FC Barcelona will be looking to avenge Sunday’s surprise 1-1 draw with Levante UD tomorrow as they return to the Ciutat de Valencia to contest the first-leg of their Copa del Rey quarter-final clash with Les Granotes. While that draw ultimately didn’t cost the Blaugrana top spot, it did open the door to Real Madrid, who are now just one point away from tying Barcelona for first place. Certainly, given the pressure that Atletico Madrid are already exerting, Barça could do without the extra stress – but what’s done is done, and they have to move on.
And what better way to move on than to beat the very team that frustrated them on Sunday? Prove the doubters wrong almost immediately; reaffirm dominance in Spain and send a warning to the rest of the world. Barcelona can achieve all that and much more tomorrow; perhaps most pertinently, they can boost their own confidence with a win. Proving themselves to others is one thing, but proving yourself to yourself is a whole different matter.
Football isn’t just played on the field, it’s also played in the mind; tactics. Foresight. Self-belief. Each more important than the last.
With a win, Barcelona will have beaten the system, that deep-lying defensive tactic so often employed by lesser or perhaps just pragmatic teams. With a win, Barcelona will know how to succeed again in the future, if and when they face a similar approach. And with a win, Barcelona will believe that they can put those ideas into practice and beat the system again.
Sure, it’s only the Copa del Rey, but believe me, this match still matters.
Andrés Iniesta continues to miss out through injury, although Carles Puyol and Dani Alves both return to the squad having missed Sunday’s draw carrying slight knocks. SB Nation Soccer’s Zach Woosley noted Barcelona’s shortcomings without Dani Alves in the side – and it’s an argument that perhaps doesn’t get aired enough in the media. Alves is crucial to this side – and I’d go on record to claim that he’s arguably our best ever signing. To have the quality is one thing, but to have the consistency to deliver over a number of seasons in a physically demanding position is nothing short of super-human.
So it’s only natural that Barcelona would suffer without him – Lionel Messi suffers, Xavi suffers; everyone suffers because they don’t have that outlet that Alves provides. He’s a get out of jail free card in possession, and at times, he’s a lifesaver when you’re trying to regain the ball too. Seeing Alves on the team sheet tomorrow will ease my nerves at least.
Carles Puyol’s return could also inspire an improvement from the squad; certainly the Blaugrana were missing his aerial presence on Sunday, not to mention his generally inspiring/intimidating demeanour. Marc Bartra should also rotate back into the team, with Adriano Correia providing an option on the left-hand side of defense. I imagine I’m in the minority, but I was hoping to see Adriano off the bench on Sunday; think back to last season. This was the type of game that Adriano won last season. If Levante set up defensively again, maybe it would be worth letting Adriano try his luck from long-range.
In midfield, I would rest Cesc Fàbregas, despite seeing the Catalan sit out the last 20 minutes (give or take) in the draw – he needs a rest and admittedly, Barça are a little short of options in midfield but La Liga is more important. Keep Fàbregas fresh, and we reap the rewards all season long. Play him too often, and we risk the "burnout" that we’ve seen from him in previous seasons. Sergio Busquets can start at pivote, with Xavi and Alex Song providing the support. The Cameroonian isn’t my favourite player, but he is something different. He may add the dimension Barça need to break through the Levante defense; it’s at least worth a gamble.
In attack, Martino has little choice but to start the same trio for the second game in succession, unless he’s feeling lucky, in which case he could gamble on whether or not we see the good Cristian Tello, or the bad Cristian Tello. With Lionel Messi starting, it’s unlikely we see Jean-Marie Dongou from the start, but there’s a possibility that he can provide support from the bench if required.
David Barral returns to the squad after serving his suspension, while fellow forward Alloys Nong also returns to the fold. However, the impressive Austrian Andreas Ivanschitz drops out of the squad – as do starting holding midfielder Pape Diop and Mate Simao. So that’s one less obstacle for Lionel Messi to contend with at least.
Levante UD 1-1 FC Barcelona – 19th January 2014 – La Liga
I don’t think we really need another recap here do we?
Barcelona (4-3-3): Pinto; Alves, Bartra, Puyol, Adriano; Busquets, Fàbregas, Roberto; Pedro, Messi, Tello
Levante (4-2-3-1): Jimenez; Nagore, El Adoua, Vyntra, Karabelas; Pinto, Camarasa; Xumetra, Angel, El Zhar; Barral
Lightning will not strike twice. Barcelona will win – 3-0 for me.
- FC Barcelona News: 21 January 2014; Andres Iniesta Returns to Full Traning, Plans Revealed for New Camp Nou
- FC Barcelona: Is Squad Depth An Issue?
- FC Barcelona News: 20 January 2014; Atlético Madrid Can't Take Advantage of Barça Slip-Up, Barça B Also Draw
- La Liga: FC Barcelona 1-1 Levante UD: Highlights
- Poor Barça Play + Tata's Questionable Decisions = Frustration in a 1-1 Draw