FC Barcelona

v

Levante UD

Camp Nou, Barcelona

2nd January 2011, 10:30 PM, IST

FC Barcelona enters round 17 of Spanish La Liga as league leaders as they welcome Levante to the Camp Nou. Barcelona has had a great start to their 2010-11 season and the first instalment went well with a few hiccups here and there. However, the defending champions are still holding on to the number one spot and Guardiola’s men are surely looking to capture their third La Liga, on-the-trot.

Levante travel to Camp Nou, after a humiliating defeat at the hands of Real Madrid, in Copa del Rey. Manager Luis García isn’t exactly a happy man and FC Barcelona’s imperious form might add to his worries. After being promoted from Segunda this season, the Valencia-based outfit is again close to the relegation zone. Despite the fact that the visitors defeated Atletico Madrid, in December 2010, there’s hardly anything to take away from that match as Atletico too is having a topsy-turvy season. With 15 points in their kitty from 16 games, the Granotes are most likely to be overtaken by a resurgent Malaga, who has grown stronger with the influx of new faces. With this, their existence in top tier Spanish football is bound to take a hit and the match against Barcelona might just be the harbinger of torrid times.

Team News and Tactical Brief

FC Barcelona

The match against Levante has been termed as a potential banana skin. “There is always a risk after the holidays, like we had in previous years against Mallorca and Villarreal,” said Guardiola. As usual, the manager will be spick and span in his preparation for the match. The absence of Carles Puyol would give Guardiola the opportunity to tweak with this backline. Guardiola revealed that Gaby Milito is back after two months on the sidelines through injury and also has the option of playing the versatile Abidal at the centre back. Apart from Puyol, Pique too will not be available because of suspension.

Puyol & Pique: Injured and suspended

The midfield should be a combination of Xavi, Iniesta and another player from the bench. Busquets, nonetheless, looks most likely to fill up. Recent signing, Ibrahim Afellay, will not be able to feature for this match as he hasn’t been registered yet. Upfront, Messi will not be available for the match and Bojan might just get some precious minutes to bolster his confidence. Villa and Pedro are expected to start. Eyes will be on midfield maestro Xavi as he’ll be playing his 549th official FC Barcelona game, at par with club legend Migueli.

Possible Starting Line-up: Valdes, Alves, Abidal, Milito, Maxwell, Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta, Villa, Bojan, Pedro.

Football Fans Know Better

Probable starting line-ups

Levante

The recently promoted side has had mixed results. After a shocking win against Atletico Madrid, they got humiliated by the latter’s cross town rivals Real Madrid. However, the Copa del Rey disaster might just be an aberration as Levante had stopped a star-studded Real Madrid at home, in September. Goalkeeper Manolo Reina played a very important role in that match and will be expected to outshine his previous achievements in the upcoming fixture. The absence of Felipe Caicedo and Javi Venta will definitely add to the manager’s problems.

Possible Starting Line-up: Manolo Reina, Garcia, Ballesteros, Robuste, Cerra, Lopez, Gonzalez, Soriano, Rocha, Suarez, Stuani

Key Facts

1. The last time Barcelona lost the first game of the year was in 2005, 3-0 against Villarreal.

2. Barcelona’s record for the first game of the year over the last 10 years – 6W – 2D – 2L

3. Ex-player Migueli’s record of 549 official games will be equaled by Xavi, on Sunday

4. Barcelona finished 2010 on an unbeaten 23-match run in all competitions, 19 of which finished in victories.

5. In their last 10 successive league games, Pep Guardiola’s side has scored 41 goals and conceded only 4.

TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR

Pedro

Pedro: The Road Runner

After being promoted to the Barcelona first team, in 2009-10, Pedro has improved in leaps and bounds. He became the first player to score in all the six different competitions that Barcelona played in. Recent goals against Real Madrid and Espanyol will only help the ambidextrous winger in improving his game. In this game against Levante, in the absence of Messi, Pedro will have to step up to ensure a smooth sailing for the Catalan team.

TheHardTackle’s PREDICTION

FC Barcelona 3-0 Levante

With the apparent problems in the Levante camp, the match is FC Barcelona’s to lose. Anything other than three points for the home side will be considered an upset. The absence of Caicedo might just make it more difficult for the visitors to breach the Catalan defense.

TheHardTackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST