Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino is anticipating a much tougher test against Levante on Sunday than in their 7-0 rout of the same opponents on the opening day of the season.
That victory at the Camp Nou got Martino’s reign in La Liga off to a perfect start, yet with Levante having conceded just 20 goals in 18 games since that horror show, Martino is not counting on a similar score-line at the Ciudad de Valencia.
“I believe that game wasn’t typical, especially looking at what Levante have done since then,” he said, according to Barcelona’s official website. “They’ve proved themselves to be a solid and combative team, fast on the break and good in defense. They haven’t conceded as many goals against any opponent since then. I don’t expect a repeat of that match.”
Following last weekend’s goalless draw with Atletico Madrid, Barcelona will head into the match in a three-way tie for top spot in La Liga with Atletico, who play later on Sunday, and Real Madrid, who have beat Real Betis 5-0 earlier in the weekend. Barcelona have taken a mightily impressive 50 points from the first-half of the season, dropping just seven points, and Martino expects that a similar record may be needed in the second half if they are to retain the title.
“I think things will stay the same,” he said. “We may be looking at a league championship in which 100 points aren’t enough. It’s all about not losing the momentum that the other two leading teams have.”
Barcelona come into the match on the back of a 2-0 win against Getafe to seal their progress in the Copa del Rey, in what turned out to be a mixed night for the Catalans. In his first start of 2014, Neymar suffered an ankle injury in the first half that will force him to miss the next month. On the positive side, the match saw two goals from Lionel Messi, the second of them spectacular, as the Argentine star continued his recovery from a two-month layoff. And Martino believes that, after a year hampered by niggling muscle strains, Messi will be back to his best having now been able to have a proper pre-season.
“After his injury, he followed a different program of training to everyone else,” he explained, according to Spanish sports daily AS. “He has just been doing what everyone else was doing in July and August. He is now ready to offer us his best football.”
As well as Neymar, Barcelona will also be without Carles Puyol and Andres Iniesta, with Martino explaining that he doesn’t want to take any risks about the fitness of either.
The Blaugrana will be getting well acquainted with Levante, with the sides set to meet three times in 10 days, including their two-legged clash in the Copa del Rey quarterfinals. Levante secured their place in last eight with a 1-0 victory over Rayo Vallecano on Wednesday and winning by the same score-line on aggregate. Joaquin Caparros’ side have now kept three consecutive clean sheets, although goals remain hard to come by at the attacking end with only three teams having scored less than them in La Liga this season.
Where to watch: The Spanish Primera Division contest will kick off at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday. Coverage will be provided by beIN Sports, with a live stream available on beIN Sports Play.