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La Liga: Levante UD 1-1 FC Barcelona: Match Review

A recap of FC Barcelona's disappointing 1-1 draw with Levante UD

Manuel Queimadelos Alonso

FC Barcelona’s title aspirations were dealt a blow on Sunday night, as Levante UD fought for a 1-1 draw at the Ciutat de Valencia. The hosts took a surprise lead through Loukas Vyntra’s early header, and while Barcelona equalised soon after courtesy of Gerard Piqué, the Blaugrana were unable to find a winner.






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As expected, Gerardo Martino fielded a strong starting line-up for Barcelona’s trip to Valencia to face Levante; Cesc Fàbregas, Gerard Piqué, Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernández and Sergio Busquets all started as the Argentine coach made just two changes to the side that drew with Atletico Madrid last weekend.

FC Barcelona started the match strongly, and although they could not break the deadlock within five minutes as they did in the return fixture at the Camp Nou, they came close – Cesc Fàbregas’ through ball sent Lionel Messi clean-through on goal only for the assistant referee to raise his flag and call for offside. Messi’s attempted lob was saved anyway, but one has to suspect that the end result would have been quite different if not for the flag.

Certainly, the early warning seemed to indicate that Levante were in for a long night – oh how wrong that assumption was. On their first real counter attack of the night, Levante forced a corner out of the retreating Gerard Piqué and took full advantage. Austrian international Andreas Ivanschitz delivered a sumptuous cross and Greek centre-half Loukas Vyntra rose above Cesc Fàbregas to power home a delightful header, glancing his effort into the far corner of the goal. Victor Valdés could only watch in despair as his outstretched glove was still some way off making contact with the shot. Against all the odds, Levante were leading the reigning La Liga champions.

But not for long; Barcelona weren’t prepared to be humiliated – not tonight, not if they could help it. And what better way to prove that the opening goal was a fluke than to score an almost identical one at the other end? Xavi provided the delivery; Gerard Piqué backed off his man and cushioned the ball into the far corner to provide the headed equaliser. Normality was restored at the Ciutat de Valencia.

At least partially anyway. Barcelona were not yet ahead, and until they made the breakthrough, there was always going to be a touch of anxiety, a touch of nerves in the team. Just as no-one expected a repeat of the 7-0 demolition, few were expecting a game this devoid of chances. Barcelona had possession, they had territory, but they weren’t translating those advantages into the shot count.

Xavi’s driven low effort assisted by Alexis Sánchez’ selfless lay-off whistled just wide of the post – and was probably as close as Barça got to a second goal in the remainder of the first-half. If Barcelona still wanted to claim the three points, they were going to have to up the tempo, and fast.

The early action, or lack thereof in the second half demonstrated that Barcelona were evidently not pushing the tempo – but they were building towards something. Cesc Fàbregas stung the hands of Keylor Navas with a rasping drive from long-range, before displaying a touch of brilliance to set up Lionel Messi with a superb back-heel. The Argentine’s effort was parried and just as Pedro looked set to bury the rebound it was the veteran Levante captain Juanfran who leaped in to make a crucial last-ditch block. Lionel Messi’s follow-up header was also dramatically clawed off the line by the recovering Navas. It was a tremendous save, even if the header would have been disallowed for offside.

Messi got in on the action again a few minutes later, forcing another great block from the committed Levante defense. They had fought tooth and nail to keep their side on level terms and in all honesty, they deserved a reward.

At the other end, the Levante attack was keeping Barcelona honest; a header from the impressive Ivanschitz forced a good save from Victor Valdés and reminded the Blaugrana that they couldn’t push too hard in search of a winner.

Gerardo Martino made his first substitution of the night with less than 20 minutes left to play – and it was a puzzling decision. Sergi Roberto replaced Cesc Fàbregas; hardly the type of change I would have made in a high-pressure situation. The second was just as puzzling – Cristian Tello took Pedro’s place in attack even though Alexis Sánchez had been wasteful all evening. The clock was ticking, and Barcelona were not getting any closer to a winner.

Jean-Marie Dongou was readied and replaced Xavi – Barça were going for broke. Cristian Tello signalled Barcelona’s intention to ramp up the pressure with a trademark curling effort towards the far corner of the goal, but his effort was ably denied by Keylor Navas. In fact, no matter what Barça threw at Levante, they were able to stop it.

Next up, Barcelona return to the Ciutat de Valencia to take on Levante again, this time in the Copa del Rey. Until then, Visca el Barça!

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