Barcelona stunned by Levante as unbeaten LaLiga campaign comes to an end
Barcelona’s last LaLiga defeat came in April 2017.
Barcelona’s ambition of becoming the first team to post an unbeaten LaLiga season lay in ruins following an astonishing 5-4 defeat by Levante at the Estadi Ciutat de Valencia
The hosts stormed into a 5-1 lead 11 minutes into the second half that was founded on the brilliance of Ghanaian Emmanuel Boateng, who plundered a hat-trick.
Levante, whose fifth win on the bounce caps a run that has steered them well clear of the relegation zone, capitalised on the double winners’ sloppiness with a succession of purposeful attacks that also produced two goals for Enis Bardhi.
Phillipe Coutinho inspired the inevitable fightback by helping himself to three goals, with Luis Suarez claiming the fourth from the spot, but the final breakthrough needed to maintain their unblemished record heading into the final match eluded them.
Lionel Messi was surprisingly absent from Barcelona’s squad – a development that manager Ernesto Valverde had not signposted in the build-up to the match – with Coutinho installed in his place.
Barcelona’s last LaLiga defeat came in April 2017, when they were beaten 2-0 by Malaga, and their loss to Levante ended their 43-game unbeaten run.
Right from the start they were off the pace as Jose Luis Morales sprinted around their flat-footed defence before finding Boateng, who steered the ball into the net via the underside of the crossbar.
On the half-hour mark Levante broke added a second time after more shambolic play by the visitors.
Ivan Rakitic’s woeful clearance found its way only as far as Sasa Lukic, who pounced on the error by threading a fine pass to Boateng, who rounded Marc-Andre ter Stegen with ease.
Barcelona finally came alive, with Gerard Pique and Suarez combining on the edge of the area to release Coutinho, who cut inside and blasted home with help from a deflection off Rober Pier.
The second half was only 33 seconds old when Levante restored their two-goal lead by capitalising on another failed clearance.
There was still plenty to do as Jose Campana showed his brilliance by moving wide and, with two options available, chose the correct one by pulling the ball back to Bardhi who thundered home.
Moments later Levante delivered another dramatic twist when Campana found Antonio Luna and the full-back drilled a cross to Boateng, who beat Ter Stegen with a first-time shot.
Barcelona’s nightmare continued when playmaker Roger dashed into the final third with Boateng and Bardhi in support and it was the latter who received the scoring pass before finding the mark.
Coutinho pounced on some weak defending from Levante to stab home and then suddenly Barcelona were back in contention as the Brazilian expertly controlled Sergio Busquets’ pass and hit the target with a deflection off Suarez.
There was a sense of injustice around the goal as the ball appeared to strike the arm of Suarez and that increased after a generous penalty was awarded for Busquets being up-ended and the Uruguayan marksman converted.
But Barca did not look like scoring again and Levante missed a late chance to place the result beyond doubt.