Pedro helps Barça move five clear
Pedro struck both goals to give Barcelona a narrow 2-1 win over Levante at the Camp Nou this evening as La Liga resumed following its winter break.
After a goalless first half, the Spain winger netted twice in the space of 12 minutes to give Pep Guardiola's side the upper hand, and the Catalans held on to provisionally move five points clear of fierce rivals Real Madrid, despite Christian Stuani's late volley.
Barça were missing both first-choice central defenders for this game, with captain Carles Puyol injured and Gerard Pique suspended. In their absence, holding midfielder Sergio Busquets was asked to fill in at the back alongside full-back Eric Abidal, who switched to a central role.
That meant a rare start for Maxwell at left-back, while there was also a start for Bojan Krkic up front in the absence of Lionel Messi, who was given permission by the club to extend his holidays. Bojan was flanked by Pedro and David Villa, with Xavi - equalling Migueli's record of 549 appearances for Barça - just behind them.
But it was Andres Iniesta who almost broke the deadlock after seven minutes. The midfielder's fierce shot was well by Levante goalkeeper Manuel Reina and Villa shot wide from the edge of the box seven minutes later.
Two minutes later, Abidal's back-pass left Victor Valdes in trouble and the goalkeeper's attempted clearance was intercepted by Xisco, who quickly crossed for Rafa Jorda, but the Barça No1 recovered to save with his feet.
Bojan missed two decent chances later in the half and Abidal should have done better a minute before the break, when he shot weakly with only Reina to beat. So Barça went in on level terms against a side beaten 8-0 by Real Madrid just before Christmas.
But the Catalans soon went ahead as the second half got under way, with Pedro opening the scoring after 47 minutes. Xavi found Dani Alves in the area and the Brazilian dummied several times before setting up the winger for a clinical, low finish to make it 1-0. Reina then saved well from substitute Thiago Alcantara, who had come on for the ineffective Javier Mascherano, shortly afterwards.
Stuani reduces deficit
And although Jorda tested Valdes at the other end, Barça were on top and went 2-0 ahead after 59 minutes. Pedro was the scorer again and Alves the creator once more. This time, the Brazil full-back set up the Spain winger with a low cross which the latter dispatched into the far corner with a perfectly-executed curling right-footed drive.
Pedro then came within a whisker of his hat-trick as he drove a powerful effort against the woodwork after 67 minutes and Villa blasted over the bar shortly afterwards. Stuani reduced the deficit with a brilliant left-footed volley ten minutes from time, following Valdo's clever chipped pass.
Villa missed a good chance to make it 3-1 when he shot straight at Reina and Alves' pass found nobody moments later, with Pedro and Villa both unmarked. Alves also sent a long-range effort wide after that, but Barça did enough in the end and the pressure is now back on Real, who visit in-form Getafe in a local derby tomorrow.