Levante v Barcelona Preview
Estadio Ciudad de Valencia, Valencia
MATCH IN A SENTENCE: Barcelona go into Sunday’s match against Levante three points clear of Atletico Madrid atop the table, but the Ciudad de Valencia has been an unwelcoming ground to its guests of late and the sixth-place side are confident they can get something out of their showdown with the league leaders.
BREAKDOWN: Levante have turned their home stadium into a fortress of late and coming into Saturday’s contest have won seven of their last eight matches at Estadio Ciudad de Valencia—the lone defeat coming earlier this month against Real Madrid.
The Frogs were anything but hospitable when the reigning champions arrived, however, and sent Cristiano Ronaldo back to the Spanish capital with facial swelling that turned his left eye into a slit.
“Barcelona and Madrid, who for me are the best in the world, have had a bad time here in the last few years,” Levante midfielder Michel Herrero said during a pre-match press conference. “We’re going to win, or at least make it difficult. We have an advantage with our fans.”
Barcelona manager Tito Vilanova also acknowledged the enormity of Sunday’s task in his pre-match remarks, reminding reporters of Levante’s exceptional home record.
“They always have a good goalscorer and a good playmaker like [Jose] Barkero,” he said, adding, “They have won all of their home games apart from when they played Atletico [Madrid] and Real Madrid.”
ESSENTIALS: Levante defender Pedro Lopez is suspended for Sunday’s match and midfielder Dariusz Dudka misses out through injury.
Barcelona’s injury list includes defender Marc Bartra, left-back Eric Abidal, midfielder Isaac Cuenca and forward Alexis Sanchez.
Lionel Messi, currently on 80 goals in 2012, is just five shy of the 85 Gerd Muller scored in 1972.
KEY BATTLE: Vilanova is well aware of the problems Barkero can cause. The 33-year-old will operate in behind Martins in a playmaking role and will require significant attention from Barcelona defensive midfielder Sergio Busquets.
FORMATIONS: Levante manager Juan Ignacio Martinez will deploy a 4-2-3-1 formation fronted by Martins and supported by Nabil El Zhar, Barkero and Juanlu. Vilanova’s 4-3-3 will feature Pedro, Messi and David Villa across the forward line.
BETLINE: Levante 10/1; Draw 5/1; Barcelona 1/4. Since winning promotion in 2010 Levante have only once taken a point off Barcelona—in May 2011.