Barcelona could not have received any greater encouragement going into Sunday’s clash at Levante than seeing great rivals Real Madrid fall to defeat the previous day.
Real’s loss to Betis on Saturday means that Barcelona can move 11 points clear of the defending champions as they look to win back the La Liga crown. Barcelona’s league record this season under new boss Tito Vilanova has been almost exemplary as they have dropped just two points, in the opening Clasico of the season back in October.
A trip to Levante, though, could well present Barcelona with one of their toughest challenges of the season. The unfashionable side from Valencia surprised many with a sixth-place finish last season, but they have proved that the performance was no fluke by sitting in the same position after 12 games this campaign.
Juan Ignacio Martinez’s side have a reputation for being a tough outfit to go up against and only earlier this month were criticized for their overly physical approach by Real Madrid. Levante’s record at home is particularly impressive, with that match against Real Madrid representing their only defeat so far this season.
“It’s always been tough when we have played away to Levante,” Vilanova said, according to the Barcelona website.
And Vilanova also dismissed the idea of his young side fading against a much more experienced Levante team.
“You show your age on the pitch, not on your identity card,” he added. “The important thing is to be good, regardless of whether you’re younger or older. Our games against Levante have always been complicated but we’ve always had a good reception from the crowd.”
Vilanova confirmed that David Villa will not be in the squad as a cautious approach is taken to his ankle injury. Thiago and Adriano are expected to be available, though, after recovering from injuries.
Pedro Lopez will be missing for Levante with a suspension handed out after he was shown two yellow cards in his side’s 2-0 victory at Deportivo La Coruna last Sunday.
D: Lell, Ballesteros, Navarro, Juanfran
M: Iborra, Diop
El Zhar, Barkero, Juanlu
D: Alves, Puyol, Pique, Alba
M: Xavi, Busquets, Fabregas
F: Pedro, Messi, Iniesta
Prediction: Barcelona are unlikely to find things easy going against a tough Levante side. It could well take the Catalan giants some time to make the breakthrough, but, spurred on by the opportunity to increase the gap to Real Madrid, Barcelona should take away a well-earned three points.
Levante 0-2 Barcelona
Where to watch: The La Liga contest kicks-off from the Ciudad de Valencia at 3 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by beIN Sport en Espanol. A live stream, which you view at your own discretion, will be available here.