Switzerland give Neymar the rough treatment to frustrate Brazil

The name on everybody’s lips heading into Brazil’s World Cup opener against Switzerland on Sunday was an unsurprising one: Neymar.

The Paris Saint-Germain star was a doubt for the tournament in Russia not too long ago after fracturing his metatarsal in the Ligue 1 encounter with Marseille back in February and only recently returned to full training.

Neymar’s injury problems did not stop him from scoring both in his return to action against Croatia as well as against Austria, but Brazil boss Tite admitted during his pre-match news conference that the 26-year-old was not in peak condition yet.

“Neymar is not 100 per cent,” he stated at the Rostov Arena. “But he is very privileged physically, his sprinting capacity and his speed is really impressive, he hasn’t lost that. He’s not 100 per cent yet, but he’s good enough to play very well.”

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Both parts of Tite’s message had clearly registered with the Swiss as they did everything within their power to keep the PSG man quiet.

Valon Behrami needed a mere four minutes for his first foul on Neymar, only to repeat the trick 10 minutes later, much to the annoyance of the Brazil No.10.

Referee Cesar Ramos took action at the half-hour mark when Stephan Lichtsteiner brought down Neymar on the edge of the box, but Switzerland continued to bully the former Barcelona man at every opportunity, with Fabian Schar and Behrami both going into the match official’s book too.

Neymar Valon Behrami Brazil Switzerland World Cup 2018

Vladimir Petkovic’s men’s focus on Neymar – who was fouled 10 times across 96 minutes – allowed his team-mates a bit of extra space and Philippe Coutinho took the opportunity to show what he is capable of in what was his World Cup debut.

The ex-Liverpool man was involved in Brazil’s first moment of danger when he set up Neymar down the left, with Paulinho eventually scuffing a shot wide from a close range.

Coutinho then decided to take matters into his own hand midway through the first half. The 26-year-old picked up a loose ball 25 yards out and beat goalkeeper Yann Sommer with a stunning curler into the top corner.

His attacking influence was not Coutinho’s only contribution on the evening, however, as he happily tracked back when needed, often finding himself in a deeper position than Barcelona team-mate Paulinho. 

But the 26-year-old’s strike eventually was not enough as some unconvincing defending from Miranda allowed Steven Zuber to level the scoring early in the second half after a Ricardo Rodriguez corner.

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Coutinho came close to restoring Brazil’s lead when he chested down a long ball from the left before blasting a volley toward the far post, but he was unfortunate to see his attempt sail wide.

Brazil thus had to settle for a 1-1 draw in their opening game, with Sommer pulling off a superb save late on to save Switzerland, as they got their campaign off to an underwhelming start, much like fellow favourites Spain, Argentina and Germany.

Costa Rica now await on matchday two, before they lock horns with Serbia in their final game of the group stages on June 27 as they continue the chase for their sixth-ever world title.


Losing Coutinho was the ‘best thing that could have happened’ to Liverpool, says Ince

Paul Ince believes the loss of Philippe Coutinho was the “best thing that could happen” to Liverpool.

Coutinho, 26, had established himself as a key figure at Anfield before sealing a £142 million move to Barcelona in January.

Eyebrows were raised at Liverpool’s decision to sanction the sale of Coutinho midway through the 2017/18 campaign with no replacement signed at the time.

However, the Reds managed to seal a Champions League final berth and a top-four Premier League finish without the Brazil star and Ince believes his old side benefitted from his departure.

“Coutinho was the one that everyone thought when he has gone, that it is it, [they are finished],” Ince told Goal. “I don’t know whether Klopp felt the same, but I felt that losing Coutinho was the best thing that could happen for Liverpool because they were so dependent on Coutinho, everyone was talking about Coutinho.

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“Once he left it was then time for the players to step up and say ‘well now we have got responsibility’. It is not a one-man team as everyone was saying. We will show that it is not. Getting Salah in was amazing business. That was the best business ever getting Salah in. I used to watch him play for Roma last year with Dzeko and he was amazing.

