Valverde was right to rotate against Levante
Ernesto Valverde left most of his stars out of this one with Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba all given the night off.
It was the right call too as it allowed youngsters Chumi and Juan Miranda to gain another start, Carles Alena also played 90 minutes and we got to see Malcom again.
The Copa del Rey is Barcelona’s lowest priority, and with a packed fixture list over the next few months, there was no point whatsover in risking key players.
The much-changed defence conceded twice in 18 minutes, and it was a tough night for the youngsters. Miranda was hooked at half-time, Chumi lasted just about an hour.
Both players were guilty of making mistakes, but patience is required and this will have been a valuable learning experience.
Barcelona got it away with it too, Philippe Coutinho’s late goal means they still have a decent chance of progressing next week.
Coutinho misses chance to impress
Speaking of Coutinho, the Brazilian was afforded his first start for some time but did little to show he deserves his place back in the first team.
His late penalty could prove to be vital in the tie, but otherwise he was guilty of giving the ball away and offered very little threat at all going forwards.
There have been rumours Coutinho is not happy with life on the bench at Barcelona, and Valverde spoke about his situation after the match.
“When Dembele wasn’t playing, everyone was asking me about him,” he said.
”Now Dembele’s playing and Coutinho isn’t and the reverse is happening. When you do not play and you are not happy, you have to fight to change the situation. Today was a match for that.
”Coutinho is a great player who has given us a lot and will give us a lot. I will say the same about Dembele. It’s a repetitive question with interchangeable names.”
Source | Goal
Dembele’s superb form has put Coutinho on the bench and made him simply undroppable in attack alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez. This was a big chance for the Brazilian to respond, but he simply did not do enough.
Will the big names return for the second leg?
This tie is very finely poised ahead of Thursday’s second leg at the Camp Nou, and Valverde will have a big decision to make over who to play next week.
The club have lifted the Copa del Rey for the last four seasons and Valverde has made it plain it’s a trophy he values.
“I don’t agree with all the talk that the Copa del Rey is a waste of time. We have to be excited about it, as it gives us a lot and we love playing the final and the semi-final,” he said in his pre-match press conference.
Yet Barcelona’s clear objective this season is winning the Champions League, and Valverde needs to manage his squad carefully amid a hectic fixture list.
Levante are a tricky team as they’ve already shown. Only Barcelona and Sevilla have outscored them in La Liga, and they won away at Real Madrid in October.
Valverde has already admitted he took a “risk” with his team selection on Thursday, should he do the same again in the second leg?