Malcom, Philippe Coutinho underwhelm as Barcelona drop Copa first leg at Levante
Barcelona have work to do in the Copa del Rey after they were beaten 2-1 at Levante in their round-of-16 first-leg tie on Thursday.
Goals from Erick Cabaco and Borja Mayoral pushed Levante into a two-goal lead inside 20 minutes at the Ciudad de Valencia Stadium against a heavily rotated Barca side.
The Catalans improved after the break, though, and grabbed a consolation via a late penalty from Philippe Coutinho after good work from substitute Denis Suarez.
The two teams will meet again in the second leg next Thursday at Camp Nou.
Given how off-colour Barca were in the first half, coach Ernesto Valverde will be pleased to still be in the tie. But for some key saves from Jasper Cillessen, Levante could have been out of sight by half-time. Barca came back into the game and Coutinho's spot kick means they'll be hopeful of turning things around next week as they look to win the Copa del Rey for a fifth successive season.
There was also a debut for new signing Jeison Murillo. After a slow start, he grew into the game.
There were poor performances all over the pitch. Despite netting a penalty, Coutinho did little to suggest he should break back into the team after being left out in recent weeks. Malcom and Sergio Busquets weren't great, either. It was also a tough night for youngsters Juan Brandariz aka "Chumi" and Juan Miranda, but it's important not to throw them under the bus.
Once again, though, this was another reminder of the difference between Barca with and without Lionel Messi. That said, Luis Suarez, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba and Ivan Rakitic were all rested here, too.
Manager rating out of 10
6 -- Ernesto Valverde may be criticised for his lineup, but it was the right call. With the cushion of next week's second leg and a mounting number of games in the build-up to the return of the Champions League next month, this was the time to rotate. That some players didn't perform is not necessarily the coach's fault. It also must be said that it's not easy for players to be thrown into a new side and click instantly. That was especially true in defence against Levante.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Jasper Cillessen, 7 -- Not at fault for the goals and made a couple of key interventions to keep the score down, especially in the first half. Was always quick to get the ball rolling again.
DF Nelson Semedo, 6 -- Caused problems down the right wing, with one foray forward creating Barca's best chance of the first half.
DF Jeison Murillo -- Not the easiest circumstances for his debut, as he was picked in defence with two Barca B defenders. Struggled due to that early on and was unable to stop Mayoral from cutting across him for the second goal. He bounced back after that and was quite good in the second half.
DF Juan Brandariz, 5 -- The Barca B defender was taken off just before the hour mark after a tough evening. "Chumi" was poorly positioned for the first goal and was later booked after being spun by the lively Emmanuel Boateng.
DF Juan Miranda, 5 -- Hooked at half-time but it would be wrong to make the young left-back the scapegoat for Barcelona's shocking start. That said, he did make too many mistakes. A learning curve.
MF Sergio Busquets, 6 -- Poorly positioned for the opening goal, which was effectively a free header for Cabaco. Had a difficult night in general and continues to look short of his best form.
MF Carles Alena, 6 -- Has had his moments this season but didn't quite do enough with his 90 minutes to suggest he's ready to break into Valverde's side.
MF Arturo Vidal, 7 -- Perhaps the only Barca player to play with any fire in the first 45 minutes. Was everywhere, but was lacking options ahead of him at times.
FW Malcom, 5 -- Disappointed before being taken off in the second half as his stop-start Barca career continues. Had a great chance to score in the opening period but was denied by Aitor Fernandez when sent through one-on-one.
FW Ousmane Dembele, 6 -- Played in a less familiar role through the middle and was Barca's biggest danger man. His pace caused problems and he drew a couple of saves from Levante goalkeeper Aitor.
FW Philippe Coutinho, 6 -- Missed his chance to make a point after being left on the bench for the last four league games. Ran into trouble too often and didn't pick his head up enough. Barca need more from their club-record signing, although his late penalty kept them in the tie.
DF Sergi Roberto, 6 -- Came on for Miranda to play at left-back but wasn't heavily involved in the action.
DF Clement Lenglet, 6 -- Shored up an awkward-looking backline in the second half.
FW Denis Suarez, 7 -- Made a huge impact off the bench as rumours of a move to Arsenal continue to circulate. Provoked the penalty which earned Barca a vital goal and caused more problems than Malcom, who he replaced, despite only being on the pitch for 25 minutes.