“I can’t believe Liverpool were the only ones in for him [Salah]. That was a great bit of business.”

Ince, who played for Liverpool between 1997 and 1999, has hailed the arrivals of Naby Keita and Fabinho but equally says Emre Can’s departure is a blow for the club.

The 50-year-old believes the Merseysiders still need to make a few more additions in the summer transfer window, particularly in goal and up front.

Ince: Losing Coutinho was best thing to happen to Liverpool

Was losing Philippe Coutinho the best thing that could have happened to Liverpool? Paul Ince thinks so and the former Reds midfielder also expects Jurgen Klopp’s men to challenge for major honours again in 2018/19. (Paddy Power)
Posted by Goal.com on Sunday, 17 June 2018

He continued: “Getting Keita in from Leipzig, top player. Fabinho, yes, I like him. I think they have done a good bit of business. I think they have to replace Can, it is a shame that he has gone.

“I like him as a player, I think he has all the components that you want from a midfield player. He is strong, can get it down and can past. I think they will get a goalkeeper in. Irrespective of what happened in the Champions League. I am not going down that road but I think they need another goalkeeper.

“He has not been sure all season, whether it is Karius or Mignolet. I think he will wanna go. I like Alexander-Arnold, he is a young kid and will improve, he will come back. So on the basis, I think they will need another striker. I think they need a target man. I know they have got the little players for how he plays but I think they need a target man.

“You need a target man sometimes, when you are chasing the game. When you just put balls into the box and I think someone like that. I expect them to be up there again challenging. It all depends on who City will buy. City will buy. You hear the owner say we will dominate for the next 10 years, we will win every title.

“He is not going away from a money point of view. So it is all about who buys what but it bodes well for an exciting Premier League next year.”

Loris Karius Liverpool Champions League final

Despite Liverpool’s positive season, they still finished way off the pace of the Premier League winners Manchester City.

Pep Guardiola’s side had a 25-point lead on Liverpool as they broke the record points total by reaching 100 points. They will likely continue to invest heavily but Ince thinks that Liverpool will be amongst the challengers next season.

“Yes, there’s hope. There has got to be hope,” he added. “I think Liverpool will improve. I think it will be tough because Man City will buy again and they won the title by 18-19 points. That’s like six and a half games more or less but the other teams can beat them. There are ways of beating them.

“Huddersfield got a point against them. Teams will defend deep against them and they won’t always break them down. I just think you if you can match them and fight fire with fire, you can exploit City because they do leave gaps in behind. For United, if you just sit back then they just open teams up because they have got Silva’s and De Bruyne who can just unlock those deep blocks up.

“So you want to stay in the game but fight fire with fire. Look at the second half where they won 3-2. They got lucky there because they should have been 6-0 down at half-time and wouldn’t have scored as many goals but the second half performance was something that you want to see. That’s the approach want to see [against City] and that’s got to give you hope for next season.”

Paul Ince is an ambassador for Paddy Power and will be a guest on Paddy’s Boat Party which will be broadcast live on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube throughout the World Cup.


Austria 0 Brazil 3: Neymar, Jesus and Coutinho send Selecao to Russia in style

Neymar marked his first start since February with a dazzling goal as Brazil rounded off their World Cup preparations with a superb 3-0 win over Austria

Gabriel Jesus should have been penalised for offside when he converted expertly nine minutes before half-time at Vienna’s Ernst-Happel-Stadion, but the Manchester City striker’s 10th goal in 17 international appearances stood.

Paris Saint-Germain star Neymar has spoken of fears over his fitness holding up following a broken metatarsal in February and he was forced to withstand some robust challenges before a wonderful solo effort made it 2-0 in the 63rd minute – his 55th international goal sending him level with Romario in third on Brazil’s all-time scoring chart.

Philippe Coutinho got in on the act six minutes later and the Barcelona playmaker also crashed against the crossbar as Tite’s side sounded a statement of intent ahead of Russia 2018.

