x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Levante keep on surprising in the Primera Liga

Supporters surrounded the Levante bus after midnight on Monday after the team had beaten Villarreal. Understandable when you realize the victory enabled team to climb to the top of the Primera Liga for the first time in the club's 102-year history.

Villarreal's Borja Valero, left, and the rest of his teammates found out that Levante and Xavier Torres Buigues were more than they bargained for.
Villarreal's Borja Valero, left, and the rest of his teammates found out that Levante and Xavier Torres Buigues were more than they bargained for.

It was almost midnight, but hundreds of Levante fans waited patiently in the car parking areas at the Ciutat de Valencia stadium on Sunday night.

When the team bus returned from the short trip to Villarreal, 50 kilometres up the coast, they surrounded it and celebrated as if they had won the league.

It was understandable, for Levante had just gone top of the Spain's Primera Liga for the first time in their 102-year history.

They had just won their sixth consecutive league match and sat above Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Sunday's 3-0 win at a team good enough to be playing Champions League football showed that their rise has been no fluke. Two goals from Juanlu and a third from on-loan Kone got the points, but the statistics paint a different picture, just as they do every week.

Villarreal enjoyed more possession and had more shots on and off target, but they lost as they were outplayed by Levante.

Levante's confidence is understandably high. The entire team cost just €210,000 (Dh1.07 million) to assemble in transfer fees, and they famously have the lowest budget in the league. The players, almost all of them veteran cast-offs from other clubs, feel like they are proving a point to their detractors.

Juanlu, for example, has spent more time outside the top division than in it. The winger could not get in a Real Betis team who were relegated in 2009 and joined second division Levante, who were then promoted.

Their coach, Juan Ignacio Martinez, 46, had never worked at the top level until this season in a career spent in charge of second and third division teams based around Spain's eastern Mediterranean coast. He got the job after overseeing second division Cartagena's 13th-place finish last season. That is 13th, not third. Levante's president is a 35-year-old economist - he realises that they have little money - who is called Catalan.

On no level should Levante's success add up, but they keep winning. Their aim was to avoid relegation and reach 40 points. They already have 20 after eight games.

They also boast the best defence in Spain, with just three goals conceded.

Team spirit is superb, but it will be put to the test once again Wednesday night as they entertain Real Sociedad at home.

 

sports@thenational.ae