0-1, Deco (min. 40)
1-1, Álvaro (min. 76)
A beautiful free-kick from Deco in the first half wasn't enough to claim all three points as a persistent Levante equalised after the break. 1-1 the final score and now Barca must focus on Werder Bremen.
A mercurial strike from FC Barcelona's Portuguese midfielder Deco put the visitors ahead in a first half they completely dominated. The second half was a different story as Levante pushed forward and created many more goal scoring opportunities - only to squander them. The home side's perseverance was finally rewarded in the 76th minute when Valdés Álvaro scrambled the loose ball home. Barca must now regroup and concentrate all their energies on next Tuesday's massive tie against Bremen.
Frank Rijkaard's side started the brightest, controlling possession and the pace of the game, waiting for a very defensive Levante to open up. Deco, who had started in the centre, swapped places with Andres Iniesta to take up the left side of the park where the absent Ronaldinho normally plays. The switch led to the first chance in the 12th minute, with Deco feeding Guily, only for the Frenchman to blaze over from a tight angle.
Barca continued to press, especially down the left where Sylvinho was creating real danger with his overlapping runs. It was one such run from the Brazilian fullback that led to the next chance which again fell to Guily but his weak effort was safely gathered by veteran keeper Molina in the Levante goal. Deco then shot high after a neat layoff by Gudjohnsen but there were few chances in a game littered with niggly fouls by the home team.
Valdés spares the blushes
With Levante eager to break up Barca's flow whenever and however possible, chances were few and far between and it was the home side that carved out a couple of glimpses of goal in the next ten minutes. A combination of Riga and Nino's profligacy and smart work by Victor Valdés in the Barca goal denied the home side the lead.
Pick it out
Deco and Iniesta continued to switch roles and a foul on the former just outside the area led to the opener in the 40th minute. The same player picked himself up and curled an absolute peach past a surprised Molina and in off the left post. 1-0 at half-time.
Nine minutes into the second half, FC Barcelona had a chance to finish the game off. A marvellous team move including Iniesta, Deco, Xavi and Giuly culminated in a chance in the six yard box for Guily but he chose to square to Iniesta when he probably should have been more selfish and gone for goal himself. The chance was a rare sighting of goal for Barca in the second half as Levante upped the pace and created four excellent goalscoring opportunities. First Thuram blocked a Riga shot then Courtois tested Valdes' reflexes. Then in the 62nd and 64th minute the Catalan keeper had to be at the peak of his game to deny Riga and Nino a deserved equaliser.
Cheeky chip from Ezquerro
Santi Ezquerro came on for Guily halfway through the second half and almost his first touch of the ball was a beautiful chip from 20 yards that a back-pedalling Molina could only tip onto the post and watch as it rebounded to safety. Ezquerro moved into the left wing role, Iniesta switched to the right with a subdued Gudjohnsen playing down the middle. Oleguer also came on for Deco.
Two minutes after the Deco substitution, the impressive Levante sub Ettien forced a free-kick on the right following a foul by Carles Puyol that earned the skipper a yellow card. Kapo, who had replaced Riga, drove the ball in and Valdes could only away with the ball falling to Alexis whose blocked shot ended up at the feet of Álvaro who scrambled the equaliser.
Barca were rocked by the 1-1 scoreline and fought hard to find a winner. Ezquerro shot from range and Xavi couldn't find the end to a mazy run and in the end the game finished with honours even. FC Barcelona stay top ahead of Sunday's games.
Barça have only visited Levante on three occasions, with a loss (1964-65), a draw (2004-05) and a victory (1963-64). The draw 2 seasons ago saw Barça win La Liga for the first time with coach Frank Rijkaard. Then, the goal coming from the now injured Samuel Eto'o.
Three days before the vital encounter against Werder Bremen, Barça pay a visit to Levante. Without Ronaldinho, the league leaders must demonstrate that their heads are not thinking about the game on Tuesday.
The game (20:00 Barça TV) against Levante will be difficult for Frank Rijkaard due to the vital midweek clash against Bremen looming. As league leaders, Barça must demonstrate their mental strength in overcoming their opponents this Saturday. If Barça win the game, they will go into their midweek encounter with greater confidence as they will know in the back of their minds that they are still league leaders for another week.
Mental Strength: Rijkaard himself has said: "the work against Werder Bremen starts against Levante"; Words which highlight the importance of the game on Saturday. Barça, despite being a little light in attacking options due to Ronaldinho being given a rest, look to continue their reign as league leaders. In order for this to be achieved, they must not be thinking about the game on Tuesday. They must perform to the highest standard in order to show Bremen exactly what they are capable of doing.
Ronaldinho to stay: Of the squad of 17, the notable absentee is that of Ronaldinho , who is staying in Barcelona in order to be in the best shape for the game against Werder Bremen. As to who replaces him is yet to be known; one of the midfield trio of Deco, Xavi or Iniesta may move into a more attacking position, with either Motta or Edmilson filling in the gap. The possible inclusion of Ezquerro can also not be ruled out.
Kapo, the goal of Levante: The star of Levante, Olivier Kapo, is an authentic threat posed by the team from Valencia. The ex Auxerre man, however, has not quite found his finishing touch this season with only 3 goals. Behind him are Camacho and Berson, whose aim is to disrupt the opposition's play. In defense, Alvaro, Alexis and ex blaugrana Dehu; composing a formidable defensive line.