Brazil begin their World Cup campaign against Switzerland in seven days, safe in the knowledge that star man Neymar, who lasted 84 minutes, and his esteemed supporting cast are in fine order.

There were brief fears for Neymar early on when Austria captain Julian Baumgartlinger trod on his ankle.

Real Madrid midfielder Casemiro, operating behind Tite’s impressive attacking ensemble, provided the first goal threat with a rasping 25 yarder that rippled the side netting.

Austria’s attacks were generally focused on shifting possession quickly towards centre-forward Marko Arnautovic and, when David Alaba’s cross evaded the West Ham attacker in the 19th minute, Alessandro Schopf was unable to slide home at the back post.

Reported Manchester United target Arnautovic then scuffed a shot into the turf and over from 10 yards after Schopf and Stefan Lainer picked apart an uncomfortable looking Brazil backline.

Coutinho drilled a low, long-range effort that drew a fine save from Heinz Lindner and the Austria goalkeeper brilliantly denied Paulinho with his feet shortly after Thiago Silva planted a Neymar corner wide.

The pressure told in the 36th minute when Marcelo’s speculative shot hit Casemiro and fell for Jesus, who finished with ice-cool precision despite replays suggesting he was fractionally offside.

A last-ditch sliding block from Aleksandar Dragovic prevented Willian from setting up Jesus for a second seven minutes after the restart.

There was an altercation following that challenge and some further strong tackles – a crude clump from the already-booked Schopf on Coutinho coming immediately after Sebastian Prodl felled Neymar – sent tempers to boiling point.

Brazil took their frustrations out constructively and Neymar forced Dragovic to ground against his will, sitting centre-back down and coolly slotting home.

The Selecao began carving Austria apart and, after Paulinho rifled a low effort too close to Lindner, Coutinho streamed on to a pass from Jesus’ replacement Roberto Firmino and clipped in number three.

Lindner was a spectator as Coutinho sent one of his speciality strikes thumping against the bar, while his underworked opposite number Alisson tipped behind from substitute Stefan Hierlander in the 81st minute – preserving a fifth consecutive international clean sheet before Neymar departed late on to a warm ovation.


Plan B may well have become Plan A – and Coutinho is the central figure in Tite’s evolving Brazil

The Barcelona man overcame early international disappointment to force his way into the Selecao – and now may be charged with the key role in Russia

GOALANALYSIS – Raisa Simplicio & Rupert Fryer

For a long time, Philippe Coutinho’s international career was one of false starts and disappointments.

His Brazil debut arrived back in 2010, but Coutinho was left out of Luiz Felipe Scholari’s squad for World Cup 2014, having earned just six caps in four years.

Dunga’s arrival was supposed to kick-start his journey with the Selecao, but instead came more ups and down as he failed to earn himself a regular starting spot.

That his preferred position was also the role reserved for Neymar – cutting in from the left – saw Coutinho face a persistent uphill struggle for international recognition.

Tite Coutinho Willian Brasil 04/10/2016

Indeed, it looked to be going the same way immediately following the June 2016 appointment of Tite, as the then Liverpool man had to make do with another place among the supporting cast.

But then came a change. Willian – who was struggling through personal problems at the time – suffered a dip in form and found himself increasingly isolated out on the right wing during the early stages of the Tite era.

After two substitute appearances, Coutinho was handed a starting role in an October 2016 World Cup qualifier against Bolivia. He’s been first choice ever since.

The former Vasco and Inter man grew considerably over the next few months, making himself one of the protagonists of a new dawn for Brazilian football as he formed a deadly triumvirate alongside Neymar and Gabriel Jesus.

And he is now being trusted with what is arguably the biggest task of any member of the squad that will travel to Russia this month.

Last year, Tite began experimenting with Coutinho in a central midfield role, slotting him in place of Renato Augusto as the playmaker charged with knitting the midfield to the attack.

Renato had been hugely impressive in the role, but the fact that he was now playing his football in the less challenging world of Chinese football, which also operates on a very different calendar, became a problem. The role now appears to be Coutinho’s for the taking.

