What: Spanish La Liga
Who: Barcelona vs Levante
When: Sunday 18th August, 2013, at 18:00 UK Time
Where: Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain

New Faces, New Season

Big changes have occurred at the Camp Nou ahead of the 2013/14 kick-off: Argentine Gerardo Martino came in to take over Barcelona’s helm as Tito Vilanova stepped down due to recurring health problems, while Brazilian star Neymar finally made the jump to Europe, signing with the Spanish league champions. However, with the side probably fighting a fierce and rejuvenated Real Madrid from the start, the Catalans will have much on their hands should they hope to retain their league crown.

Fans will want to see how Neymar and Lionel Messi line-up together this season and how they take on domestic and European defences. All signs have indicated so far that Martino will not change Barca’s tiki-taka style of play, with Neymar likely to sit next to Messi on the left hand side with David Villa now gone from the club.

The Blaugrana are usually confident in games like these, as they have won fourteen out of their last twenty season opening matches. Furthermore, their recent record against Levante is close to impeccable as they have won five and drawn one of their last six encounters. However, Barca’s opposition this summer has not been one of the highest calibre and the champions will need to have the right mental edge ahead of this opener.

Correct Start   

Whether Levante will be a match for Barcelona at the Camp Nou is a different matter, but the small Valencian side know that bright starts are important in order to have a good season, and none will be more important than this against the league champions. However, there is little evidence that the four-time Champions League winners will be easy prey, meaning that Joaquin Caparros will have a tough first official fixture on his hands.

Nonetheless, new signing Pedro Rios believes that the team have what it takes in order to avoid a loss in this tough clash. “They have the advantage of being the home side, having the first game in front of their supporters, but we know the possibilities that we have in order not to lose the three points and we will fight as if it was the very last matchday.” 

The fact that Barcelona have been so dominant against Levante will be detrimental to the latter team, as they have not managed to earn a thing from their last seven games at the Camp Nou. Caparros will need to make his mark on the side from day one in hopes of Levante becoming this season’s surprise. 

Recent form

Barcelona 8-0 Santos (02/08; Friendly)
Thailand 1-7 Barcelona (07/08; Friendly)
Malaysian XI 1-3 Barcelona (10/08; Friendly)

Benfica 2-1 Levante (26/07; Friendly)
Levante 2-1 Verona (01/08; Friendly)
Levante 2-1 Olhanense (07/08; Friendly)

Key absences

Barcelona: Lionel Messi (doubt)

Levante: Nabil El Zhar; Pape Diop

Players to watch

Barcelona – Neymar: Eyes will be on the Brazilian wonderkid as he prepares to make his official Barcelona bow. Neymar has been in good pre-season form, but has lost quite some weight as a result of anemia. Already boasting a slight frame, he is nonetheless expected to shine.

Levante – Christian Lell: The German right-back will have a tough night as he will be entrusted with keeping Neymar at bay. Playing in front of nearly 100,000 Cules supporters, he could be in for a special night as he aims to break the Neymar-Messi partnership, should the latter take to the pitch.

Match Prediction

Having enjoyed a good pre-season, Barcelona will naturally be one of the two teams involved in this term’s title race. In front of their own supporters, Martino will want to impose himself and win the hearts of the fans, and given Barca’s form, his team should start their league title defence on a good note. Barcelona 3-0 Levante.

Betting on Barcelona v Levante? Don't before you've visited Inside Bet!