Levante: From Relegation Battlers To La Liga Leaders
When Ruben Suarez’s free-kick deep into stoppage-time found its way into the back of the net in Wednesday’s La Liga clash between Levante and Real Sociedad, it earned the Valencia-based club another three points and kept up their fairytale start to the season.
Indeed, it’s incredible to think after nine rounds of football, little-known Levante, who narrowly avoided the drop last term, are top of La Liga table, ahead of both Real Madrid and Barcelona. It truly has been a fairytale.
As well, the manner of Ruben Suarez’s late goal, with Sociedad’s Inigo Martinez having equalised on 86 minutes, was the stuff of legends too. True drama.
The victory made it seven wins on the trot for Levante, who are unbeaten in La Liga, with 23 points from nine games, one point ahead of second-placed Real Madrid, while Barcelona are a further point back.
When you ponder Levante’s annual budget for their entire squad is approximately equal to that which Real or Barca would spend on a star player, it hits home how remarkable their feats have been.
However, Levante manager Juan Ignacio Martinez remains cool on their staggering success. He said recently: “What this team is achieving is impossible. We hope to stay up.”
Martinez let his hair down a little bit more when his side knocked off Villarreal on the weekend, stating: “We are going through a special moment. I am happy but I have my feet on the ground.
“More than anything it is good to see the people of Levante so happy because they deserve it. While it is great to be the leader for a team like Levante, we know that this match was just a further step forward and that we need to keep working.”
Others have been more forthright in their opinion, with Real Madrid assistant coach Aitor Karanka heaping praise on the team nicknamed Granotes, or the Frogs.
“The best so far are Levante and they deserve to be because they’re playing at a very high level,” Karanka said.
Levante memorably defeated Real 1-0 in mid-September to inflict the capital club their only defeat of the campaign. Players like Valdo, Barkero, Juanfran, Gustavo Munua and Arouna Kone have been the key to their success, but their defensive steel has been their strong point.
Prior to Wednesday’s 3-2 win, they had conceded just three goals in eight games. However, the Sociedad game showed it will be hard to maintain that record.
Indeed, Martinez knows it’s only a matter of time before they slip off the pace and Barca and Real take over. Even reaching Europe is something many say will be a stretch.
So while Martinez had played it down, he is trying to enjoy his moment in the sun.
“We have to be honest about this; none of us imagined it, not even in our wildest dreams,” Martinez said. “We have been trying to win as many points as possible but this marathon run we have been on has been great.
“We realise that the season is a long one and that difficult times will come so we are just looking to enjoy the moment right now.”
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