FC Barcelona take on Levante tomorrow in La Liga action, as the Blaugrana look to move three points closer to securing the title before they take on Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena next Tuesday evening. In some ways, the league title has almost taken a back-seat; barring a disastrous loss of form, Barça will be crowned La Liga champions for the fourth time in the past five seasons, so what’s really to be gained from focusing on the remaining games rather than the exciting, upcoming UEFA Champions League semi-final with the Bundesliga champions? Well, depending on Tito Vilanova’s selection for tomorrow’s match, how does a glimpse into Barcelona’s future sound?
With Bayern Munich to contend with next Tuesday, Tito Vilanova is expected to rotate his squad tomorrow and give a number of fringe players a chance to shine, but the biggest news surrounds Lionel Messi who has fully recovered from his thigh injury, and therefore could make a cameo appearance before heading to Germany. Whether he should is a totally different matter; some might not be comfortable seeing Messi in action, especially knowing that Leo is probably the only player capable of leading us past Bayern (after all, Roura revealed today that Puyol is not going to be making a surprise comeback at the Allianz...). Anyway, there’s no squad list for tomorrow’s match, and somewhat surprisingly, Oier Olazabal is the only B team player training with the squad, so, maybe Tito isn’t planning to rest absolutely everyone ahead of the trip to Munich?
Certainly, Victor Valdés will start in goal, and thanks to his clean sheet last weekend against Real Zaragoza, Barcelona were able to keep their second successive La Liga clean sheet – their first consecutive shut-out of the season. On one hand, it’s a pretty spectacular record; to think Barcelona almost secured the league title before they kept two successive clean sheets...well, that has to be unprecedented, but at least Barça are finally showing us they know how to defend. And not a moment too soon; the entire Blaugrana defense will have to be at the peak of their powers to stop Bayern Munich on Tuesday.
Speaking of, just who will start in the back-four tomorrow? My money is on Martin Montoya to start at right-back, with Jordi Alba starting on the opposite flank. Normally, I wouldn’t want Alba to start in such close proximity to another huge game, but Alves needs his rest, and really, there’s not anyone else who can do the job. Adriano is a candidate, but the Brazilian may be required at centre-half, although one might argue that Marc Bartra and Gerard Piqué should start together in the heart of defense – assuming Tito is planning on starting the two Catalans against Bayern. If Tito wants to keep Piqué and/or Bartra fresh, one could easily start alongside Adriano, with the other coming on as a substitute in the second-half. Perhaps Marc Muniesa could start? He was a member of the first-team squad prior to his unfortunate pre-season knee injury...
At pivote, Sergio Busquets is likely to be sidelined with a hernia – and even if he has recovered, I think Alex Song would be a better option. Or Jonathan dos Santos, but that seems highly unlikely, even with Bayern on the horizon. Thiago Alcântara should start in midfield, and I’d say that Cesc Fàbregas could join him in midfield; although Andrés Iniesta could also fill that role and be substituted off around the 50 minute mark – exactly as he was against Mallorca. Sergi Roberto may, or may not be in the frame for a rare place in the senior squad; it would open up a place in the B team for Sergi Samper, who was rumoured to be impressive in his cameo appearance in the Copa Catalunya – although that does seem to go against Eusebio’s usual coaching style.
Moving onto the attack, tomorrow could well prove to be day that Gerard Deulofeu makes his first competitive start for the senior team, having impressed over the course of the season with 18 goals in the Segunda Division. However, it seems unlikely that Deulofeu will start tomorrow – or even make the bench – instead, I expect Alexis Sánchez to start on the right-hand side of attack. Cristian Tello is virtually certain to retain his place on the left, with David Villa my personal choice for the centre-forward berth. In all likelihood, Cesc will start as a false nine, but hey, we can dream right?
Tomorrow’s visitors are thirteen points clear of the drop-zone and ten points adrift of a UEFA Europa League place; aside from the slight discrepancies in prize money, Levante have nothing to play for. Holding midfielder Vicente Iborra is suspended while full-backs Christian Lell and Nikolaos Karabelas have been left out of the squad, along with winger Juanlu. Given that Levante slumped to a huge 4-0 home defeat to struggling Deportivo, few expect this one to be a contest.
Levante UD 0-4 FC Barcelona – 25th November 2012 – La Liga
Barcelona couldn’t find a way past Levante until the second-half, but they made amends with four second-half goals, courtesy of Lionel Messi (2), Andrés Iniesta and Cesc Fàbregas.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdés; Montoya, Bartra, Piqué, Adriano; Song, Thiago, Iniesta; Sánchez, Cesc, Tello
Levante (4-2-3-1): Munua; Lopez, Ballesteros, Navarro, Juanfran; Diop, Simao; El Zhar, Michel, Barkero; Acquafresca
Whether Barça are focused on Bayern, or not, they should still have more than enough to defeat Levante, and by some margin too. I’m going for a Manita: 5-0 Barça!