Barca wins 3-0 before Coutinho arrival; Madrid drops points
ABS-CBN Sports on Jan 08, 2018 07:32 AM
FC Barcelona's Paulinho, right, celebrates after scoring with his teammate Luis Suarez during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between FC Barcelona and Levante at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, Jan. 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
By Joseph Wilson, Associated Press
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez scored first-half goals in a 3-0 win over Levante on Sunday, restoring Barcelona's nine-point lead of the Spanish league while it awaits the arrival of Philippe Coutinho.
Messi marked his 400th appearance in La Liga by giving Barcelona the early lead and taking his all-time record in the competition to 365 goals.
Suarez doubled the advantage before halftime, before Messi set up Paulinho to round off the win in stoppage time.
Such an emphatic victory comes as Barcelona's attacking threat is preparing for an additional injection of creativity with the 25-year-old Coutinho.
The Camp Nou is anticipating the incorporation of the Brazil midfielder, who flew to Barcelona on Saturday. Barcelona said Coutinho has yet to meet with his new teammates and coach, although he did make an appearance at a club facility outside the stadium for a photo session after Sunday's match.
Coutinho then sent a brief video message via Barcelona's Twitter account, saying "Hi Barca fans. I am already here. It's a dream come true."
Coutinho will be officially presented Monday after a transfer deal that could reach 160 million euros ($192 million).
"(Coutinho) is a player who I think can bring many things to the team," Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said. "He scores goals and provides assists, and in attack he can help us a lot."
Not that Barcelona needs it in the league. Atletico Madrid, which beat Getafe 2-0 on Saturday, remains a distant second, and fourth-place Real Madrid stumbled again on Sunday when it drew at Celta Vigo 2-2.
The win took Barcelona's unbeaten streak to 27 straight matches dating back to its loss to Madrid in the curtain-raising Spanish Super Cup in August.
Ousmane Dembele started for Barcelona and played just more than an hour before being substituted in his second appearance since returning from a left-leg injury that sidelined him since mid-September. The 20-year-old France forward played the final minutes of Thursday's 1-1 draw at Celta Vigo in the Copa del Rey.
"In these three months I have been able to learn Barcelona's philosophy, now I am eager to help the team," Dembele said.
Until the deal for Coutinho, Dembele was the club's most expensive signing for a transfer fee of 105 million euros that could rise to 147 million euros.
Levante, despite its modest squad, counter-attacked well and threatened through striker Emmanuel Boateng.
But Messi once again this season connected with left back Jordi Alba, who headed back his pass for the Argentina forward to use one touch to volley in off the far post in the 12th minute and record his league-leading 16th goal of the season.
After a jittery start when he lost possession twice, Dembele showed his speed by dribbling to the edge of the area where he unleashed a powerful strike that goalkeeper Oier Olazabal did well to parry.
Javier Mascherano started for Barcelona amid widespread speculation that he wants to leave in search of more playing time.
The defender helped to set up Barcelona's second goal by lobbing a pass over Levante's defense where Sergi Roberto used one touch to send it to Suarez in the 38th. The striker used his left leg to control the ball before sweeping home with his right for his 11th goal of the season and his sixth in a five-round scoring streak.
Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen made excellent saves early in the second half, getting one hand on a shot by Ivan "Ivi" Lopez before using his foot to deny American defender Shaq Moore.
Messi finished the match by dribbling to the endline before squaring a pass for Paulinho to tap in for his seventh goal of the season.
Barcelona reserve-team striker Jose Arnaiz debuted in the league as a late substitute. The 22-year-old has scored three times in the Copa del Rey this campaign.
16 POINTS BEHIND
Real Madrid wasted a brace by Gareth Bale as it slipped again in the title race after drawing at Celta.
Bale's two goals in a three-minute span in the first half overturned an opener by Celta's Daniel Wass.
But Celta outplayed Madrid in the second half and Maxi Gomez headed in a pass by Wass to equalize in the 82nd.
Celta went close to scoring in the 72nd when Iago Aspas had his penalty kick saved by Keylor Navas after the goalkeeper had fouled him.
The result left Madrid 16 points behind Barcelona, although with a game in hand.
Athletic Bilbao beat Alaves 2-0, Leganes edged Real Sociedad 1-0, and Deportivo La Coruna drew 1-1 at Villarreal.