Barcelona were defeated for the first time in the 2017/18 La Liga season to ending their hopes of an unbeaten season. Let down by their defense, the Catalans gave up five goals in 56 minutes, three scored by Emmanuel Boateng and two by Enis Bardhi. Down 5-1 midway through the second half, Barcelona mounted a furious comeback, making it a one goal game courtesy of a Philippe Coutinho hat-trick and Luis Suarez’s penalty with 20 minutes left to play, but the visitors’ comeback stalled and Levante were deservedly left celebrating an unexpected victory.
Similarly to last week, neither team had much to play for as Barcelona secured the title a long time ago while Levante also secured a Primera Division stay. Barcelona, though, still had the unbeaten season on the line, but Ernesto Valverde rotated again, giving a rare start to Yerry Mina and leaving Lionel Messi out of the match squad entirely.
Levante have been in terrific form lately, but Barcelona would have the early half-chances from Andres Iniesta and a Suarez free kick, but the hosts held their ground. And quickly thereafter they launched a quick counter attack from which they took the lead. José Luis Morales easily outran Mina to get into position to cross the ball into the middle. Marc-Andre ter Stegen just couldn’t reach the ball to clear it away and behind him Boateng finished the play by powering it in off the crossbar.
Just a minute later, on another counter, Levante came very close to doubling their lead. Boateng was again in the thick of it, this time getting to ball to his left to Bardhi who had a golden opportunity to score with ter Stegen out of position. The Macedonian, however, struck the ball into the crossbar and Barcelona were able to clear.
While Barcelona looked to attack in numbers, getting near the penalty area proved a fairly easy task, but then Levante’s ranks became very congested and Oier Olazabal, the former Barcelona-man in Levante’s goal, was rarely threatened. The hosts, on the other hand, were deadly on the counter attack and the lack of speed in the heart of the Barcelona defense proved problematic.
Barcelona were pushing forward, but chance-creation proved difficult. Ousmane Dembele had a shot blocked just wide in the 25th minute, but that was all Barcelona could muster, apart from the aforementioned early-game press, in the opening 30 minutes. Just after the 30 minute mark, with Thomas Vermaelen off the pitch after a hamstring injury and his replacement not ready yet, Barcelona were playing shorthanded and Levante made them pay. The Catalans defense was made to look silly with a lovely assist to Boateng who rounded ter Stegen and was able to outmuscle Nelson Semedo to double the home-side’s lead.
Gerard Pique was finally ready to join the play after the goal but by then the damage was done. Needing a big turnaround to continue their unbeaten streak, Barcelona were quickly back on the offensive. The Catalans finally had a reason to celebrate in the 39th minute when some close-quarters passing between Pique, Suarez and Coutinho led to the latter firing on goal from the edge of the area. Oier went to his left to cover the far post, but the ball took a slight deflection off Róber Pier to leave the goalkeeper going the wrong way and Barcelona halving the deficit.
The visitors continued to attack, taking their next shot in the 42nd minute when Semedo fired a howitzer from 35-yards out, but Oier made the stop. Shortly thereafter both sides had a penalty claim turned away and without a single second added on, the referee whistled for halftime.
The second half started with a bang – and not the good kind. Jordi Alba turned the ball over in transition from which Levante launched an immediate counter and scored just 30 seconds after the restart. Barcelona’s defense was inexcusably slow to react and Bardhi curled the ball in from the edge of the area. Three minutes later Boateng completed the hat-trick as once again the defense was nowhere to be found. Antonio Luna played Boateng through on goal and once again ter Stegen was left with no chance and Levante were up by three. The Ghana-born forward became the first played since Diego Forlan in 2005 to score a hat-trick against Barcelona.
Barcelona’s ship was sinking fast and the unbeaten run was fading into distance. While Barcelona looked to attack it was all Levante on the pitch who added their fifth in the 56th minute. Ter Stegen was once again hung out to dry as Bardhi received the ball through the legs of Mina, who was having a shocker, to beat the young German to the far side.
The goal-fest continued three minutes later, this time on the other side. Dembele’s rather tame shot was poorly cleared away, right into the feet of Coutinho. In excellent position the Brazilian made no mistake to score his second of the night. Valverde then completed his remaining two substitutions, taking off Dembele and Iniesta and replacing them with Denis Suarez and Paco Alcacer.
In the 64th minute, Coutinho completed his first Barcelona hat-trick. Similarly to his first goal, Coutinho fired from the edge of the area, aiming for the far post, but once again the ball took a slight deflection, this time off Suarez, leaving Oier stranded and Barcelona within two. Sergio Busquets then won a penalty for Barcelona after being hacked down on a corner kick. Suarez took responsibility and powered the ball under the crossbar. Barcelona were down by one fifteen minutes after being down by four and the Catalans’ hopes of an unbeaten season were back alive.
In the 74th minute, Suarez had a great opportunity to level the game at five as he escaped his markers to get on the receiving end of Denis’ free kick. However, the Uruguayan was unable to make Levante pay for the free header as he saw his shot sail over the bar. Eight minutes later, Paco was late in the middle for what would’ve been an easy tap in, behind him Luna came within inches of scoring an own goal, but Levante remained in the lead.
Barcelona attacked with all available forces, as a result leaving acres of space for Levante to exploit on the counter. In the 90th minute, Busquets gifted the ball to Ruben Rochina inside the penalty area for an easy goal, but the forward missed the target completely. Pique and Mina both played in attack for the dying moments of the game, but not even that brought success to Barcelona and the Catalans were defeated for the first time in the La Liga season.
Only one game left this season for Barcelona and with this loss the game against Real Sociedad will be a mere formality.