Two weeks ago, Levante had just put six goals past Tenerife and were gearing up for a Supercopa semi-final against Real Sociedad, three pieces of silverware still available. Victory would have meant a meeting in the final with either current league champions, Atletico Madrid or runners-up Barcelona, but their 1-0 loss meant they missed out on the first silverware of the season.
There was little time to fret, however, as they were back in midweek action seven days later, again in a cup competition, this time away to relegation threatened Sevilla in the Copa de la Reina. The match brought about one of the Frogs’ worst performances as they were knocked out before the quarterfinals. Not quite in panic mode, the team returned to league action this weekend against Atleti – a team Levante haven’t been able to beat since the the 2015-16 season. The score was irrelevant, the result a predictable win for Atleti. Yet like the two matches that proceeded it, it will have ramifications on the success of the campaign as heading into the tie, Levante were just two points adrift of the reigning champions, tied for goals scored as well as goal conceded.
Now the Frogs find themselves five points adrift of second-placed Atleti, their 4-1 loss opening up a goal difference gap where there was not one before.
Levante are an unspectacular team that keeps themselves ahead of the curve. The bigger worry is they haven’t lost three consecutive competitive matches since the end of the 2017-18 season, when they fell to six losses on the bounce as Athletic Club, Valencia and then Atleti all beat them 1-0 before Barcelona hit them for five on the last day of the season. The Copa de la Reina – formerly a punishing end of season cup competition for the top eight teams in the league – means they had to square off against Barcelona home and away before their summer break, with the Catalans victorious in both matches.
Levante’s match in Madrid was notable as it was the first time Levante found their way onto the scoresheet against Atleti since May 2016. Yet the goal wasn’t scored by a Levante player but rather was awarded as a Laia Aleixandri own goal. Such is the problem the Frogs have against scoring against the top two – the last time they scored against Barcelona was on the last day of the 2016-17 season. Maybe it is well worth the note that Sonia Prim’s match winner in Valencia ultimately decided the title that day, with Barcelona falling three points behind Atleti, the Catalans with a superior goal difference. The punishing way Barça have taken Levante apart each time they’ve met since seems almost like retribution.
It has now been over 20 hours [in all competitions] since a Levante player scored past either title contenders. Admittedly, Barcelona and Atleti are two teams who assume possession and refuse to give it up, dictating games and scoring for fun but both do concede, and both have conceded over the last few years. Yet, Levante have remained flummoxed when they’ve tangled with either. The personnel on the pitch have changed as have those in the dugout (for both sides) but the outcome has stayed the same.
With the new Champions League format incoming and an extra berth for European teams with a high enough coefficient, Levante may yet have a reprieve and be one of the few third-placed teams who find themselves in the competition. But in a season when the current champions have wobbled more than once, the team from Valencia have seemed as unconvincing as ever against the big two.
Not blessed with the best team in the league, there is yet experience in the squad as well as a handful of young, exciting players in Eva Navarro, Alba Redondo and Rocío Gálvez. The squad can also boast Argentina captain, Estefaní Banini to pull the strings in midfield with the astute María Pry in the dugout – the coach having been brought in from Real Betis ahead of the season.
As Atleti and Barcelona continue to set the pace in the league with Tacón/Real Madrid poised to gallop up the table and trouble for the title in the coming seasons, the question is, just where does that leave the liga bridesmaids, Levante?