Barcelona v Levante player ratings as Alba scores an 8 and Messi gets a 7

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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.

The Catalans are still unbeaten in La Liga this season and have Philippe Coutinho to come in, with the Brazilian expected to be officially unveiled as a Barcelona player on Monday following the announcement of his 160 million-euro ($192 million) move from Liverpool.

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 Argentine’s flighted pass found Alba, and the left-back headed the ball down for Messi, arriving in the area, to finish first-time in off the far post for his 16th league goal of the campaign.

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, we rate the players from both sides.

BARCELONA

Ter Stegen 6. A quiet afternoon in goal for the German, with Levante managing to send most of their few decent chances off target, but he did make one excellent save with his foot to deny Moore.

Roberto 7. Worked hard in the right-back position and came forward well to deliver an excellent cross for Suarez’s goal. Understandably, there was little sign of any chemistry with Dembele down the right. Later moved into midfield.

Mascherano 6. Received a very warm reception from home fans on what could be his last game before leaving for China. Made one poor clearance to give Ivi a chance but was otherwise solid and tenacious.

Vermaelen 6. Initially troubled by the pace and movement of Boateng, but grew into the game and made an excellent recovery challenge on the edge of his own area after a rare loose ball from Rakitic.

Alba 8. Another outstanding display by a player who has become arguably his team’s second-most attacking creator (after you-know-who). Teed up Messi for the opener with an overlapping run and tidy headed assist, and also carried out his defensive chores well.

Dembele 6. Looked lost early on but gradually became more settled in his right-wing role. Had a couple of chances to score, seeing one weak shot from a rebound blocked and forcing a good save after an incisive run. Swapped to the left wing near the end of first half and was replaced midway through the second. Overall a decidedly mixed bag.

Paulinho 6. Quiet but competent in the centre of midfield. Overran one chance in the dying seconds of the first half and continued making runs into the box right until stoppage time, when he completed the scoring with an easy finish from Messi’s cross.

Rakitic 7. A very assured performance in the defensive midfield position to replace the suspended Sergio Busquets. Showed positional discipline and a good range of passing, and came close to scoring by smashing a long-range volley just wide.

Iniesta 7. Made some timeless surges down the inside left channel, especially during the first-half, showing new signing Philippe Coutinho exactly what he has to replace. Less impactful later on and, as usual these days, substituted with 15 minutes left.

Messi 7. Far from his best performance, losing possession with unusual frequency. But he still scored the opener, went close with a couple of free-kicks, created Paulinho’s late goal and drew two yellow cards. So hardly a disaster.

Suarez 7. Had ‘one of those days’ early on, missing a couple of good chances by having one shot saved and firing another over the bar. But he made amends with a fierce finish for the second goal, and came close again in the second home. Worked his socks off, as always.

SUBS

Semedo 6. Replaced Dembele midway through the second half, doing a decent job at right-back and getting forward to good effect on a couple of occasions.

Gomes 6. Replaced Iniesta for the final 15 minutes and showed one nifty flash of skill to beat his man inside the box and deliver a dangerous cross.

Arnaiz. Made his league debut by replacing Roberto for the final stages. The 22 year-old went onto the left wing but had little chance to make an impact.

Lionel Messi 5

LEVANTE

Oier 7. The former Barca keeper punched clear an early Messi free-kick and made a couple of decent saves to deny Suarez. Had no chance with the goals.

Moore 5. The American right-back had his hands full with Alba and rarely got forward, but one exception came midway through the second half when he raced clear on goal and should have scored, but shot too close to ter Stegen.

Cabaco 7. The best defender for Levante, working hard to contain Suarez and making some important interventions inside the box.

Postigo 5. Got a deflection on Suarez’s shot for the second goal and earned a yellow card for a reckless scythe on Messi.

Luna 6. Containing the dual threat of Messi and Dembele meant he couldn’t get forward to his usual effect, but did a good enough job defensively in a stiff examination.

Doukoure 5. Summed up an ineffectual performance by steering his team’s last chance of the game over the bar from a good position. Little impact in defence or attack.

Lukic 6. Steady in the centre of midfield, regularly nullifying the runs of Paulinho and Messi towards the penalty area and generally using the ball well.

Lerma 4. Wasted two good chances by blazing the first over and dragging the second well wide. Booked for a wild lunge on Messi and was skating on thin ice before being substituted after an hour.

Jason 6. Little involvement in general play but did create his team’s best chance with a good run and well-weighted pass into the stride of Moore. Showed his talent but needed to show it more often.

Boateng 6. A hard-working and at times dangerous performance from the centre forward, who made a couple of penetrative early bursts to win corners and set up a good chance for Lerma. But ultimately lacking in end product and was replaced.

Ivi 7. Produced some nice touches down the left, had one dangerous shot deflected wide and forced an excellent save from ter Stegen with another powerful long-range strike. Levante’s brightest player.

SUBS

Pier 5. Came on for final half-hour and certainly put himself about, making a couple of hard fouls on Messi and later getting booked for a late challenge on Rakitic.

Nano 4. Replaced Boateng in attack but was less effective than the man who started.

Samu. A late sub on the right wing but had little involvement.

Cheick Doukoure

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Analysis of Iniesta's performance during Barcelona's win over Levante

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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.

