Barcelona’s 43-game unbeaten run and season in La Liga was ended by a determined Levante team who overcame the Champions 5-4 on Sunday night, thanks to a hattrick from Ghanaian youngster, Emmanuel Frimpong.
In a surprise team selection, Barcelona coach, Ernesto Valverde left Messi at home and benched Pique to field an untested backline of Yeri Mina and Tomas Varmaelen.
Levant took an early lead through Frimpong in the 9th minute, finding himself on the end of Jose Luis Moraes’ cut back after the Spanish midfielder showed tremendous pace and agility to evade the attention of three players to drive to the byline before cutting back for the 20-year old youngster to blast home. Frimpong doubled Levante’s lead on the half hour mark, getting on the end of a through ball before showing excellent technique to round the goalkeeper, and stamina to hold off Nelson Semedo before blasting into an empty net.
A shell-shocked Barcelona withdrew the dreadful Tomas Vermaelen for Gerard Pique, and the Barcelona-born defender inspired his teammates by driving through to attack at every opportunity, and one of such led to a reduction of the deficit. The 31-year old defender showed great agility to stay on his feet and thread a pass to Coutinho for the former Liverpool star to cut unto his favourite right foot before taking a deflected shot which sailed beyond the deceived keeper.
Levante restored their two-goal lead barely 40 seconds into the second half in spectacular fashion. Jordi Alba’s pass was intercepted in midfield and worked to the edge of Barca’s box, where Moraes’ cut back was bent into the top corner by Eris Bardhi to further make the impossible look easy.
Barcelona, missing the influence of Messi, were looking short of ideas in attack, and being run ragged in defence, with Levante further extending the lead three minutes later.
The home side’s midfield bullied Pique to win a header, Frimpong pulled Mina out of position to allow Roger Marti space before pulling away to collect the Spaniard’s pass and slot home low into the far corner for his hattrick.
Barcelona pushed further forward to reduce the deficit, but Levante exploited the space and Barca’s abject defence to make it 5-1 on 56 minutes. The Champions lost the ball in midfield and a precise pass found forward, Roger Marti, who found Bardhi in acres of space after Frimpong had sucked both Mina and Semedo to the middle, and the 22-year old Macedonian striker slotted in his second of the night.
Looking downbeat but not giving up, Barcelona made it 5-2 through Coutinho who slammed home an uncleared Dembele shot for his second goal on the night. The Brazilian deservedly got his hattrick on 63 minutes, controlling Busquets’ pass on the edge of the area before delivering a shot which took a slight deflection off Suarez to make it 5-3.
A controversial penalty was awarded Barcelona when Busquets was deemed to have been brought down with minimal contact by substitute Jefferson Lerma, and Luis Suarez blasted through the middle, to almost complete the comeback at 5-4.
Levante should have scored their sixth goal through substitute, Ruben Rochina, but the Barcelona youth product shot wide after pouncing on a blind pass back to the goalkeeper.
The Valencia-based team, however, held on to beat Barcelona 5-4, ensuring the Champions would not finish the season unbeaten to the delight of their jubilant fans.