Coutinho bemoans failed 'Invincibles' bid

Philippe Coutinho scored a hat-trick but Barcelona lost 5-4 to Levante to end their hopes of finishing the season unbeaten.
Philippe Coutinho scored a hat-trick but Barcelona lost 5-4 to Levante to end their hopes of finishing the season unbeaten.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

VALENCIA • The festering wounds caused by Barcelona's Champions League exit were ripped open after Sunday's 5-4 defeat at Levante, which ended their record 43-match unbeaten run in LaLiga.

Things had been on the uptick at the Nou Camp after the Rome fiasco, which had led to murmurs of discontent.

Barca clinched the Spanish league title two weeks ago, before moving to within two games of becoming the first team since Real Madrid in 1932 to finish a LaLiga season as "Invincibles".

Yet their hopes of a unique achievement came crashing down in their penultimate league game at the Ciutat de Valencia Stadium.

Levante are 15th in the standings and have spent most of the season fighting relegation.

"We are not feeling good, we really wanted to end the season without losing, but we had a very difficult game against a highly motivated team and, when you concede five goals, you don't deserve to win," Barca midfielder Philippe Coutinho, whose first hat-trick for the club was in vain, told reporters.

"Today is not a good day for us, we leave here with bad sensations."

Valverde's decision to give a rare rest to top scorer Lionel Messi and start without key defenders Samuel Umtiti and Gerard Pique backfired.

Levante scored three times after the break to take a 5-1 lead, and become the first team since Malaga in 2003 to put five goals past Barca in a league game.

Two Coutinho goals and a Luis Suarez penalty set up a grandstand finish, but Levante held on to become the first team in the league this season to defeat Barca.

"It was a very difficult game, it was very open, and we came back and almost pulled it off, but now it's over... 43 games without losing is still historic but now, we have to look forward," added Coutinho.

"We feel bad. Of course, we wanted to win the league first of all and, after we did that, we wanted to end the season unbeaten. We had just two games left so losing like this makes today a difficult day for us, but winning the league was the most important thing."

This was Barca's first league loss since slipping up against Malaga in April 2017 and Valverde will have questions to answer.

The defensive collapse was reminiscent of their Champions League meltdown against Roma, which has soured an otherwise successful campaign, and there will now be more speculation over Valverde's job as the unbeaten league record was supposed to help atone for the European failure.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 15, 2018, with the headline 'Coutinho bemoans failed 'Invincibles' bid'. Print Edition | Subscribe