Politics

Barcelona to face demons as Levante host leaders in La Liga

MADRID, Barcelona will head to Levante on Sunday night top of La Liga and with a score to settle.

Seven months ago, they were two games away from becoming the first team to

finish a Spanish topflight season unbeaten since Real Madrid in 1932, and

even then there were only 18 games in a 10team division.

It would have been a remarkable feat, a feather in the cap for their coach

Ernesto Valverde to help soothe the pain of a quarterfinals exit from the

Champions League.

But Levante had other ideas, scoring three times in 10 minutes to lead

Barca 51 before prevailing 54. We are angry not to have come through this

game and to lose the opportunity to finish unbeaten, Valverde said.

On their way to qualifying for the last 16 of the Champions League this

time, Barcelona drew at home to Tottenham on Tuesday when Valverde took the

chance to rest several key players, including Lionel Messi, Jordi Alba, Luis

Suarez, Gerard Pique and MarcAndre ter Stegen.

The irony is they will be fresh this weekend for the same opponent many

believed knocked the stuffing out of them last season, three days before

their collapse to Roma.

Perhaps Valverde has since heeded accusations he was naive, that he chased

the unbeaten season when rotating his players could have helped them go

further in Europe.

He has appeared keener to make changes this term and in those games,

Barcelona have also dropped points.

Just as Levante tore them to shreads on the break, Barca still look

vulnerable against speed too. Sergio Busquets has been exposed. Gerard Pique

has been off the pace. If La Liga was ordered on fewest goals conceded,

Barcelona would sit 13th.

Levante might feel the plan they executed so brilliantly back in May still

holds. The surge away from the relegation zone under Paco Lopez has been

maintained and the team currently sit seventh.

Barcelona's vulnerabilities can be more easily shrugged off while they are

the league's frontrunners and those around them have problems of their own.

Real Madrid also rested players against CSKA Moscow on Wednesday but lost

30 at home, the Russians becoming the fifth side to score three or more

against them this season.

And while Ousmane Dembele's sloppiness off the pitch continues to vex

Barca, Real have their own unruly attacker in Isco, who was whistled by his

own fans during the CSKA defeat and allowed his frustration to boil over.

What do you want? he seemed to shout at one point towards the stands.

Later, he passed up the captain's armband too. I tried to give the armband

to Isco, said Marcelo. He told me that I had to give it to Dani Carvajal,

why I don't know.

Madrid should have little trouble against their city neighbours Rayo

Vallecano on Saturday, which will be their last league game before setting

off for the United Arab Emirates and the Club World Cup.

Atletico Madrid have fewer problems at the back and more up front, where

goals, particularly away from home, have been hard to come by.

Barca and Real's troubles are there for Atletico to exploit but if they are

three points off the top when their rivals have stumbled, how will they keep

pace when they inevitably improve?

Sevilla, in second, have taken advantage. They host Girona on Saturday

while Valencia hope to retain momentum after beating Manchester United in the

Champions League in midweek. They play away to Eibar.

Fixtures (times GMT)

Friday

Celta Vigo v Leganes (2000)

Saturday

Getafe v Real Sociedad (1200), Real Valladolid v Atletico Madrid (1515),

Real Madrid v Rayo Vallecano (1730), Eibar v Valencia (1945)

Sunday

Sevilla v Girona (1100), Espanyol v Real Betis (1515), Huesca v Villarreal

(1730), Levante v Barcelona (1945)

Monday

Alaves v Athletic Bilbao (2000)

Source: Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS)