Playing without superstar striker Lionel Messi, Barcelona were able to escape a challenge from Levante with a 1-0 victory courtesy of a Cesc Fabregas goal.
After a sluggish start from both sides, the first opportunity fell to Barcelona as Thiago Alcantara tried to touch it across the face of goal. Levante goalkeeper Keylor Navas made a sprawling save to keep the underdogs level through the first quarter hour.
It wasn't Navas' best save of the first half, though. After Andres Iniesta earned a penalty courtesy of a controversial decision, David Villa stepped to the spot and couldn't covert. Navas made a save, diving to his right as the Barca forward failed to find the corner.
The only other notable scoring chance for either side came off the foot of Dani Alves. The Blaugrana right back unleashed a laser free kick that forced Navas to make another strong parry. Levante failed to challenge Victor Valdes in the first 45.
The Granotes nearly grabbed the lead within the first two minutes of the second when Robert Acquafresca got behind the Barca defense. He proceeded to slide the ball into the net, but was ruled offside on a very close call.
After that narrow escape, Barcelona was able to take firm control of the match and started dominating possession. They struggled to generate opportunities in dangerous scoring areas, however. There were certainly times when the lack of Messi's presence was felt.
Barca really turned up the pressure inside the final 10 minutes. Alexis Sanchez used a terrific run to produce a good look for Villa, who skied it over the net. A short time later, the ball crossed though the box and couldn't be touched home.
Then, in the 84th minute, they finally broke through as Sanchez whipped in another perfect cross. Fabregas quickly slotted it past an outstretched Navas to give Barca the lead.
Levante had a few looks to pull out a draw late, but they weren't able to capitalize.
Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona): B
Fabregas played a couple different roles during the match. He started atop the formation in the middle of Villa and Cristian Tello before shifting back into a playmaking role. In both instances, he failed to generate the pressure Barca needed to put on Levante until the final stages.
But, as always, a goal can overshadow an otherwise lackluster showing. That's the case for Fabregas, who calmly took a pass from Sanchez and beat Navas. It was enough to earn three points and push Barcelona closer to the title.
Andres Iniesta (Barcelona): B-
Probably not a match that will end up on the highlight reel for Iniesta. He deserves credit for drawing the penalty opportunity, although it was a disputable call, and he made a couple other nice runs. He lacked the final touch necessary to create scoring chances, though.
These type of average performances are rare for the 28-year-old midfielder. Barcelona manager Tito Vilanova will probably be happy he got it out of the way in today's league match and hope for a strong bounce-back showing in the Champions League on Tuesday.
Robert Acquafresca (Levante): B
A good outing for the on-loan striker. If not for some bad luck, he could have given the underdogs the lead early in the second half. Should the flag not go up, and it was awfully close, his tally could have changed the course of the match.
Although he didn't get to play the role of hero, there was plenty to like about his play. His touches were limited due to Barcelona's usual possession dominance, but when he did get them, he put some pressure on the Barca back line.
Keylor Navas (Levante): A-
Navas came within one stop of stealing a point for Levante. They could have easily been down by two or three goals in the first half in not for his extraordinary play. The shot that did get past him was perfectly placed by Fabregas.
After playing behind Gustavo Munua for a majority of the league matches this season, the Costa Rica international made a statement against the top club in La Liga. The only thing that could have made it better is if his club would have earned a point.
Barcelona must prepare for a quick turnaround match on Tuesday against Bayern Munich. It's the first leg of the Champions League semifinal matchup between the La Liga and Bundesliga leaders.
Levante next takes to the pitch a week from today against last-place Celta Vigo. The Granotes should have more success against the likely relegation-bound side than they did against Barca.
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