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This Tuesday at 10.00pm CEST, Barça have a must-win fixture away to Levante as la Liga reaches its climax. Frogs, Johan Cruyff and blaugrana jerseys are among the subject matter as we analyse the side from Valencia.
Originally founded as the Levante Football Club in 1909, their name means ‘east’ in reference to the geographical location of the city of Valencia were they are based.
Levante did have two seasons in La Liga in the 1960s, but after that spent decades in the lower leagues, sometimes dropping as low as the fourth tier – though that didn’t stop Johan Cruyff from playing ten games for them in 1981.
They finally returned to the top flight in 2004 and although they have been relegated three times since, they have always been quick to bounce back up, finishing as high as sixth in 2011/12.
Opened in 1969, the Estadi Ciutat de València (City of Valencia Stadium) holds 26,354 people, although it has only been known by that name for the last two decades.
In 2005, Malaga’s Duda had a simple chance to score against Levante but failed to shoot. He later claimed that he’d been freaked by a ghost that had appeared in his path.
Apparently, the ashes of dead supporters are scattered at that precise point and ground staff have also seen strange figures wandering near the goalmouth at night.
In February of this year, Angel Correa of Atlético Madrid inexplicably missed an open goal in the same place, leading to speculation that the Levante ghost was once again wielding its supernatural magic.
DID YOU KNOW?
Although they have spent most of their history in the shadow of Valencia CF, they are actually the older of the two clubs, although the modern-day UD Levante was formed out of a merger in 1939 with another team, Gimnástico FC.
They kept the Levante name but adopted the Gimnástico colours, which had originally been introduced by a Catalan Jesuit, Narcís Basté, in imitation of those of FC Barcelona.
Granotas (Frogs) is the nickname most often used for Levante. When the merger detailed above took place, Gimnástico were playing at the Estadio de Vallejo. It was located next to an old river bed, home to a large number of frogs, hence the association.
HEAD TO HEAD
After returning to the first division, Levante went for 19 games without defeating their ‘blaugrana’ cousins, and had scored just one goal and conceded 32 in the eight games building up to a freakish encounter in May 2017. Barça were just two games away from going an entire LaLiga season unbeaten – and the unthinkable happened. Levante won 5-4. It was only the second time this century that Barça have leaked five goals in a league fixture.
Levante also beat Barça twice in 2019. The first was a shock 2-1 win in the Copa del Rey, but two goals from Ousmane Dembélé and one from Leo Messi sorted things out a week later. And in La Liga in November, Barça led 1-0 thanks to a Messi penalty, but the hosts ended up winning 3-1.
So although Barça continued their 100% record at home to Levante earlier this season, Leo Messi scoring the only goal of the game, when they meet at the Ciutat de Valencia, wins are traditionally a lot harder to come by.
Last five visits to the Ciutat de Valencia:
02/11/19 (LIGA) Levante 3-1 Barça
10/01/19 (COPA) Levante 2-1 Barça
16/12/18 (LIGA) Levante 0-5 Barça
13/05/18 (LIGA) Levante 5-4 Barça
07/02/16 (LIGA) Levante 0-2 Barça
After losing four of their first five fixtures, Levante’s league form suddenly picked up and they only lost three of their next 20 games, including wins away to both Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid.
They also marched all the way to the Copa del Rey semi-finals, where they narrowly missed out on a place in the final, eventually losing to Athletic Club in extra time.
But after climbing as high as eighth in the Liga table, since March their form has taken a dramatic turn for the worse. They have only won two of their last ten games and have lost three of the last four at home, including a 5-1 defeat to Villarreal.
Including the aforesaid Johan Cruyff, thirty different players have worn the blaugrana of Barça and Levante over the years, including Oier Olazábal, Sergio García, Frédéric Dehú and Ángel Cuéllar.
Current Levante forward Rubén Rochina, who Blackburn Rovers fans will remember, spent much of his youth at La Masia. Reserve goalkeeper Daniel Cárdenas was also in the Barça academy for a short while.
Most capped internationals:
Óscar Duarte (Costa Rica, 54), Nikola Vukčević (Montenegro, 44), Enis Bardhi (North Macedonia, 34), Cheick Doukouré (Ivory Coast, 20), (Mickaël Malsa, Martinique, 4), Nemanja Radoja (Serbia, 2), José Campaña (Spain, 1)
Top scorers (Liga 2020/21): José Luis Morales 12; Roger Martí 11, Jorge de Frutos 4, Gonzalo Melero 4
Most assists (Liga 2020/21): Jorge de Frutos 8
Paco López never played football in the first division, but gained a solid reputation as a coach at various clubs in the Valencia region, especially in the Villarreal youth set-up.
As Levante B manager last spring, he was made first team manager following the sacking of Juan Ramón Muñiz. His very first game in charge was the 5-4 defeat of FC Barcelona.
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