Offshore drilling, Spain: Barcelona 2, at Levante 1

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Man of the Match: Messi. Next.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • Barcelona continues to dare people to come at them. After three years of teams playing deeper and deeper on them, head coach Pep Guardiola started playing with only three defenders earlier this year. Now, he’s gone to four forwards, a 3-3-4 a formation he used again today.
  • Whether the formation was particularly effective (or, at least more effective than how Barcelona might otherwise play) is hard to say. Levante were playing very deep and very narrow, at one moment having eight players within two steps of the arc. In that regard, it looked like a typical Barcelona game – a bunch of guys trying to break down a bunch of other guys, all hanging around this big box.
  • Levante shouldn’t have had their opener. Sergio Busquets’ arms were drawn into his chest when a Vincente Iborra header hit them, yet Juan Igancio pointed to the spot, booking Busquets. It was less a penalty than activism, implying that every time a ball hits a hand, there should bea  whistle. Some people have always felt that way, but they don’t usually get to officiate top-flight matches.
  • As the teams left the field at halftime, Levante having held their 1-0 lead, you could barely detect Barcelona was trailing. The players were neither happy nor upset as they went down the tunnel. It was just business as usual. If the pressure of a high-intensity, must get all points title race is affecting them, you can’t tell.
  • Barcelona’s first was a typical Messi strike, including how the goal was made. Even before playing the ball to Adriano at the edge of the box, Messi knew where he was going. By the time the ball was at his teammate’s feet, Messi was in space, ready to put home number 62.
  • It’s remarkable you don’t see more teams asking their players to do that. If you want to play more like Barcelona, start with how running more. Messi, Iniesta, Fabregas, Alexis – these players don’t wait to see if their passes are successful. Before they play the ball, they know where they’re moving next. Once they’ve released possession, it’s their job to get to the new spot as soon as possible. It’s not a complicated concept, but for as many teams that claim to want to play like Barça, how many have implemented this basic concept?
  • Last note on Messi’s first goal: For a team that was playing with only three defenders, Adriano (their left defender) was awfully deep into attack.
  • People are going to complain about the final goal, thinking Barcelona was awarded another gift penalty kick. It’s just a shame this particular call doesn’t fit that mold. Pedro Botelho had both his hands on Isaac Cuenca, and while you could argue the contact was incidental were Cuenca running to Botelho, the Levante man was coming in from the side (at best). He was beaten. It’s a clear penalty, and while you hate to see spot kicks decide matches, it seemed like the right call.
  • In case you missed it, here are the match highlights.
  • Barcelona is back within four of Real Madrid at the top of La Liga ahead of next weekend’s Clásico. It’s a must-win match for the defending champions, though they can’t start their preparations yet. Mid-week, Barcelona faces Chelsea in Champions League.