Ronald Koeman decided to select an almost identical team that lost to Cadiz the previous week. The only change was at centre back as Ronald Araújo replaced Óscar Mingueza. Though Barcelona were eventual winners, the performance was far from a vintage Barça display. Many of the same problems still persist, and the home side lacked a clinical edge in front of goal.
There was a lack of width from the Catalans, and the centre of the pitch was too congested. When Sergiño Dest and Jordi Alba did get forward, the Blaugrana had success down the wings as Levante defended narrow and allowed space out wide.
The real moments of magic came from Lionel Messi as other big names struggled to make an impact. He was involved in 15 shots out of Barcelona’s 24 attempts on goal. Messi was the main attacking presence and had a tough battle against Levante goalkeeper, Aitor Fernandez. Barça’s captain would eventually win the duel, scoring in the 76th minute to give his side a 1-0 win on the night. It seemed as though the only way Barcelona were going to win was if the Argentine scored.
1. Koeman remains too stubborn
When manager Ronald Koeman began his coaching career at Barcelona, there was hope that he would bring back the best version of the team. He had the respect and authority that the previous two managers did not. The squad was also rejuvenated with some of the senior players departing and several younger signings being made. Furthermore, the initial signs were positive as the team played with much better intensity and fluid attacking football returned.
To an extent, Koeman has the Blaugrana playing better football, but the results have been questionable, to say the least. This partly comes down to the players as individual errors and performances have cost the side. However, Koeman’s stubbornness is also an issue as he seems unwilling to change his ideas or line-ups.
The talents of Riqui Puig and Carles Aleñá have been overlooked this season, though playing well when they have featured. Besides, Miralem Pjanić is unhappy with his limited game time so far. Ignoring some players means that Koeman is overusing others while they have not been performing at their best.
The Dutch manager also continues to play too many central players in the attack. It means players are fighting over the same spaces in the middle of the pitch, and the wide areas become ineffective. Though Koeman changed the formation against Levante, possibly due to a lack of available wingers, Philippe Coutinho and Antoine Griezmann still found themselves on the wings too often.
2. If Messi does not score, Barcelona do not win
This campaign, Barcelona are relying on Lionel Messi more than ever. The Argentine has not been at his blistering best, and his usual scoring statistics have been lower for his monumental standards. It is evident with the Catalan’s poor form in La Liga. If Barça’s number 10 does not have his say on the match, nobody else seems to want to either. In fact, the Blaugrana have only won one game in La Liga where the 33-year-old has not scored in this season. This came in matchday two against Celta Vigo.
In difficult games, the team still looks to their captain too much to rescue them. Opposition keepers have put in some impressive displays against the Spanish giants this season, but this cannot be used as an excuse.
In the match against Levante, Barcelona had more than enough chances to win comfortably. Once again though, it fell to Messi to decide the fixture and give Barça the three points. Too many players still hide on big occasions and fail to take their chances. The squad has proved they can do it against teams like Ferencváros and dynamo Kyiv, but they need to produce these types of displays more regularly.
3. A new role for de Jong?
As the manager changed the formation for the first time this season, Frenkie de Jong found himself in a more advanced position. The double-pivot partnership of Sergio Busquets and de Jong has been a disappointment so far. Neither player has been anywhere near their best, and they seem incompatible. Culés have noticed this, and for the first time, the Dutchman was being questioned by fans about his mediocre performances.
In his more advanced role, the former Ajax midfielder seemed to enjoy the freedom he was given. He was much more adventurous in his running and passing. The 23-year-old controlled the play for Barcelona and linked a lot better with the forwards.
In the match against Levante, de Jong created five chances, the same amount he had created in his previous ten games. Ronald Koeman wanted to get the number 21 to link more with Lionel Messi in particular. This new role could be the key to achieving this and getting the best out of the talented midfielder. De Jong needs a consistent run of form to prove any doubters wrong and show why he deserves to be in the team every week.
Barcelona player ratings vs Sevilla — Hosts unable to get past Mingueza, the wall
Turning headless chickens into mature students of the game turned out to be Ronald Koeman’s biggest achievement at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, where the Catalan giants had recently just suffered a disappointing loss. On the score-sheet, the margin may not have looked considerable, but on the field, Barcelona were pretty much untouchable, courtesy in large parts to the structural change made by Koeman.
A performance this cohesive and harmonized was much needed after the countless defeats Barça have suffered on the big stage. Everything Cules have strived to see in this team, was present, and while consistency has been the club’s biggest hurdle, this win undoubtedly holds a great deal of significance.
The Blaugranas have arguably exerted more energy in other games over the course of the campaign, but the spirit Barcelona lacked suddenly came to life. The pressing was in sync, every move was calculated and well crafted. Playing the Barcelona way in hostile territory against a team as dominant as Sevilla brought back life into a team devoid of wins in high magnitude encounters.
