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FC Barcelona will be looking to make it four wins out of four in La Liga against a Levante side that is winless so far in the 2015/16 season (Sunday at the Camp Nou; kick off 8.30pm CET). Historically, the Catalans have a near-perfect record against the side from Valencia, and Luis Enrique is confident that the squad has plenty of strength in depth to overcome its injury concerns.
After rupturing cruciate ligaments against Roma midweek, Rafinha is likely to be out for the next six months. Goalkeeper Claudio Bravo is also out injured, and Barça are also missing the suspended Gerard Piqué, but defender Dani Alves has received the medical all-clear and returns to the squad after recovering from a groin strain.
For the visitors, centre back David Navarro has been suffering from vertigo for the last week and will sit this game out, as will midfielder Simao Mate, who is serving a four-match suspension. But despite concerns over his right knee, Iván López is expected to be available for selection.
After training on Saturday morning, Barça manager Luis Enrique commented that “I am expecting a Levante with the same attitude that I have seen of them in the first few games of the season. They will be ready to make life difficult for us, getting players behind the ball. It is always difficult to attack a team that has players sat back in defence … We have been scoring less goals than other seasons? That doesn’t worry me at all. In terms of points we are doing well.”
Speaking on Friday, Levante boss Lucas Alcaraz commented that while he sees Leo Messi as the decisive factor in the Barcelona camp, for his own side it is the team as a unit that might make a difference. If they are to get anything out of an admittedly difficult fixture, he feels that “we’ll need to play well in every sense. We’ll have to keep it tight when they have the ball and be lucid whenever we do.”
Barça are the only team with a one hundred per cent going into the fourth round of matches in La Liga. They won 1-0 against both Málaga and Athletic Bilbao and then last week came from behind to defeat 2014 champions Atlético Madrid 2-1 at the Calderón. Victory on Sunday would therefore guarantee that they stay top, with a trip to Celta to come midweek (Wednesday 8.00pm CET).
Levante’s season started with 2-1 defeat at home to Celta, and they have followed that up with a couple of draws, 0-0 at Las Palmas and 1-1 at home to Sevilla. That makes them one of seven teams in the competition that have yet to record a win.
Barça have an outstanding record against Levante. In twelve meetings at the Camp Nou (ten in the league and two in the cup) they have won every time. In fact, they have only ever lost to Levante twice. And the last time it happened, in the 2004 Copa del Rey, the 1-0 defeat in Valencia mattered little because Barça qualified anyway.
Levante have failed to score in any of their last four visits to Barça in the league. Messi scored a hat-trick as they were despatched 5-0 last season, while the year before, Barça put seven past them. The 2013/14 Copa del Rey quarter final between the two clubs was also a somewhat lop-sided affair, with Barça winning 5-1 at the Camp Nou and 9-2 on aggregate.
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