FC Barcelona vs. Levante: Complete La Liga Preview
Levante make the trip up the coast to fortress Camp Nou this Saturday, looking to achieve something no other La Liga side has managed this term - to take 3 points from their illustrious hosts.
Barca have led La Liga from the start of this season and are imperious at home. Fifty-two goals scored and only eleven conceded in front of their own fans tells its own story.
An added incentive for La Blaugrana is that those three points will put them only two more wins away from the La Liga title.
With it being announced this week that Barca have had more possession than the opposition in the last 300 games, a record stretching back to May 7, 2008, it's clear that the visitors will most certainly have their work cut out.
However, despite not being in the best of form themselves, it's worth noting that Levante will probably not have a better opportunity to grab a win as Barcelona will no doubt rest key players ahead of their Champions League tie at Bayern Munich next week.
For FC Barcelona, we should see a similar lineup to that which made easy work of Real Zaragoza at La Romareda last time out. I'd expect all the big names to be rested for this game, with the possible exception of Gerard Pique, David Villa and Alexis Sanchez.
There will be some promotions from Barca B for this game with Gerard Deulofeu and perhaps Sergi Roberto making the bench.
Possible lineup: Valdes, Montoya, Bartra, Pique, Adriano, Song, Alcantara, Fabregas, Villa, Sanchez, Tello
Juan Ignacio Martínez is likely to stick with the same team, minus Vicente Iborra, who picked up his fifth yellow card, and therefore a suspension, last week. Juanfran will be monitored after being withdrawn from Monday's training session with mild discomfort in his left ankle.
Possible lineup: Munua, Lell, Ballesteros, Navarro, Juanfran, Rios, Michel, Barkero, Ruben, Juanlu, Acquafresca
Levante haven't managed to score more than a single goal in their last five games, and despite registering first in their last away match against Real Madrid, they were comfortably despatched by 5-1.
This was followed last weekend by a 0-4 drubbing at home by lowly Deportivo La Coruna. The amount of goals they are shipping will be a major concern to manager Juan Ignacio Martínez.
Barcelona, by contrast, are on a five-game unbeatean run in La Liga and continue to score goals for fun—they are now just two shy of a century of league goals.
In the last two matches, against Mallorca (5-0) and Real Zaragoza (0-3), Barca have scored eight and conceded precisely 0.
Men to Watch
Barcelona: Cristian Tello
Whilst his first touch still needs work, there is no doubt that Cristian Tello scares the hell out of opposition defenders. His pace is frightening, and seven goals from nine La Liga games is a spectacular return.
Aside from a more regular end product, Tello is now regularly producing moments of great skill. Utilised correctly in Saturday's game, Tello will be decisive.
Levante: Jose Barkero/Sergio Ballesteros
With Obafemi Martins having departed on loan to the Seattle Sounders, the chief goal threat has all but disappeared with Juanlu, Iborra, Michel and Acquafresca only registering nine goals between them all season.
By contrast, hard-working midfielder Jose Barkero has 5 goals of his own, and his all round contribution in games is worth noting. Despite being 33 years of age, he can be relied upon to always produce his best work, regardless of the outcome of the match.
Another old war horse, Sergio Ballesteros, just never knows when to give up. The 37-year-old centre-back still retains a wonderful enthusiasm for the game and competitive edge second to none.
No matter which player he faces up against, Ballesteros will accept the challenge willingly, and if things are not going well early in the match, don't be surprised to see him take the game by the scruff of the neck and drag his teammates through.
Barcelona, and Andres Iniesta in particular, were in imperious form the last time the sides met, back on November 25, 2012.
A reasonably balanced game, which saw chances for either side but which remained goalless at the break, was brought to life in 47 minutes when Messi lobbed the onrushing Munua after a wonderful through-ball from Iniesta.
The little magician was devastating that night, quickly setting up Messi for his second and then getting in on the act himself...and he wasn't finished there.
His pass to Cesc Fabregas saw the midfielder add some gloss to the scoreline. Barca had scored four in just 16 second-half minutes.
Victor Valdes preserved his clean sheet with a late penalty save from Jose Barkero.
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