Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez net in Barcelona win over Levante
Lionel Messi marked his 400th LaLiga appearance with an early goal as leaders Barcelona beat Levante 3-0 at the Nou Camp to restore their nine-point advantage.
Philippe Coutinho has headed to Catalonia to complete the formalities of his £142 million transfer from Liverpool, but it remained business as usual for Ernesto Valverde’s men on Sunday afternoon as Messi opened the scoring after 12 minutes.
In-form Luis Suarez, who himself left Anfield for the Nou Camp during the summer of 2014, added a second before the break and Paulinho tapped in a late third as the Blaugrana consolidated first place ahead of Atletico Madrid, who had beaten Getafe on Saturday.
Midfielder Ousmane Dembele, fit again after suffering a hamstring injury on his LaLiga debut following a £93m move, came back into the starting XI, while Barcelona captain Andres Iniesta made his 650th appearance.
After a positive start from Levante, who had lost all 11 La Liga games at the Nou Camp, Barcelona swept into the lead.
Jordi Alba nodded the ball back out to the edge of the penalty area, which dropped straight into the path of Messi, and the Argentine playmaker sent a half-volley in off the post.
It was Messi’s 365th league goal for Barcelona — and the hosts were soon looking for another as Dembele’s effort was saved, with Suarez sending the rebound just over.
Levante offered a threat at the other end on 19 minutes when Marc-Andre ter Stegen had to be alert to push a low shot from Ivi Lopez behind.
Barcelona, though, added a second after 37 minutes.
Sergi Roberto was played clear on the overlap down the right, and he cut the ball back to Suarez, who took the ball in his stride with a fine first touch before crashing a volley in off the underside of the crossbar.
Midfielder Ivan Rakitic saw his shot fly wide and, in first-half stoppage time, Levante keeper Oier Olazabal produced a decent save after Messi had been played clear.
Levante almost reduced the deficit at the start of the second half when Lopez again forced Ter Stegen into a fine reaction save.
The Barcelona keeper had to be alert again on 65 minutes as he stuck out a leg to block a low shot from Shaquell Moore, who had ghosted in at the far post.
Suarez, who had scored four goals in his previous three LaLiga matches, was sent clear by a long pass from Javier Mascherano. The striker’s first scuffed shot was blocked and his angled effort from the rebound saved at the near post by Olazabal.
With three minutes left, there was some concern when Alba went down clutching his knee following an awkward fall after challenge against Levante substitute Samuel. The defender, though, was able to continue following treatment.
Barcelona added a third in stoppage time when Paulinho tapped in from close range after Suarez stepped over a low cross from Messi.