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Levante: The underdogs who could put a spanner in Barcelona’s works

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A closer look at Sunday’s opponents

Real Madrid CF v Levante UD - La Liga Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

In sixth place in the La Liga table with a total of 22 points, Levante have had an impressive start to the season. Not only have they defeated the likes of Real Betis and Alaves, another surprise package, but they stunned Real Madrid with a 2-1 win at the Santiago Bernabeu. Whilst Barca seemed to have regained their form with a series of satisfactory results, this talented Levante side will be looking to repeat their shock win over the Blaugranes last season, a match which put an end to Barca’s undefeated streak.

It seems fairly apparent that Levante’s league success is a result of aggressive attacking football; they have effectively executed quick counter attacks on many occasions, do well to pressurise opposing defences by crowding the penalty area. Such tactics, along with a heavily-offensive 3-5-2 formation, have resulted in close range goals against the likes of Athletic Bilbao, Real Betis, Sevilla and Valencia, as well as a Villarreal own goal. Overall, Levante have scored 27 goals, making them the third highest scoring team in La Liga this season.

Real Madrid CF v Levante UD - La Liga Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Levante’s main attacking threat comes in the form of centre-forward Roger Marti, who has scored eight goals thus far in La Liga. An effective goal poacher with physical prowess and accuracy, Marti is an all rounder with the ability to score against even the strongest opposition, including Real Madrid, Sevilla and Valencia. This makes him an enormous threat to the Blaugranes defence, and close attention will need to be paid to him on Sunday.

Whilst the most obvious choice to trouble Barca’s defence, Marti is not the only Levante player with the ability to cause Barca damage. His partner up front is captain Jose Luis Morales, who has bagged five goals this season including a decisive goal against Real Madrid and a goal in the 4-4 thriller against Eibar last weekend. Barca’s defence will need to be on top of their game if they wish to keep Levante at bay, as this is a side that has only failed to score on only one occasion this season.

Whilst their scoring ability has been nothing short of phenomenal, Levante’s defence is another story. Continuously susceptible to errors in judgement, Levante have conceded an overwhelming 25 goals; the third highest in La Liga. This includes a massive six goals against Sevilla and four against Eibar. Any scenario where Barca fails to score at Levante will be an utter disappointment to any Barca fan.

With both a high number of goals scored, as well as a high number of goals conceded, the key to success for Levante seems to rest on their ability to cancel out their defensive errors by netting a significant number of goals. This is, however, a tactic that Barca should be able to foil come match day.

RCD Espanyol v FC Barcelona - La Liga Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images

On the attack, the Blaugranes options are aplenty. Both Messi and Suarez are on top of the La Liga scoring charts in first and third place respectively, whereas wingers Dembele and Coutinho have bagged a respective six and four goals. Barca’s attackers have also received a significant amount of support from their full-backs, as Sergi Roberto and Jordi Alba have made a respective four and three assists each. In fact, Sergi Roberto is in third place in the La Liga assists charts whilst club legend Lionel Messi is in the number one spot. The Blaugranes’s attack has been versatile and effective this season, and with scoring opportunities being engineered from all angles, it is expected that the Blaugranes will see the back of the net against the underdogs’s volatile defence.

As has typically been the case this season, the outcome of Sunday’s game depends on which Barcelona defence will show up on match day. Will it be the Blaugrane’s lineup that has kept clean sheets in their last two La Liga outings, or will it be the Barca side that has failed to keep up with their markers and left gaping holes in the penalty box that the likes of Mauro Icardi, Diego Costa and Luuk De Jong had no trouble in exposing? With such an important question needing to be answered, along with Barca’s narrow three-point lead at the top of La Liga, this will be a decisive match that may plot Barca’s course for the rest of the season.