After a comfortable midweek home win over Getafe, Barcelona finds themselves on their travels again in a tough trip to the Ciutat De Valencia – home to high-flying Levante.
Juan Ignacio Martínez’s side may not be in the sort of form as they had earlier in the season, when they encountered 7 straight victories, but they still represent strong competition in their own surroundings. Defeated by Sporting Gijón midweek, they’ll be looking to immediately get back on track as they aim to secure a European place this season. Home form has been inconsistent; they were thumped 3-5 by Rayo Vallecano and then beat Real Betis and Villarreal, before another defeat by Osasuna, 0-2.
Levante spend a lot of time without the ball, getting men behind it while closing down in groups, getting in the faces of the opponents. It’s no surprise Rayo and Osasuna won, as they are both teams who offer a similar strategy in they like to retain possession as much as possible, and are direct. Levante find this hard to deal with, whereas the teams who like to use the ball and have high possession percentages suffer. Plenty of fouls are created by Levante, some 20 or so a game, so it’s worth looking carefully at the yellow cards area.
As well as that rigorous defensive aspect, Levante’s attack consists of quick breaks with Arouna Koné the focal point. He currently has 10 goals to his name, and will be a serious threat with his pace here, which is something that Barça generally has trouble with anyway. He can be backed to scored at 5.50. Barkero’s had a tremendous season too, and you can back him at 6.00.
It’s worth remembering since their promotion back to the top flight, Levante have not lost once at home to either Barca or Real Madrid. It’s an outstanding record, and if you feel like they can do it again you can get them at 6.50 on the draw, and 13.00 on the win. They have no major injury of suspension concerns, and will be fully fit come Saturday.
Barcelona’s victory over Getafe was the Catalans’ 10th straight victory in La Liga. This is impressive, but also necessary as they must maintain pressure on Real Madrid. So far, Pep Guardiola’s men have done an outstanding job, but this fixture will be looked upon as one of the tougher encounters. If you have faith, then back them to win at 1.22.
They’ll need to move the ball quickly, and directly. Prolonging attacks and being ponderous will allow Levante to set up behind the ball and frustrate quite easily. Lionel Messi will receive ‘special treatment’ from Levante no doubt, as other creative players have encountered at El Ciutat this season, so other Barça players might find themselves a little more space than usual. Alexis Sánchez can be backed anytime at 2.10 while Xavi could prosper with 3.50.
It would be a special moment for Andrés Iniesta on Saturday too, should he appear, as he makes his 400th appearance for Barça. If you fancy the elegant midfielder to celebrate the milestone in style, then get him to score at 3.50.
The key to this game though, is how much Barça are focused on their next one. Chelsea awaits midweek, and it will be a serious test of Barça squad depth, character and fitness to bring out a performance on Saturday. Despite the league still being up for grabs, you can’t help but ask whether their minds will be one Stamford Bridge. So with that in mind, Barça getting an early goal and keeping possession would be the ideal scenario in this match – getting into a slugfest would be not advised. A HT/FT at 1.65 is worth a look.
It’s difficult to predict what Pep’s starting line-up will be, as true to form last weekend against Real Zaragoza he rested several players. So, if Sergio Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta are rested, don’t be surprised to see Seydou Keita, Cesc Fàbregas and Thiago.
PREDICTION: Barça to just sneak it, at 0-1, is 8.00.
BEST BET: Less than 2.5 goals at 2.65