the save while Munir had wide open teammates to his left that would’ve been left with an easy finish to the open net.
Levante would continue to occasionally threaten amid the constant Barcelona pressure, but the visitors struggled to test the Barcelona goalkeeper. They seemed to have finally gotten in a great position to put a shot on target in the 35th minute, but Bartra made an excellent play to disrupt a dangerous attack. Barça immediately replied to that with a chance of their own, but Messi’s 20-yarder was well saved by the goalkeeper. The rebound though, fell right to Sandro who was unable to direct the ball into the empty net.
Messi would have another chance three minutes later, but his header whistled over the crossbar. The Argentine would get one more shot at opening the scoring in the dying moments of the first half. Verza committed a foul 20 yards from goal to the right, in other words, in a perfect spot for Messi. Messi indeed took the free kick, but his shot missed the target completely, prompting referee David Fernández Borbalán to whistle for halftime.
During halftime, both managers came to the conclusion that neither needed to make any changes this early in the match, resulting in both sides starting the second half with the same elevens they started the match with.
Barcelona came storming out of the gate once again, hoping to do what they failed to do in the first half, score a quick goal. And they did, in the 50th minute. Like Gerard Pique does so many times, Bartra went on a run forward, positioning himself as the striker. Messi immediately saw that Bartra had space and supplied him with an excellent ball that the center-back brilliantly controlled with his chest and calmly slotted it into the back of the net to open the scoring.
The goal lifted Barcelona’s spirits and the Catalans were quickly back on the attack. Messi again turned provider, this time to the onrushing Neymar, but the Brazilian was unable to get on the receiving end of the ball. But Neymar would not be discouraged by that, and in the 56th minute he would finally find the back of the net, sending the ball through the legs of two defenders and just past the goalkeeper.
That would not be the end of Barcelona’s scoring run as just four minutes later Neymar was brought down in the penalty area by Ángel Trujillo for a penalty kick. Messi stepped up to take it and emphatically powered it under the crossbar to add to Barcelona’s lead. With the big lead in hand, Lucho deemed the game was all but won and decided to give Busquets some well-deserved rest. He was replaced by Gerard Gumbau.
In the 64th minute it seemed that Messi would pick up his second assist of the night as Munir finished off the play with a lovely finish, but the goal was correctly ruled out for offside. With nothing left to lose, Levante started looking for their chances in attack and they were quickly rewarded for their positive play, aided by another ter Stegen mistake. The German goalkeeper left his line and missed the high cross which fell directly to Casadesús, who simply sent the ball into the open net.
Levante continued with good pressure toward Barcelona’s goal and Barcelona’s once healthy lead suddenly looked in danger. The visitors were constantly buzzing in Barcelona’s third while the Catalans struggled hold on to the ball, making numerous wayward passes along the way.
But Barcelona managed to hold on to the two goal lead and even went on to create a few good looking scoring chances. The first came in the 75th minute when Messi was brought down in the penalty area for Barcelona’s second spot kick of the night. Again it was Messi who took responsibility, but unlike the first time, he was unable to put the ball into the back of the net, this time firing over the crossbar. Minutes later, Rakitić forced a turnover deep in Levante territory and it seemed he would go alone on goal, but he waited too long and under pressure from the defender the Croatian wasted the chance.
In the last minute of regulation, Bartra returned the favor to Messi and provided him with a lovely ball that Messi continued with to a better scoring spot to beat Ruben and complete the scoring. Barcelona now face another tough away game, at the Balaídos where they will take on the always tough Celta Vigo.