Barça can extend an impressive winning streak to eleven games tomorrow when Levante visit Camp Nou for the 23rd round of La Liga 2014/15 (Sunday 5 pm). The title race is hotting up with Real Madrid’s advantage at the top of the table cut to just one point and Luis Enrique knows his team must keep up the positive momentum.
The Barça coach will be without the suspended Dani Alves and he may well decide to rest other players who played both games against Athletic and Villarreal this week. However, with no midweek game to follow he could also stick with those who look strongest in training.
Iniesta missed the session today so he seems unlikely to make a starting XI that is difficult to predict. Bravo will return in goal but will it be Adriano or Montoya at right back? Could Bartra get a game in order to rest Piqué? Mascherano or Mathieu as the other centre-back? Or Perhaps the Frenchman could play at left-back to give Jordi Alba a break. In midfield the logical thing would be to return to the trio of Busquets, Rakitic and Xavi that performed so well at San Mames though the game would also seem perfect for Rafinha to build on his recent good form. Up front Luis Enrique has shown complete confidence in the Messi-Suárez-Neymar threesome though tomorrow would be a good opportunity to give a start to Pedro with Neymar perhaps the most in need of a day off.
Levante are struggling in 18th place with just 19 points though at this stage of the season the teams fighting relegation can often be tougher than those in mid-table. Last season Levante conceded twelve goals at Camp Nou, losing 7-0 in La Liga on the opening day of last season and then 5-1 in the Copa del Rey in January 2014. The fact that Barça won the most recent game between the sides 0-5 at the Ciutat de Valencia stadium back in September might suggest that Barça will have things easy again tomorrow. The biggest enemy will be complacency but Barça will also need to break down a packed defence as there seems little chance that Levante will show much ambition to attack. Barça’s most impressive performances in recent weeks have been against sides that pressed high so it will be interesting to see how we get on against an all-out defensive approach.
Finally, you will probably have heard that Barça have a new four-man sporting commission to replace Andoni Zubizarreta, made up of two club directors, Jordi Mestre and Javier Bordás, ex-Barça player and coach Charly Rexach and ex-AC Milan sporting director Ariedo Braida. One wonders why we need four people to do the work previously done by one, especially as their main work – that of preparing for next season – is seriously affected by the transfer ban, so unless Bartomeu recovers enough to win the presidential elections this summer the life of the commission looks likely to be short and somewhat insignificant.
Barça: Bravo; Montoya, Piqué, Mascherano, Mathieu; Rakitic, Busquets, Rafinha; Messi, Suárez, Pedro.
Levante: Mariño; Lopez, Navarro, Ramis, Morales; Xumetra, Camarasa, Simao, Ivanschitz; Uche, Barral.
My bet: correct score – Barça 5 Levante 1 (current odds: 17.00) The best odds for soccer betting are at William Hill
Sunday 15 February 2015. Kick-off 5 pm local time.