Ciutat de València, Valencia
19th January, 2014; 1900 hrs local time
Exactly half-way into the Spanish domestic season, Barcelona are joint leaders alongside Atletico Madrid. The club has been in the news for all the wrong reasons primarily that of Brazilian wonder-kid Neymar and it seems far from over.
From here on, Barcelona will repeat the first round matches excepting the locations. This weekend they take on Levante away from home.
The first time these two teams met this season, exactly 5 months back, Barcelona dismantled Levante and scored 7 – Messi (2), Pedro (2), Sanchez, Alves, Xavi. However, the peak of the players was Cesc Fabregas, who gave a glimpse of the world-class midfielder that he is.
Levante, with all their financial issues and shoe-sting budget, are 11th in the league, and are a very strong unit of players – they have played 9 games at home – won 3, lost 3, drawn 3.
Team News and Tactical Brief
The hosts have a huge list of absentees. While David Navarro (injury) and David Barral (suspension) are certainly out of this fixture, SImao, Chris, Karabelas, El Zhar, Diawara, Rodas are also doubtful.
Levante, however, are on a roll. They have won their last 2 home games against Malaga and Rayo. And co-incidentally they are about to face Barcelona, again, in the Quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey.
In their last home match in La Liga, against Malaga, they fought hard and guarded their one-goal lead for about 70 minutes. Barral, who is a serious aerial threat, headed home from an Andreas Ivanschitz-cross. Unfortunately for Levante, Barral isn’t available for this match and Joaquín Caparrós, the Levante manager, will have to think of an alternative route to breach the Barcelona defense.
In the match against Malaga, Loukas Vyntra was in exceptional form and it looks likely that the 32-year old Greek defender will dish out a top performance against the Catalan giants.
In defense, Levante will field Karabelas (might just make the cut), Vyntra, Juanfran and Lopez. In midfield, the hosts will play a double pivot comprising Pape Diop and Simao. The offensive players will include Xumetra, Garcia, Ivanschitz, with Angel spearheading them.
Keylor Navas, by far the best Levante player this season, will take his position as the goalkeeper and the 27-year old Costa Rican goalkeeper has the potential to frustrate the Barcelona offense.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Navas (GK); Karabelas, Vyntra, Juanfran, Lopez; Pape Diop, Simao; Xumetra, Garcia, Ivanschitz; Angel
The unfortunate injury to Neymar will have fans around the world worried, but Lionel Messi’s stunning comeback will certainly allay fears. Neymar has had a stunning transition and has hit the ground running. His contribution towards the team’s cause has been immense compared to the short span of time he’s been with the club.
However, just like Messi’s injury, Neymar’s injury and subsequent absence will allow Martino to give more playing time to Pedro and Alexis, who have been in stunning form of late. Moreover, they also have Tello who has been constantly linked to a multi-million dollar move to Liverpool.
Upfront, the choices are really streamlined. Messi is surely in the starting eleven and alongside him, it will be the dynamic duo of Pedro and Alexis.
In the midfield, Barcelona have doubts over the fitness of Iniesta. But in the midweek clash against Getafe, Martino fielded Song, Fabregas and Roberto. Busquets and Xavi are likely to be back and in case Iniesta doesn’t make it, then Fabregas will be slotted.
In defense, the first name on Martino’s mind should be that of Bartra. Alongside Bartra, Pique should start. Of late, Pique has started recapturing his form of the past and in the match against Atletico, he was immense. Dani Alves is out with a suspension and the most likely replacement of the Brazilian fullback is Martin Montoya. Jordi Alba will start in his usual position.
Victor Valdes, who just turned 32 this week will take his position in his last season at his boyhood club.
Probable starting line-up (4-3-3): Valdes (GK); Montoya, Pique, Bartra, Alba; Xavi, Busquets, Fabregas; Messi, Pedro, Alexis
- Barcelona are undefeated in 30 of their last 31 matches in La Liga.
- Barcelona have won 9 of their last 10 matches against Levante in all competitions.
- Barcelona have kept a clean sheet in their last 3 matches against Levante in all competitions.
Player To Watch Out For
Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona)
The Argentine star is back after a long injury lay-off. He will be eager to prove himself once again in the new year and in the absence of Neymar he will have a little added responsibility. Alongside Pedro and Alexis, he has able assistance and will have enough chances to make a mark in the match.
Levante 0-3 FC Barcelona
Barcelona will be a tough opposition for Levante. They might offer resistance for some time but eventually the Catalans will breach the Levante defence and win the match.
Blast From The Past