Early league leaders Barça take on Levante at Camp Nou tomorrow evening (Sunday 8.30 pm) with the goal of maintaining the two-point advantage over closest rivals Real Madrid. Gerard Piqué will serve the last of his four-match suspension while Luis Enrique is also without the injured Claudio Bravo, Douglas, Thomas Vermaelen and Rafinha. The good news is that Dani Alves is fit again and should return at right-back. Gerard Gumbau from Barça B has been called up to the first team again to make up the 18-man squad for the game.
Rafinha’s injury in Wednesday’s 1-1 draw at Roma has left the squad with a serious lack of back-up in midfield and attack. The first choice players, Busquets, Rakitic, Iniesta, Messi, Suárez and Neymar cannot be expected to play every game but with no Xavi, no Pedro, and now no Rafinha to come in, the possible altertatives until January are extremely limited. Youngsters Sandro and Munir are the only natural attackers and they both still have a lot to prove. With Alves back, Sergi Roberto will undoubtedly get more opportunities in midfield but we may also see Mascherano and possibly Jordi Alba used further forward.
Given that Barça face a tough trip to Vigo to face Celta on Wednesday, Luis Enrique seems likely to use tomorrow’s game to rest a couple of regulars. Marc Bartra could get a chance in central defence while the possibility to play Jeremy Mathieu or Adriano at left-back or Sergi Roberto in midfield offer more alternatives. Sandro or Munir could be used to rest one of the forwards but it seems more likely they will be used as substitutes. A possible starting XI might be Ter Stegen in goal, a back four of Alves, Bartra, Mascherano and Mathieu, a midfield of Sergi Roberto, Busquets and Iniesta, with Messi, Suárez and Neymar up front.
Opponents Levante are usually seen as relegation candidates but they are now in their sixth consecutive season in the top flight. Coach Lucas Alcaraz took over in October 2014 and under his guidance they finished 14th last season but they avoided the drop by just two points. This season they have begun with a 1-2 home defeat to Celta, a 0-0 draw at Las Palmas and a 1-1 home draw against Sevilla. Alcaraz will be without the injured David Navarro and the suspended Simao Mate but besides that Levante are at full strength and seem likely to continue with the 5-3-2 formation used so far this season.
Barça’s 18-man squad: Ter Stegen, Masip, Alves, Adriano, Bartra, Mascherano, Mathieu, Alba, Busquets, Gumbau, Sergi Roberto, Rakitic, Iniesta, Messi, Suárez, Sandro, Munir, Neymar.
Barça: Ter Stegen; Alves, Bartra, Mascherano, Mathieu; Sergi Roberto, Busquets, Iniesta; Messi, Suárez, Neymar.
Levante: Ruben; Morales, Trujillo, Feddal, Juanfran, Toño; Camarasa, Mari, Verza; Ghilas, Deyverson.
Prediction: Barça 3 Levante 0
Date: Sunday 20 September 2015. Kick-off 8.30 pm local time