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Levante 0-4 Barcelona: Ingenious Iniesta inspires Blaugrana to victory

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Pique: 'Big Ballon d'Or favourite' Messi has stolen my heart
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Pique: 'Big Ballon d'Or favourite' Messi has stolen my heart

Barcelona maintained its stranglehold on top spot in La Liga with a resounding 4-0 victory over Levante on Sunday evening.

Andres Iniesta was the undoubted star of the show, creating two goals for Lionel Messi and one for Cesc Fabregas, as well as scoring a stunner himself.

Levante had held Barca scoreless until the interval but simply had no answer to Iniesta's genius after the break and the league's top team ultimately coasted to a victory that restores its three-point lead over Atletico Madrid, but perhaps more significantly, moves it 11 points clear of reigning champion Real Madrid.

Unsurprisingly, Barcelona dominated possession early on, but it was the home side which threatened first, with Jose Barkero drawing a spectacular one-handed save from Victor Valdes, after stepping nimbly inside Sergio Busquets.

The Catalans then lost Dani Alves to injury, with Martin Montoya filling the considerable void left by the Brazilian at right back. Barca appeared unperturbed, though, and Messi very nearly broke the deadlock midway through the first half, but his low drive from the edge of the area flew just wide of Gustavo Munua’s left-hand post.

Xavi then tested the home side’s goalkeeper with a well-struck volley on the half-hour mark, but Levante underlined its considerable counterattacking capabilities moments later when Barkero skied a close-range effort over the bar, after a terrific run down the left wing from Juanlu, who had nutmegged Gerard Pique before crossing.

Indeed, even with Carles Puyol back within the ranks, Barca looked decidedly vulnerable at the back, and Obafemi Martins nodded just wide shortly before the break as Levante continued to ask questions of the brittle Blaugrana back four, particularly at set pieces.

However, a side with attacking players of the caliber of Messi and Iniesta doesn’t exactly need to be impenetrable defensively, as so wonderfully underlined within 12 minutes of the restart.

Barely two minutes of the second half had elapsed when Iniesta dissected the Levante defense with a slide-rule pass that Messi nonchalantly lifted over the advancing Munua.

Moments later, the pair combined again, Iniesta driving to the by line before instinctively pulling the ball back to where he knew Messi would be waiting to double Barca’s advantage with another composed finish.

Iniesta wasn’t done, though, not by a long way. First he put the result beyond all doubt with a thunderous drive from the edge of the area which flew into the back of the Levante net via the underside of the crossbar. Then, just after the hour mark he slipped in Fabregas, who calmly stepped around Munua before slotting home.

The beleaguered home side should have pulled a goal back late on when Puyol was harshly adjudged to have deliberately handled in the area. However, Victor Valdes brilliantly saved Bakero's penalty, as well as the follow up, to preserve Barca's clean sheet, thus putting the seal on what has been a near-perfect weekend for the league leader, which will now be hoping that Real and Atletico take points off one another next Saturday in the Madrid derby.

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