Barça stay top of La Liga for another week after a 4-1 victory over Levante at Camp Nou tonight. Following a disappointing goalless first half, Marc Bartra broke the deadlock in the 50st minute before a goal from Neymar and a Leo Messi penalty made it 3-0 on the hour. Victor Casadesús pulled a goal back for the visitors after a Ter Stegen mistake and there was time for Messi to fire another penaty over the crossbar before the Argentinian completed the scoring with a fine individual effort.
There were plenty of surprises in Luis Enrique’s team selection. Dani Alves returned at right-back and there were first league starts of the season for Marc Bartra and Adriano Correira in defence. Sandro Ramirez and Munir El-Haddadi also started their first games of the season as Barça started with four forwards, Messi and Neymar and the two youngsters, while Sergi Busquets and Ivan Rakitic were the only recognised midfielders. The team set out in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Messi fitting in behind centre-forward Sandro.
With Levante playing a 5-3-2 system, the intention of Luis Enrique was for Messi to find space and start the moves from deep.However, the changes meant a slow start from the team as the players adapted to the new shape. Sandro was up against three central defenders and struggled to get a look in while Neymar was closely watched by Ivan Lopez. Munir was quiet on Barça’s right as he mainly worked to open space for Alves’s advances but overall there was a lack of penetration with a lack of support from midfield.
Messi tried to work his magic, having two shots saved by Ruben and heading over from Alves’s cross. He also sent Neymar through on the left only for the Brazilian to pull his shot past the far post. However, the best chance of the first half came after Ter Stegen’s long kick sent Munir away, but the young striker over-elaborated in the area, cutting inside Toño, which allowed Ruben the chance to rush off his line and block the shot. There was liitle seen of Levante going forward but on one dangerous break Ghilas got past Mascherano in the area but then sliced his shot well wide.
It was a frustrating first half to watch but the Camp Nou faithful didn’t have to wait long after the restart for something to celebrate. Bartra decided to make a charge forward and despite losing the ball, Alves was following up and he found Messi who crossed to the far post to where Bartra had continued his run. Bartra chested the ball down before hooking his shot inside the post.
Barça went further ahead in the 56th minute when Rakitic found Alves who crossed to the far post where Neymar had two bites at the cherry but squeezed his second shot through a pack of legs. Then shortly after, Neymar was brought down by Trujillo’s challenge and Messi sent his penalty high into the net to make it 3-0.
Luis Enrique chose the moment to make his only change of the game, bringing on Gerard Gumbau for his league debut in place of Busquets. Unfortunately this coincided with Barça losing a bit of control and Levante pulled a goal back when Ter Stegen failed to reach a cross from the left, allowing Casadesús a relatively easy finish. The debate over the German keeper is sure to continue but he demonstrated enough last season to deserve our patience.
It is evidently impossible to erradicate mistakes from the game and soon after Messi was guilty of another, blasting his second penalty of the night over the bar after Feddal had pulled his shirt. There might have been a third penalty but referee Fernandez Borbalán waved play on after Rakitic was felled by Juanfran’s challenge.
Messi made up for his error at the end with a typically stylish individual goal. Receiving the ball from Bartra, the Argentinian turned and ran at the defence, evading two defenders before shooting low from the edge of the area into the corner of the net.
Barça: Ter Stegen 5.5; Alves 7, Bartra 7, Mascherano 6, Adriano 5.5; Busquets 6 (Gumbau m62, 6), Rakitic 6, Munir 5.5, Messi 8, Neymar 6.5; Sandro 6.
Levante: Rubén; Iván López, Trujillo, Feddal, Juanfran, Toño; Camarasa (Ruben Garcia m80), Verza, Lerma; Ghilas (Casadesús m63), Roger (Deyverson m68).
Goals: m50 Bartra 1-0, m56 Neymar 2-0, m61 Messi (pen) 3-0, m66 Casadesús 3-1, m90 Messi 4-1.
Yellow card: m45 Verza