Pedro 47, 59
In their first La Liga game since the festive break, Barcelona produced a rusty performance against a dogged Levante at the Camp Nou.
Pep Guardiola faced the inconvenience of having his first choice centre-half partnership of Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol ruled out by suspension and injury respectively. The club may also have regretted the decision to allow Lionel Messi to extend his winter holiday, as the Blaugrana looked surprisingly toothless without their Argentine talisman.
The flexible Sergio Busquets dropped into fill one centre-back berth, teaming up with Eric Abidal. The pair just about coped, but not without hairy moments which saw Levante allowed in behind with a couple of clean strikes at goal from only yards out. Barca undoubtedly lacked the solidity provided by the usual pairing of Puyol and Pique, plus the vision and passing ability by the latter which often lights the touch paper for Barcelona attacks.
Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta tried, mostly in vain, to unlock the stubborn and sometimes aggressive Los Granotes rearguard, and without Messi there lacked the fluidity of attacking moves provided by his ability to hold onto the ball and find space in the tightest of positions. The gift Messi possesses of being able to dribble past several players and score is also a unique tool that Barcelona rely on so much. If he does not score, then there is often a rebound that falls to a teammate amid the ensuing chaos that sees most of the opposition defenders dragged out of position to close down the Argentine, thus allowing more or less of a tap-in for the awaiting Pedro, or whoever is at the front of the queue of Blaugrana players waiting to score. David Villa, who should have been stepping up to the plate in the absence of Messi, struggled to establish himself in this match. Despite coming close to scoring on occasions, his hunger for goals often clouded his decisions as he opted to shoot as opposed to finding a teammate for an easier chance.
A combination of a flagging Levante and an increase in conviction from Barcelona saw the home team go two goals ahead within the first 15 minutes of the second half. Dani Alves continued his fantastic run of assists by providing the pass for both goals scored by Pedro Rodriguez. However, Uruguayan forward Christian Stuani’s excellent volleyed finish with 10 minutes remaining proved that even Barcelona can never relax until the points are in the bag. Barca responded positively to this goal, coming close through a mazy Villa run and shot and a dangerous Alves cross that just required the deftest of touches to convert home.
This result can be reacted to in two ways. One option is to bemoan the lack of squad depth and experienced players to step in when key players are missing. Another is to go with the clich