Barcelona will be hoping to overturn a first leg deficit and book a place in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals when they welcome Levante to Camp Nou on Thursday.
The proceedings in the Copa del Rey Round of 16 will come to an end on Thursday, when there will be three enticing second leg fixtures on show. The final game of the night will see Barcelona play hosts to Levante, looking to overturn the narrow first leg deficit and continue the defence of their crown.
Barcelona are the record holders of the competition, but find themselves having it all to do following their shock first leg defeat at the hands of Levante. That loss, however, is their only winless result in their last five games, with the 3-0 win over Eibar last weekend showing some promising signs.
Levante, on the other hand, followed up their first leg success with a narrow 1-0 loss to Atletico Madrid. That result meant Paco Lopez’s men have now gone five successive games without a win in the Spanish top-flight, although they will hope there are no spill on effects from their run in La Liga.
As iterated earlier, Levante hold the slim advantage in the Round of 16 tie, having beaten Barcelona 2-1 at Estadi Ciutat de Valencia last week. Ahead of the third meeting between the two sides inside the last month, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the Copa del Rey encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Ernesto Valverde has just two first-team players remaining on the sidelines, with Samuel Umtiti and Rafinha recovering from their long-term injuries. Thomas Vermaelen and Sergi Samper have returned to training, but are still short of match fitness, meaning they miss out.
Meanwhile, the Barcelona boss has left Malcom out of the matchday squad, which is another blow in an already difficult season for the Brazilian. The 21-year-old though, was unlikely to start anyway in what is expected to be a strong Barcelona lineup against Levante.
Indeed, it does look like Valverde will throw the kitchen sink at Levante in order to reach the quarter-finals. Ousmane Dembele were not in his elements as a makeshift striker last week, but should fare much better as a wide man, with Luis Suarez set to lead the line for Barcelona, while Lionel Messi should start too.
In midfield, it seems like Philippe Coutinho could get a run, having featured in a deeper role towards the end of the match against Eibar last weekend. The Brazilian should take compatriot Arthur’s place, with Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic completing the lineup.
In defence, Jeison Murillo and Nelson Semedo should be the only players keeping their place from last week’s loss, with Clement Lenglet and Jordi Alba filling up the other two slots. Jasper Cillessen is likely to complete the lineup, with Valverde choosing to stick with the deputy goalkeeper all through last season’s cup campaign as well.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Cillessen; Semedo, Murillo, Lenglet, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Coutinho; Messi, Suarez, Dembele
Paco Lopez has a few pressing concerns hampering his preparations ahead of the trip to Barcelona. On Thursday, the Levante boss is set to be without two key first-team players, with Antonio Luna (groin) and Chema (knee) all on the treatment table, while Armando Sadiku is set to join FC Lugano.
Lopez though, does have options to compensate for the absence of Luna, with Tono and Moses Simon both capable of playing as the left wing-backs. Tono should start though, with Simon not exactly enjoying the best of times against Nelson Semedo last week, with Jason being deployed on the opposite flank.
In the back-three, however, Erick Cabaco, Rober Pier and Sergio Postigo are certain starters, with no other centre-backs at Lopez’s disposal. Enis Bardhi has been selected in the travelling squad by the Levante boss, and the Macedonian should make the starting lineup on Thursday.
The 23-year-old should be accompanied by Jose Campana and Cheick Doukoure, with the latter aiming to hold the fort in the middle of the park. Up ahead in attack, Borja Mayoral and Emmanuel Boateng should keep their places from last week’s side, especially with Roger Marti rested again.
Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Fernandez; Cabaco, Postigo, Rober; Jason, Bardhi, Doukoure, Campana, Tono; Boateng, Mayoral
- Levante have managed to beat Barcelona in two of the last three matches between the two sides.
- But, Barcelona have beaten Levante in each of their last 12 meetings at Camp Nou.
- Barcelona are the record champions in Copa del Rey, triumphing in the cup competition 30 times.
- Levante were the first side since Espanyol to beat Barcelona in the Copa del Rey – a run of six games without a loss.
- Lionel Messi has never been on the losing end against Levante, and has directly contributed to 35 goals in 17 games against the Granotas (19 goals, 16 assists).
Player to Watch
While Lionel Messi has been in fine form for Barcelona all through the season, Luis Suarez too, has stepped up lately after tailing off a bit for some time. The Uruguayan’s brace ensured a relatively comfortable win over Eibar last weekend, and another such performance is needed if the Blaugrana are to continue the defence of their Copa del Rey crown.
Barcelona had looked far from their best last week, with shot conversion in particular proving to be their undoing. But, the presence of Suarez, in addition to Messi, could make all the difference on Thursday, especially with the visitors expected to defend resolutely for much of the game.
Barcelona 3-1 Levante
The second leg tie can only go one way, with Barcelona chasing the game right from the get-go. In the process, they are likely to become more porous at the back, which leaves the possibility of Levante increasing their lead wide open.
But, the fact that Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez will likely feature on Thursday means the hosts ought to have more than enough quality to overcome the challenge and the slender first leg deficit to prevail in the Round of 16 tie. The Hard Tackle predicts a 3-1 win for Ernesto Valverde & co. to narrowly sail through to the next stage.