In a highly entertaining game Barcelona overturned a 2-1 1st leg deficit to overcome Levante with an aggregate score of 4-2. The Catalans were led by Ousmane Dembele who scored twice and Lionel Messi who added a goal and an assist to secure a spot in the quarter-final of the Copa del Rey.
With advancement to the next round on the line, Ernesto Valverde fielded a much stronger lineup than in Valencia, but some rotation remained. Jeison Murillo and Nelson Semedo returned to the defensive line while Gerard Pique took a seat on the bench. Sergio Busquets joined Pique there while Arthur and Arturo Vidal both started. In attack Philippe Coutinho, Dembele and Messi left Luis Suarez “relegated” to bench duties.
With a stronger eleven on the pitch than at the Ciutat de València, the Catalans looked much better on the pitch and it took just five minutes for the home side to create their first half-chance. Dembele stole the ball in Levante territory before Coutinho fired a dangerous shot from the left side just outside of the area, but his try was blocked by Rober. Barcelona looked lively in the early minutes, but there was a sense they could’ve done more had it not been for a handful of turnovers in transition.
Barcelona were buzzing though chance creation wasn’t at a high level. Still, Barcelona fired their first shot on goal in the 15th minute from a Messi-won free kick. Naturally, Messi took the kick himself, but his attempt was excellently saved by Aitor Fernández. Levante on the other hand were clearly intent on surviving a Barcelona onslaught that would’ve been enough for the Valencia-based side to advance. The visitors were looking for their chances mostly on the counter attack, but the Barcelona defense snuffed out all of their attacks.
Playing with about 75% ball possession it would’ve been fair to expect that Barcelona would spend some time with the ball inside Aitor’s area, but that was not the case early as nearly all of Barcelona’s possession was outside of 20-yards from goal. In the 25th minute though Messi was suddenly sprung down the left side of the area and fired a seemingly perfect shot on goal. Amazingly though, Aitor was able to close the five-hole just in time to redirect the ball inches wide of the post, making a save that earned a thumbs up from Messi himself. Moments later Messi turned provider, but Vidal’s header bounced over the crossbar.
Evidently though Barcelona were getting closer and they were finally rewarded at the half-hour mark. Messi forced a turnover on the right wing before finding the overlapping Dembele. The Frenchman skipped past the first defender, but last one in his way got first to the ball and looked to clear the ball. The clearance, however, bounced off Dembele, skipped over the goalkeeper and with a stroke of luck Barcelona were in the lead and in a spot to advance. Less than a minute later Barcelona doubled their lead. Messi led the hosts on the attack and found Dembele in space. The Frenchman rounded the keeper, but couldn’t get a good shot off from a tough angle. But Lady Luck came to the rescue again as the ball took just enough of a redirection off the diving goalkeeper to skip behind the goal-line.
Now in desperate need of a goal Levante started showing more life, but in turn that also allowed Barcelona more space in attack. In the 39th minute Barcelona came close to taking advantage with Dembele brilliantly finding Messi who snuck behind the defense, but the Argentine’s shot was well saved by Aitor, who also managed to stop Vidal’s attempt off the rebound. Three minutes later Messi returned the favor to Dembele, but this time the young Frenchman couldn’t finish the play off, missing wide with his chip shot.
In the final minute of the first half Coutinho went on a fabulous solo run, but he too was denied one-on-one by Aitor. Neither Messi nor Vidal could bury the ensuing rebounds as Aitor continued to rack up saves and ended the first half with an impressive eight. In the added minute Levante threatened for the first time and came close to leveling the score on aggregate, but the dangerous situation was defused when Murillo cleared the ball from inside the six-yard area.
The second half started with no lineup changes and the play was similar to the final fifteen minutes of the first. Levante were showing life, but couldn’t really break through the Barcelona ranks, while Barcelona remained dangerous amid a bit more space in the final third. Barcelona would be the first to threaten with Messi finding Coutinho who promptly found the back of the net, but the goal was correctly ruled out for offside.
The early second half dominance paid off for the home side in the 54th minute. The Catalans launched a dangerous attack down the right wing where Dembele and Semedo combined excellently. Seconds later the latter squared the ball into the area onto the path of Messi who this time made no mistake, calmly sending the ball just inches away of the goalkeeper to add to Barcelona’s lead.
Levante were shell-shocked and couldn’t get anything going and now they needed two goals to secure a spot in the next round of the competition. Barcelona on the other hand were cruising and making plays on both ends of the pitch. On defense the group as a whole performed very well to stop attacks while in attack scoring opportunities continued to come – the next in the 61st minute but once again Coutinho was denied by the keeper. That would prove to be the Brazilian’s final contribution as he was taken off for Suarez in the 63rd minute.
With the tie all but decided the tempo of play fell. Levante continued to try to score the goal that would bring them within one, but Barcelona’s attacking started to lack urgency and oftentimes the Catalans were happy to pass around a deep Levante set-up to kill time. But the hosts still created chances from time to time and in the 73rd minute Dembele came within inches of completing the hat-trick but his low show just missed the far post.
Shortly thereafter Jordi Alba received some rest as he was replaced by Sergi Roberto. In the 76th Suarez tried to surprise Aitor with a cheeky ship shot from the right side of the area, but the goalkeeper was alert to make the save. Seconds later Valverde completed his last substitution, taking off Dembele for Denis Suarez.
Levante created a dangerous chance in the 80th minute when Murillo made a foul 20 yards from Jasper Cillessen. Enis Bardhi, one of the better free-kick takers in La Liga, set himself up, but couldn’t get the ball over the wall. The final minutes of the game were a mere formality – and a chance for Denis to show some of his skill, including a lovely run and dribble in the 86th minute to set up Suarez, who couldn’t finish the play off. With Levante going on an all-out attack Barcelona had acres of space to counter attack.
In added time the visitors created their best chance of the game as Cheick Doukouré set up a perfect chance for Emmanuel Boateng who had an open goal in front of him, but the Ghana forward redirected the ball onto the post. Levante would later have another chance from a corner kick, but the referee would whistle for full time immediately after the unsuccessful attempt and Barcelona secured a spot in the next round. Who they will face there will be determined with yet another draw though the possible opponents are Real Madrid, Sevilla, Valencia, Real Betis, Espanyol, Getafe and Girona. Barcelona will be in action again on Sunday when they host Leganes in La Liga.