La Liga: Levante v Real Madrid
A waterlogged pitch and post-match fisticuffs spiced things up as Levante pushed the champions to the limit for three points.
By Halima Ali
The Ciutat de València has been a fortress this season, with no team having won there and on Sunday night it was certainly the scene of an epic battle. As José Mourinho’s men were all too aware, the home of Levante has been a tough place to go and the team had never won there in the league under the Portuguese coach.
Madrid lost here last season, dropping vital points which were forgotten in the wake of their league win but now, trailing league leaders Barcelona by an eight-point gap, memories of the loss could not be ignored.
Sergio Ballesteros, a veteran defender who you would not like to meet in a darkened alley, sent a clear message to the opposition, carried via the front cover of sports daily Marca: “Madrid know what is waiting for them here”.
The rain had lashed down on Valencia all afternoon, only adding to the tension and sense of desperation from both sides, with the reigning Spanish Champions determined not to concede their title, which would surely be lost with any more dropped points and Levante resolved to give the visitors a hard time.
If there was any doubt there would be a fight to the death, the early minutes of the game put paid to that when blood was drawn, quite literally, only three minutes in. As if the sick room at the Santiago Bernabéu was not already bursting at the seams with both Gonzalo Higuaín and Karim Benzema out through injury, Cristiano Ronaldo, the man drafted in to play the role of the number nine in the absence of the two strikers, found himself with a nasty cut above the eye and requiring five stitches on the side of the pitch, following a forearm challenge from David Navarro.
Despite being unable to see out of his left eye, Ronaldo soon got his own back with a volley finish into the top of the net, following a failed clearance by the same Levante defender, to put the visitors a goal up. He was unable to continue after halftime, however, as the vision in his other eye deteriorated and he felt dizzy.
The players continued to splash and slide across the flooded pitch and in the 62nd minute, Levante substitute Ángel got one back for the hosts when he beat Iker Casillas with a powerful angled shot from the edge of the six-yard box.
Navarro was then involved yet again when he brought down José Callejón on the edge of the box but Xabi Alonso missed the subsequent penalty.
Time slipped away and it looked as if Madrid might again drop points but with the last roll of the dice, Mourinho brought on Real Madrid youth team striker Álvaro Morata, who rescued all three points and possibly a league title with a headed goal from his first touch of the game.
As he wheeled away in celebration, running towards teammates on the touchline, the game was all over but the fallout would continue long into the night.
There were disturbances in the tunnel; Levante claimed that Pepe mocked his opponents after the final whistle and Ballesteros and the former reportedly had a punch-up in the medical room where Ronaldo was being treated, with others wading in to protect teammates.
The ruckus could be heard clearly in the press room and while the Valencian outfit denied any wrongdoing, Sergio Ramos said the Levante veteran defender should take up boxing instead, while Juanfran claimed Pepe was not fit to wear the white shirt. The fallout continued on Monday, with both clubs releasing official statements denying any wrongdoing and the arguments look set to go on with players sending messages proclaiming their innocence.
Mourinho’s men were prepared to battle for la liga on the weekend, but they were not prepared for the war they walked in to, and certainly on their next visit to the Ciutat de València, they will know exactly what awaits them.
Levante UD 1 – 2 Real Madrid
Atlético Madrid 2 – 0 Getafe CF
RCD Mallorca 2 – 4 FC Barcelona
Athletic Bilbao 2 – 1 Sevilla FC
Real Valladolid 1 – 1 Valencia CF
Málaga CF 1 – 2 Real Sociedad
Real Zaragoza 5 – 3 Deportivo La Coruña
RCD Espanyol 0 – 3 Osasuna
Rayo Vallecano 3 – 2 Celta de Vigo
Real Betis 1 – 2 Granada CF
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