With Barcelona star Coutinho in the side, the plan was to inject a little more dynamism to a balanced midfield anchored by Casemiro, who sat behind the shuttling Paulinho.

Initially, this appeared to be a ploy that Tite would use solely against teams that sat deep and looked only to stifle the Selecao. 

But Willian’s return to form has made the Chelsea man increasingly difficult to leave out and, with Renato having played almost half the number of minutes of his international colleagues in club football during 2018, Plan B could well become Plan A for Tite’s Brazil.

With Coutinho in the side, Brazil can morph mid-game from their customary 4-1-4-1 to variations of 4-3-3 and a 4-4-2.

And a knee injury for Renato means that the experiment will continue on Sunday against Austria as the Brasil Global Tour arrives in Vienna.

The one change from the side that defeated Croatia last weekend will see Fernandinho drop out and Coutinho return to central midfield, with Willian wide right and Neymar playing from the left – the same system we saw in the second half of the match at Anfield as the Selecao recovered from a tricky first-half to score two unanswered goals after the break.

Brazil meet Austria on Sunday June 10 at the Ernst-Happel-Stadion in what will be their final World Cup warm-up match before departing for Russia.

Follow Brazil’s World Cup preparations by joining us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.


Coutinho: Salah and Neymar can dethrone Messi and Ronaldo

Philippe Coutinho believes Mohamed Salah and Neymar can stake their claims to be the world’s best player at Russia 2018.

Both are going into the tournament with injury concerns –  Salah faces a race against time to be fit after hurting his shoulder in the Champions League final , while Neymar has not played since fracturing his foot in February .

Coutinho, who played with Salah at Liverpool before his January move to Barcelona and regularly partners Neymar in attack for Brazil, is confident that both have what it takes to disrupt Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s dominance at the summit of the game.

“It feels like the right moment for ­someone to take their chance at this World Cup,” said Coutinho.

“Messi and Ronaldo have been up there on their own for so many years. I think it may be time for other players to aspire to be the best in the world – and the best at this World Cup, too.

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“For me, Salah and Neymar have serious chances to do that. It depends on how the tournament goes, of course, but they have the talent to do it. Those are the players I would pick out.”

Coutinho, who is expected to feature in Brazil’s friendly against Croatia at Anfield on Sunday , enjoyed half a season alongside Salah before his move to Spain and has seen enough to know he will be a firm Liverpool favourite for years to come.

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“Watching Mo Salah since then has been amazing,” he added.

“He is going to be a player who will be a big hero at Liverpool for a long time, I am totally convinced of that.

“He can do well in the World Cup, too – it all depends on how far his team can go. But we also know what Neymar can bring. He is a special player.”


Liverpool owner: I can’t understand why Suarez & Coutinho left

Liverpool owner John W Henry insists he cannot understand why players such as Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho wanted to leave the club.

Both the Uruguay international and the Brazilian playmaker moved to Barcelona, in 2014 and 2018 respectively.

Suarez sparkled at Anfield prior to his transfer, scoring 31 league goals in the season before his move, while Coutinho netted 12 goals and provided eight assists in the half-season before the January deal.

Henry, though, believes that Liverpool are at the top of the food chain, and insists that, had they stayed, they would be in Jurgen Klopp’s starting XI for this weekend’s Champions League final against Real Madrid.

“Maybe it’s because I’m an American, but I have a difficult time understanding why anyone would want to leave Liverpool,” Henry told Associated Press.

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“The club is so rich in history and tradition, supported by so many millions around the world, in virtually every country of the world.

“You don’t want to be in the position where players want to go somewhere else, even if it is a great club like Barcelona.

“It’s hard to understand why players would want to go to a league where the competition is so weak. They must play 30 or so meaningless matches per year waiting for Champions League matches.

“They’ll be watching this weekend and could have been playing.

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“But [FSG president] Mike Gordon, [sporting director] Michael Edwards and everyone in our scouting department have done a terrific job in making the best of those two difficult situations.”

