Carabao Cup Third Round: Liverpool Should Maintain Perfect Start
It wasn’t supposed to happen.
Barcelona were two games away from creating history and a record that might never have been beaten.
With Levante and Real Sociedad their final two matches, it was a foregone conclusion – wasn’t it?
Well perhaps that’s where Barca lost the battle. In their heads. By looking too far ahead of themselves and not at what was right in front of them.
Levante stood proud. The form team in the division, despite being fourth from bottom, were going to take great pride in destroying Barcelona’s dreams, and in Paco Lopez, they had the coach to make it happen.
The ridiculous scheduling of a friendly for Barcelona in South Africa sandwiched between the two final league games surely accounted for Lionel Messi’s omission, though that doesn’t answer questions as to why Yerry Mina and Thomas Vermaelen were the starting pair in central defence.
It was clear from the start that the visitors were going to struggle there and Mina’s presence clearly affected everyone else in the back line.
Despite dominating the opening exchanges, it wasn’t long before the Colombian’s poor clearance and subsequent lack of positional nous handed Levante the opener.
He would then find himself completely out of position for the second – Sergio Busquets somehow ending up as centre-back when Boateng grabbed his second of the night.
Though Gerard Pique’s intervention not long after replacing Vermaelen would send Barca in at half-time just a goal behind, thanks to a wonderful Coutinho finish, worse was to follow. Much worse.
Again it was Mina at fault. The first play of the second half saw another goal for Levante, Enis Bardhi the grateful recipient of Barca’s defensive walkabout on this occasion.
Two more before the hour mark meant the Blaugrana were staring into the abyss at 5-1 down.
Philippe Coutinho can be absolved of any blame on the night, and his own hat-trick plus Luis Suarez’s penalty gave the visitors hope of an improbable comeback.
With one goal in it and 20 minutes to play, Valverde’s side were in the ascendency, but they just couldn’t score the goal that would’ve kept their unbeaten record intact.
Would Messi have made a difference had he played? Almost certainly. And that’s a decision that this board are going to have to live with for a long, long time.
When history beckoned, they put financial gain before it, and for many, that will be unforgiveable.
Justice was served ultimately, because Levante more than deserved their victory.
Agonisingly for the Catalans, should they avoid defeat against Real Sociedad in their final game, they will have lost out on an unbeaten campaign by one goal.
That’s the harshest of lessons to learn but perhaps they won’t take anyone so lightly ever again.