Messi fires anxious Barca to victory over Levante

Lionel Messi's goal in the 76th minute hands Barcelona a 1-0 win; the club moves up to eighth in the standings.

Lionel Messi (left) celebrates after scoring Barcelona's only goal. - REUTERS

Lionel Messi dragged a nervous Barcelona to a 1-0 win at home to Levante in La Liga on Sunday to cool tensions after a chaotic week at the Catalan club.

MATCH CENTRE

Barcelona had dominated the game but failed to keep its composure in front of goal until Messi latched on to a through ball from Frenkie de Jong and thumped it in off the far post in the 76th minute.

The Argentine punched the air more in relief than celebration, having fired blanks in Barca’s recent painful defeats by Cadiz and Juventus.

Barcelona was still made to sweat to gain all three points, surviving a late VAR review for a possible handball against Samuel Umtiti plus a last-gasp volley from Levante player Son which landed in the hands of keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

'Created many chances'

The win lifted Barca up to eighth in the standings on 17 points after 11 games, closing the gap with leader Real Sociedad and second-placed Atletico Madrid to nine points.

“We always find it hard against Levante as they work so hard, they have a deep squad but we played well, we were better defensively than in recent weeks and we created many chances,” said Barca left back Jordi Alba.

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“Luckily we were able to take one of them and got the three points. You have to give credit to the team as every player stood tall today.”

Levante often prove a handful to Barca when playing at home in Valencia but it has never taken a point off the Catalans at the Camp Nou.

It came mightily close to doing so, however, as Barcelona struggled to cope with its opponents’ defensive tactics, repeatedly interrupting the home side’s play with its compact banks of four defenders and midfielders.

When Barcelona did manage to come up against Levante keeper Aitor Fernandez it tended to shoot straight at him or miss the target, such as when Clement Lenglet somehow squandered an open goal in the first half.

Messi also looked to be lacking sharpness, slicing a shot hopelessly wide in the opening period and needing 12 shots to find the net once and win the match.

Winning was all that mattered - Koeman

Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman said he was more interested in ensuring his side beat Levante than focusing on the manner in which it won.

Lionel Messi gave Barca the lead late in the game and even though the Catalans had missed numerous chances before then, they were left begging for the full-time whistle as Levante pegged them back deep into the five minutes of added time.

Koeman brought on defender Samuel Umtiti for striker Antoine Griezmann late on to help his side see out the game and was forced to defend what was interpreted as a defensive move unbefitting of a Barcelona coach.

“I didn't care how we won the game,” Koeman told a news conference.

“We knew we'd have to face corners and set pieces and that we had to defend by whichever way possible.”

The Dutch coach appeared frustrated with being questioned by his tactics by reporters, who he accused of seeking controversy.

'Typical question'

“That is the typical question people ask when they are looking to cause a stir,” he fired back.

“Throughout my whole life I've always understood that when you're 1-0 up, even if you are in control, you have to be able to defend. If you can't understand that, you might as well give up.”

“It was very important to win because of our position in the table. I'm happy with the team because we did what we had to do,” Koeman added.

“Once again we had a lot of chances but could only score one goal. It's also related to our confidence, because if you are a forward and you score you feel more confident in your next game. I hope on Wednesday we can prove that we can play better.”