Marc-André Ter Stegen: 7
Ter Stegen oozed confidence as he came off his line and claimed the ball several times. Not only did he display composure, but the German rushed out of his box on one occasion to clear the ball and remove any danger that Sevilla’s potential attack possessed. With the exception of a poor pass, his distribution was immaculate. Even so, it must be admitted that the Sevilla forwards barely tested ter Stegen in goal with dangerous attempts on target.
Oscar Mingueza: 8.5
Oscar Mingueza was a vital reason as to why the Blaugrana defence was impenetrable. Piementa’s prodigy did not allow Lopetegui’s men to advance into any areas on the right side of the field. He won 6 out his 9 duels along winning 5 tackles, proving the 21-year-old’s precise ball-winning abilities remain crucial. Not to mention, his exceptional ball-playing ability enabled Barça to play with a high line thus applying further pressure on Sevilla.
Pique was the nail in the coffin to Barça’s counter-pressing strategies. The players would press the Sevilla Keeper and force him to heave the ball away, and this is where Pique’s aerial ability flourished, which particularly authorized the Catalans to regain possession. The Spanish veteran won 5 out of 7 of his aerial duels, thus showing his dominance in that area of play. His distribution was reliable as always and allowed the Catalans to retain a high defensive line at selected times.
The Frenchman is on route to recovering the form he once had, and this performance should do his confidence a world of good. Still prone to making errors, he dealt with Sevilla’s threat in a respectable manner. An improvement was observed in his ability to stay ahead of his man, which led to his positioning being marginally better. His second-half performance was key to the win as he stepped up after Pique and Ronald Araujo had to be subbed off. Lenglet must be appreciated for his tackling as they successfully neutralized a few well-structured attacks from the hosts.
Sergiño Dest: 7
Despite typically being perceived as a full-back, Ronald Koeman handed Dest the responsibility to play higher up the field as a right-wing-back. The American speedster enjoyed his new role with piercing runs behind Sevilla’s defence and looked a lot more explosive, with defensive cover behind him.
Sergino Dest vs Sevilla:— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) February 28, 2021
• Touches: 58
• Accurate passes: 36/42 (86%)
• Shots: 2
• Ground duels (won): 4 (2)
• Fouls won: 2
• Clearances: 2
• Interceptions: 2
— SofaScore pic.twitter.com/IjN74fDwhc
Dest launched a couple of promising crosses, but a major issue was that he shied away from entering 1v1 duels and instinctively looked to send in crosses. The US international also came oh-so-close to scoring after striking the post on one occasion.
Jordi Alba: 7.5
Similar to his wing-back partner in crime, Jordi Alba raided forward at any given opportunity, stretching the play wide and utilizing his raw pace throughout. Without having to worry about his defensive duties, the marauding Spaniard looked a lot more imposing. He was just inches away from tapping the ball into the opposition net after proceedings.
Frenkie de Jong: 8.5
De Jong’s season just proceeds to take massive leaps as the Dutchman proved to be a defining factor in the Catalans’ applaudable 2-0 victory. In spite of not stamping his name on the score-sheet, De Jong’s performance was worthy of endless praise, almost making it seem as if he was carrying around an extra pair of lungs. The former Ajax wonderboy surged forward, breaking the opposition’s lines tirelessly and constantly squirming his way out of tight areas.
Sergio Busquets: 7.5
The ageing veteran appeared to be recreating glimpses from the past as his counter-pressing was absolutely decisive in the Catalans’ attacking plays. Sergio Busquets – unlike most big game he has participated in – was not cheaply bullied off the ball and made possession purposeful for the Blaugranas. With defensive aid behind him, Busquets was back to his brilliant best.
The cog in Ronald Koeman’s midfield was once again a trusty figure in midfield and managed to string together some impressive plays in what appeared to be a 3-5-2 formation. Though Pedri’s involvement was substantially lower than usual, his display was mainly impeded by an injury he suffered in the 71st minute, disabling him from completing the full 90 minutes.
Lionel Messi: 8.5
Against his favourite opposition, Lionel Messi savoured the occasion to the fullest. The Argentine was an influential figure in the club’s victory away from home, with his creativity and efficiency in front of goal second to none. In the 29th minute of the game, Leo spotted a raiding Ousmane Dembélé through on goal as he bagged himself an assist for the Frenchman’s finish.
To cap off his outing, Barcelona’s captain weaved his way past a couple of Sevilla defenders and, after failing to chip the keeper, delicately slotted it into the net.
Ousmane Dembélé: 8
Sevilla were haplessly left chasing Ousmane Dembélé’s shadows. The Frenchman – without having to worry about his defensive tasks – waltzed forward continuously and enjoyed playing as a secondary striker, making runs in behind the defence and eventually proving his worth with a beautifully placed goal just before the half-hour mark. A much more mature and composed exhibition from the electric winger.
Ilaix Moriba: 7
Ronald Araujo: N/A
Martin Braithwaite: N/A
Samuel Umtiti: N/A