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Copa del Rey: Levante UD 1-4 FC Barcelona: Match Review

Cristian Tello's hat-trick led Barcelona past a spirited Levante side that looked poised to record another upset against the Catalans.

Manuel Queimadelos Alonso

In the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarter-finals between FC Barcelona and Levante the Catalans earned a three goal advantage. It looked bleak for Barça after the first half as Nabil El Zhar fired the hosts in front, but a two man show by Lionel Messi and Cristian Tello turned the game around in the second. It started with Juanfran scoring an own goal, but the story of the match will be Tello's hat-trick and Messi's trio of assists.

Levante UD

FC Barcelona




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Once again there were no major surprises in the starting line-up for Gerardo Martino's Barcelona. The defensive rotation continued as all of the players that started in the back four over the weekend stayed either on the bench or in Barcelona. Sergi Roberto got a start in midfield alongside Xavi, as did Alex Song who replaced Sergio Busquets at defensive midfielder. Just about the only, albeit minor, surprise came in the front three where Tello received a rare start in Alexis Sanchez's usual spot.

Levante started very well, with good pressure on Jose Manuel Pinto's goal, and after just a minute of play Jordi Xumetra was played behind the Barcelona back-line. Luckily for Barcelona Xumetra was caught up to by Carles Puyol who caused enough problems that the Levante winger fired wide of the goal. Quickly thereafter David Barral had a chance of his own, but Barcelona defended very well.

After five minutes Barcelona were finally able to register their first shot. Pedro created the play with a strong run from the right side and when he cut to the middle he fired a shot straight at the far post.

After the early chances on both sides the game settled down a bit with Levante forming a very tight defensive perimeter, though it was position slightly higher than in the league game on Sunday. The game was mostly played in Barcelona's attacking third, but all the Catalans had to show for after 15 minutes of play were five corner kicks and no shots on goal.

Frustration because of the lack of actual scoring chances was clearly seen on the face of Tata Martino whose reactions were much more expressive than usually.

It would not be until the 23rd minute that Barcelona would get a good scoring chance. Lionel Messi brilliantly found Adriano Correia with an over the top pass, but the first touch let the Brazilian down and the chance went begging.

At the half hour mark the fans at the Ciutat de València saw the first goal of the game, and much to their delight it was scored by El Zhar. Obviously the goal came from a set piece, a free kick from the left side, one that could've been cleared by Puyol had he headed the ball away instead of into the danger area. There El Zhar blasted it on goal, but his try was amazingly kept out by Pinto, however, the rebound went right back to the Morocco international who knocked the ball in before Marc Bartra could clear it.

After the goal Barcelona continued with their less than impressive game, struggling to create anything of note in the attacking third. Though on a couple occasions they created dangerous counter attacks for Levante, however, in the end they didn't result in much. The Valencia-based side were once again very compact while defending, allowing no space between the two lines of player. The midfield was especially congested, forcing Barcelona to send numerous crosses from out wide that mostly just went over the heads of everybody.

Barça were finally able to get some sustained pressure toward Levante's goal in the final minutes of the first half when Pedro was able to create a chance with another good run, but his cross flew a couple inches over the head of Messi. They also won a few corner kicks to bring their total to an incredible nine kicks from the flag, however, all of them were easily cleared by the Levante defense.

Barcelona started the second half in very positive fashion, making a couple good runs at the Levante defense. Pedro was once again the main creator in the early going sending a good cross to near the penalty spot where Sergi Roberto wasn't able to get a shot on goal. Not even a minute later Dani Alves sent what appeared to be a perfect cross for Messi to just tip in, but the Argentine was unable to get the crucial touch.

Barcelona's pressure finally paid off in the 53rd minute after one of the most fortuitous bounces of the year. Tello was brilliantly played behind the line by Messi, and while under pressure in the penalty box the youngster put a shot on goal that in all fairness should've been held by Javi Jimenez. But it wasn't and the ball came to Loukas Vyntra who attempted a powerful clearance that caught Juanfran and bounced into the back of the net for the equalizer.

On Levante's first attack after the goal a dangerous ball was played into the six yard box that was cleared by Puyol. Unfortunately the captain was caught on the left leg by Xumetra and after a couple minutes of treatment on the sidelines he was unable to return and was replaced by Javier Mascherano.

Barça looked like a completely different team since the restart with Messi dropping a bit deeper where he found enough space to operate. From there he created the first goal and from nearly that same position he played Tello through again in the 60th minute and this time Tello was able to finish the play himself to put Barcelona in front.

The visitors continued to pile on the pressure and just two minutes later Messi had a great chance to add to the lead after he was nicely found by Alves just inside the box. However this time Jimenez made no mistake and made his best save of the game. The Levante goalkeeper made an even better save after another three minutes past, this time on Xavi's clever little flick from a good position.

In the 71st minute Messi had his best scoring opportunity of the game, after a beautiful through pass by Alves, but his shot was blocked by the returning Vyntra. Four mintues later, after some lovely passing by Barcelona, Messi had another shot, but once again he was unable to get it past Vyntra, who blocked it for what was Barça's 14th corner kick. Before the kick was (unsuccessfully) taken Tata Martino completed his second substitution, replacing the hard working Pedro with Alexis Sanchez.

Tello and Messi combined once again in the 81st minute to double Barcelona's lead. After making a good run through the middle, Messi found the onrushing Tello from the left side. Tello fired a decent shot on goal that squeaked under Jimenez for the 3-1 Catalan lead. At this point one had to wonder if Barcelona would score any one of these three goals had Keylor Navas been the man between the posts. Jimenez did make several good saves, including saving Tello's long range try in the 83rd minute, but he will surely feel he could've prevented at least two of them.

With two goals scored already Tello surely began to wonder at this point if he will be able to complete his first Barcelona hat-trick. Those thoughts were answered in the 86th minute when for yet another time Messi found Tello making a perfectly timed run. One-on-one with the keeper Tello gave Jimenez no chance to deny him of a well earned hat-trick.

Barcelona had a couple more chances to add to the lead, but with the healthy advantage in hand nobody will be too disappointed about the missed opportunities. Barcelona are now in a commanding position going into the second leg that will be played on Wednesday. But a greater task awaits Blaugrana before the return game as on Sunday they will play host to Malaga, who have been struggling this season, spending most of it in the bottom half of the La Liga standings.

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