Sunday at 12, Barça visit the 20th Levante to keep their 1st place. Clash between two extremes...
On paper, it is the easiest game of what's left of the season for Barça. To play against the 20th team in La Liga, after a trashing win over Valencia in Copa del Rey seems like a child's play, especially with no major injuries nor suspensions. But if it was that easy, the game would not be played. Although Levante is struggling to avoid relegation, and doing actually worse than their neighbour Valencia (which is very complicated at the moment), they're still a very dangerous team with nothing to lose but 3 points. Here is a preview of this weekend's game.
The 'stat' corner
Having spent more years in the inferior divisions of Spanish football, Levante's shared history with Barça is not very large. But big enough to draw a tendency: Barça rarely (if not never) lose to Levante, whether it is at Camp Nou or Ciudad de Valencia stadium. Here is some interesting stats before the game.
La Liga form (last 5 games)
Barça : Draw (@Espanyol, 0-0, 2/1) / Win (vGranada, 4-0, 9/1) / Win (vAthletic, 6-0, 17/1) / Win (@Malaga, 1-2, 23/1) / Win (vAtlético, 2-1, 30/1) [DWWWW]
Levante : Loss (@Atlético, 1-0, 2/1) / Win (vRayo Vallecano, 2-1, 9/1) / Loss (&Celta Vigo, 4-3, 16/1) / Win (vLas Palmas, 3-2, 25/1) / Loss (@Sevilla, 3-1, 31/1) [LWLWL]
History between the two teams, at Ciudad de Valencia Stadium (since 2007)
7 games (8 La Liga, 1 Copa del Rey): 5 Barça wins, 2 draws / 21 goals for Barça (3 goals per game); 5 goals against Barça (0.7 goals per game)
21/9/14: Levante 0-5 Barça
22/1/14: Levante 1-4 Barça (Copa del Rey)
19/1/14: Levante 1-1 Barça
25/11/12: Levante 0-4 Barça
14/4/12: Levante 1-2 Barça
11/5/11: Levante 1-1 Barça
29/9/2007: Levante 1-4 Barça
Although Barça won comfortably most of their games at Levante's venue, it turned out Blaugranas only got a clean sheet in 2 of the last 7 games at Ciudad de Valencia stadium. Beware of Levante's offensive force on Sunday.
Players to watch
Despite their 20th place in the league table, Levante do have a few talents potentially dangerous for Gerard Piqué and his teammates in defence. Here they are.
Suspended last weekend, Deyverson could not help his team grab the draw against Sevilla at Sanchez Pizjuan, and Granotes (The Frogs) finally lost 3-1 to Gameiro and his friends. The Brazilian is back this weekend, willing to keep on displaying tremendous performances like he did a couple of weeks ago against Las Palmas. In this low-flight must-win clash, he scored a goal and gave an assist to his attacking friend José Luis Morales. A bit overexcited, Deyverson then got a second booking and got sent off, at the end of the game (minute 90+3'). With already 7 goals in 18 games, the Brazilian is the number one threat of Levante
He is seeking revenge and game time. Lucas Orban, left out at Valencia where the Ches are having a hard time getting a La Liga win, Lucas Orban wants to play. Left-footed left-back, Orban likes to go up and deliver great crosses to his teammates in the area. Although he has not played a La Liga game in a month, he is really motivated to play with Levante and face the biggest opponent of all this season, Barça. Last time Valencia played againt Blaugranas, Orban was out because of a muscle injury. This time, he intends to play.
José Luis Morales
He scored less goals than his fellow Brazilian Deyverson but still managed to score a double in last Levante's win against Las Palmas (3-2, 25/1). He's also been decisive in each of his last 4 games (assist or goal) with 1 goal against Rayo Vallecano, a goal and an assist against Celta, 2 goals against Las Palmas and an assist for the only goal against Sevilla, last weekend. Watch out for Morales.
Another player on loan from a bigger club, Nabil Ghilas is seeking goals opportunities and game time. After a disappointing first half of the season at FC Porto, the Algerian International decided to change of air and join his national team friend Sofiane Feghouli in Valencia, except he'll be playing for Levante. With his strong physique and his technical quality, Ghilas is an interesting pivot for his new teammates who will need this control tower in the heart of Barça's defence in order to get chances.
The Italian striker deserved a section of his own. Arrived during the transfer window from Fiorentina, Rossi provoked tears in Levante fans, who could not believe their club had just signed this world-class forward. Annoyed by a few injuries over the last few years, Rossi has good memories with Spain, in which he shined as a Villarreal player. Not so much in italy, where he only played 41 games in three years.
He still managed during those three years and 41 games to score 19 goals, which only gave him more regrets not to have a body strong enough to cope with competition in Serie A and Europa League. In the 2014/2015 season, he simply didn't play a single game, firstly due to a cruciate ligament injury, which let him out for 234 days, before he suffered a muscle fatigue injury as he was coming back to play. He then missed the last two months of competition. This was not the first time he suffered a knee injury, as he already had a cruciate ligament rupture upon arrival at Fiorentina, missing the end of his last season under Villarreal shirt.
To arrive at Levante on loan feels like a fresh start for the Italo-American striker. Especially when fans welcome him in such a warm fashion. Probably the most talented striker of the squad, he might get Levante a few precious points in order to avoid relegation.