Match Reviews

Barcelona 1-0 Levante, La Liga: Match Review

Barcelona were able to survive a last minute push from relegation-threatened Levante to secure a 1-0 win and officially become crowned champions of the 2018-19 La Liga season. Until taking the lead midway through the second half, courtesy of who else but Lionel Messi, the hosts were by far the better side on the pitch, but threatened with the loss, Levante mounted a strong offensive, but ultimately fell short.

With the title on the line, Ernesto Valverde fielded a strong starting lineup, but some rotation remained with the Champions League looming. Most notably, Messi and Sergio Busquets stayed on the bench while Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele both started.

Barcelona wasted no time in their effort to secure the last three points to secure the title, and less than two minutes in, the hosts had their first opportunity to open the scoring. The play started deep in Barcelona territory with Nelson Semedo making a crucial pass to Dembele to start the break. In the final third, Dembele combined with Arturo Vidal who found Luis Suarez inside the area, who quickly fired on goal, but Aitor Fernández made a strong save.

Three minutes later, the shot-stopper was called into action again, this time denying Coutinho’s try from outside of the area. From the ensuing corner kick Barcelona threatened again, but neither Clement Lenglet nor Gerard Pique could get the crucial touch. The visitors offered little in attack in the opening stages, but even when they ventured forward, the Catalan defense easily coped with the danger.

After a lively opening ten minutes, the next ten offered little excitement, but as soon as the clock struck 21, Barcelona were at it again, with Suarez making a powerful run down the left side, before powering a drive on goal, but Aitor showcased lightning quick reflexes, flashing the right hand to make a great save. Four minutes later Barcelona had another chance, this time Arthur finding Coutinho in enough space inside the area to test Aitor, but the goalkeeper again made the save. Aitor won another battle with Coutinho the very next minute as the Brazilian’s header went too much down the middle to cause more problems.

The duo were at it again in the 27th minute, Coutinho taking aim from outside of the area, but the 27-year-old goalkeeper was in perfect position to make another save – his seventh. More excitement came in the 31st minute when Suarez went down inside the area, but Ricardo De Burgos Bengoetxea waved play on. Coutinho’s frustrating, yet highly eventful, night continued in the 41st minute when he stepped up to take a free kick won by Suarez, but the Brazilian’s shot rattled off the crossbar. The halftime whistle blew quickly after the conclusion of the 45 minutes, and the two sides somewhat shockingly went into the break scoreless.

Coutinho surely would like to have finished off at least one of his scoring chances, but he would not get a chance to feature on the scoreboard as he was left in the dressing room during the break, replaced by Messi. Messi quickly became highly involved, first combining with Dembele to create a half-chance that was cleared at the last second, and then taking a shot from the edge that was saved.

Barcelona continued to push forward and Levante were struggling to contain the Catalans, but the scoreless tie remained. That appeared destined to change in the 57th minute as Aitor was a mere spectator of Ivan Rakitić’s curling effort, but the ball whistled wide of the far post. Dembele attempted a similar shot three minutes later, but the result was similarly disappointing.

In the 62nd minute, the deadlock was finally broken. Dembele’s run from the left sideline in between two defenders was crucial as at that point the attack appeared dead, but that move to the middle broke the play wide open. However, the play stalled now on the right side, but a lucky bounce to Vidal allowed the Chilean to head the ball forward to Messi who juked past two defenders and slotted the ball out of Aitor’s reach and inside the far post for the deserved lead.

A lapse in concentration in defense immediately after the restart almost allowed Levante to level the score, but Marc-Andre ter Stegen made an excellent save on Borja Mayoral. From the following corner kick ter Stegen had to be alert again, punching the ball away. A couple minutes later, Barcelona’s carelessness on the ball, first by Rakitić, then by Jordi Alba, led to two excellent chance for the visitors. First José Luis Morales aimed wide while one-on-one with ter Stegen, then Enis Bardhi fired a close range free kick right into the wall.

Sloppiness from the Catalans continued as Levante continued to press forward, and Barcelona couldn’t organize their ranks, allowing the visitors to remain dangerous. Valverde made his second substitution in the 73rd minute – Busquets replaced Arthur. Barcelona finally returned to the attack with 15 minutes left to play and immediately there was danger for Levante, but from a very good spot Vidal couldn’t power his shot on goal.

Shortly thereafter ter Stegen was called into action again, calmly making a tricky save look easy. The back and forth action continued with Messi taking the next stab at changing the score, but again Aitor made the save. Sergi Roberto was the last Barcelona player to enter, in the 84th minute, replacing Dembele.

With time running out and points needed to maintain top-flight status, Levante were pushing forward, often leaving acres of space to exploit, but Barcelona couldn’t add to their lead. Not only that, Levante came within an inch of tying the game up in the 90th minute. Indecisiveness in defense allowed Bardhi to take a shot that hit the far post and bounced back into the hands of ter Stegen. Two minutes were added on and Levante continued to push for the equalizer. Barcelona were able to defend a last minute corner kick, and with three games to spare Barcelona were crowned La Liga champions for the 26th time in their history and their eight title in eleven years.

After a short period of on-pitch celebrations, the RFEF president Luis Rubiales handed the trophy to the captain, Lionel Messi, to hoist, and present to his teammates and fans. The celebrations will be short lived, however, as all of Barcelona’s focus will now turn to the Champions League where on Wednesday Liverpool awaits.

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