Barcelona will be aiming to take a step closer to a place in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals when they meet Levante at the Estadi Ciutat de Valencia on Thursday
The final three Copa del Rey first leg ties will be played out on Thursday, with some enticing matches on show. The final game of the day will see Levante welcome Barcelona to Estadi Ciutat de Valencia, with the scars of last month’s heavy defeat still fresh in mind.
Levante progressed to the Copa del Rey Round of 16 courtesy their 3-1 win over Segunda Division oufit Lugo. The Granotas’ overall form though, has been quite poor, with the second leg win over Lugo being their only success in the last five games, a period wherein Paco Lopez’s men have been on a slide in La Liga.
Barcelona, on the other hand, clinched a place in the Last 16 stage by comfortably beating Spanish third division side Cultural Leonesa 5-1. The Blaugrana are unbeaten in their last nine games, although they have been far from their domineering best, which was evident in their 2-1 win over Getafe.
The two sides have already locked horns this season, with Barcelona coasting to a 5-0 win over Levante last month. Ahead of the latest meeting between the La Liga outfits, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the Copa del Rey encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Paco Lopez has a number of injury concerns ahead of the visit of Barcelona. On Thursday, the Levante boss could be without as many as four first-team player, with Armandu Sadiku a definite absentee due to a long-term knee injury.
In addition to Sadiku, the likes of Cheick Doukoure (calf), Pedro Lopez and Antonio Luna (groin) are major doubts, although only Luna has been excluded from the matchday squad. Meanwhile, Lopez has chosen to rest a number of key players, possibly with one eye on the game against Atletico Madrid this weekend.
These include Rober Pier, Enis Bardhi and Roger Marti, meaning a few fringe players could get a rare chance to impress the Levante manager on Thursday. The changes are likely to begin right from the goalkeeper’s slot, with Aitor Fernandez lining up between the sticks, providing Oier Olazabal some much needed rest.
Meanwhile, the big bone of contention for Lopez will be the choice of formation, with the manager switching between the 3-5-2 and the 4-4-2 this season. Against a Barcelona side that thrives on midfield domination, the Levante boss is likely to stick to the 3-5-2, so as to not be at a numerical disadvantage in the middle of the park.
With that in mind, the back-three should feature Erick Cabaco, Chema and Sergio Postigo, with Moses Simon and Coke being the two wing-backs. In midfield, Bardhi should be replaced by Sanjin Prcic, while Doukoure is likely to start as well, if he is deemed fit enough.
Upfront, with Roger Marti rested and Morales likely to be preserved, Borja Mayoral and Emmanuel Boateng are expected to be the strike partnership for Levante.
Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Aitor Fernandez; Cabaco, Postigo, Chema; Coke, Campana, Doukoure, Prcic, Simon; Boateng, Mayoral
Ernesto Valverde does not have many pressing concerns hampering his preparations for the trip to Levante. Samuel Umtiti (knee), Rafinha (ACL) and Thomas Vermaelen (calf) are the only players on the treatment table, although the Barcelona boss has also chosen to rest a number of regulars.
These include Lionel Messi, Ivan Rakitic, Luis Suarez, Jordi Alba and Gerard Pique. The likes of Clement Lenglet, Arturo Vidal and Marc-Andre ter Stegen are part of the travelling squad, although the trio ought to be rested, keeping in mind their workload over the course of this season, the winter break notwithstanding.
In ter Stegen’s stead, Jasper Cillessen should take his customary place in goal for a cup tie, while Chumi should replace Lenglet at the heart of the Barcelona defence. In place of the rested Pique, Jeison Murillo is set to make his debut for the Blaugrana.
On the left flank, Juan Miranda is expected to be handed another cup outing, while Nelson Semedo should replace Sergi Roberto as the right-back. In midfield, Sergio Busquets is likely to start, if only featuring for one half.
His partners should be Carles Alena and Denis Suarez, who could be playing for the final time for Barcelona on Thursday ahead of a move to Arsenal. Sergio Busquets’ namesake Oriol, meanwhile, could get a chance to impress later on in the game.
Up ahead in attack, with Valverde having no natural striker at his disposal, Malcom could start upfront, with Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho flanking him on either side.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Cillessen; Semedo; Chumi, Murillo, Miranda; Alena, Sergio Busquets, Denis Suarez; Dembele, Malcom, Coutinho
- Barcelona have won eight of their last nine games against Levante in all competitions, scoring 37 goals during that period.
- The two teams have already met once this season, with Barcelona coasting to a comfortable 5-0 win.
- Barcelona are the record champions in Copa del Rey, triumphing in the cup competition 30 times.
- Barcelona have won each of their last six game in the Copa del Rey, with Espanyol the last side that beat them in the competition, nearly a year ago.
- Levante are in danger of entering a rut, having failed to win each of their last four games.
Player to Watch
It has been a tough season for Philippe Coutinho, who has had to bide his time on the bench lately, owing to Ousmane Dembele’s superb form. The Brazilian has not started any of the last three games for Barcelona, and is in danger of slipping into the oblivion.
Unsurprisingly, his future is suddenly up in the air, with a shock move away from Barcelona being mooted. However, Coutinho has a chance to show Valverde his worth, and a strong outing against Levante could turn the tide for him.
Levante 1-2 Barcelona
On paper, Barcelona have been on quite a run, winning eight of their last 10 games across all competitions. But, a closer look at their performances would suggest that Ernesto Valverde’s men have been far from their fluent best of late.
However, in Levante, the Copa del Rey holders have an opponent that aren’t going through the best of runs. And, with a few players having a point to prove, there is a chance they could run riot against the struggling Valencian outfit.
The Hard Tackle though, predicts a closely contested affair, although Barcelona will have more than enough quality to get the aggregate lead. We are going for a 2-1 win for Valverde & co.