Barcelona secured their second successive La Liga title with a 1-0 win over Levante, but which players struggled while others impressed at the Nou Camp?
Barcelona lifted the La Liga title aloft after a hard-fought 1-0 home win over Levante on Saturday evening, courtesy of none other than Lionel Messi‘s 34th league strike of the season to break the deadlock after 62 minutes.
Messi, who had come off the substitutes’ bench after half-time, had proven pivotal once more en route to Barca clinching their second successive domestic triumph and eighth in the past 11 seasons, which are truly extraordinary stats in a competition packed with their Madrid rivals.
It was far from an easy win for the hosts, as Levante – who themselves are threatened by the prospect of relegation – defended well for sustained periods while their goalkeeper made a string of fine saves. They could have snatched a point or even three during an action-packed second-half, which would have delayed title celebrations after Atletico Madrid‘s 1-0 win over Valladolid earlier in the day.
Coke squandered a promising chance from close-range, while substitute midfielder Enis Bardhi saw an effort crash off Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s far post as the German gratefully clutched the ball in his hands near stoppage-time. Without further ado, here’s a look at five hits and flops as Barcelona secured the title with another win:
#5 Flop: Ousmane Dembele
With two key passes, four dribbles completed and an all-round okay display, why does Dembele feature on the flop section here?
Simply put, because he was just okay. For a player of his ability and creative capabilities, he should be doing more – not least when linking up with Philippe Coutinho and Luis Suarez in a three-pronged attack without talisman Messi to combine alongside.
Rather than taking charge though, he was often pedestrian and his other match statistics back that up: only the aforementioned Suarez recorded worse than his 74.3% passing accuracy for Barcelona.
His decision-making was, as it has been, erratic and frustrating to watch at times. Dispossessed four times and with only 57 touches of the ball, didn’t get involved as much as he should have – mirroring Coutinho’s influence on a game where they were relying on his impact in the final third.
#4 Hit: Arturo Vidal
This was arguably Vidal’s best game for Barcelona to date. Why? He did what he does best, patrolling the midfield and imposing his influence on matches across both sides of the pitch, defensively and in transition to create attacks too.
This time though, it was largely without the tedious complaining to officials that has punctuated his spell at the Nou Camp, the recklessness and poor decision-making that has prompted many to question whether his arrival was really as shrewd a move as first thought.
With two key passes, 87.3% pass accuracy, one aerial duel and interception made to accompany a game-high six tackles completed, he was all over the pitch in a good way!
The real blemish on his performance is that he did commit six fouls – somehow without getting booked – but it comes with the territory when you play as close to the edge as the experienced Chilean prides himself on doing.
#3 Flop: Antonio Luna
The former Aston Villa man, who has been sidelined for large periods this term, didn’t cover himself in much glory on this occasion. You can make the excuse that against the league champions, it’s always going to be more difficult for defenders – but they should relish these types of matches, testing their mettle against better opposition and some of the world’s best players.
However the 28-year-old fullback was not good enough. The only defender on either team to not complete a tackle, he made two interceptions and clearances while committing one foul over the 90 minutes.
Sluggish and unconvincing when engaging in duels, he was disappointing and it’s not the first time this season either. April has been a poor month for him: despite missing their last two games, he struggled in defeats against Athletic Bilbao, Valencia and now Barca. He’s not the only one at fault but with sloppy defending and limited attacking impact, he’s not doing himself any favours either.
#2 Hit: Lionel Messi
Messi came off the bench to turn matchwinner once again, as Barca were made to work for their title-clinching win on this occasion. Time and again the Argentinian maestro has proven their savour and does so often that it’s become second nature to him and those who watch him expect nothing less.
Although he was clearly being rested with an eye on Premier League leaders Liverpool coming to town on Wednesday, Ernesto Valverde was aware that it wouldn’t be right without him – not least with the game finely poised at 0-0.
He came on for at the start of the second-half and broke the deadlock with a delicate finish, which he typically made look easier than it was: caressing a low shot into the bottom corner after a goalmouth scramble almost went unrewarded before the ball fell to his path.
With three key passes and completed dribbles to accompany the all-important winner off the bench, what more can you ask for? If Jurgen Klopp’s men harbour hopes of making their second successive Champions League Final next month, they must do their homework and silence Messi over two legs. Easier said than done!
#1 Hit: Aitor Fernandez
The main reason why it was such a hard-fought win for Barcelona, was the form of Levante goalkeeper Aitor Fernandez. He was their rock at the back and without him, the hosts would have cruised to victory in the first-half – not needing Messi’s intervention.
He would have expected to be busy at some stage but pulled off 11 saves over the 90 minutes, making most of them from Coutinho and Suarez look easy. Ultimately though, he could do nothing to stop Messi’s deft effort nestling in the far corner.
With one key pass and aerial duel won, the 27-year-old was unfortunate to be on the losing side and after a display like that under the Nou Camp lights on TV, the former Bilbao and Villarreal man is sure to have earned some admirers and interested suitors, should he continue to deliver such impressive performances. After all, Levante sit in 15th place and are not safe from relegation with three matches left to play…
Stats’ source: WhoScored