Barcelona vs. Levante: 5 Things We Learned
The contest was notable for the Barcelona managerial debut of Gerardo Martino and the first competitive outing—albeit from the bench—for Neymar. Both men will hope to shape the future of the Catalonian giants.
The pair will delight in the setup they are entering; while Levante were subpar, Barca were dazzling and demonstrated their class and their attacking incisiveness throughout the contest.
Their seven goals served a message to the rest of the league and set down a marker for their fierce rivals Real Madrid.
Cesc: Looking the Part
So frequently overlooked and undervalued since returning to Barcelona in the summer of 2011, lost in the shuffle of his spectacular and revered colleagues, there have been times when Cesc Fabregas’ future in Catalonia had been doubted.
Having watched this contest, however, Fabregas has never looked more primed to be a vital component of Barcelona’s future.
The midfield flourished in the absence of Iniesta and delivered an absolutely breathtaking performance. His showing left none of those in attendance under any illusion as to his worth and contribution to this team.
As stated by Jason Pettigrove, Fabregas ran the Barcelona midfield; his “sublime passing and vision” were ubiquitous, and on multiple occasions he mesmerised the Levante back line.
Some of his final balls—both their invention and their execution—were from the top draw. It is to Fabregas’s great credit that Iniesta was not missed.
Levante Need to Jell, and Fast!
Anyone remember Levante’s glorious run to the Europa League several seasons ago?
Those souvenirs are a distant memory now. The side have slumped to their traditional resting place down in the league’s lower echelons.
The team finished in 11th place last term but have undergone some major surgery during the summer. Stalwart Sergio Ballesteros was let go, while a triad of influential midfielders have also departed the club.
This fixture was not the clash to begin life post-Iborra, Michel and Barkero—Barcelona didn’t give the Levante recruits a moment to find their feet or their rhythm, and the team looked horribly disjointed throughout.
The games will get easier—that is for certain—but Levante need to pick up and jell as soon as possible. If they don’t, then they risk being dragged into the mire at the league’s base.
Their fall from grace has been swift thus far, and the new Frogs need to adapt quickly to ensure they do not sink without a trace.
Messi Still the Star of the Show
While Neymar, for the fee and the fancy work alone, will attract endless attention and media focus, Lionel Messi once again demonstrated why he remains the globe’s ultimate mark of quality.
The Brazilian youngster evidenced a wonderful turn of pace and some innovative footwork. Doubtless, he will quickly become a valuable part of Tata Martino’s team.
In the meantime, Messi remains the star of the show.
The diminutive forward was—as usual—brilliance personified. That he can express his genius so perfectly is one thing. The fact he can regale us so consistently is something that Neymar can only dream of one day emulating.
While Messi’s finesse, invention and technical majesty were clear for all to see, the Argentine also demonstrated a remarkable—but a remarkably typical—work rate and desire to contribute to the team effort.
He would surely have bagged a hat-trick had he not been replaced with the second half still in its infancy.
Hunger and Vitality Throughout
Despite outclassing their opponents so emphatically and so convincingly, it is important to remember that Barcelona weren’t at full strength.
Dominant skipper Carles Puyol is a semi-regular absentee these days. In his place, Javier Mascherano was given defensive duties.
Left-back Jordi Alba was also benched, giving the versatile Adriano an opportunity to shine. Andres Iniesta and Neymar were only selected for entrances from among the replacements, while the expensively acquired Alex Song didn’t feature at all.
The likes of Pedro and Alexis Sanchez were given the opportunity to make an impact in attacking berths and didn’t disappoint. Both men made a difference and showed their qualities in wide and central positions.
Martino will have been delighted to have witnessed the performances of this pair, as well as a brief cameo from Cristian Tello. The tactically astute manager will relish the prospect of incorporating and utilising his monopoly of versatile (and hungry) attacking talent as the season unfolds.
The Paucity of La Liga
If the suggestion that La Liga is little more than a sunny SPL, a two-horse race with little scope for upset or rebellion, was to be quashed, this was not the fixture from which to draw compelling conclusions.
The difference between the two clubs was stark...contrasting beyond belief.
Barcelona entered the contest all guns blazing, having seemingly not missed a beat since the close of last season. They were fluid, intense, incisive and worlds away from their bewildered opponents.
Levante were certainly below-par, but you get the impression that Barcelona would have been similarly devastating against whomever they had faced. They were simply “that damned good.”
However, comparing the opening weekend of La Liga to its equivalent in England reveals a vastly different environment.
Barcelona trounced Levante as though their opponents were some lower-league also-rans. They are not; last year they were only one point off the top half of the Spanish top flight. Clashes in England, between Manchester United and Swansea, Arsenal and Aston Villa, and Chelsea and Hull were far more fiercely contested than the clash at the Nou Camp.
The departure of figures such as Negredo, Soldado and Falcao is part of a continuous weakening of the non-Clasico 18 of the league and further enforces the suggestion of a closed shop at the top of the tree.
Tougher tests will come for Barcelona, but take a week, a month, a year and they wouldn’t encounter league opposition less challenging than Levante.
It is La Liga, and Spanish fans, that suffer as a result.