Messi carries stunning form into 2018 and other Deadly Stats as Barcelona beat Levante 3-0

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Messi, Paulinho, and Suarez scored in Barcelona's 3-0 win.

Barcelona returned to La Liga action on Sunday with a home game against Levante and a chance to restore their nine-point lead atop the league table.

In the end, while Levante had their moments, Barcelona cruised to a 3-0 win, with Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Paulinho scoring the goals.

Here are Seven Deadly Stats from the game.

MESSI’S STUNNING FORM

Everyone knows Messi has been at his totemic best this season. And, having missed out on the title of top goalscorer last season, he made sure to start the calendar year as he means to go on, breaking the deadlock after 12 minutes on Sunday. He’d go on to provide the assist for Paulinho before the game ended.

SUAREZ GETS OVER POOR START…

It wasn’t too long ago that there were concerns over Suarez’s poor form, to the point where some observers thought this could be the start of a permanent decline. The Uruguayan is putting that talk to bed, having rediscovered his scoring touch with a neat finish just before the break.

… AND OVERTAKES A BARCELONA GREAT

When it comes to Barcelona, records ,and scoring charts, the talk is usually about Messi. But Suarez has been prolific since joining the club, and it hasn’t taken him long to write his name in Barcelona’s history books. His goal on Sunday took him past Samuel Eto’o on the club’s scoring list.

SERGI ROBERTO FINDING HIS FEET

Sergi Roberto has struggled to get consistent gametime in his preferred midfield berth for Barcelona, and that’s only going to get tougher with the arrival of Philippe Coutinho. But he still finds a way to showcase his talent from right back, and his first-time pass across the box for Suarez’s goal was sublime. 

PAULINHO CONTINUES TO SURPRISE

Speaking of midfielders who might have to take a step back once Coutinho is integrated, Paulinho seems like the prime candidate – except, can he really be dropped right now? The season he’s having has taken everyone by surprise, and on current form, deserves to be the first-choice attacking midfielder. 

DEMBELE’S SOLID RETURN

In the midst of the Coutinho fanfare, the last player Barcelona broke their transfer record for – just over four months ago – made his La Liga return. Ousmane Dembele hadn’t played in the league since his injury in September, so his inclusion on the team sheet on Sunday was a welcome sight. And on his return to the Camp Nou, he pulled off the most Barcelona stat possible. 

BARCA BANISH NEW YEAR BLUES

Surprisingly, Barcelona haven’t always made a great return from the winter break. Perhaps it’s the lack of momentum, or maybe it’s just rust, but they hadn’t won their first league game of the year in four years.

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Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde hails Philippe Coutinho signing

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Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde is looking forward to working with Philippe Coutinho after the club announced his arrival in a record-breaking deal on Saturday.

Coutinho, 25, will move from Liverpool in a deal worth 160 million euros ($192 million), the third-biggest transfer in football history and a club record deal for Barcelona.

The Brazilian has agreed a contract through to 2023 at the Camp Nou, with Barcelona fans seeing him as the long-term successor to Andres Iniesta, and Valverde is aiming to make the most of the Brazilian’s adaptability and ability to play in a range of positions.

“I think he can bring a lot to the team. He scores and sets up goals, and going forward he can help us a lot as he can play both inside and out wide,” remarked Valverde after Barcelona’s comfortable 3-0 La Liga win over Levante on Sunday.

“He is versatile and we can take advantage of his versatility.”

The deal had been in the pipeline for months, with Barca failing with several bids in August after losing Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain in a world-record 222 million-euro deal.

And having previously tried to avoid talking about Coutinho, Valverde can now look forward to welcoming him into his squad for a busy second half of the season.

“It is a signing that has been talked about for a long time, although it was not something I was keen to discuss,” said Valverde, whose team are still unbeaten in La Liga and sit nine points clear of Atletico Madrid at the top of the table.

“He is here now, and good luck to him, because if he has luck then it will be good for us.”

Capable of playing on the wing and in a more withdrawn midfield role, Coutinho’s arrival provides a wealth of new options to Valverde, although he will not be able to play in the Champions League knockout phase having already featured in the competition for Liverpool.

“We will wait until I have seen him train for a day at least until we talk about that,” added Valverde when pressed on where the ex-Inter Milan man would fit into his team.

“It is true that I have seen videos of him playing in different positions, for Liverpool and for his country. But let’s wait and see.

