Messi Dest Barcelona 2020

Ronald Koeman felt his Barcelona side showed fighting spirit to get their Liga campaign back on track with a 1-0 victory against Levante.

But a familiar hero stepped forward on Sunday, with Lionel Messi dispatching Frenkie De Jong’s throughball 14 minutes from time.

Messi has been involved in 37 goals in his La Liga career against Levante (22 goals and 15 assists), more than against any other team in the competition.

The six-time Ballon d’Or winner has scored 449 goals in La Liga and he is just one shy of becoming the first player to reach 450 with just one club in the top five European leagues.

“It’s true it was a very complicated game today. We created a lot of chances and we did improve as the game went on,” Koeman told LaLiga TV after Barca cut the gap between themselves, and Real Sociedad and Atletico Madrid at the summit to nine points.

“We were better in the second half because we pushed higher up the pitch and won a lot of balls back. We still created as well.

“But we still struggled to take the lead. I think it’s a deserved victory and very hard-earned victory as well.”

Levante gave a shaky Barcelona defence plenty to think about during the first half, with Jorge de Frutos and Dani Gomez each spurning good chances,

“We weren’t expecting a game where they pressed us as much as they did but we knew that could happen, especially with so many balls being played around the midfield area,” Koeman said.

“There were moments where we played well but we do have to admit that they had two very clear chances in the first half.

“During the game we did change our formation and pushed a little bit higher and I think we were better in the second 45.”

The former Netherlands coach has been criticised by some sections of the Barcelona fanbase and media for the perceived conservatism of his 4-2-3-1 setup.

Throwing on an extra centre-back in Samuel Umtiti in place of Antoine Griezmann for the closing minutes invited further mirth from his detractors but Koeman felt the ends justified the means.

“If there’s little bit left in the game and the opponent is throwing players forward, it’s better to shore up the defence, particularly from set plays,” he added, with a crunch midweek clash versus Sociedad at Camp Nou next on the agenda.

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