Sunday January 19 2014
Dogged Levante hold Barca

A hard-fought performance from Levante earned a point against Barcelona at Ciutat de Valencia.

Barca controlled possession as usual but were restricted to speculative efforts by the massed ranks of the home side.

When Barca did get through, Keylor Navas was in fine form to keep his side in it.

Loukas Vyntra put Levante into a shock lead against Barcelona but Gerard Pique soon replied to level the scores at half-time.

Vyntra converted a left wing corner, rising above Cesc Fabregas - the nearest Barca player to him - to put the home side in front after 10 minutes.

The lead didn’t last long, however, as Pique converted a Barca corner nine minutes later.

Barca dominated possession but didn’t really test Navas in the Levante goal while Joaquin Caparros’ men continued to be a threat from set pieces.

Levante were heavily beaten the last time the sides met, conceding seven goals on the opening weekend of the season.

But prior to kick-off they had conceded only 20 more throughout the rest of the campaign and entered a dogged first-half performance.

The sides will play each other twice more in the next 10 days after being paired in the Copa del Rey quarter-final.

Javier Mascherano was booked for a foul on former Liverpool teammate Nabil El Zhar, the only yellow card of an opening 45 minutes that saw a number of feisty challenges from both sides.

Lionel Messi, making his first La Liga start since he was injured against Real Betis in November, had Levante goalkeeper Keylor Navas scrambling with a free-kick but the shot was always curling wide and parity remained at the break.

Navas had to be alert to keep out a long-range effort but despite having the overwhelming majority of the ball, Barca struggled to create chances even when play resumed.

Messi finally came alive in the 59th minute, running at the Levante defence and drawing a save from Navas with the rebound from Cesc Fabregas blocked by Juanfran.

It was Messi’s 399th game for Barca but not one of his most memorable, the Argentina forward looking a little off the pace, surrounded by blue-shirted Levante defenders.

When Messi did receive the ball in a dangerous position the Levante defending was resolute, blocks and clearances raining in to prevent Messi finding a gap for a shot.

Messi appeared a little frustrated and sent Navarro tumbling near the corner flag.

Barca picked up the tempo and made better use of Martin Montoya’s surging overlaps but chances were few and far between.

Levante had arguably the best chance of the second-half shortly after the hour when Pedro Lopez’s thrashing volley was deflected wide.

It was a lightning counter-attack from the home side and a reminder to Barca that the game was still in the balance.

Valdes had to be alert twice as Levante had success with fast breaks, deep crosses and an Ivanschitz effort from distance.

Levante’s deep defensive line frustrated Barca regularly, with little space afforded for the intricate play Martino desired.

And runners from deep found themselves hitting a blue wall - if they got past one defender then another was there to cover.

It took 81 minutes for a Messi special - the run from deep - but an Ivanschitz lunge ended the dribble before it began. A yellow card followed.

Jean Marie Dongou was introduced with five minutes to play as Martino went in search of a winning goal but Levante remained dangerous on the break.

Navas kept out a Cristian Tello shot that the goalkeeper only saw late, tipping the ball past the post.

Levante’s defending got a little desperate as injury time beckoned, Juanfran booked for an agricultural foul on Alexis, but like Ivanschitz’s it was a punishment worth taking.

Les Granotes more than earned their point from the League leaders - and the result was likely celebrated in Madrid just as heartily.

Levante 1-1 Barcelona

Scorers: Vyntra 11 (Levante), Pique 19 (Barcelona)

Levante: Navas; Lopez, Vyntra, Navarro, Juanfran; Diop, Simao; El Zhar (Angel 57), Ivanschitz (Sergio Pinto 87), Karabelas; Ruben (Al Doua 73)

Barcelona: Valdes; Montoya, Pique, Mascherano, Alba; Busquets, Xavi, (Dongou 85) Cesc (Sergi Roberto 73); Pedro (Tello 77), Messi, Alexis

Football Italia website