Lionel Messi stepped up to salvage something from the wreckage of Barcelona’s nightmare week as he fired a 76th-minute winner in a 1-0 win over Levante.
Juventus comprehensively beat Barca 3-0 in midweek to deny them top spot in their Champions League group – a reverse that came on the back of a 2-1 LaLiga loss at Cadiz.
Despite ceding possession as expected for long periods, Levante looked set to hold out for a result to pile further pressure on embattled head coach Ronald Koeman.
Plenty of questions over the Dutchman’s stewardship of Barcelona will remain, but Messi surging onto Frenkie De Jong’s perfectly weighted throughball for an assured finish will buy him a little breathing space.
Koeman opted for experience at a time of adversity, recalling Sergio Busquets and Philippe Coutinho to his starting line-up, and the latter blazed over from Sergino Dest’s first-minute cross.
Barca’s vulnerabilities were on show soon enough, as Marc-Andre ter Stegen saved with his feet to thwart former Real Madrid youngster Jorge de Frutos.
Ter Stegen’s opposite number Aitor Fernandez denied maligned forward duo Martin Braithwaite and Griezmann, although Roger Marti again unpicked the hosts as Dani Gomez thrashed over.
Clement Lenglet should have scored when Fernandez parried Griezmann’s header from Messi’s 21st-minute free-kick, with the Levante goalkeeper’s finest work of the first half coming five minutes before the interval.
He reacted sharply when Griezmann volleyed through a crowd of players on the end of Messi’s chipped cross.
Mickael Malsa got back to make a vital sliding challenge as Messi’s old link-up with Jordi Alba almost bore fruit and Levante were increasingly pegged into their own box during the early stages of the second half.
There were few clear chances to show for that dominance, with Fernandez frustrating Messi twice more at close quarters.
Only when De Jong carved out space for Messi to run in behind a tiring Levante backline was the duel decisively settled.
What does it mean? One down, three to go
Koeman labelled Barcelona’s three consecutive home games this week as must-win encounters. A more emphatic statement here would have been helpful, but another three points at the expense of surprise leaders Real Sociedad would make things look a lot rosier in the title race.
Barcelona go eighth, nine points shy of Imanol Alguacil’s pacesetters and Atletico Madrid, who lost to Real Madrid in El Derbi on Saturday. Atleti and Barca have each played two games fewer than La Real.
Valencia visit Camp Nou next Saturday after Barcelona’s midweek appointment with Real Sociedad, who are also the next LaLiga opponents for third-bottom Levante. First, Paco Lopez’s men must tackle Racing Murcia in the Copa del Rey.
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