Scouting Real Madrid's Competition: Levante

David Ramos

Levante UD is an amazing club. Even though they have one of the lowest budgets in the Liga BBVA, they are getting good results for the second year in a row. And they could also qualify for the next round of the UEFA Europe League. Obafemi Martins, Sergio Ballesteros and goalkeeper Gustavo Munúa are Levante's most important players.

Levante is writing a beautiful story. They've always been the second team in the city of Valencia. While Benítez, Albelda, Mendieta and Cañizares were winning leagues and also playing in two consecutive Champions League Finals, Levante had enough fighting to promote to Spain's first division and try to avoid relegation.

The story started to change last season. Valencia is not the team that really competes for trophies anymore, but Levante improved in order to qualify for the 2012-2013 edition of UEFA Europe League. That's something Levante fans feel they will tell to their children, since the granotas never accomplished something that big. Even though Levante wears blaugrana in their jersey, their crowd is mostly biased towards Real Madrid in the Clásico fight, but there won't be any sense of friendship between both teams tomorrow in the Ciutat de Valencia. Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid has yet to win in that stadium.

It's hard to explain Levante's success. But they do have a very clear style of playing football. They like to defend and counterattack with one of the fastest players in the world of football: Obafemi Martins. The Nigerian striker is still 28 years old, and he managed to play 31 matches with Inter Milan in the 2004/2005 season. Unfortunately for him, everything went downhill since that year. One way or another, he's the man Real Madrid should be aware of. Last season, it was all around Arouna Koné (sold to Wigan in the summer transfer window).

Coach Juan Ignacio Martínez (also known as JIM) has a very physical defensive line. Veteran center back Sergio Ballesteros is one of the toughest players in the Liga BBVA, but he partners with former Valencia defender David Navarro. Together, they form a really fearsome couple for every striker. Pedro López and Juanfran are Levante's fullbacks.

Iborra and Diop are Levante's couple of holding midfielders. Both of them know how to defend the opposition's playmakers, and given that Levante's pitch is very narrow, Mourinho's most creative players will need to step up their game if they want to get the win.

Anyway, it's always nice to see smaller clubs playing the way Levante is doing right now. Some of them seem to have forgotten about how small they are. Levante plays football the way that fits the players on the roster best, and they are succeeding. It will be interesting to see if Martins' speed is enough to beat Pepe or Ramos.

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