Barcelona blew their chance to finish the season unbeaten, losing a crazy game in Levante that had two hat-tricks, nine goals, and a defensive horror show from the Spanish champions.
Phillipe Coutinho will never forget his first Barcelona hat-trick. He did more than most to prevent an historic defeat – scoring three goals but ending up on the losing side.
Lionel Messi had been left at home resting and it would be easy to conclude his absence cost Barcelona their unbeaten record but Barcelona had no problems scoring. It was stopping Levante from doing likewise that they could not manage.
Emmanuel Boateng also grabbed a hat-trick as Yerry Mina struggled at the back, firstly with Belgium defender Thomas Vermaelen alongside him, then Gerard Pique when the former Arsenal man hobbled off with a hamstring injury.
After the madness, Sergio Busquets reflected:
‘Clearly we wanted to finish the season unbeaten but this takes nothing away from the great season we have had.
‘If a team scores five against you it is very difficult to come away with anything from the game.
‘We had chances to draw the game but it was not to be. We have still had an incredible season to be proud of.’
Levante took the lead on nine minutes. A poor clearance from Mina gifted Levante possession on the edge of the Barcelona area. Jose Luis Morales got on his bike, motoring to the byline past the hapless Mina and when he pulled the ball back Boateng hooked in from close range.
It was so nearly 2-0 moments later when Enis Bardhi hit the frame of the goal with Barcelona’s defence once again all over the place. Mina was partnering Vermaelen in the centre of the defence with Pique on the bench.
Levante went 15 games without a win in the middle of the season but when Paco Lopez took over he led the team on a run of seven wins in nine games dragging them away from the bottom of the table.
Vermaelen was booked for chopping down Boateng on the touchline. The Ghanaian was a constant threat and the Belgian was suffering alongside Mina in a shaky Barcelona defence. Things got worse for him on 28 minutes when his right hamstring gave way and he had to hobble off.
It was bad news for Barcelona and for England’s World Cup rivals Belgium with the tournament just a month away.
Pique was not ready to come on and instead of Vermaelen going to ground and Barcelona putting the ball out to give him time to warm-up, they inexplicably rushed the Belgian off the pitch and continued momentarily with 10.
In that time Levante scored a second. It was Ivan Rakitic who cleared poorly and the home side cut through the heart of Barcelona’s defence once more. Mina was once more a spectator. Boateng skillfully rounded Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Nelson Semedo tried to react but Boateng was too strong. He muscled his way clear and smashed the ball into the empty net.
Pique was on now and he had decided that Barcelona were not just going to roll over. He led the charge forward and laid the ball off to Luis Suarez on the edge of the area. He played it to Philippe Coutinho and the former Liverpool midfielder scored his fifth league goal, his seventh in all competitions for Barcelona.
But it was not the start of a comeback. Barcelona conceded three times in the first ten minutes of the second half. Bardhi scored from Jose Campana’s assist inside the first minute and it was 4-1 when Pique was beaten in the air and Boateng sprinted onto the flick-on leaving Mina in his slipstream and scoring past Ter Stegen.
Bardhi scored his second and Levante’s fifth and Barcelona were now looking ridiculous – two games from not losing all season, to losing 5-1 against a team that had spent most of the season fighting relegation.
Coutinho was not finished though and he scored two quick goals to complete his hat-trick. First Dembele’s shot was blocked and bounced to him in the area and he scored from close range. And then he shot from the edge of the area through a crowded area and past Oier Olazabal in the Levante goal.
With 20 minutes left Boateng brought down Busquets from a corner and Suarez slammed his penalty straight down the middle past Oier. From 5-1 down Barcelona were now a goal away from saving their unbeaten record.
Coutinho set off on another mazy run but this time shot over. They could not find the equaliser. The Brazilian has had a good half season for his new club. But it’s a season will not end with Barcelona crowned invincibles.