Barca get second chance versus Levante

Posted by Dermot Ledwith

It is rare in football that you get the chance to make right something that had just gone wrong against an opponent, but that is what Barca have on Wednesday as they appear again just 72 hours later at the scene of the 1-1 league draw at Levante, this time looking for a place in the semi-finals of the Spanish Cup.

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While Barca remain top of La Liga, on goal difference over Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid have made up four points in the past two weekends to sit just a point behind the two, and Barca can expect the rest of the league to have taken notes of how Levante managed to blunt their attacking instincts on Sunday night.

It is fair to say that Levante parked the bus, playing very deep with, at times, two lines of five; they allowed Barca to dominate possession but stifled their play enough to reduce them to only a handful of clear cut chances.

Nothing new there, and you would have to be extremely lucky to get away with such a plan twice in three days, but what was noticeable was a lack of a plan B from manager Gerardo Martino's men, a criticism that has been levelled at Barca ever since they let their last out-and-out forward, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, leave the club in 2010.

When Barca did manage to break through on Sunday, Levante goalkeeper Keylor Navas was at hand, or one of his experienced defenders appeared with an important block. But could Barcelona have gone about things in a different way?
The Cup game on Wednesday night will give us a first indication of how difficult the second half of the season is going to be for Barca. Another struggle to open up an average Levante side twice in one week would deplete confidence significantly.

Only time will tell whether Barca will suffer long term this season by sticking closely to their game plan of attacking teams from deep, and naturally when you have wonderful talents like Lionel Messi, Xavi, Neymar, Cesc Fabregas and Andres Iniesta at your disposal, it makes sense to do just that.

The latter was definitely a miss in a congested midfield on Sunday; Iniesta would have found more space and threaded together passes which Levante would have struggled to contain.

Fabregas, who was substituted with 20 minutes to go on Sunday, later put down his attack on the roof of the substitutes bench to frustration at the team performance rather than any problem with being substituted for the sixth time in eight games.

"I wasn't angry about the change more for the match, we created lots of danger for them but we were frustrated at getting in the box and not scoring," the former Arsenal captain explained afterwards.

Sergi Roberto was the first off the bench for Barca to replace Fabregas. He was followed by the like-for-like change of Cristian Tello for Pedro before the last throw of the dice of Jean Marie Dongou for Xavi for the final seven minutes.
Dongou is a raw 18-year-old, untried and not to be banked on yet to turn games around, but the fact that he is being used at all shows a flexibility on behalf of Martino to change things when necessary.

There had been some vague talk before Christmas that Barca may be interested in bringing in an experienced forward in this transfer window, in the mould of the veteran Henrik Larsson who gave so much to the club between 2004 and 2006. The names of German legend Miroslav Klose, currently at Lazio, and Benfica's Oscar Cardozo were bandied around in December, and with Neymar currently out injured and big battles to come in three competitions, it would not be the worst idea in the world to have some alternatives.

The fact that any such player needs to be content enough to sit on the bench while being of the quality to make such a difference means such a transfer is difficult to arrange and be successful.

In the meantime, Levante coach Joaquin Caparros has stated his ambition is to be still in the tie for the return leg at Camp Nou, and will be resting key players David Navarro, Simao Mate, Andreas Ivanschitz, Ruben Garcia and the tireless Papa Diop; all who put in significant performances on Sunday.

Iniesta should be back after resuming training on Tuesday and he could be the man to unlock the Levante defence and prove yet again that more traditional attacking options are not necessary at Barca. But if someone was available out there with the correct experience and ability to slot in, the club would be foolish to ignore it at this crucial stage in the season.

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