FC Barcelona kept the point gap down to three points heading into El Clasico with a 5-0 win over Levante at the Camp Nou. Cesc Fabregas got the ball rolling with an early finish and doubled the advantage with a header on the half-hour mark. Isaac Cuenca made it 3-0 before half-time before Lionel Messi and Alexis Sanchez completed the rout in the second half with goals of their own. Heading into the Bernabeu on the back of this performance will be a huge confidence booster.
With Real Madrid registering a 3-0 win over Sporting Gijon prior to kick-off, it meant that FC Barcelona were again six points behind their rivals. Pep Guardiola opted for a 3-4-3 as predicted here, and it wielded instant results.
Just three minutes on the clock and Barcelona put themselves ahead. Lionel Messi dropped deep to receive the ball, took a few strides forward and supplied Andres Iniesta with a pass. Iniesta improvised, back-heeling the ball to the run of Cesc Fabregas who took a touch before dispatching the ball into the bottom corner. Such composure, such build-up, such great football and Barcelona were ahead.
The movement of the Barcelona players was proving too difficult to defend for Levante, despite the nine men behind the ball. The Blaugrana were pressuring in groups, passing the ball quickly and accurately. It was a joy to behold, a real return to form for the Champions. Isaac Cuenca was given the nod ahead of David Villa and was not disappointing, offering a whole other dimension on the wing. Early on it seemed that he had the beating of Juanfran, skipping past a challenge before his cross was blocked.
Lionel Messi had been fairly quiet up until this point, dropping deep to dictate play, but he burst into life with a trademark run, jinking past two defenders and his shot would surely have caused problems for Gustavo Munua if not for the block. Then he got a chance to test the Levante keeper with a free-kick left of centre around 25 yards from goal. Taking the lay-off from Xavi he forced a save from Munua and Carles Puyol was sniffing around for the rebound but couldn’t quite capitalise.
Barcelona were carving Levante apart at will, Cesc Fabregas sending a through ball down the left wing to Alexis Sanchez who looked to be free of the defense, but Javi Venta went in on the slide tackle and brought him down. It was a deserved yellow card, although Barca could not work a chance from the resulting free-kick. However, they would not waste the chance just minutes later.
Sergio Ballesteros was goaded into a tackle by Cuenca, but arrived too late, this conceding the free-kick. Xavi stood over the ball and with an in-swinging cross he found the run of Cesc Fabregas. Fabregas rose to meet the pass and headed it into the top corner. A fine goal, if a little un-Barcelona like!
There was cause for concern around the 35 minute mark as Carles Puyol was hauled off for Dani Alves; most likely down to the clash of heads he had with Arouna Kone. It should not be too serious, but you can’t help but worry with Puyol’s injury record. That did not stop the Blaugrana, if anything it motivated them further and Lionel Messi again ran at the Levante defense. This time he shifted the ball central to Andres Iniesta, who in-turn helped the ball onto Cuenca and the winger finished in a calm manner. It was the perfect 45 minutes from Barcelona, one that perhaps signals a return to top form.
Sergio Busquets was replaced at half-time by Seydou Keita, and as he did not pick up a booking in the first half, it means he is free to play El Clasico. Barcelona started the half as they finished the second, although Levante did manage to force a save early on. Juanfran supplied the cross; Asier Del Horno tested Valdes with the header, but nothing too threatening.
Then, Barcelona upped the tempo yet again. Lionel Messi with the corner, and it was cleared as far as Dani Alves. The Brazilian displayed fine close control to keep possession before dinking a through ball in the direction of the corner taker. Cutting in from the right, La Pulga made no mistake, slotting the ball past Munua for the fourth goal of the evening. Typical Messi finish, but a world-class assist from Alves.
Just six minutes later, right on the hour-mark Barcelona completed the Manita with another lovely goal. Counter-attacking from a Levante attack, Lionel Messi ran at the defense from deep. He played the ball to Xavi, who stopped momentarily, just to play the ball back to Messi. The momentum was with the Blaugrana, and Messi found Alexis Sanchez with a fine pass. Then the Chilean cut inside the defender, tried a curler, but it was deflected off Del Horno and rebounded in off the underside of the bar.
Pep then took the opportunity to make the last change with one eye on El Clasico, and Cesc Fabregas made way for Pedro. Pedro did have a chance late on after a fine defense splitting pass from Xavi, but he hesitated with the finish and Munua made the save.
It could have been six in the dying embers, as Levante sliced two clearances and Andres Iniesta volleyed home, but for some unknown reason, the linesman called offside. Needless to say that he was mistaken, but it didn’t really matter at this point. Barcelona had the three points, and look really impressive heading into the pivotal Clasico.
Man of the match is too tough to decide; any choice from Cesc, Messi and Alexis suits me fine! In all cases, the team deserve that particular award. Next up is BATE Borisov on Tuesday, again at the Camp Nou.
¡Visca el Barca!