Having won 1-4 in last week’s quarter-final. first leg, Barça face a comfortable task of reaching the Copa del Rey semi-finals in tomorrow night’s second leg against Levante at Camp Nou. Given the relative ease of qualifying and the heavy fixture list lined-up for February, it comes as a surprise that Tata Martino has not called up any members of Barça B for the game. Iniesta, Montoya, Song and Puyol return to the squad after injury while the only players rested are Alves, Busquets and Xavi.
Following tomorrow’s game Barça face six important matches in the space of eighteen days. On Saturday 1 February Valencia visit Camp Nou in La Liga then in all probability we will face a Copa del Rey semi-final against Real Sociedad followed by a trip to Sevilla in La Liga. Then we will have the return game of the Copa del Rey semi-final followed by Rayo Vallecano in the league at Camp Nou, probably the only easy game of the six. Finally we face the Champions League clash at Manchester City on February 18.
Looking at the fixtures it seems clear that the only game that Martino might be happy to put out a weaker team is against Rayo which makes his decision to rest only three players for tomorrow’s game more difficult to understand. To put it into context Levante’s coach Joaquin Caparros has rested eleven first team players, Keylor Navas, Navarro, Ivanschitz, Lell, Diop, Xumetra, Simao Mate, Barral, Rodas, Gomis and El Zhar, for the game.
Looking at the squad chosen it seems likely that Martino will start with Pinto in goal with a defence of Montoya, Bartra, Puyol and Adriano. In midfield Iniesta will probably return to make up a trio with Song and Sergi Roberto while up front Tello seems sure to start and hopefully Afellay will also be given a chance. That would leave one place which would have to be taken by one of Messi, Alexis, Pedro and Fabregas. Given the apparent obsession to always play Messi it may well be the Argentinian who starts, which would seem like an unnecessary risk just three weeks away from the Man City game.
Off the pitch the Neymar case rumbles on with Jordi Cases apparently deciding not to withdraw his action against Sandro Rosell, having asked for and not received a guarantee from the club that no action would be taken against him. President Josep Maria Bartomeu continues to impress with his openness in various press interviews and has seemingly consolidated his position However, tensions with Real Madrid have increased over insinuations that Madrid tried to torpedo the deal and Barça subsequently were forced to pay more for the player. Rac 1 presenter Xavi Bosch accused Florentino Perez of directly calling ex-Spanish president Jose Maria Aznar and justice minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon to make sure the case against Rosell was accepted by the judge. Perez has responded by threatening legal action if the accusation isn’t withdrawn. Meanwhile, following Joan Laporta’s call for elections last week, Agusti Benedito, who made a late surge to finish a distant second to Rosell in the 2010 presidential elections, has also come out in favour of elections this summer because he doesn’t believe the motives for Rosell’s resignation have been explained sufficiently.
Barça’s 18-man squad: Valdés, Pinto, Montoya, Bartra, Piqué, Puyol, Mascherano, Adriano, Alba, Song, Sergi Roberto, Iniesta, Fabregas, Pedro, Alexis, Messi, Afellay, Tello.
Levante 18-man squad: Javi Jiménez, Leandro, Nagore, Juanfran, Vyntra, Nikos, Pedro Ríos, Sergio, El Adoua, Camarasa, Rubén, Nong, Ángel, Pedro López, Pallardó, Babá, Expósito, Jordi César.
Barça: Pinto, Montoya, Bartra, Puyol, Adriano; Sergi Roberto, Song, Iniesta; Afellay, Messi, Tello.
Levante: Javi Jiménez; Nagore, Vyntra, Juanfran, Nikos; Pedro Ríos, El Adoua, Camarasa, Rubén, Sergio; Ángel.
Prediction: Barça 4 Levante 0
Date: Wednesday 29 January 2014. Kick off 10 pm local time.