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La Liga: In First Game of 2011 Barcelona Dominate Levante, Win Narrowly 2-1

Levante made Barcelona work hard for the three points tonight but the Catalans proved to be too good as they notched their eleventh straight league victory.

The game started with a tribute to Xavi, who equaled Migueli's 21 year old record for official appearances with Barcelona at 549.

The first half was nothing to brag about. Barca started in their usual way; controlling possession but it was Levante who had the first chance of the game but Abidal made the last ditch tackle on Juanlu to clear the danger; that was basically all the visitors had to show for in the first 45 minutes.

Barcelona had trouble finding recipients for Xavi's and Iniesta's through passes, with Levante playing in a defensive 4-1-4-1 formation. Their best opportunities came when Bojan had his shot blocked on the goal line and about a minute later when both Xavi and Alves were a couple of inches short of putting the ball into the open net.

At the start of the second half Barca took the lead after a defensive breakdown by the visitors. Dani Alves suddenly received the ball on the right, waited (almost too long) then fed the ball to Pedro who buried it into the back of the net through four Levante players.

Alves and Pedro combined again in the 59th minute, this time the Brazilian passed to Perdo, who delivered an unstoppable shot past Reina from the edge of the box. Minutes later Pedro came this close to a hat-trick with the ball bouncing of the crossbar after a brilliant feed by Thiago.

Stuani pulled one back when a couple of substitutes combined in a quick counter and the Uruguayan gave Valdés no chance of stopping the volley.

Couple minutes later, the game should have been put beyond any doubt but Alves' centering pass missed wide open Villa and Pedro. Barcelona was forced back in the final moments of the match when Levante pressed for the equalizer but the Valencia based club couldn't prepare any notable opportunities.

At the beginning I was a bit worried how Abidal and Busquets (first start a center-back) would hold the defensive line with Puyol and Piqué in the stands, but they delivered a steady performance. Good news for Barcelona's depleted defensive core is that Milito returned and played the final fifteen minutes.

Thiago Alcântara had a great game; when he entered the game for Mascherano, immediately after the first goal, Barcelona started to play livelier, more effective. His passes always came straight to the foot of his intended target and he also had a dangerous shot saved. It appears the 19 year old will force Guardiola into giving him more minutes.

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