Reigning champions Barcelona will be aiming to stretch their lead at the top of the La Liga table, when they face off against Levante this weekend.
Barcelona will travel to Ciutat de Valencia on Sunday, as they gear up to take on Levante UD in matchweek 16 of the 2018-19 La Liga.
The Blaugrana are at the summit of the league standings, having accrued 31 points from 15 games, following their 4-0 mauling of local rivals Espanyol last weekend. They were then held to a 1-1 draw by Tottenham Hotspur in the UEFA Champions League earlier this week.
With Atletico Madrid breathing down their necks in the second place in the table (31 points from 16 games), Ernesto Valverde’s men will be keen on securing a victory on Sunday night and distance themselves further from their rivals.
Levante, on the other hand, have made a decent start to the season and find themselves in the seventh spot in the table after 15 matches. Paco Lopez’s men are unbeaten in their last four matches across all competitions, with their latest fixture ending in an entertaining 4-4 draw against Eibar.
The Granotas have already gotten the better of a big team this season, having defeated Barcelona’s fierce rivals Real Madrid 2-1 and will be aiming to repeat the heroics once again on Sunday night against the league leaders.
Team News & Tactics
Armando Sadiku and Samu Garcia remain sidelined for the home side, while Cheick Doukoure and Pedro Lopez are also unavailable. Jose Luis Morales has been included in the squad, having made a recovery from an injury problem.
Levante have used the 3-5-2 formation extensively this term and that is unlikely to change against the Blaugrana. 29-year-old Oier Olazabal is a guaranteed starter between the sticks for Paco Lopez’s side, with the three-man backline of Erick Cabaco, Chema Rodriguez and Rober Pier shielding him against the Barcelona attack.
24-year-old winger Jason will continue to be deployed in the wing-back role on the right flank, with Tono will hold on to his spot as the left-sided wing-back. Jose Campana will hold the fort in the middle of the park for the Granotas, with support coming from Ruben Rochina and 23-year-old Macedonian attacking midfielder Enis Bardhi.
Upfront Morales should continue to feature from the kick off, partnered by Roger Marti, meaning there is no place in the team for Real Madrid loanee Borja Mayoral, who was on the scoresheet in the last weekend.
Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Olazabal; Cabaco, Chema, Pier; Jason, Rochina, Campana, Bardhi, Tono; Marti, Morales;
Barcelona continue to be without the services of utility man Sergi Roberto, while summer signing Malcom also remains sidelined, along with academy product Sergi Samper. Rafinha Alcantara and Samuel Umtiti are long-term absentees.
Having rung in the changes for his team’s draw against Tottenham in Europe, manager Valverde is expected to field his best starting lineup against Levante on Sunday night. That would mean No.1 goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen returns in goal, despite Jasper Cillesen’s heroics against Spurs.
Nelson Semedo should continue as the right-back, while Jordi Alba will replace Juan Miranda on the opposite end of the backline. Seasoned campaigner Gerard Pique will return to the starting XI alongside Clement Lenglet at the heart of the defence, replacing Thomas Vermaelen.
Ivan Rakitic will continue to feature from the kick off in the middle of the park for the visitors. Sergio Busquets, who made an appearance from the bench in Europe, will be reinstated to the starting XI at the base of the midfield, with summer signing Arthur Melo completing the three-man midfield contingent for the Catalans.
Club captain Lionel Messi was also used as a substitute in the midweek fixture, but should return to the starting XI on the right flank. Ousmane Dembele, who scored a sensational goal in that game, should start out on the left side, ahead of Philippe Coutinho. Luis Suarez should also return after being rested during the week.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Semedo, Pique, Lenglet, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Arthur; Messi, Suarez. Dembele;
- Barcelona have only lost two of their 24 La Liga games against Levante (W18 D4), both defeats coming away from home with Barca conceding five goals in both.
- Levante ended Barcelona’s unbeaten run of 400 days by defeating Barca 5-4 at the Ciutat de Valencia last season.
- Barcelona have scored in each of their last 29 La Liga away games, only three games away from equaling their longest scoring run away from home in the competition, recorded between February 2012 and September 2013 (32).
- Levante have scored 27 goals in 15 games in La Liga this season, their best goal tally at this stage ever, overtaking their total in 1963-64 (25).
- Barcelona’s Lionel Messi could become the player with the most wins for the club in La Liga history, surpassing Xavi Hernandez (323, currently both 322).
Player to Watch
Ousmane Dembele (Barcelona)
The Frenchman attracted controversy again earlier this week, after reporting late to training prior to the Tottenham Hotspur game. But, everything was forgotten after he breezed past several Spurs’ players and showed great calm and composure to score a sensational goal on Tuesday night.
Dembele now has scored nine goals and set up five more in 20 appearances across all competitions and while questions over his ill-discipline and professionalism remain, the World Cup winner is starting to prove his worth to this Barcelona side in his second year at the club. Expect him to cause all sorts of trouble to the Levante defence on Sunday night.
Levante 1-2 Barcelona
Levante have been a difficult proposition to get past this term and have lost just once in their last 11 fixtures, highlighting the kind of form Paco Lopez’s side are in. On the other hand, Barcelona possess an impeccable record against the Granotas and will come into the game with a number of their star players getting some much-needed rest.
It promises to be a tight contest at Ciutat de Valencia on Sunday night between the two teams, but we at The Hard Tackle expect the reigning champions to narrowly edge past the hosts.