Barcelona 5-0 Levante: Watch out Madrid, this Manita Machine is headed your way!By: Isabella | December 4th, 2011
If ever Barcelona needed a show of intent, last night was that moment. And boy did we deliver.
Days away from the first clasico of the season, trailing points to that very upcoming nemesis, plagued by recurring injuries, a seemingly flaky sense of public confidence (A LOSS to GETAFE??!!! This team must be FALLING APART!!!!) last night’s game at the Camp Nou held more importance than both the timing and opposition might have suggested. It’s been a more difficult beginning than last season, although, let’s remember, the very same shaking of heads and murmers of gloom were in evidence until silenced by that already legendary 5-0 against Real Madrid. Barca’s fitness, and game plan always has this period of shakier play, as the team work their way up to their physical and mental peak for the most momentous game(s) of the season. Which, oh so coincidentally, is coming right up. And I’ll gladly take a 5-0 scoreline for the warm up game…
Last night’s match was also a special occasion for a further two reasons: It was Pep Guardiola’s 100th game as the Barca mister, and David Villa’s 30th birthday. And when even the ‘but it’s my birthday – literally’ line can’t get you into the starting XI, you’ve got to be feeling just a little concerned – a feeling exacerbated when your replacement for the night is a La Masia wonderkid who’s scoring more than you at the moment. Ouch.
The line up Pep rolled out was slightly rejigged from last time around: The XI consisted of:
Valdes, Masch, Abidal, Busi, Alexis, Xavi, Iniesta, Cesc, Messi and Cuenca.
For the majority of this game Barca seemed to be playing a 3-4-3, with Busi dropping in behind Xavi and Iniesta in his usual deep lying defensive midfield role, leaving Puyol to anchor the defence. With Alexis and Cuenca on the wings, and Messi in his very loosely defined ‘central’ role, Cesc played just behind and around the little man, often looking to be Barca’s most dangerous means of attack in the box. Wariness of such a threat was to be affirmed within just three minutes of play, with the first goal of the night coming courtesy of the very same Cesc Fabregas. A gorgeous back heel from Don Andres Iniesta was hammered home by Fabregas from just outside the box, beautifully struck, beautifully placed. Amid the raucous cheers of the home crowd, a strange smattering of thumps could just be heard. In case you were curious, this was around 500 Levante fans smacking their palms against their face: it was going to be a long, loooong night.
Already 1-0 up, Barca were making it almost cruelly clear that a one goal lead was not going to be nearly enough. Youngster Cuenca, labelled ‘promising’ about 68 times by the commentators in my match, was from the outset displaying a confidence (and skill) with the ball not often seen in someone not only young, but newly playing with one of, if not the (ok, the) most intimidating team in terms of talent in the world. In the first twenty minutes he had already made a couple of Messi like runs, and decent crosses into the box, just inches away from an onrushing Messi. Shots from the Argentine himself were also deflected, or batted frantically away from a miserable looking Munua, Levante GK, who often looked moments from simply throwing his hands up in the air and trudging off the pitch for a warm shower and some home cooked Valencian paella.
Barca were dominating, Levante were running – and running, and running, but it took quite a lot longer than perhaps expected for Barca – and for Cesc – to get their 2nd goals respectively. And, most uncharacteristically of Barcelona, from a header no less! A rather ugly looking foul on Cuenca by Ballesteros, which flipped the winger into the air in time for an awkward landing led to a yellow card and a free kick, this time taken by Xavi. His high and curling ball was met by a running Cesc from deep, and having thrown off Del Horno’s rather lame marking met the ball with a perfectly glancing header to help it on its way into the top corner of the net. 2-0
The euphoria from the goal was short lived, however, as a dazed looking capita himself, Puyol, was subbed off in the 36th minute for Alves. Nervous looking cules everywhere were seen checking their diaries and gulping as their eyes fell once again on the highlighted, encircled, exclamation marked, laminated date of El Clasico Numero Uno on Dec 11th. But set your fears aside: momentarily at least. News leaked from the depths of the Camp Nou physio room (where Afellay has set up a bed, put up posters, and brought in his Xbox) that after a knock on the head, Puyi felt pretty groggy, but it’ll be nothing serious. So, for once, not a hamstring injury, and for once, nothing long lasting!