The Catalans are still unbeaten in La Liga this season and have Philippe Coutinho to come in, with the Brazilian expected to be officially unveiled as a Barcelona player on Monday following the announcement of his €160 million move from Liverpool.

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 Argentine’s flighted pass found Alba, and the left-back headed the ball down for Messi, arriving in the area, to finish first-time in off the far post for his 16th league goal of the campaign.

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

Here, we focus on Andres Iniesta’s performance.

Basic stats

Minutes – 76

Shots – 1

Interceptions – 0

Tackles – 0

Dribbles – 1

Passes – 54

Key passes – 1

Pass Accuracy – 90.7%

Touches – 64

Aerials Won – 0

Effectiveness

A quietly effective display.

Barcelona may view Philippe Coutinho as the long term successor to Iniesta, but for now, the 33-year-old should not be replaced given his tremendous ability and his standing as one of the world’s best midfielders.

Although his stats have not been quite impressive as previous seasons, the Spaniard looked solid against Levante with 64 touches and a pass accuracy of 90.7%.

Iniesta’s greatest asset is his ability to keep the ball and open up space for his teammates to exploit, an area that he couldn’t fully showcase on a night where Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez dominated.

His timing and intelligence made him effective as he picks the right option at every chance, but the home side never looked like being threatened around the middle, especially with Paulinho and Ivan Rakitic excelling.

Valencia v Barcelona - La Liga

Key moments

14th min: Combines with Jordi Alba and Messi down the left and his pull back is cleared. The home side attack again and Luis Suarez’s effort is parried away.

29th minute: Sends a lofted ball towards the right byline which Messi gathers, but he is crowded out and Levante clear.

41st minute: Barcelona attack again and Iniesta sends a cleverly weighed cross into the box for Thomas Vermaelen who drives a weak header at Levante goalkeeper Oier Olazabal.

Our verdict

The significant question is whether Ernesto Valverde will revert to a 4-3-3 system or whether Coutinho is a direct replacement for Iniesta.

It would be a surprise if Iniesta is no longer first-choice given his influence in and out of possession – and most importantly his ability to open up and find space for teammates so effectively.

But he’s also 33 and, with Coutinho available, there will be games for which the veteran will be rested in order to stay fresh for the Champions League.

7/10

All statistics are compiled using whoscored.com

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Fond farewell for Mascherano and other key questions ahead of Barcelona vs Levante

Andy West 6/01/2018
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La Liga leaders Barcelona will play at home against Levante on Sunday.

Ahead of their La Liga clash, we take a look at the key questions.

Get in touch with your thoughts!

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Fond farewell for Mascherano?

As one player prepares to join Barca from Liverpool, another ex-Anfield man could say his fond farewell to the club after several years of sterling service.

Javier Mascherano, who has made 332 appearances and won 17 trophies since swapping Merseyside for the Mediterranean in the summer of 2010, is poised to complete a transfer to Hebei China Fortune, with Barca’s attempts to keep him until the end of the season looking fruitless.

Mascherano has lost his starting place to Samuel Umtiti in the last couple of seasons and is even being overlooked in favour of Thomas Vermaelen at the moment, but he could receive a final outing this afternoon in his old central midfield position due to the absence of suspended Sergio Busquets.

The Argentine’s rugged style and all-out commitment have made him a popular figure among fans, and there are certain to be plenty of teary eyes at the final whistle if Sunday’s game does prove to be his last in Blaugrana colours.

Dembele back in business?

After a lay-off of nearly four months, Barca’s record signing Ousmane Dembele is set to finally return to league action after recovering from a thigh injury and appearing as a substitute in Thursday’s 1-1 Copa del Rey draw at Celta Vigo.

He will have to settle for a place on the bench because manager Ernesto Valverde is being extremely cautious over the Frenchman’s physical progress, and the Barca boss is also wary of unsettling a team which has established a nine-point lead at the top of the table with an unbeaten start to the season.

After making just one previous start at Camp Nou – the Champions League meeting with Juventus in September when Lionel Messi stole the show with two brilliant goals – Sunday’s game will effectively feel like a second home debut for Dembele, who looked rather out of place during his few games before his injury.

Dembele’s explosive style is a strong contrast to the careful possession-based play traditionally favoured by the team, and it will probably take a while for the former Borussia Dortmund man and his new teammates to adapt to each other. So although the game may well be already won by the time he comes on, any playing time he can accumulate will be a significant help to his settling-in period ahead of the decisive run-in to the season.

Can Levante offer resistance?

Levante have drawn more games than any other team in La Liga this season, with nine of their 17 games so far ending in stalemates, including three nil-nils in their last four league outings.

The Valencia-based club have desperately struggled going forward in recent weeks, with their only goal in the last five games actually being put through his own net by an opponent, Athletic Bilbao defender Aymeric Laporte.

So all the evidence strongly suggests that Juan Muniz’s team will attempt to pack their penalty area and play for a 0-0 draw as they go in search of a second famous scalp this season, having already drawn 1-1 at Real Madrid earlier in the campaign.

This, of course, is nothing new for Barcelona and the onus will once again fall upon Lionel Messi to prise open the visiting back line, but if the Argentine is feeling any rustiness after two weeks of inaction it could become a frustrating afternoon for the league leaders.

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