Barcelona are still perfect in La Liga after a comfortable Sunday evening against Levante. It wasn't the usual cakewalk, mainly because the lineup was totally different and full of usual reserves, but the Blaugrana still cruised to a good 4-1 victory at Camp Nou, with goals from Marc Bartra, Neymar Jr. and a Lionel Messi brace, with Víctor Casadesús getting the consolation goal for the visitor. This is Barça's fourth straight league victory, and the team stands alone at the top of the table again.
It's really tough sometimes to break a bus.
Barcelona had a very good initial 45 minutes, despite the heavy rotation from coach Luis Enrique. A totally new defense, 4 attackers and a 4-2-3-1 lineup showed a clear look ahead to the mini-marathon of 5 games in 14 days. But Lionel Messi and Neymar Jr. were still there, and the two were very interested in the game. Both were lively and looking for each other in almost every play, and the one-twos between them created quite a few dangerous chances.
Messi especially came very close on at least four occasions, two of them on free-kick attempts, and we even saw a header! Dani Alves didn't seem rusty from almost a month out of the pitch, and participated well in the attack. Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic provided good support to the forwards, and the center-back pairing of Javier Mascherano and Marc Bartra showed great awareness to find and cut off any counter-attack chances from Levante before they became risky.
The problem is, with all of that dominance of possession and good performance by almost the whole team, the Valéncia side was very compact in front of the box, and any time Messi or Neymar found themselves with a good chance to have a shot on goal, they saw at least seven men inside the box ready to stop the shots, and that led to no goals. After a very good first half in terms of performance, the result wasn't the best.
When you got so much talent, the bus is eventually broken.
The second half was set to be just like the first one: Barça on the attack, Levante on the bus. Neymar wasted a few counter-attacks, and when things started to get a little frustrating, Messi Magic happened: the Barça number 10 acted as one, and played a spectacular lob to Bartra, who chested it to himself and softly scored the opening goal. Just five minutes later, Dani Alves took his defender to dance with some sweet skill moves, and his cross eventually found Neymar, who needed two shots to finally break the barrier and bag the second. Just five minutes after that, and just 15 minutes into the closing half, Messi scored his goal via a penalty-kick, and the game was done.
Just five minutes after that, another goal, but this time it was for Levante. An errant cross to the box saw a terrible mistake by goalkeeper Ter Steger, and that left Casadesus free to score his team's lone goal. Levante got a little excited and went forward to test Barça's defense, but the Blaugrana struck quickly and got a penalty. It was all set up for Messi to get his brace from the spot, but he missed it horribly. He would make up for it with his trademark, run-through-the-defense-and-score-with-the-left goal in the last minute.
With the teams settling for an acceptable score for both sides, the game eventually ended in a good, comfortable 4-1 victory, and Barça remain the only team in La Liga to win all four games.
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Alves, Bartra, Mascherano, Adriano; Busquets (Gumbau), Rakitic; Munir, Messi, Neymar; Sandro
Goals: Bartra (50'), Neymar (56'), Messi (p. 61', 90')
Levante: Rubén; López, Trujillo, Feddal, Juanfran; Camarasa (Rubén García), Verza, Lerma, Toño; Ghilas (Casadesus), Roger (Deyverson)
Goal: Casadesus (66')