The Same Levante + Roberto Soldado
In a Spanish league obsessed with order and defense, Paco López and his Levante side break the mold by playing a more chaotic style. They have prioritized disordering and attacking the opponent even if it comes at the expense of disordering themselves. They want to win by outscoring opponents instead of keeping clean sheets, which leads to open-ended games with massive spaces for both Levante and their opponents to attack. Expected goal models despise them and have usually rated Levante as one of the worst defenses in La Liga. However, this also makes Levante one of the most fun teams to watch.
I have written this in every article for over a year, so it should not come as a surprise when I say that Levante, like all Spanish teams, has barely upgraded their squad over the summer due to post-pandemic financial struggles. Their main signings were left-back Enric Franquesa from Villarreal and veteran striker Roberto Soldado from Granada. Soldado, more of a target man profile, gives Levante even more attacking options than before.
This season López and Levante look set to continue playing their high-tempo 4-4-2 style, with many attacking players in the lineup. For such an intense team, their midfield surprisingly features creative and technical players rather than physical players, such as Enis Bardhi, José Campaña, Mickaël Malsa, and Gonzalo Melero. The wingers and forwards—José Luis Morales, Roger Martí, Jorge de Frutos—provide plenty of goals, assists, and aggressive movements. This squad is arguably not strong enough to challenge European spots, but it should comfortably avoid relegation.
The Return of Campaña and Levante’s Forwards
José Campaña is the creative hub of Levante. He’s one of the best players in the league in passing and carrying the ball into danger zones, has a decent defensive work rate and a good final pass, and is Levante’s set-piece taker. Campaña couldn’t play most of last season because of a long-term injury, so his recovery will boost Levante’s midfield.
Last season, captain José Luis Morales and striker Roger Martí accumulated 25 goals in the league. Morales is aging like wine and remains one of the more dangerous wingers in the league, combining physical intensity and the decision-making of a veteran player. Martí remains a striker with good movements in the box, even if he does not contribute so much to his team’s buildup and as a target man. This is where the signing of Roberto Soldado becomes interesting for Levante because he acted as more of a target man for Granada and, on paper, should complement Martí and Morales well. All of these attackers are boosted by the dangerous passes of right winger Jorge de Frutos.
How to Replace Modrić
For this game, Levante suffers mainly from the injuries of Sergio Postigo, Alex Blesa, Dani Gómez, and Roberto Soldado. Given the injuries of the two strikers, Paco López’s main debate will be whether to start Sergio León or Enis Bardhi. If León starts, he will do so as a striker besides Roger Martí. In contrast, Bardhi would start in midfield, with Morales moving from the left wing to the striker position. The rest of the lineup will likely be the same as in their previous game against Cádiz, with a very creative double pivot of Campaña and Gonzalo Melero.
On Real Madrid’s side, the biggest hit comes from the injuries of their midfield directors Toni Kroos and Luka Modrić. Left backs Mendy and Marcelo and midfielder Dani Ceballos are also injured. The most straightforward option to replace Modrić would be to maintain the 4-3-3 and use a midfield trio with Casemiro in the holding role, Isco on the left, and Valverde on the right. This would maintain the Bale-Benzema-Hazard forward trio of last week, too.
UPDATE. Looks like Ancelotti also considers the option of Asensio in central midfield. This could be an interesting tactical evolution for Asensio, who has stagnated as a winger in the last couple of years.
Ancelotti confirms he's tried Asensio as a CM for the last few training sessions. He believes Asensio "can do well" there.— Lucas Navarrete (@LucasNavarreteM) August 21, 2021
This solution, however, might not have enough defensive balance for Ancelotti. Therefore, another option would be for him to resort to his beloved 4-4-2 shape, with Antonio Blanco and Casemiro as a double pivot, and Isco and Valverde as the side midfielders. Such a lineup choice would require benching one of Hazard or Bale.
A Game of Transitions for Valverde and Vinicius
Real Madrid vs. Levante fixtures have been close, crazy affairs over the last couple of years with lots of come-and-go. Levante won their last encounter with goals from Martí and Morales.
Fede Valverde and Vinicius thrive on open spaces and fast transitions, so the Levante fixture seems ideal for showcasing their skills. They will enjoy plenty of space to run and dribble past defenders and drive the attack forward. Valverde will likely also have an important role pressing and marking Levante’s playmakers, Melero and Campaña. Valverde will surely start given all the midfield injuries, while Vinicius might be kept as an impact substitute for the second half. The Brazilian starlet already had a tremendous impact in the previous game against Alavés in this role.
On the defensive end of things, Casemiro will have a lot of work with the constant transition attacks of Levante, but he is another player who seems to thrive in these chaotic environments. On the right side, Lucas Vázquez will have a lot of work defending José Luis Morales. Lucas struggles with good dribblers like Morales, and the Levante captain also knows which lanes to run into to cause the most damage.