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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Ernesto Valverde warns Barcelona not to underestimate 'incredible' Levante

Spanish champions need to avoid defeat in their final two games to be the first team in the modern era to go unbeaten in the Primera Liga

Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde oversees training ahead of the Primera Liga match against Levante. Alejandro Garcia / EPA
Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde oversees training ahead of the Primera Liga match against Levante. Alejandro Garcia / EPA

Ernesto Valverde has said Barcelona will not take in-form Levante lightly on Sunday as the Spanish champions look to close in on a historic unbeaten Primera Liga season.

Barcelona head to the Ciutat de Valencia stadium for the penultimate game of the season knowing that if they avoid defeat against Levante, and final day opponents Real Sociedad, they will become the first team in the modern era to go unbeaten for an entire campaign. The last team to achieve the feat was Real Madrid in 1931/32 when there were only 18 games a season.

Despite sitting in 16th place, Levante could prove a tricky opponent for Barca, who won the reverse fixture at the Camp Nou 3-0 in January. Levante are one of the form teams in the Primera Liga, having won their past four matches to steer themselves well clear of relegation.

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“I always thought they were capable of being higher up the table than they are,” Valverde told a news conference on Saturday. "In the last few games they have been incredible – nine games, they have won seven, lost one, drawn one.

“These are amazing stats, especially when you think where they were before. Now they can afford to relax and they are feeling a lot more confident.

“Before it was a case of battling through games – that is what it’s like when you are at the bottom of the table. But they stuck together, defended together, and that’s given rise to a sort of confidence that is producing some great games. That is the kind of confidence we are going to have to fight against.”

Like Levante, Barcelona enter the match in fine form after thrashing Villarreal 5-1 on Wednesday following a 2-2 with 10 men against arch rivals Real Madrid.

As well as runaway Primera Liga champions, Barcelona claimed the domestic double for the third time in four years after beating Sevilla 5-0 in the Copa del Rey final last month.

Valverde puts his side’s relentlessness down to a shared “competitive spirit” which has allowed them to retain their level all season.

“Our target is to finish the season unbeaten,” the Spaniard said. “That would be incredible and that is what our mentality is now focused on.

“The success of a team is all about getting a competitive spirit that doesn’t drop for any game no matter what you’re playing for, you need to keep competing and that is what our team does.”

Barcelona will be missing the suspended Sergi Roberto, who is serving his four-match ban for hitting out at Real Madrid’s Marcelo during the drawn clasico, while defender Samuel Umtiti is doubteful with a minor knee problem.

For Levante, left-back Tono and midfielder Chieck Doukoure will both be absent from Sunday’s match.

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