Pedro provides hard-fought win (2-1)
Barça started 2011 with a harder win than expected against Levante. Pedro’s second half brace took some of the limelight away from Xavi, who equalled Migueli’s record for appearances.
Barça always seem to struggle in their first games back after Christmas, and the same happened today against Levante. In an uncomfortable, gritty affair they failed to find the net in the first half, and seemed to be missing Messi as they battled to find a way through the tight visiting defence. But after the restart, Pedro stepped up with two goals in thirteen minutes. A Stuani goal ten minutes from the end made for a nail-biting finish, but Barça clung on for their eleventh consecutive league victory.
Lack of space
The game started with everyone but Valdés in the Levante half, and Barça were clearly finding it difficult to find any spaces. Instead, they resorted to long shots, with Iniesta (min 7), Villa (min 13) and Pedro (min 40) all making sure that Reina had plenty to so in the first half.
One way traffic
Levante blocked the midfield, but as the game progressed, they started finding more fluid combinations as they gradually wore down Luis García’s ultra-defensive gameplan. But Levante managed to produce the occasional attack, which generally ended with hopeful crosses that failed to find the strikers among the Barça defence that was so expertly marshalled by the unusual centre back partnership of Busquets and Abidal.
It was a Barça monologue, and a seemingly interminable series of corners ensued, in which Reina proved time and time again to be somebody very difficult to outwit.
Levante had hung on brilliantly, but the second half was just a minute old when Pedro finished off a move started by Alves and continued by the record-breaking Xavi. The goal gave Barça the breathing space they needed, and it was a far less tense affair from that moment on, and a similar series of passes led to the second, which was also converted by Pedro with an expertly delivered drive.
Barça restructured the midfield, with now featured Xavi, Keita and Thiago, the latter setting up the chance for Pedro to complete a hat trick, but his 71st minute shot struck the crossbar. But just when it looked like it was all over, the Uruguayan Stuani pulled one back with a tremendous left-footed strike. There were ten minutes left, and Levante clearly believed they could get another, while Barcelona desperately went in search of a third goal to settle the result. Barça looked the more officious in their methods, while there was a certain innocence to Levante’s hopeful long balls in search of a miraculous equaliser.
Once the final whistle had blown, the fans were able to celebrate by listening to Xavi, who spoke to the crowd in the company of the rest of the squad. It was a fine way to end a far more nerve-racking evening than most of us had expected.
Preview Sixth meeting at the Camp NouThis will be the sixth time that Barça have hosted Levante for a league fixture. They won all the last five meetings, the most recent by a comfortable 5-1 in the 2007/08 season.
Tricky game to start the yearJordi Clos
Barça, who have a habit of slipping in their first games after the festive break, restart their league campaign tonight against Levante at the Camp Nou. Xavi could equal Migueli’s record for appearances, but none of Messi, Piqué, Puyol or Afellay can
There is not much Guardiola has not achieved at Barcelona, but New Year seems to be a difficult time for him. In 2009, Barça had to come from behind to beat Mallorca 3-1, while in 2010, Villarreal became the only team to get a point at the Camp Nou all season.
So the team are warned as they go into their first encounter of 2011 against Levante, despite riding high in the table and having scored 41 goals and conceded just 4 in their ten League outings. Barça ended 2010 is incredible form, and tonight we shall see whether that form is going to be varied over to the new year.
Barça cannot field their winter singing Ibrahim Afellay as the transfer window doesn’t officially open until January 3. And the club has also allowed Leo Messi to extend his holiday, while Piqué is suspended and Puyol is injured. But the good news is that both Milito and Jeffren are back from injury, while Guardiola has also drafted in reserve team players Bartra, Thiago and Víctor Vázquez. With both the usual centre backs out, the biggest question mark is over what he will choose to do with his defence.
Tribute to two legends
But the man of the moment is Xavi Hernàndez. If picked, he will equalise Migueli’s record of 549 appearances for Barça. Migueli himself, who last played for the club twenty years ago, has been invited to take the honorary kick off.
Levante are looking to bounce back from their humiliating 8-0 cup defeat at the Bernabéu. After ending 2010 in such sorry fashion, they will be hungry to make amends. Their home form has been good enough in the league (10 points) but they have only collected five point s on the road. And if they are to spring a surprise, they’ll have to do it without their injured star striker Felipe Caicedo.