Dampened by Athletic Bilbao prior to Christmas, Barca will aim to be back at their explosive best against los Granotes...As Good As Ever
Barcelona were once again the dominant force in Spanish football over the course of 2010 and will be aiming to recapture their domestic crown in the spring. Pep Guardiola’s men are on course, sitting at the summit of the Primera Division and in good form approaching Sunday’s encounter with Levante.
The Catalan outfit were in terrific form prior to the winter break, though they were stifled surprisingly by Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey just a couple of days before Christmas. Prior to that encounter, Barca were in magnificent form, scoring goals at an almost unprecedented rate – 29 in six domestic matches.
That draw will have served to remind a feverishly competitive Barca side that they are not completely invincible and will act as a prod to induce them to ever-higher levels. Guardiola’s men have had several of these prompts over the course of the campaign, almost inevitably happening at Camp No, where they’ve been held by Mallorca and beaten by newly promoted Hercules.
Another fresh face amongst Spain’s elite will not be treated with any disdain by la Blaugrana, who are aware that a remarkable pace must be kept if they are to remain ahead of Real Madrid in the title race. Bolstered by the addition of Ibrahim Affelay, Barca go into the new year in arguably their strongest ever state.
Primera Division life is proving to be awkward for a Levante side who have earned the reputation of being a yo-yo club over the last decade, three times ascending to the elite level of the Spanish game only to suffer relegation shortly afterwards.
Once again an intense battle against relegation is on the cards. While fellow new-boys Real Sociedad and Hercules squabble towards the middle of the table, los Granotes are doing their best to tread water just above the relegation zone. Commanding 15 points to date, they are only a couple of marks better placed than 18th placed Malaga, who appear intent on strengthening over the coming month.
Head coach Luis Garcia is unlikely to be handed a significant war chest to bolster his side, so instead he will simply have to work with the tools he already has. He has seen his side score 18 times and concede 26, which are statistics not a great deal different from the Espanyol side who currently occupy fifth, highlighting the fine margins between success and failure at this level.
There was nothing marginal about los Granotes’ Copa del Rey defeat against Real Madrid, which will have shot their confidence ahead of a Primera Division trip to the other of Spain’s ‘Big Two’. Embarrassed 8-0 at the Bernabeu, albeit with a significantly changed side, Levante will hope to show they belong alongside the very best on Sunday night, just as they did when they drew 0-0 with los Blancos earlier this season.
Carles Puyol is the sole injury issue for Barca. Ibrahim Afellay has trained with the squad and has reportedly impressed but cannot debut as he isn't yet registered. Lionel Messi is set to be rested after being excused from training.
Gerard Pique is suspended.
Felipe Caicedo and Javi Venta have both been ruled out due to injury issues. Ruben Suarez will be able to feature, however.