It’s turned out to be a very happy new year for Barcelona as they register their first victory of 2011 with a 2-1 win over Levante. A brace from Pedro Rodriguez ensured no Christmas hangover and created a five point gap between themselves and Real Madrid at the Spanish summit.
The champions had to construct a makeshift back-four due to the absences of Gerard Pique and Carlos Puyol who were both out due to suspension and injury respectively. Anchorman Sergio Busquets was inserted into a central defensive partnership with Eric Abidal with Maxwell operating down the left and Dani Alves as always on the opposite side. Lionel Messi was given the night off to recover from his trip back from his native Argentina.
For all Barcelona’s domination in possession during the first half they were unable to break down a well-drilled Levante defence who held their shape magnificently well and made it hard for the hosts. Luis Garcia’s men had conceded eight goals against Real Madrid prior to Christmas and looked like a different outfit with everybody in a black and white shirt performing their duties impeccably.
Andres Iniesta drew first blood in the attempts as his diligent curling effort from just outside the eighteen-yard box on six minutes brought out a magnificent save from Manolo Reina who showed great agility to claw the ball behind for a corner. David Villa soon followed up minutes later as he worked himself a pocket of space just inside the ‘D’ but saw his right-footed effort go wide of the post.
For all Barcelona’s domination in midfield they lacked conviction in the final third. The absence of Messi was evident down the flanks and they could have done with the little Argentine superstar weaving his was inside to orchestrate a piece of magic.
In fact it was Levante who nearly opened the scoring. Victor Valdes’s mistake presented them with an opportunity which saw Rafa Jorda inside the penalty area unmarked but was unable to divert the ball but was called offside.
Minutes later another fantastic chance was presented for the visitors as Xisco Nadal’s delicate touch found Juanlu bursting down the right but as he got into the penalty area he was unable to square the ball to Jorda for what would have been an easy tap in. Credit to Eric Abidal whose persistence put the Spaniard off at the vital time. The Blaugrana defence however were sliced apart.
Pep Guardiola’s side continued with their domination in midfield and created a number of half chances. Iniesta used his initiative to weave his way through the middle and play in Bojan but was unable to find the net after rounding Reina. Iniesta was again involved minutes later as his diligent cut back via a short corner saw Xavi drive the ball goal-wards but was denied by a commanding Reina in between the sticks.
A minute into the second-half Barca broke the deadlock thanks to Pedro. Dani Alves found himself in the penalty area and his first touch drew the ball away from the defence before taking plenty of time as he dwelled on his options before finally passing to his colleague who blasted the ball through a crowd of bodies and into the net.
It was the little the Spaniard who was making the difference as he made it 2-0 on 59 minutes. Dani Alves again with the assist as he cut the ball back into the eighteen-yard box from the right to find Pedro who was precise with placement and power and produced a beautiful finish that gave Reina no chance.
Substitute Thiago was ever so bright when he came on in place of Mascherano and very nearly assisted Pedro with his hat-trick as his touch found the youngster bursting into the box but was unfortunate to see his looping effort rattle the top of the cross bar.
The goal of the night however came from those in black and white on the 80th minute and was orchestrated by two of their substitutes. Valmiro Valdo’s dinked through ball was struck on the volley first time by Christian Stuani and almost burst the net. The home fans even drew a round of applause for an effort that would have worthy by one of their own.
That was the last real action of the match though as Levante could not conjure up an equaliser and the clash ended 2-1.