How Barcelona Will Line Up Against Levante

Jason Pettigrove@@jaypetti1971Contributor IJanuary 21, 2014

Gerard Pique needs to show a marked improvement in his defending.
Gerard Pique needs to show a marked improvement in his defending.Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

Just three days after their league encounter, Barcelona head back to Levante for a Copa Del Rey quarter-final first leg match.

The difference in the two La Liga matches between the sides could not have been more marked.

After an opening day 7-0 drubbing, Levante put 10 men behind the ball for the majority of the match on Sunday, and they managed to pinch a draw despite Barca's best efforts.

In truth, Tata Martino's men didn't answer any questions and the creativity for which Barca are often renowned had all but deserted them.

Without the likes of Andres Iniesta and Neymar, the build up play was predictable and laboured, and they certainly didn't have the intensity, zip and verve that we are used to seeing from these fine purveyors of quality football.

Whether Sunday's result will have any bearing whatsoever on the way the home side set their stall out is anyone's guess, but lightning can't strike twice can it?

Were Levante to attempt to "park the bus" and strangle the life out of the game once again, Martino would need to decide if he would be happy with a similar result to Sunday's to take back to Camp Nou, or whether he would prefer to render the second leg a formality.

If his charges can produce a performance akin to that on the opening weekend, the manager gives himself the luxury of being able to rest a number of his star names in what is a very busy period in the season.

Levante's "backs-against-the-wall" performance on Sunday was desperate and last-ditch at times, but it almost won them the game. Joaquin Caparros is not stupid and will have noted just how close his team came to causing an upset.

Standing toe-to-toe with Barca in a footballing sense is a recipe for disaster for most teams, so we should perhaps expect more of the same from Levante in this match.

The return of Andres Iniesta could well provide Barca with the keys to the lock.

Xavi Hernandez was marked out of the match at the weekend but with cohort Iniesta also in situ, the home side will need to commit more men into the midfield areas to stifle the pressing game from Barca.

With Pape Diop and Simao therefore pushed a little more forward than they would like, David Navarro and Juanfran may well find themselves isolated in the central areas.

Xavi was marked out of Sunday's match. If Andres Iniesta is back, Barca's creative hub returns.
Xavi was marked out of Sunday's match. If Andres Iniesta is back, Barca's creative hub returns.Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

Caparros' biggest question mark is whether he gets his defence to sit back and invite pressure onto his players for 90 minutes, or whether he plays a more positive game than on Sunday but at the risk of being picked off at will by a more creative and incisive Barca than that which we have just witnessed.

The main change for Barca will come between the sticks. Ever reliable Jose Manuel Pinto will return for the cup game, and will, perhaps, have thoughts of a new contract on his mind. To that end, any performance from the 38-year-old needs to be on point at this juncture.

A reliable set of defenders wouldn't go amiss, Gerard Pique showed the best and worst of his game last time out. Carles Puyol or Marc Bartra could well supplant Javier Mascherano in central defence, where a vocal and aerial presence is required.

Pique, once again, keeps his place purely by virtue of the lack of natural central defenders at the club.

As with Bartra, Martin Montoya is easing himself in the first team picture and another run out here could well be on the cards, giving Dani Alves some more respite before a tricky test against Malaga.

Although Loukas Vyntra was adept at preventing Jordi Alba's raids down Barca's left side, Adriano Correia will offer a wholly different proposition. Naturally two-footed, the Brazilian should trouble the one-dimensional right-back when he looks to cut inside. 

Martino could plump for Alex Song in the holding role, however his transitional play is not on the same wavelength as Sergio Busquets. The ease with which the Catalan transfers the ball from back to front is plain for all to see, the forward motion of the team is much more fluid rather than staccato when Song is in possession.

Song only plays if Martino prefers to keep his midfield general in reserve.

Up top, Barcelona will be far more dangerous if Messi is moved out to the wing. As was seen numerous times at the weekend, the central areas were densely over populated by Levante's defence and midfield. At times, there were up to nine of the home side's outfield players within a 20-yard square.

Barca should be much more dangerous with Messi out wide.
Barca should be much more dangerous with Messi out wide.Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

By taking Messi out wide, it changes the focus of the attack and makes Barca far less predictable. Allowing Messi to roam opens up the pitch, which in turn gives Cesc Fabregas the room to make some late and incisive runs into the box.

It should be a straight toss up between Alexis Sanchez and Pedro Rodriguez for the final spot but neither were particularly impressive in the last match.

Cristian Tello did enough in a cameo appearance to show that his pace will trouble the home side so expect a rare outing for the youngster.


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