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FC Barcelona entertain Levante on Sunday at 9.00pm CET, knowing that following four defeats in their last seven Liga matches, including the 2-1 reverse at Cádiz last week, that the three points are more important than ever.
This is an ideal week for Barça to reclaim lost ground in the title race, with three games in a week, all in La Liga and all at the Camp Nou. After Levante, they host Real Sociedad (Wednesday) and Valencia (Saturday).
They went into the weekend 12 points adrift of leaders Atlético Madrid, and after the mattress-makers lost the derby 2-0 at Real Madrid on Saturday night, this game offers the chance to cut the gap to nine.
Barça go into this game as the firm favourites. Levante’s 3-0 defeat of Getafe last week was only their second victory of the campaign, and the side from Valencia are currently in the relegation zone, although they do have games in hand on their most direct rivals.
Ronald Koeman has called up the same 23 players as he did against Juventus: Ter Stegen, Dest, R. Araujo, Sergio, Aleñá, Griezmann, Pjanic, Braithwaite, Messi, Riqui Puig, Neto, Coutinho, Lenglet, Pedri, Trincao, Jordi Alba, Matheus, F. De Jong, Umtiti, Junior, Iñaki Peña, O. Mingueza and Konrad. Piqué, O. Dembélé, S. Roberto and Ansu Fati remain sidelined with injury.
"The team are inconsistent. But I wouldn’t say we have hit the bottom. Things would need to be much worse to say that. There are small things that need to be improved and I’m convinced we’ll be winning games once they are sorted.”
"It isn’t nice for the supporters because they are so used to winning games and trophies. But we lost the other day to Cádiz. This is a team in transition and a lot of variables are affecting us: financial troubles, the elections..."
"We created plenty of chances in the last two games but instead we let goals in. We need to improve in defence, but I’m not obsessed with that. A lot of it comes down to individual errors at corners, giving away penalties… We started badly against Juventus and allowed them to dominate us. But we got 15 out of 18 points in the Champions League. In the league it’s another story and we need to be more focused.”
"I’m not at all happy with our league form. We need to work hard to improve. We’ll have to see what happens with the new president in January. All we can do until then is keep doing our best. But I know that if the results aren’t coming then the coach is to be blame. I am quite aware of that, so it’s not a problem.”
View from the other side
Levante manager Paco López says: "Barça don’t seem to be at their best right now, but I say that in inverted commas because at home they scored four against Villarreal, five against Real Betis, four against Osasuna. That shows that it is always hard to play Barcelona at their ground.”
"We shouldn’t think about their form. We should worry about a team with a lot of talent and that anything can happen in football. It is logical for Barça to outplay most teams that they face but it doesn’t mean we can’t take something positive away from the Camp Nou".
Barça may have lost two of their last five games against Levante, but at the Camp Nou they have an all-time 100% record in this fixture. In 14 visits, Levante have not so much as collected a single point.
Levante are unbeaten for six games in La Liga, although they only won one of those games. They had a remarkable run of five consecutive 1-1 draws.
Last year’s fixture at Camp Nou saw Barça win 2-1, with two goals from Ansu Fati, both assisted by Leo Messi. It made the teenager the youngest player ever to score two goals in a Liga encounter.
If he plays, Sergio Busquets will match Carles Puyol's 593 appearances for Barça, putting him joint fourth in the all-time ranking.
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