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Barça face Levante in the first of four chances to get the three remaining points they need to clinch the Liga trophy mathematically (Camp Nou, Saturday 8.45pm CET). 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 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.
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.
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 a freakish encounter last May. Barça were just two games away from going an entire Liga 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 Liga fixture.
But revenge was gained at the Camp Nou earlier this season 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 a fine run including a famous 2-1 win at the Santiago Bernabéu saw them shoot up to sixth in the table by week 15.
But their 4-0 win over Betis last Wednesday was just their third victory in twenty games. The three points have seen them pull slightly away from the relegation zone, but they are by no means safe.
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.
Striker Roger Martí and midfielder José Luis Morales are Levante’s top marksmen in La Liga this term with eleven goals each.
Levante players with international caps are: Cheick Doukouré (Ivory Coast), Enis Bardhi (Macedonia), Moses Simon (Nigeria), Sanjin Prcić (Bosnia) and Raphael Dwamena and Emmanuel Boateng (Ghana)
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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