FC Barcelona can claim their sixth successive league win tomorrow – provided they defeat fourth-placed Levante at the Ciutat de Valencia. The Bluagrana have been in excellent form under new coach Tito Vilanova with eleven victories from their opening twelve league games and are 100% away from home, but will face their toughest away test of the season so far against Juan Ignacio Martinez’ side. After all, Levante pushed Real Madrid to the limit just two weeks ago, albeit with a little help from Mother Nature and they can count themselves unlucky to have lost that game. Will Barcelona experience similar difficulties tomorrow it will it be business as usual for Barca?
As per usual, Barcelona received mixed news on the injury front this week as the return to fitness of both Adriano Correia and Thiago Alcântara has been overshadowed by injury news involving two key players. As Bostjan reported in today’s news, David Villa has picked up an ankle injury and will therefore miss tomorrow’s match with Levante while Victor Valdés has been suffering from some discomfort in his knee and his availability for the match will depend on the progression of the injury. However, despite those two unwelcome developments it’s nice to know that we can still get excited about the return of Adriano – who has been in excellent form thus far this season – and Thiago – who was imperious against Granada in his first league appearance of the season.
So then, for the first time this season there is an air of uncertainty over Barcelona’s starting goalkeeper. Will Victor Valdés be able to shake off a knock and start in goal for an opportunity to keep his second successive clean sheet or will Jose Manuel Pinto – who is expected to start on Wednesday against Alaves – step in and make a rare league appearance? Whatever happens, Tito will be optimistic about his team’s chances given that Levante are one of the division’s lowest-scoring teams.
Dani Alves is favourite to start at right-back after his volley in midweek against Spartak Moscow spurred the Blaugrana onto victory and progression in the UEFA Champions League. However, with Martin Montoya improving by the game, the Brazilian will face stiff competition for the starting berth. Considering that Levante are likely to sit back and defend for their lives, I think that Alves would be the better option, although Montoya has proved to be more efficient. Decisions, decisions...
In the heart of defense, Gerard Piqué looks set to start for the fourth match in succession leaving Carles Puyol and Javier Mascherano to fight over the remaining centre-back spot. Puyol has only just returned from injury and while he is still being eased back into the starting XI, Barca would benefit from his presence in defense tomorrow evening. However, as Mascherano put in a much-improved performance on Tuesday against Spartak Moscow it’s possible that he could start instead of, or even alongside Puyol. Despite receiving the medical green light, I think it’s unlikely that Adriano will be immediately restored to the starting line-up, especially with Jordi Alba in such fine form.
Sergio Busquets should start at pivote, with Cesc Fàbregas and Xavi Hernández likely to start in support. Andrés Iniesta may start in midfield, although with David Villa ruled out through injury the Spaniard could be pushed forward to an attacking role – just like he was on Tuesday. Similar to Adriano, it would be a surprise if Thiago found himself in a starting role, but I am looking forward to seeing the talented Spaniard back in action.
Offensively, Vilanova has been left with little choice after El Guaje’s injury – with just three attackers in the squad, it appears certain that Lionel Messi and Pedro will start. Cristian Tello on the other hand might not be so lucky, especially as there’s likely to be little space for Tello to exploit on the Ciutat de Valencia pitch. Therefore, I would anticipate an attacking role for either Cesc Fàbregas or Andrés Iniesta.
Just as Levante reached a milestone in Jornada 13 last season, they head into tomorrow’s match with an opportunity to reach another. Last season, Jose Barkero bagged Levante’s 250th goal in La Liga competition, maybe he will grab their 300th tomorrow? Well, one would expect Levante to score tomorrow, although Obafemi Martins would be the man likely to get it. With five goals since his summer move from Rubin Kazan, the Nigerian is in excellent form and has been the driving force behind Levante’s most recent ascendancy to the top. His pace will undoubtedly cause Barcelona problems, but if the Blaugrana can keep Martins quiet, they may well find that Levante are a lot less threatening.
Levante 1-2 FC Barcelona – 14th April 2012 – La Liga
Barcelona prepared for their trip to Chelsea with a victory against Levante, as a brace from Lionel Messi cancelled out Jose Barkero’s opener.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdés; Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Alba; Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta; Messi, Cesc, Pedro
Levante (4-2-3-1): Munua; Lopez, Ballesteros, Navarro, Juanfran; Iborra, Diop; Juanlu, Barkero, El Zhar; Martins
It’s going to be tough, but I back Barca to grab another win – 2-1 is my best guess