Messi secures vital win
Barcelona found it hard going against Levante but eventually managed to secure a hard-fought three points thanks to Lionel Messi’s 76th minute strike.
It was a vital win for Ronald Koeman’s men after defeats to Cadiz and Juventus and ahead of a big week that brings games against Real Sociedad, Valencia and Real Valladolid.
Initially it looked like being more of the same. Koeman’s line-up was predictable, the team lacked width and pace and once again looked vulnerable to a quick counter.
Yet Barca did create lots of chances and were finally rewarded when Messi struck his fifth goal of the season in La Liga to take all three points.
De Jong to the fore
There has been plenty of talk about Frenkie de Jong this season and his role at Barcelona and even recent rumors that he remains a target for Bayern Munich.
De Jong is still to bring his Ajax form to Barcelona on a consistent basis but Sunday was a much-improved showing from the Dutchman who impressed with his driving runs forward.
The Barca midfielder grabbed an assist too after winning possession up high and then sending Messi through on goal with a perfectly-weighted pass.
Frenkie de Jong during Barcelona 1-0 Levante— Dutch Football (@FootballOranje_) December 13, 2020
5 chances created (more than any other player)
1 assist for the winning goal
91.5% pass accuracy
3 completed dribbles
A much improved showing from the Dutchman. pic.twitter.com/jvmXUNlbb0
De Jong admitted after the match once again he still needs to improve and wants more assists in a Barcelona shirt. Sunday’s showing was definitely a step in the right direction for the 23-year-old.
Time for Plan B at free-kicks?
It seems wrong to even suggest this but might it be time for Barca to think about a Plan B when it comes to free-kicks? Messi’s touch seems to have deserted him for now, and most teams also tend to ensure they have all 11 players behind the ball when the skipper steps up.
16 - Lionel Messi has attempted more direct free-kicks than any other player in the top five European leagues this season, failing to score with his 16 attempts. Strange. pic.twitter.com/MZhUkqe5uL— OptaJose (@OptaJose) December 13, 2020
Messi’s free-kick record is, like everything else, pretty extraordinary and there’s always that little surge of hope whenever he steps up to a free-kick around the penalty area.
Yet his record at the moment suggest it might be a good idea to share the free-kick taking responsibilities for a while or maybe even try something new to give opponents something else to think about. Remember the little chip to Luis Suarez to head home against Celta Vigo back in June?
Solid showing from Araujo
Koeman had complained about his team’s defensive performances in recent weeks and the rash of errors made by his backline but must have been pleased with his team’s clean sheet.
Ronald Araujo enjoyed a strong game at center-back on what was his first La Liga start since October after injury. The Uruguayan conceded a penalty against Juventus in midweek but didn’t put a foot wrong against Levante and will surely have impressed Koeman.
With Clement Lenglet still a long way off his best form and Gerard Pique out for several months it was reassuring to see Araujo looking commanding at the back. Far stiffer tests await of course but this was a promising outing from the Uruguayan.
Koeman still searching for right mix
Koeman’s men may have taken the three points but still look some way off being title challengers with the new coach still searching for the right mix.
Philippe Coutinho was back in the starting XI alongside Antoine Griezmann, Messi and Martin Braithwaite but continues to struggle and will be lucky to retain his place.
Barca looked far more dynamic once Pedri had entered the fray in the second half, although Koeman’s decision to once again ignore Miralem Pjanic and Riqui Puig is pretty baffling.
What is certain is that Barca will need to be much better if they are to see off Real Sociedad on Wednesday. Yet victory for Barca would cut the gap to six points with two games in hand.