La Liga: Levante’s old guard still in the mix
The unfashionable team from the Mediterranean coast is pushing for a Champions League place. Meanwhile, Barcelona has closed the gap further on Real Madrid.
By Halima Ali
As the season began way back in sunny August, there was little doubt about which teams would be competing for the title. But as the usual suspects for the Champions League places were being rounded up, no one could have imagined that one surprise package, labelled “Ugly, poor and bad at football” by their own supporters, would be in contention for a top-four finish with seven matches remaining.
Villarreal, Sevilla, Atlético Madrid, and even Málaga with all their Qatari millions, are being outdone by Levante Unión Deportiva, who currently sit in fifth place, just one point behind their city rivals Valencia in fourth.
What is even more astounding for a club that is more accustomed to fighting for survival in the Primera división, is that their current position is not the highest they have been this season.
In October, Levante won five games in a row – a club record – and sat at the top of the table, level on points with reigning champions FC Barcelona. It was a truly historic achievement for a side who, in their very best season, have only ever achieved a 10th placed finish.
When league leaders Real Madrid visited the Estadi Ciutat de València earlier in the season, the home fans unfurled the now-famous banner declaring their team to be “Ugly, poor and bad at football” in response to a Cristiano Ronaldo comment earlier in the week in which he had described himself as “rich, handsome and a great player”.
Poor they may be, with an annual budget of around €20 million in comparison to Madrid’s resources of around €500 million, but the home side did what few others have managed this season, defeating Ronaldo’s team 1-0.
The infamous banner could also have stated “old”, as the Valencian side field a team of players mainly over 30. In fact, earlier in the season when they played their Champions League rivals Málaga, the combined age of the team was 346. Not that it seems to be to their detriment; they cruised to a 3-0 victory.
This weekend saw them host Atlético Madrid and two goals in the first 10 minutes from Valdo and Arouna Koné were enough to hand them a 2-0 victory over the tired visitors.
The game was barely a minute in, when Valdo stole in between the Atléti central defence to head home José Barkero’s perfect cross. The latter was the creator once again just nine minutes later, when his free-kick was thundered home by Koné.
Everything seems to be against them, yet they continue to defy all odds. The fight for survival this season is not their fight. They are striving to break new ground and qualify to play in Europe next season and, as unlikely as it may have seemed late last summer, Levante can no longer be ignored.
El Clásico looms
Just two weeks after declaring “Hay liga!” and pointing out that Madrid can afford no more slip-ups in the title race, Los Merengues went and did just that, dropping vital points at home to Valencia. Despite the fact that the game produced 50 shots, more than any other game across Europe’s top five leagues, it was 0-0 at the final whistle.
Meanwhile, their eternal rivals Barcelona won 4-1 at Real Zaragoza as Lionel Messi set a new landmark in modern football history, scoring his 60th goal of the season in all competitions. A slow start saw the Catalans 1-0 down to a Carlos Aranda goal after the striker had already had a penalty saved by Victor Valdés.
But Carles Puyol and the Argentinean struck twice in three minutes before Zaragoza went a man down as defender Abraham Minero was sent off just before half time. His coach Manolo Jiménez was given his marching orders just after the break before Messi reached his landmark goal from the penalty spot and Pedro added a fourth in stoppage time.
Somehow, Barça have cut an enormous 10-point lead to just four points with seven rounds of league games remaining, one of which is the all important Clásico next week. The always highly anticipated clash at the Camp Nou has taken on further significance, with both sides aware that the fate of la liga will now most likely be decided at the home of the Blaugrana.
Málaga CF 3 – 0 Racing Santander
Real Madrid 0 – 0 Valencia CF
Athletic Bilbao 1 – 0 Sevilla FC
RCD Mallorca 0 – 0 Granada CF
Levante UD 2 – 0 Atlético Madrid
Real Betis 3 – 1 Villarreal CF
Real Zaragoza 1 – 4 FC Barcelona
Getafe CF 2 – 0 Sporting Gijón
RCD Espanyol 2 – 2 Real Sociedad
Rayo Vallecano 6 – 0 Osasuna
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Published: Apr 10 2012
Category: Featured, Spain News, Sports
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
Short URL: http://iberosphere.com/?p=5878
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Tags: Barça, barcelona, Barcelona and Real Madrid, Champions League, cristiano ronaldo, El Clásico, football, José Mourinho, la liga, Leo Messi, levante, Liga, Messi, Real Madrid, real madrid valencia, spain, Spain football, spain news, spain soccer, spanish football, spanish news, Spanish news in English, Spanish soccer