Mohamed Salah has enjoyed a stunning season this term, thus far netting 44 goals in all competitions, leading to speculation linking the Egypt international with Real Madrid and Barcelona.

It remains to be seen if, this time, a star player will remain at Anfield.


Liverpool coach proud of how Reds responded to ‘painful’ Coutinho exit

Philippe Coutinho’s departure for Barcelona was “painful” for Liverpool, admits assistant coach Peter Krawietz, but the Reds have offered the perfect response.

Having seen a key creative influence go chasing the dream at Camp Nou in January, those left behind at Anfield could have buckled and lost their way.

Coutinho’s absence has, however, barely registered on Merseyside, with Jurgen Klopp’s side arguably an even greater attacking force without the Brazil international.

The likes of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane have continued to flourish, helping Liverpool to the Champions League final, with one man not allowed to disrupt collective harmony.

Krawietz told SPOX on how the club handled a sale they were reluctant to sanction: “His change was very painful, because we lost his quality and special style of play.

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“So we had to ask ourselves: Can the group deal with this? Can we respond to this urgent call to change?

“In the end we answered in the affirmative. Phil was a formative figure with us. It was a pity he left. Fortunately, we have managed to absorb his loss collectively.

“Of course, one notices whether a player is happy or unhappy. 

“When a club approaches a player and suggests things to him, such as he might force a situation that complicates the situation for his current employer, that’s not nice and distressing for everyone.

“Of course, that was also a topic in the group, even though Phil had made the best possible contribution to the team until the last day in Liverpool.”

Liverpool were ultimately one of the victims of Neymar’s record-breaking €222 million (£195m/$260m) move from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain in the summer of 2017, with the transfer market flooded with cash.

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Those in Catalunya used part of that fee to bring in Coutinho, having already landed Ousmane Dembele, while Klopp and Co have forced to bide their time in indentifying a replacement after seeing valuations soar around the world.

Krawietz added: “We’ve already looked around, but when you do that, you notice relatively quickly how much the prices have exploded since the Neymar transfer last summer.

“Every club knew that there are now €222m in Barcelona. This led to a few incredible stories and a spiral that you felt, for example, not only with us, but also in Dortmund [where Borussia Dortmund lost Dembele for £135.5m].”


Barcelona 1 Real Sociedad 0: Coutinho stunner lights up Iniesta’s farewell

Andres Iniesta’s illustrious Barcelona career came to an end with a 1-0 win over Real Sociedad at a Camp Nou in celebratory mood.

The 34-year-old had announced in April that he would leave the Catalan giants at the end of the season – just two days before Ernesto Valverde’s side beat Deportivo La Coruna to confirm a 25th LaLiga title.

Played out against that backdrop it was hardly surprising that at times it felt more like a testimonial match rather than the final league game of the season.

Iniesta demonstrated his abundant repertoire in a dominant first-half display, finding his team-mates with an array of precise and inventive passing, something he has done with distinction since his debut in the 2002-03 season.

While the World Cup winner was not involved in the game’s solitary goal, he will have looked on admiringly as Philippe Coutinho whipped in a fine finish from outside the area after 57 minutes.

The curtain eventually came down on Iniesta’s time with Barca in the 81st minute, the midfielder leaving the field to a rapturous reception and handing over the captain’s armband to Lionel Messi in a symbolic gesture.

In a bright, open start it was the visitors who carved out the first clear sight of goal, Willian Jose heading straight at Marc-Andre ter Stegen from Adnan Januzaj’s clipped cross.

The Belgian winger then tested Barca’s goalkeeper himself soon after with a whipped effort from outside the penalty area before Iniesta came close to a fairytale goal – his low strike flashing past Miguel Angel Moya’s right-hand post and into the side netting.

A rejuvenated Ousmane Dembele then delivered two fine crosses in quick succession that should have resulted in an opener. First, an unmarked Ivan Rakitic failed to locate the target with a header from 10 yards and then Luis Suarez scuffed a shot wide from the Frenchman’s low ball into the box.

