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Barça go back to Levante in the Copa del Rey (Thursday 9.30pm CET) less than a month after winning 5-0 at the same ground in a Liga fixture. Here’s a closer look at the side known as the 'granotas' (the frogs) …
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 for them for ten games in 1981.
They finally returned to the top flight in 2004. They have been relegated three times since, but have always been quick to bounce back up, finishing as high as sixth in 2011/12.
Levante have reached the quarter finals of the cup three times, most recently in 2014, although some claim that their victory in the Copa de la España Libre played in 1937 in the Republican area of Spain during the Spanish Civil War should be counted as an official title. Barcelona didn’t play in that tournament because they opted to go on their famous North American tour instead.
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.
The Estadi Ciutat de València was opened in 1969 and holds 26,354 spectators.
As well as the opposition, Barça also have to worry about the stadium being haunted. In 2005, Duda of Málaga missed an open goal while playing here and claimed afterwards that it was because he was spooked by a ghost behind the goal!
HEAD TO HEAD
Levante did win 5-1 against Barça during their brief spell in La Liga in the sixties, and also beat the Catalans 1-0 in the Copa del Rey in 2004 (but lost the second leg 3-1).
However, after returning to the first division, they 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 the last time the sides met, in May of last year.
Barça were just two games away from going an entire Liga season unbeaten – and the unthinkable happened. Levante won a freakish encounter 5-4. It was only the second time this century that Barça have leaked five goals in a Liga fixture.
But revenge was gained in December of the year just ended when Luis Suárez and Gerard Piqué scored either side of a Leo Messi hat-trick to cruise to a 5-0 win.
With just four points from their first six games, 2018/19 didn’t get off to the most promising of starts for Levante, but fine run including a famous 2-1 win at the Santiago Bernabéu saw them shoot up to sixth in the table.
But after losing to Barça they also lost at Rayo Vallecano and drew with Girona and have dropped to tenth.
In the cup, they beat second division Lugo 3-1 on aggregate to reach the round of 16.
Goalkeeper Oier Olazábal was at FC Barcelona from 2007 to 2014, most of that time with the B team but also the third-choice stopper for the first team.
Forward Rubén Rochina, who Blackburn Rovers fans will remember, also spent much of his youth at La Masia.
Roger Martí is Levante’s top marksman this term with eight, while midfielder José Luis Morales has contributed six goals to the cause.
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 Barcelona.
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