Even three penalties can’t stop Barca
Barcelona’s winning streak continued at Levante even though Xavi’s side gave away three penalties and came up against a home side willing to throw pretty much everything at the Catalans.
Three penalties in a game is pretty unheard of but happened at Levante, just over a week after Real Madrid were awarded a hat-trick of spot-kicks against Celta Vigo in La Liga. Conspiracy theorists will have a field day with that one.
#LOOKATTHATSTAT - Barça are the FIRST team in LaLiga history to WIN a match having had THREE penalties awarded against them.— MisterChip (English) (@MisterChiping) April 10, 2022
️ Only one team had previously managed to pick up a point after conceding 3 penalties in a match: Osasuna's draw away with Atleti in 1990.
Barca can’t really have too many complaints about either spot-kick but did brilliantly well to still take all three points on a ground where they have struggled in the past. Again Xavi’s men had to come from behind, dig in and show some real fighting spirit, and again they came up trumps.
Of course it wasn’t Barca’s prettiest performance but after such a rollercoaster match those three points will feel even more special. Barca are now 15 games unbeaten and, according to Mister Chip, the first team to win a game in La Liga after conceding three spot-kicks.
Pedri & Gavi show Barca how it’s done
Xavi opted to give Pedri and Gavi a rest for this one and started both teenagers on the bench at Levante. It was an understandable decision given Barca’s current workload but the coach ended up calling for the duo early in the second half with his team trailing.
Nico Gonzalez had been handed his first Barcelona start since January but did not really take advantage of the opportunity. Barca’s play in the first half was too slow and ponderous, lacking the intensity needed to even match a ferocious Levante.
Pedri and Gavi needed just minutes to put Barca ahead for the first time in the match with a very special goal indeed. Gavi’s run and pass was so good to watch and allowed Pedri to level with one swish of his right boot.
3 - Barcelona's Pedri González has scored three goals on aggregate in his last five appearances in all competitions, as many as in his previouos 46 games with the Blaugranas. Inspired. pic.twitter.com/wfklMVKd27— OptaJose (@OptaJose) April 10, 2022
Barca still had work to do to go on and win the game but there’s no doubt the introduction of the two youngsters was crucial. Xavi insisted after the game that Barca are not dependent on Pedri but the stats suggest otherwise.
Opta highlighted before kick-off how Barca have won 80% of their games in La Liga this season when Pedri has been in the starting XI. When the midfielder is not in the team that rate drops to just 42.1%. Telling.
Ter Stegen save a turning point
One of the key moments in the match was when Levante were awarded a second penalty, just five minutes after Levante had taken the lead with a spot-kick from Jose Luis Morales.
Eric Garcia, who otherwise had an extremely impressive match once again, was the guilty party this time around and it looked as though it was about to be goodnight to Barcelona with Levante set to go 2-0 up.
Yet Marc-Andre ter Stegen had other ideas and saved Roger Marti’s effort which seemed to breathe new life into Barca. Three minutes later Barca had equalized and suddenly the whole complexion of the game had changed again.
The Barca goalkeeper has had plenty of criticism this season, and rightly so at times, but he is certainly on the up at the moment and was definitely key to Sunday’s win.
Auba and Dembele at it again
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Ousmane Dembele were also key to the victory as the duo combined yet again to put Barca level. The striker had been virtually anonymous at Levante until he headed a delicious ball from Dembele home.
That’s now 10 in 14 games for the Gabon international since joining Barcelona on a free transfer in January. Aubameyang has already levelled Memphis Depay as the team’s top scorer in 2021-22 in 15 fewer games.
Aubameyang once again told Dembele to stay after the game and you can’t help but wonder if the striker’s presence at the club could help the Frenchman continue.
♂️ No player has registered more assists than Ousmane Dembele (11) in La Liga this season— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) April 10, 2022
He’s only made 14 appearances… pic.twitter.com/r3lGyNDQbi
Dembele is fit and already top of the assists charts in La Liga alongside Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema on 11. We still have no idea really what Dembele is thinking about his future but his joyful celebrations when Luuk de Jong scored the winner certainly did not give off the look of a man who isn’t bothered about the club.
Supersub Luuk de Jong proves vital again
De Jong came up clutch again to secure Barcelona three points on his return to the squad after testing positive for Covid-19. The Dutchman remains a very useful option off the bench and proved why once again at Levante.
Barca looked to be heading for a draw after Gonzalo Melero’s penalty had pulled the game back to 2-2 which led to Xavi sending on De Jong to find a winner. And that’s exactly what he did with a header in the dying seconds.
De Jong now has six league goals for Barcelona, only Memphis and Auba have scored more, and it’s worth highlighting also just how important his goals have been for the Catalans.
Best supersub in La Liga?— Football España (@footballespana_) April 10, 2022
Barcelona are 2nd. Without the seven points Luuk de Jong has earned them with his goals, they would be 7th pic.twitter.com/czVCbUUQMs
Xavi described De Jong as a “great option” and “an example for everyone” after the match, but it was the goalscorer himself who probably put it best.
“Scoring goals is always an amazing feeling,” he said. “But scoring in the last minutes to win the three points is something really special. I’ve done it a couple of times in my career and it never gets normal this feeling. It’s amazing.”