Sociedad were fortunate not to be reduced to 10 men moments before the interval when Raul Navas hacked down a marauding Dembele on the right, referee Jose Luis Munuera Montero opting to give the defender just a yellow card.

Barca started the second period with a spring in their step and were rewarded with a goal of the highest calibre from Coutinho.

The Brazilian – who netted a hat-trick in last weekend’s remarkable 5-4 defeat to Levante, a result that ended Barca’s unbeaten record in the league this term – cut in from the left and unleashed a trademark curled finish from 25 yards that crashed in off Moya’s left-hand post.

Messi almost set up a second minutes after his introduction, only for fellow substitute Denis Suarez to shoot too close to Moya, while the Argentine forward could not direct a header beyond the Sociedad goalkeeper from Luis Suarez’s cross. 

Iniesta’s long goodbye finally came to an end nine minutes from time when he was replaced by Paco Alacer, while there was also time for Sociedad to pay tribute to their own legendary midfielder Xabi Prieto, the 34-year-old coming on for the final few minutes ahead of his retirement at the end of the campaign.


VIDEO: Everyone loves to watch Brazil – Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish

The Reds great is confident the returning Coutinho will receive a warm welcome when the Selecao take to Anfield in June on the Brasil Global Tour

Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish believes Philippe Coutinho should be given a warm welcome when he returns to Anfield next month when Brazil face Croatia ahead of the World Cup. 

Coutinho left Liverpool for Barcelona in the January transfer window for £142 million and will make his first return to Anfield on June 3 alongside the likes of Neymar, Willian, Dani Alves and Fernandinho.

Dalglish is excited to see how Brazil perform ahead of the World Cup in Russia and believes the Liverpool fans will give Coutinho a warm reception.  

Dalglish said: “I would hope that, if there are people there who are Liverpool fans, they would give Coutinho a good reception.

King Kenny can’t wait to welcome Brazil

“Everybody loves to watch Brazil!”

Posted by Brasil Global Tour on Friday, May 18, 2018

“There may be people there who are upset that he’s left but they’re entitled to their opinion, but don’t turn up if all you want to do is boo people.

“I can understand the disappointment because he was fantastic over the past 18 months, but go watch Brazil and watch Firmino and the fantastic times he’s given.

“With Coutinho, his ability was a good start and the goals he scored from outside the box were tremendously exciting.

“If you take on Brazil and plan to focus on Coutinho then you’ve only got Neymar to contend with after that. 

“If those two are having a bad time then Bobby Firmino might step up for one – he normally scores at Anfield anyway.”

Philippe Coutinho Liverpool

Dalglish played 355 times for Liverpool during his career and won 102 caps for Scotland, including a few games against Brazil, which he remembers fondly, despite a lack of positive results. 

Dalglish said: “When I went to Brazil with Scotland, we lost 2-0 in 1977 and it was preparation for the World Cup in Argentina in the next year – I think I got about four or five touches and three of them were the kick-off.

“My memories don’t include a win. A few years before that, in 1974, we managed to draw 0-0 in a qualifying game and in 1982 we lost 4-1.

“We were doing okay in that one, we were holding our own until David Narey scored a goal for us and that upset them so they banged in four after that.”

Brazil go into this summer’s World Cup looking to exorcise the demons of four years ago, where they infamously lost 7-1 in the semi-finals at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro to Germany. 

Dalglish believes this Brazil team, who dominated South American qualifying, losing just once in 18 matches, are more formidable than they were in 2014.

He said: “I don’t think Brazil can play without being entertaining, the last time they played they lost 7-1 to Germany, but I think they’re a lot stronger now than they were then. 

“It would be interesting to see what they’ve got up front, they’ve got some firepower if the starters come off, they’ve got some great, great options.

“Even defensively which isn’t usually that attractive, they’ve got two fantastic defenders in Thiago Silva and Marquinhos.”

Dalglish was keen to stress that Croatia will bring some excellent players of their own and add to the spectacle, but believes the allure of Brazil will ultimately bring the crowds to Anfield. 

