MADRID (AP) — Barcelona could not overcome the absence of Lionel Messi and other regular starters on Thursday, losing 2-1 at Levante in the first leg of the Copa del Rey’s round of 16.
Barcelona’s second-stringers struggled from the start in Valencia, escaping an even greater defeat only because Levante’s forwards squandered some clear scoring chances.
The return game is next Thursday at Camp Nou Stadium in Barcelona, when the four-time defending champion is expected to have some of its starters back in action after they were rested this week.
Levante took the lead early with a close-range header by Uruguayan defender Erick Cabaco in the third minute, and striker Borja Mayoral scored the second goal with a low cross shot in the 18th.
The hosts kept threatening throughout the match, taking advantage of a Barcelona defense that was without Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba. Newly signed Colombian player Jeison Murillo was making his club debut in central defense.
“We got off to a great start,” Mayoral said. “We pressed early because we knew they were not used to playing together.”
Without Messi and Luis…