Sunday, September 21, 21:00 CET
Estadio Cuidad de Valencia
Matchday 4 of La Liga will see a still 100% victorious Barcelona travel to Valencia to face Levante in an attempt to increase their stranglehold on the first place in La Liga. Levante have traditionally been a very difficult opponent for Barcelona in the last few years so this is expected to be one of the trickiest away matches for the Catalans – that despite Levante’s absolutely terrible start to the season thus far. With both of Barcelona’s title rivals, Atlético and Real Madrid, unexpectedly dropping points early on in the season, Luis Enrique’s outfit will be looking to keep a considerable lead over them by recording their 4th win on the trot.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Levante have had a very tough start to the season, prompting questions about whether this is finally the year where they get relegated – Levante have had the lowest budget in La Liga for years but long made a habit of surprising everyone with fantastic campaigns, including even European qualification once. This time though, they got only one point from their first three matches and, perhaps more alarmingly, they are yet to score a goal in this year’s La Liga. Facing Barcelona isn’t exactly the ideal way to get back on track, but on the other hand Levante have put some very respectable performances at home vs the Catalan outfit over the years and their current manager José Luis Mendilibar has also been known to foil the blaugrana on occasion while managing on Osasuna.
Strategically, this will be a very straightforward match for Mendilibar, Levante will attempt to defend as well as they can, denying Barcelona space in the final third as much as possible, and maybe catch them off the guard in a deadly counterattack. Levante are likely to field a very compact 4-2-3-1 formation, with Jesús in goal and a back four of Toño, Vyntra, Camarasa and Lopez, shielded by a double pivot of Simao and Sissoko; Morales, Perez and Xumetra will play behind the lone striker Rafael Martins. Stopping Messi and co. will be the main priority – a 0-0 draw would be a great result for Levante – but it will likely take a very inspired defensive performance to acheive that.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Jesús; Toño, Vyntra, Camarasa, Lopez; Simao, Sissoko; Morales, Perez, Xumetra; Rafael Martins
Things could hardly be going better for Barcelona in La Liga so far – 3 matches, 3 wins, while Real Madrid have already dropped 6 points and Atlético Madrid 4. In the Champions League too, despite a far from impressive performance, Barcelona kickstarted their 2014-2015 campaign with a 1-0 home win over Apoel Nicosia. While Levante are yet to score a goal this season, Barcelona are yet to concede a goal in official matches – that’s in part due to the excellent performances of the defenders and Ter Stegen/Claudio Bravo but also due to how dominant Barcelona have been in their matches overall.
The match against Levante won’t be easy, but it’s one where Barcelona are definitely expecting to keep their streak going; getting a win here and at Malaga in midweek would be an overall fantastic start to the season and that’s what Luis Enrique is aiming for, and probably part of the reason he rested some key players against Apoel. Enrique will stick to the 4-3-3 formation, with Bravo in goal and a back four of Alba, Piqué, Mathieu and Alves, though Mascherano instead of Piqué or Mathieu is also quite possible; Busquets, Rakitic and Iniesta were all rested in midweek and should start as the midfield trio against Levante, with the attacking trio of Pedro, Neymar and Messi in front of them. As is often the case in this type of games, scoring early can be key to break down Levante’s resistance so Barcelona are certain to go all out from the very first minute.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Bravo; Alba, Piqué, Mathieu, Alves; Busquets, Rakitic, Iniesta; Pedro, Neymar and Messi
Key match facts
- Lionel Messi has been the player who scored most goals against Levante since they were promoted (9).
- Last year’s corresponding fixture ended 1-1, though Barcelona won 7-0 at Camp Nou.
- Barcelona clinched the 2010-2011 La Liga title with a 1-1 draw at the Cuidad de Valencia.
Player to watch out for
Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona)
Levante’s main tormentor over the years and the player considered by many as perhaps the best who ever played. Messi had a bright start to La Liga, not only scoring but assisting his teammates, including two late crucial assists to Neymar last week to secure a win over Athletic Bilbao. We’ve seen many times over the years Messi unlock difficult matches for Barcelona against tight defenses with his sheer brilliance and that’s what will be expected from him this Sunday again.
Levante 1-2 FC Barcelona
Levante will pose Barcelona problems as usual, but ultimately the vast array of talent Barcelona have in the final third will make the difference and earn then yet another narrow win in this year’s La Liga. Messi and Neymar will be on target for the Catalan outfit.