And of course, worry after Puyol’s substitution was short lived as only a minute later CUENCA made it 3, with a shot so calm and collected he may as well have been rolling in the ball with a toe from a reclining chair, whilst smoking a cigar and wearing a scarlet velvet robe. It was a piece of brilliant play: back in our half, King Abi recovered the ball and flicked it to Messi for a lightening quick counter: his run interrupted by those annoying individuals, defenders, he passes to Xavi, who passes it back to Messi, who rolls it to Cuenca, who simply passes it into the net, assuredly, confidently, and successfully. It was a brilliant culmination of a brilliant half for him. A pure winger, unlike perhaps any Barca currently have on their roster, he plays on the left and the right, and does not need to cut inside with the ball, perfectly happy to continue his run and cross whilst hugging the touchline. As everybody keeps bleating, he does indeed offer Barca something ‘different’, as does Cesc. Cue David Villa anxiously looking up different in the dictionary…
The first half ended in a flurry of niggling fouls, a couple of yellows, body checks, a scramble in front of Barca’s box – at least allowing Valdes to be able to say he actually touched the ball this half, and a Levante chance missed, making it 3-0 at HT.
With Keita replacing Busquets, and Villa replacing Cuenca – only joking on that second one – Barca launched straight back into the offensive, forcing an already weary looking Levante back on edge. Within 8 minutes, their increasingly forceful efforts paid off, and the obligatory Messi goal appeared at long last. A through ball from Dani Alves, beautifully taken as per usual, and put away past the reaching fingertips of the long suffering Munua. A relatively easy strike, and Messi’s 17th of the season thus far. Buck up a bit Lionel, or Cuenca will soon be passing your tally…
That most sweet of all numbers, the magnificent manita was made just six minutes later with a strike from Alexis: again on the counter. Receiving the pass from Messi, Alexis paused to cut in on his inside foot just long enough for us all to think he’d wasted the opportunity, but then sent a curling (yes, little bit deflected – but come on! Still gorgeous!) shot into the top of the goal mouth, over the GK’s head. Del Horno was the guilty party who helped that shot on its way, after allowing Cesc the space which brought about goal number 2. Not a great night for Del Horno yet, who subsequently asked to be subbed off, citing some sort of dizziness. (read: I don’t want to play anymore because we’re five goals down, half of which were my fault, I’m playing really badly anyway and losing makes me sad and want to go home.) So off he toddled to the showers.
Over the course of the next 20 minutes, Barca probably could have Almeria’d them, by which I mean at least 4 great opportunities were fluffed. Miss came after miss, often by that most unlikely of suspects, one Lionel Messi. Give the poor man a break though, he does get some in after all.
Pedro came on for Cesc for the last 20 minutes of the game, not doing a great deal except missing an absolute sitter. In fact, his substitution only really highlighted just how bloody well Cuenca and Sanchez been playing recently. Somehow, somehow, Levante kept the scoreline at 5, although a disallowed effort by Iniesta in the last minutes of the game looked most definitely onside, and thus should have counted. The whistle blew, Barcelona smiled, Levante started bragging to Almeria about only allowing five goals in, and it was all over. The warm up to EL Clasico was none too shabby. Actually, allow me to rephrase. It was a superb, if at times sloppy/wasteful, performance from a team who’s been feeling the pressure in recent times, and from a team who’s looking to instil a little fear – and jerk old memories….??? into RM. I, for one, cannot wait until next weekend, mostly for the fact that the most unusual 12 noon kick off will mean watching a Clasico whilst enjoying a Sunday roast lunch. Two things, until kept separate, will come together in a glorious union of roast beef, tackles, and flying piece of roast potato as my fork holding hand shakes angrily as Mourinho attempts to use another fork to stab Pep in the eye. Until next week then, because Bate midweek – does it really count?? (edit: Yes. Do read our preview in a couple of days time!)
Player ratings will be brief today, as I have a dissertation deadline. All the team gets 7.5, except Pedro who gets 6, Cuenca and Cesc get 8.5, and Villa gets 10. Visca el Barca!