Barça take on Levante tomorrow night at the Ciutat de Valencia stadium in another must-win game for Pep Guardiola’s team. After Real Madrid’s win at the Calderon the gap at the top of La Liga is at four points and time is running out fast. Barça have won the last 10 league games to put the pressure on our rivals, but it is vital we do not drop points now, a week before receiving Madrid at Camp Nou.
Dani Alves and Gerard Piqué have both recovered from their injuries and have been named in a squad of eighteen. Seydou Keita, who last year scored the goal that clinched the league title in the 1-1 draw at Levante, has a slight muscle problem in his right leg and will not travel, while Ibi Afellay will also have to wait for another chance despite being given medical clearance to play after his seven months absence due to a ligament injury. Marc Muniesa and Marc Bartra return to Eusebio Sacristan’s Barça B this weekend but Martin Montoya and Cristian Tello travel again with the first team.
Levante may not have much history to the name, having only played five seasons previous to this in the Primera División with three of those finishing in relegation. Last season they achieved their best ever finish by ending the season in 14th place, however, this season they look very likely to finish much higher, they have spent a lot of the season in the top four though they are now in fifth place, two points behind Malaga. Credit must go to coach Juan Ignacio Martinez, the fact that they are still in with a shout for a Champions League spot is extremely impressive considering their small budget. They are the only other team apart from Barça to beat Real Madrid this season to demonstrate this was not a freak result they have also beaten other big names such as Sevilla, Atlético and Malaga this season.
Pep Guardiola is aware of the difficulty of the task but he knows the only was is to face each game as it comes. It will do the players no good to be thinking about Chelsea or Real Madrid. In many ways it could be argued that the Levante game is more important than Wednesday’s clash at Stamford Bridge, if Chelsea beat us in the first leg at least we will have 90 minutes at Camp Nou to put things right, but if we lose tomorrow we will probably be at seven points when we receive Real Madrid which will somewhat dampen the party even if we knock five past them again.
So I expect Guardiola to put out his best team tomorrow. Captain Carles Puyol celebrated his 34th birthday today and I expect him to start alongside Javier Mascherano in central defence with Alves and Adriano on the flanks. Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta should make up the midfield with Messi, Alexis and Pedro up front. Valdés and Alexis will need to be careful as a yellow card would mean they miss El Clásico next week. It’s going to be a difficult game but if we stay focused I’m sure we can come away with the three points.
Away from tomorrow’s game, the choice of staying in Europe for this summer’s tour should be applauded. If Pep Guardiola had anything to do with this decision, and he has been using his contract renewal to influence the decision, then this should also be applauded and it may well be a good sign that Pep is close to signing. We shall see.
Finally, the news so far on Eric Abidal has all been positive. It is still early to say how well he will recover but we should be thankful that he seems to be on the right path.
Barça’s squad vs Levante: Valdés, Pinto, Alves, Montoya, Piqué, Puyol, Mascherano, Adriano, Busquets, Xavi, Thiago, Fabregas, Iniesta, Pedro, Cuenca, Messi, Alexis, Tello.
Possible starting XI: Valdés; Alves, Mascherano, Puyol, Adriano; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta; Pedro, Messi, Alexis.
My prediction: Levante 1 Barça 2