The Scot said: “Croatia are not bad either, they’ve got four or five players who play for the top sides in Europe so it’s not going to be an easy game.

“They have got Real Madrid’s Luka Modric, Mario Mandzukic who’s at Juventus – so they’ve got strong, good players who can cause you problems as well.

“But everybody loves to watch Brazil. When you see the yellow jersey, there’s something about it – ever since Pele, there’s always be an association with the football fans in Brazil.”

Brazil take on Croatia in the Brasil Global Tour at Anfield on Saturday, 3 June (KO 3pm).

Tickets from £30 Adults/£10 Under-16s are on sale at www.liverpoolfc.com/tickets


Levante 5 Barcelona 4: Boateng and Bardhi demolish Barca’s invincible ambitions

Barcelona’s bid to complete an unbeaten LaLiga season collapsed in astonishing circumstances as Ernesto Valverde’s champions collapsed to a 5-4 defeat at Levante.

Unheralded Ghanaian forward Emmanuel Boateng was the hero for home side as he doubled his tally of goals in Spain’s top flight with a hat-trick.

Boateng’s initial first-half strikes were pegged back by Philippe Coutinho but an often wretched Barcelona showing – without the rested Lionel Messi – collapsed into all-out defensive shambles after half-time.

Enis Bardhi, who hit the post in between Levante’s first two goals, found a pair of sublime finishes amid the chaos and Boateng making a claim for the matchball.

Coutinho led the Barca fightback by completing a treble of his own and Luis Suarez’s 71st-minute penalty had Paco Lopez’s men on unsteady legs.

Suarez missed a glorious chance to equalise and Levante full-back Antonio Luna almost put through his own goal but the invincible dream perished at a raucous Ciutat de Valencia.

Suarez played in Coutinho for an early chance but the Brazil midfielder overplayed his hand – wastefulness Barca would soon regret.

Making a third LaLiga start at the heart of Barcelona’s defence, Yerry Mina lost Jose Luis Morales and the Levante skipper’s cutback evaded goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen for Boateng to turn home in the ninth minute.

Morales was to the fore once more on an attack where Boateng touched on for Bardhi to rattle the post. It seemed easier to score.

Barcelona winger Ousmane Dembele struggled to make an impression before having a 25th-minute attempt deflected behind and a disjointed showing from the visitors was punished again with half an hour played.

Thomas Vermaelen was stricken by an apparent hamstring injury and, as Sasa Lukic weaved through the Barca midfield, Boateng stole in behind temporary centre-back Sergio Busquets and rounded Ter Stegen to finish.

Gerard Pique came on for Vermaelen and the Spain defender’s surge forward in the 38th minute ended with Coutinho’s deflected drive flying past Oier Olazabal to reduce the arrears.

It looked a false dawn and Barca imploded early in the second half.

Jordi Alba shovelled the ball into midfield and Levante pounced with a lightning counter, Jose Campana picking out Bardhi to rifle home brilliantly from 20 yards.

Worse was to follow for Valverde as two marginal offside calls fell in Levante’s favour, Luna surged on to Roger Marti’s flick on and Boateng claimed his third.

Another delightful side-footed finish from Bardhi, with Marti again the provider, had Levante in dreamland.

Barcelona’s heads cleared enough for Coutinho to seize upon a mishit clearance and net his second before a careering contest reached the hour mark.

Ivan Rakitic started to get a hold on midfield and it was now Levante’s turn to wilt in a defensive stupor.

Coutinho earned his share of the matchball by dispatching Busquets’ pass from the edge of the box, even though replays suggested the shot might have deflected off Suarez.

There was no doubt over the Uruguay striker making it 5-4 from the penalty spot after Boateng blotted his performance by coming together with Busquets at the near post.

Suarez should have equalised in the 74th minute, with Levante opting en masse against marking him but Barca’s number nine headed Coutinho’s free-kick over.

There was baited breath all round when Luna scuffed Alba’s cross behind and, after substitute Ruben Rochina spurned a glorious chance for 6-4, Levante could celebrate a remarkable triumph.