“I hope he adapts quickly, although good players adapt quickly to any circumstances.”

Lionel Messi sent Barca on their way to victory against Levante with a goal on his 400th La Liga appearance, which was followed up by strikes from Luis Suarez and Paulinho.

Paulinho, a team-mate of Coutinho’s with Brazil, said: “He is a great player, a magnificent player. I am certain he will really help Barca to attain our objectives this season. We hope to see him playing for us as soon as possible.”

Provided by AFP Sport

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Mixed bag from Dembele and other things learned from Barcelona's win over Levante

Andy West 7/01/2018
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Lionel Messi marked his 400th appearance in La Liga with the opening goal as Barcelona eased to a 3-0 win over Levante at the Camp Nou on Sunday.

Messi’s 365th goal in Spain’s top flight came inside 12 minutes, with Luis Suarez adding the second before the interval and Paulinho completing the victory late on as Barcelona stretched their lead at the top of the table back to nine points over Atletico Madrid.

But it was Messi who broke the deadlock from a Jordi Alba assist, a combination that has proved fruitful on so many occasions this season.

The second goal arrived seven minutes before the interval, as Suarez controlled Sergi Roberto’s fine ball into the box before firing home.

It was the Uruguayan’s 400th professional goal, his 131st for Barca putting him seventh on the club’s all-time list of leading scorers.

Here’s a look at what we learned from the encounter.

Mixed bag from Dembele

Ousmane Dembele was a surprise selection in the starting line-up from Ernesto Valverde, and at times even the French winger himself looked like he didn’t expect to be out there.

This was a real mixed performance from the former Borussia Dortmund. There were flashes of skill and moments of promise, especially after 25 minutes when he cut inside from the right wing and concluded a speedy burst with a powerful drive to force a good save. But Dembele also did a lot of things badly, including a clumsy early pass which allowed Levante to mount a dangerous counter-attack.

Perhaps more importantly, his inclusion served to significantly unbalance the team shape, with his position on the right touchline not really mirrored by anyone on the left-hand side, giving Barca an asymmetrical look.

In fact, it was difficult to see the formation they were supposed to be playing. Perhaps a 4-2-3-1, with Dembele and Andres Iniesta on the wings? Or perhaps a standard 4-4-2 without the ball, switching to a 3-5-2 in possession, with Dembele and Jordi Alba as wingbacks? And then occasionally they’d switch Dembele to the left wing in a conventional 4-3-3.

Whatever they were trying to do, it didn’t look convincing and would surely have been punished by better teams than Levante. Dembele has potential, no doubt, but there’s still an awful lot of work to do before he becomes an effective member of this Barca team.

Dembele

Coutinho’s challenge…and opportunity

With new record signing Philippe Coutinho reportedly watching from a nearby hotel ahead of his imminent unveiling, the man he is intended to eventually replace took the chance to show exactly how big a challenge the Brazilian faces.

Andres Iniesta produced some beautiful silky touches in the first half, rolling back the years to conjure up some delightful combination play with Lionel Messi and Jordi Alba, showing Coutinho precisely what he will be expected to do with the ball but also working hard without it to maintain the team’s shape – another key requirement facing the new arrival.

However, later on it also became apparent why Coutinho has been so badly needed. Iniesta faded from the game after the break and was then replaced by Andre Gomes, keeping up his record of failing to complete a full 90 minutes so far this season. Iniesta is still a wonderful player but he is running out of steam, and before too long Coutinho will have a chance to make that position his own.

Philippe Coutinho 6

Rakitic excels in the Busquets role

One of Barca’s most important mainstays throughout the last decade has been the soothing presence of Sergio Busquets in the centre of midfield, snuffing out opposition attacks with his calm reading of the game and ticking over possession with a fabulous range of passing.

Busquets was suspended for this game, but he wasn’t missed at all thanks to an excellent performance from Ivan Rakitic, who delivered a more than passable Busquets impression as he occupied a deeper midfield role than usual and executed his task to perfection.

Rakitic hasn’t always looked comfortable this season, with games sometimes tending to pass him by. The former Sevilla captain often looks as though he’s having to play within himself for the good of the team’s structure, but paradoxically on this occasion dropping into a deeper position allowed him to exert a great attacking influence. And even if he eventually loses his automatic starting place in the new-look Barca, the Croat certainly remains an extremely important squad member.

Ivan Rakitic

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