Levante wins to end Barcelona’s bid for unbeaten season

FC Barcelona's Yerry Mina jumps for the ball during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Levante and Barcelona. (Alberto Saiz/AP)

BARCELONA, Spain — Barcelona lost 5-4 in a wild game at Levante on Sunday, ruining the champion’s bid to become the first team to finish a Spanish league season without a loss under its current format.

Barcelona was playing without Lionel Messi, left out of the squad by Ernesto Valverde to rest ahead of a demanding summer for the Argentina forward at the World Cup.

Led by Emmanuel Boateng’s hat trick and two more goals from Enis Bardhi, Levante was heading toward a historic rout of the recently crowned champions when the hosts built a 5-1 lead after 56 minutes.

But Barcelona roared back, with Philippe Coutinho adding two more goals to his first-half strike to complete a hat trick before Luis Suarez converted a penalty to cut the deficit to 5-4 in the 71st.

Suarez headed high from close range in Barcelona’s last chance to snatch the draw.

The upset at the hands of a modest Levante side — fighting to stay out of the relegation zone most of the season — ended Barcelona’s bid to go all 38 rounds of a La Liga season undefeated.

Two teams pulled off the feat in the 1930s when the competition only had 10 teams compared to 20 now.

Barcelona’s Liga record for undefeated games ended at 43 straight — its previous loss was last season at Malaga in April 2017.

"Of course we wanted to finish the season unbeaten, but this doesn’t take away from all we have achieved this season," Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets said. "It’s a shame. We won the title and had an incredible league campaign, except for this match."

Barcelona also won the Copa del Rey to make it a domestic double this campaign.

Valverde will be questioned — and not only for leaving Messi off his squad.

The manager could also be criticized for starting back-up Thomas Vermaelen and little-used Yerry Mina as his central defenders with Samuel Umtiti injured.

But even when Gerard Pique went on for the injured Vermaelen in the 31st with Barcelona trailing 2-0, the team’s defensive troubles continued.

Boateng struck his first two goals in half an hour and Levante never trailed the rest of the way.

Coutinho pulled one back with a long strike that took a deflection off a defender in the 38th, but Boateng struck again while Bardhi got his two goals to build what proved to be an insurmountable lead.

Coutinho put in a rebound from close range and struck again with a shot that hit another player to fool goalkeeper Oier Olazabal. Suarez then had the spot kick after Boateng fouled Busquets while defending a corner kick.

But that was as close as Barcelona got without Messi around to pull off some late magic.

Also, Espanyol routed relegated Malaga 4-1.

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