Barça remain top of La Liga with maximum points from four games after a comfortable 0-5 victory over Levante. Neymar Jr put Barça in front in the 34th minute and Levante’s resistance was seriously affected when Loukas Vyntra was sent off after felling Leo Messi seven minutes later. Messi missed the resultant penalty but Ivan Rakitic fired in his first goal for Barça to make it 0-2 before half time. Sandro, Pedro and Messi added second half goals to complete the rout which leaves Barça two points clear of second placed Sevilla, four points clear of Atlético and six points clear of Real Madrid.
There were few surprises in Luis Enriqué’s team selection with Claudio Bravo returning in place of Marc-Andre Ter Stegen for the league. Bravo had little to do all night but Levante looked dangerous on the break early on and the Barça keeper dealt well with everything that came his way. Barça began strongly, winning two corners in the first ninety seconds, and the pattern was set with Levante defending in numbers in a 4-3-3 formation. However, the odd sloppy Barça pass gave the home team the occasional chance to counter and Bravo made the first, and his only save of the game after a weak shot from the right in the eighth minute. Then six minutes later Rakitic gave the ball away in the opposition half and Levante broke up the right, when Morales sent in a dangerous cross it looked like Victor Casadesus might arrive at the far post but Rakitic had sprinted back to make up for his mistake by turning the ball out for a corner.
Messi had hardly been seen in the first quarter of an hour but he came to life in the sixteenth minute with an excellent ball into space for Jordi Alba who drove the ball across goal just out of reach of Pedro. Levante were forced back and the chances began to arrive for Barça. A quick passing move led to an opportunity for Neymar but Levante keeper Jesús Fernández was out quickly to save with his legs. Then a long ball from Mascherano found Neymar but with Jesús running out of his goal the Brazilian headed the ball over the keeper but wide. Neymar’s movement eventually paid off in the 34th minute when Messi sent another pass over the Levante defence, Jesús again stormed out of his goal but Neymar arrived first, touching the ball to the keeper’s left and screwing the ball in before Pedro Lopez could across in a fruitless attempt at a goal-line clearance.
Barça would almost certainly have gone on to win the game but the result became inevitable after Vyntra was sent off in the 41st minute. Iniesta chipped the ball into Messi who tried to wriggle between Vyntra and Toño only to be hacked from both sides. Referee jose Luis Gonzalez Gonzalez could have penalised either defender but he decided to show the red card to Vyntra. Messi got his penalty wrong for once, driving the ball well wide of the post. It mattered little. Two minutes later a poor defensive header from Diop fell nicely for Rakitic who charged in and sent a bullet of a shot that flew past Jesús from 25 yards with the help of a tiny deflection off Diop’s boot.
The two-goal half-time advantage combined with the numerical superiority meant the second half was always going to be a stroll. Unfortunately, after a lively first half Neymar would miss the fun after somewhat stupidly getting himself substituted. The Brazilian had already acted like he might have a serious injury in the first half when Rodas caught him in the same zone of the lower back where the Brazilian suffered his World Cup injury. However, Neymar carried on until early in the second half when a challenge from Pedro Leon left him rolling around off the pitch. It looked like it could be bad and Sandro prepared to come on. By the time Neymar realised he was about to be subbed off he reacted by signalling he was okay. But by then it was too late and Barça went ahead with the substitution with Sandro coming in on the left. It’s a shame because Neymar has been looking better this season. I’m not saying these challenges don’t hurt but I have to wonder whether Neymar rolls around for two minutes at home when he bashes his knee against the coffee table.
Sandro took full advantage of his opportunity, scoring Barça’s third seven minutes after coming on following good work from Busquets and Messi, and then playing a delightful flicked return to Jordi Alba who burst into the area to set up Pedro for the fourth in the 63rd minute. Xavi came on for Busquets which gave Rakitic the chance to play a competent half an hour as defensive midfield pivot, Sergi Roberto got 20 minutes in place of the classy Iniesta and there was even a change of positions at the back which saw Alba playing alongside Mascherano in the middle and Mathieu at left back from where he got forward to head dangerously across goal but just out of Pedro’s reach. Goalkeper Jesús finished a horrible night by letting the ball slip as he attempted to throw it, gifting the ball to Messi who showed his class with a right-footed dink for Barça’s fifth.
We would be foolish to get too excited about scoring five tonight and in many ways this was the least impressive of our league wins this season. Levante were pretty poor and after the red card the victory was never in doubt. However, the fifth clean sheet out of five is very impressive, Mathieu showed the odd dodgy moment tonight but generally very few chances have been created by our opponents this season. Whether it’s Bravo or Ter Stegen between the posts we are looking encouragingly solid at the back which is especially notable considering the number of changes this summer.
Levante: Jesús; Pedro López, Rodas, Vyntra, Toño; Camarasa, Diop (Sissoko m61), Simao; Casadesus, Morales (Ivanschitz m58); Barral (Ruben Garcia m72).
Barça: Bravo 7; Alves 6.5, Mascherano 7, Mathieu 6, Alba 7; Rakitic 6.5, Busquets 7 (Xavi m62, 6.5), Iniesta 7.5 (Sergi Roberto m71, 6.5); Pedro 6.5, Messi 8, Neymar 7 (Sandro m50, 7).
Goals: m34 Neymar 0-1, m44 Rakitic 0-2, m57 Sandro 0-3, m63 Pedro 0-4, m77 Messi 0-5
Yellow cards: m36 Mascherano, m39 Morales, m43 Busquets.
Red card: m41 Vyntra.