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.
Barca had dominated the game but failed to keep their 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.
Lionel Messi has now scored 600 goals wearing the No🔟 shirt for Barcelona – and 642 for the club overall. 💥💥
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) December 13, 2020
The Argentine punched the air more in relief than celebration, having fired blanks in Barca’s recent painful defeats by Cadiz and Juventus.
Barca were 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.
The win lifted Barca up to eighth in the standings on 17 points after 11 games, closing the gap with leaders 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.
“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.”
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) December 13, 2020
Levante often prove a handful to Barca when playing at home in Valencia but they have never taken a point off the Catalans at the Camp Nou.
They came mightily close to doing so, however, as Barca struggled to cope with their opponents’ defensive tactics, repeatedly interrupting the home side’s play with their compact banks of four defenders and midfielders.
When Barca did manage to come up against Levante keeper Aitor Fernandez they 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.