Barça gave a show of strength tonight with another Camp Nou manita which keeps us within sight of Real Madrid going into next week’s clásico. Cesc Fabregas got us on the road to victory with two goals and Isaac Cuenca added a third before half time. Second half goals from Leo Messi and Alexis Sanchez take our home record in the league now to a remarkable 39 goals scored with none conceded.
A week before the Bernabeu and Pep Guardiola returned to a defence of three, and it is beginning to look clear that Puyol, Mascherano andAbidal are his preferred three when we do play three at the back. The downside of this of course is that Dani Alves doesn’t fit in so easily and today he began on the bench. However, the 3-4-3 system is the one that best suits Cesc Fabregas and it didn’t take long for Cesc to make his presence felt. After just three minutes Busquets squared the ball to Messi 40 yards out, Messi quickly moved the ball forward and Iniesta played a clever flick that found its way through to Fabregas just outside the area, Cesc received in space and turned, he then shaped to curl one for the far popst before whipping a low shot that beat Munua inside his near post.
Levante were not immediately disheartened and Valdés had to stretch to reach Iborra’s header while Kone showed himself to be quite a handful for our defence early on. But while we may not have looked quite so solid defensively we looked great going forward. Isaac Cuencawas back in the side and showing his skill as an out-and-out right winger though sometimes his crossing was not so good tonight. In the fifteenth minute his centre seemed to be too deep until Messi controlled the ball brilliantly to set up Iniesta who shot over.
We were putting Levante under lotsof pressure, there was one electric run from Messi that led to a corner, Carles Puyol might have done better when Munua failed to hold Messi’s shot, and Javi Venta was booked after bringing down Alexis after a good pass from Cuenca. It was not long after this that Cuencamoved to the left side where he remained for the rest of the game while Alexis, Messi and Cesc interchanged positions at will. As soon as Cuenca had moved to the left he was fouled by Ballesteros who was also booked. Xavi flighted over the free kick and Fabregas timed his run perfectly and sent a flicked header into the top corner.
Soon after this Puyol had to go off seemingly with a bit of concussion after a clash of heads with Kone. Alves came on and almost immediately sent the ball forwardto Messi on the right, Messi cut inside and as the defence were all drawn towards him he pushed the ball on to Iniesta who again supplied the slightest touch to send the ball onto the left were Cuencawas free and he finished coolly with a low strike inside the far post. At the back we were still having a few problems and in the 38th minute Kone received from the left but with a decent chance failed to beat Valdés who then pounced on the loose ball as Alves came in to assist.
Pep Guardiola had made a controversial decision by playing Sergio Busquets despite him being just one booking away from suspension and Busquets responded with an excellent first 45 minutes. However, there was no need to take the risk any further and Keita came on at half time. We continued to dominate with a chance for Cesc after a one-two with Alexis on the right, however, we again showed our weakness defending corners and Valdés had to get across to his post to save Del Horno’s header. This sort of action mattered little tonight as we could have conceded without it making any difference but it is still a weakness we must work on. As it happened we went straight up the other end and scored, Alves playing in Messi inside the area and Messi controlled and finished with typical efficiency. However, Messi wasn’t so good a few minutes later when he failed to get proper contact on Cuenca’s return pass. But on the hour Barça scored the fifth and it was the best of the game. Eric Abidal found himself crowded in by the corner flag but he managed to find a pass up the line which Alexis flicked on to Messi who played the ball on to Xavi on the right, Xavi quickly played the ball back to Messi who changing the direction of the attack found Alexis spurting into the area, Alexis controlled and got in a shot that took a slight deflection off Del Horno’s back before finding its way in off the underside of the bar.
The last half hour was somewhat uneventful in comparison to the first hour but Pedro came on and looked lively while Alexis had a good finish to the game. Messi should have scored from close range but mishit his volley after Alexis had flicked on Xavi’s corner and with just a couple of minute to go Iniesta had a goal disallowed but somebody will have to tell me why. A defender mishit the ball and when the ball came down Iniesta judged it well to volley into the far corner. I’m really not sure why the goal was disallowed but if it was for offsifde the officials were clearly mistaken as the ball came from an opponent. In the very last minute Valdés earned himself a stupid yellow card for protesting to the ref. It won’t affect him playoing in the Bernabeu but he may come to regret it if he reaches five yellows this season.
Overall it was a splendid performance which will do us good going into next week’s game. There is the fascinating possibility that we may go to the Bernabeu and play a defence of three. I have to admit I have not thought it likely before as the three-man back line is usually to play opponents who play a two-man attack. However, Levante played a 4-2-3-1 and we still played the 3-4-3 successfully, though I think if we do go for the 3-4-3 then we may well see tonight’s starting XI again which could see Alves sacrificed. It’s a tough one to call but this week we will talk more about possible line-ups and formations for the Clásico, of course we have the Champions League game with BATE first but as the points don’t matter in that game I’m sure our attention from now until next Saturday will be 100% devoted to preparing to beat Madrid.
Barça: Valdés 7.5; Mascherano 7.5, Puyol 7 (Alves m36, 7) Abidal 6.5; Busquets 8 (Keita m45, 7), Xavi 7.5, Iniesta 7.5, Fabregas 8 (Pedro m72, 7); Cuenca 7, Messi 7.5, Alexis 7.5.
Goals: m4 Fabregas 1-0, m33 Fabregas 2-0, m37 Cuenca 3-0, m55 Messi 4-0, m61 Alexis 5-0.
Barça yellow cards: m45 Fabregas, m91 Valdés