Early La Liga leaders Barça travel to Valencia tomorrow with the intention of maintaining a 100% record at the start of the season against bottom-of-the-table Levante Union Deportivo (Sunday 9 pm). Luis Enrique will no doubt make plenty of changes to the team that beat Apoel 1-0 in the Champions League on Wednesday night and the Barça coach seems likely to field his strongest possible XI.
Barça trained this morning with 25 players including Munir and Sandro from Barça B (Sergi Samper is back under the orders of Eusebio Sacristan). Luis Suarez is of course suspended, Thomas Vermaelen has still not received medical clearance to play and Jordi Masip also continues his recovery, but Dani Alves trained normally and should be available after picking up a knock again Apoel meaning 22 players are fighting for a place. Luis Enrique will wait until tomorrow morning before naming a list of 18 players for the trip.
There will again be special attention on Lucho’s choice of goalkeeper. Claudio Bravo started with the advantage in La Liga but the Barça coach has indicated that he does not intend to play different keepers in the league and in Europe despite giving a Champions League debut to Marc-Andre Ter Stegen on Wednesday. Most of the press seem to think Bravo will play tomorrow, after all the Chilean’s signing was the personal choice of Luis Enrique and he has played all three league games so far without conceding a goal. However, on first impressions, I feel Ter Stegen is the better keeper. The German looks huge between the posts, shows good awareness, safe handling and excellent distribution. Bravo may be the better shot-stopper which is obviously important but while neither has conceded a goal it is still difficult to judge between them.
Elsewhere the team is likely to be very similar to the XI that started against Athletic Club last Saturday. If Alves is 100% then he should get the nod instead of Montoya, but Mascherano, Mathieu and Alba look likely to start unless Piqué is rewarded for his performance against Apoel. We will probably start again with Rakitic, Busquets and Iniesta in midfield while up front Lucho will again have to decide between Neymar, Munir and Pedro for the two places alongside Leo Messi. Munir is the only player, along with Messi, to start all four games this season but he could be rested tomorrow. What is clear after Luis Enriqué’s press conference today is that the Barça boss has no problems whatsoever with Neymar, or anybody, using social media, despite attempts by the press to stir up a controversy over the Brazilian’s latest tweet.
In last season’s corresponding fixture back in January Barça only managed a 1-1 draw at the Ciutat de Valencia stadium though three days later Tata Martino’s team earned a comfortable 1-4 win on the same ground in the Copa del Rey. Ex-Athletic, Valladolid and Osasuna coach Jose Luis Mendilibar took over from Joaquin Caparrós in the Levante hot seat at the end of last season when Caparrós left for Granada. Last season under Caparrós Levante generally played a defensive counter-attacking game and finished tenth but Mendibilar has tried to introduce a more possession-based game with a higher defensive line though so far the formula hasn’t worked with Levante losing 0-2 at home to Villarreal and 3-0 to Athletic at San Mames before earning a 0-0 at Malaga last weekend. The hero at Malaga was goalkeeper Jesús Fernández who was signed from Real Madrid to replace Costa Rican keeper Keylor Navas who of course went the other way. It will be no surprise tomorrow to see a more defensive system from Mendilibar’s team.
Barça have been struggling a bit to score goals but Luis Enrique’s men should have find enough to ensure a comfortable victory.
Barça’s available players: Bravo, Ter Stegen, Alves, Montoya, Douglas, Adriano, Alba, Piqué, Bartra, Mascherano, Mathieu, Busquets, Xavi, Rakitic, Sergi Roberto, Iniesta, Rafinha, Pedro, Munir, Messi, Sandro, Neymar.
Levante: Jesús; Pedro López, Vyntra, David Navarro, Toño; Simao Mate, Camarasa; Xumetra, Víctor Pérez, Morales; David Barral.
Barça: Ter Stegen; Alves, Mascherano, Mathieu, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta; Pedro, Messi, Neymar.
Prediction: Levante 0 Barça 2
Date: Sunday 21 September 2014. Kick-off 9 pm local time.