Ciutat de València, Valencia
11 May, 2011; 11:30 pm, IST
One more point. Yes, that’s what Barca needs to seal the deal. And in all likelihood the third domestic title should be destined for the emphatic Camp Nou in the upcoming game against Levante at the Ciudad de Valencia. Quite surprisingly, Barcelona will be playing Levante twice in 2011 as they played the first match against Levante to kick start their campaign after the winter break, on the 2nd of January 2011.
Last time these two teams met, at the Camp Nou, Barca snatched a hard-fought victory. Pedro starred with a brace and was exceptional. In the first half, the Granotes denied Barca the space in the midfield and forced the Catalans to take long shots. They employed this quite brilliantly and hung on to it till half time. The hosts took control at the Camp Nou, in the second half and Pedro sealed it for the Catalans. Substitute Stuani got one back for the visitors but couldn’t get anything to ensure any point from the Camp Nou.
Team News and Tactical Brief
With ninety-one points from thirty-five games, Barca needs just a point to maintain their domestic dominance. In the last five encounters between these two teams, Barca drew once and won on the four other occasions. Good news in the form of medical clearance of Bojan and Maxwell will definitely buoy the Barca camp. Puyol and Adriano, however, continue to recuperate in isolation.
In the match against Espanyol, Fontas started on the left side. So early in his career, starting at a position alien to him, might only hurt his confidence. Guardiola might just realize this and employ Masche on the left side with Fontas partnering Pique. The youngster started at the heart of the Blaugrana defense a couple of times and did not disappoint albeit he wasn’t too keenly tested. If he starts against Levante, chances are high that he might not be tested either. However, Bartra might just give him a stiff competition for a first team place. Guardiola has called up eight junior team players – Thiago, Edu Oriol, Abraham, Carmona, Bartra, Benja, Masip and Tello. The temptation to field a few of them, in lieu of much needed rest for the first team players, might just be too much for him to yield to it. Maxwell too can be expected to get some match practice under his belt. Abidal should begin, given his exeptional cameo in the last few matches. This should also aid the burly Frenchman to get back to his intimidating self, prior to the epic clash against English heavyweights – Manchester United.
David Villa shows us every week new, unique and different ways not to score. The former Valencia marksman might just be leaving his best for the epic show at Wembley, but fan around the globe expect a certain level of consistency, even from a £3.42 million player. Mr. David ‘I-wont-score‘ Villa is ten times that. However, Barcelona values hardwork more than goals scored and Villa surely scores in that department. Lionel Messi is all of a sudden lagging in the Pichichi race. An exemplary show from Ronaldo coupled with an insipid display by Sevilla earned the Portuguese a two-goal lead over the Argentine. “We don’t know how to play for a draw; if we try that, it won’t turn out well. We only know how to play for a win,” said the ever reliable Victor Valdes, emphasizing that Barcelona are not going for one point but have it in them to score a century, come the 22nd of May. Xavi has a few issues with his problematic tendons and Guardiola might just decide to rest him. Mascherano has been overworked and deserves some rest too.
Probable Starting XI (4-3-3): Valdes, Alves, Pique, Fontas, Abidal, Iniesta, Keita, Busquets, Messi, Villa, Pedro
Despite having a superb second half of the season, this is probably the worst time for Levante to welcome (or maybe not) FC Barcelona. Their recent loss at the hands of Athletic Bilbao isn’t going to help their cause either. Despite having forty three points in thirty five matches, and being at the tenth position, the hosts are not exactly sure whether they’d be rubbing shoulders with the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo next season.
Felipe Caicedo, on-loan from English moneybags – Manchester City, is doing quite well and has twelve goals and two assists to his name. The Ecuadorian, if utilized with guile, can be a tough test for Fontas and has the ability to hurt Barca in the process. However, bad news for manager Luis García is that key players – Juanlu, Sergio and del Horno – won’t be available with injury. The return of Spanish forward – Ruben Suarez, however, shall bring some relief to the gaffer. On loan from Reggina, Uruguayan striker – Christian Stuani, has been on the scoring charts too. After a superb loan-spell with Albacete, in 2009-10, where he scored twenty-three times from almost forty appearances, it’s still a mystery as to why Reggina didn’t hold on to him for the 2010-11 season. However, it’s been a phenomenal for Stuani, as he made a giant leap to the top tier football league from the Segunda División. Along with Caicedo, he too can torment Fontas, however the presence of Pique might just act as a cushion for the Barca youngster.
Probable Starting XI (4-3-2-1): Munua, Venta, Ballesteros, Nano, Juanfran, Torres, Iborra, Valdo, R. Suarez, Stuani, Caicedo
1. FC Barcelona needs to win all their matches to score a perfect 100 points at the end of the season.
2. Lionel Messi needs four more goals to go past Mário Jardel (55 goals in 2001–02) and fifteen to get past Ferenc Deák (66 goals in 1948–49). However, he latter looks unlikely.
3. Johan Cruyff is one of the very players to have played for FC Barcelona and Levante UD.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYERS TO WATCH OUT FOR
Andreu Fontàs Prat (FC Barcelona)
Finally a refreshing change. Had there been an award for the most number of appearances in this column, Lionel Messi would have won it hands down, even before the end of the season. However, this twenty-one years old lad has shown the potential to be in the Barcelona first team in years to come. In the absence of talismanic Carles Puyol, Fontas has an absolutely ripper of an opportunity to prove that he has it in him. Having played in an alien fullback position last time, the youngster didn’t quite impress neither did he produce a shocker. Given Guardiola’s enigmatic team selections, apart from a few players who select themselves, Fontas has as good an opportunity to make it in the first eleven as not to. Nonetheless, if given an opportunity, all eyes would be on him. More of Levante manager Luis García, who’d like to tinker with the probable ‘chink’ in the Barcelona armour.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYERS TO WATCH OUT FOR
Levante UD 1-3 FC Barcelona
Guardiola’s men would give everything to secure the La Liga at the earliest. Levante are having a decent second half of the season, if compared to their first and are by no means pushovers. However, it should not be difficult for Barcelona to secure all three points and subsequently the La Liga. If the hosts manage even one point, it might be termed as an upset, but Barcelona’s mission will still be accomplished as celebrations at the Camp Nou would kick start, much to the chagrin of their competitors.