Barcelona’s LaLiga title hopes are in major jeopardy after coughing up a two-goal half-time lead in a 3-3 draw at Levante on Tuesday night at the Estadi Ciutat de Valencia.
The visitors looked to be on cruise control at the break after goals from Lionel Messi and Pedri, but Levante had other ideas and struck for a pair of goals early in the second stanza. Ousmane Dembele would restore Barcelona’s lead midway through the half, only for a late Levante score to leave the Catalonians staring at a situation in which they could be four points back of leaders Atletico Madrid with just two rounds to play.
Coach Ronald Koeman made two changes from the side that played to a scoreless draw over the weekend with Atletico, as Dembele and Ronald Araujo came in for Sergino Dest and Oscar Mingueza, respectively, meaning the Dutch boss opted for three centre-backs in defence and a much more attacking approach going forward.
Barcelona looked sharp out of the gates and should have taken a lead early when Frenkie de Jong played back to Pedri with the goal almost wide open, but Levante goalkeeper Aitor Fernandez made a superb save to deny the visitors of an opener.
The goal was set to come though and Messi showed how it was done with a left-footed rocket off a Jordi Alba cross from the left to give Barcelona a 1-0 lead.
Pedri may have been denied on his first look at goal but he had an easy sweep into net to stretch the Barcelona lead to 0-2 after a charging run from Messi ended with a pass into Dembele, who cut back to the wide-open teenage midfielder to finish.
The first change came during the break, with Sergi Roberto on for a slightly injured Araujo.
Levante were a much better side to start the second half, while Barcelona looked to be snoozing and it resulted in Gonzalo Melero beating the newly introduced Sergi Roberto and heading in a Miramon cross shortly before the hour mark to cut the Barcelona advantage to 2-1
It was now Levante’s turn to display some high-flying football and a heavy touch from Messi of all people gifted a chance for Jose Luis Morales, who gladly took advantage and hammered in a left-footer to bring themselves level 2-2.
Levante had Barcelona’s full attention now, and right back came Koeman’s men with Dembele taking advantage of a deflection off Miramon, allowing the Frenchman to fire in past Aitor Fernandez to make it 3-2.
Koeman made his second change with a quarter-hour to go, as Mingueza came on for Pedri, followed later by Dest and Martin Braithwaite for Dembele and Antoine Griezmann, respectively, to try to nail down the three points.
Instead, Levante would find the 3-3 equaliser with an expert finish from Sergio Leon, who got in front of Gerard Pique, took Tono’s cross and beat goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen with a clever finish at the near post.
Koeman’s final change was a sub for a sub, with Riqui Puig on for the hobbled Sergi Roberto, but Barcelona were unable to muster any late chances and could only shake their heads in disbelief as they left the pitch knowing that two points precious points slipped from their hands.
3.- Levante: Aitor Fernandez, Miramon (Coke, min. 75), Vezo, Duarte (Malsa, min. 61), Rober Pier, Tono Garcia, De Frutos, Melero, Bardhi (Dani Gomez, min. 61), Morales, Roger (Sergio Leon, min. 75).
3.- Barcelona: Ter Stegen, Araujo (Sergi Roberto, min. 46) (Riqui Puig, min. 86), Pique, Lenglet, Dembele (Dest, min. 81), De Jong, Busquets, Pedri (Mingueza, min. 74), Alba, Messi, Griezmann (Braithwaite, min. 81).
Goals: 0-1, min. 25: Messi; 0-2, min. 34: Pedri; 1-2, min. 57: Melero; 2-2, min. 60: Morales; 2-3, min. 64: Dembele; 3-3, min. 83: Sergio Leon
Referee: Munuera Montero (Andalusia). Yellow cards: De Frutos (Min. 67) for Levante, De Jong (Min. 77) for Barcelona, Morales (Min. 79) for Levante, Lenglet (Min. 91) for Barcelona
Red cards: None
Stadium: Ciutat de Valencia