FEATURE | Levante’s wonderful season epitomised by one man: El Comandante

The Spanish phrase el comandante translates into English as major (as in an army officer) or commander.

With this in mind, you would naturally expect an aggressive and passionate football manager like Diego Simeone to go by this name.

This nickname is not, however, reserved for the Atlético Madrid manager, but for the Levante forward and club captain José Luis Morales, who has been in scintillating form for the Valencia-based outfit recently.

Having found the back of the net 11 times this campaign, including recent goals in the stunning victories over both Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid, he has been a crucial part of his club’s success thus far.

Last season, el comandante managed to score just four LaLiga goals and Levante finished in 12th place. It is not a coincidence that his brilliant form has mirrored his club’s exciting campaign.

At the time of writing, Levante find themselves in eighth place with an outside shot of qualifying for the Europa League in LaLiga.

And if they don’t do this by virtue of their league position, they could by winning the Copa del Rey. They are just 90 minutes away from the final after drawing 1-1 in the first leg of their semi-final against Athletic Club.

To put this season (at least so far) into its proper perspective, the club’s 6th place finish in 2010/11 is the only time Levante have ever finished in the top 10 of LaLiga, whilst they have never reached the last four of Spain’s main domestic trophy.

Although el comandate has been at the heart of the club’s season, there are other factors to their success this campaign.

A recent pick up in form

Despite their fantastic league position and performances in the Copa del Rey, Levante’s start to the season was dire as they lost four out of their opening five fixtures.

To be fair to Paco Lopéz’s men, these games were tough away matches against Sevilla and Athletic Club and two home ties against Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid.

This start was followed, incredibly, by six straight 1-1 draws in LaLiga.

But since then, Levante have had a huge pick up in form.

Indeed, they have lost just three LaLiga matches (and two of these were narrow defeats away at Villarreal and Barcelona) in their last 14 encounters.

Aside from these unlikely but well-deserved victories over both Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid in recent weeks, Levante have also beaten Real Betis, Real Sociedad and Getafe.

A team which showed potential over the last few seasons

Levante are, after all, no strangers in causing upsets on the traditional top two in Spain. Last season, Los Granotas beat both Real Madrid and Barcelona at the Estadi Ciutat de València.

The season before they managed to secure a 2-1 away victory at the Santiago Bernabéu.

And in the 2017/18 campaign they drew both matches against Real Madrid and were the victors of an entertaining 5-4 battle against Barcelona

All of these results demonstrate that, in recent years, Levante’s squad has had the potential to compete against the very best in Spanish football.

But you do not play against Real Madrid and Barcelona every week and the difference so far this season, unlike the previous ones, is that they seem capable of taking the game to the teams around them and especially to those languishing in the bottom half.

Six of the Valencian club’s seven defeats this season have been against Valencia, Sevilla, Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid, Barcelona and Villarreal, that is, teams you might expect to beat them.

Only Levante’s 1-0 home defeat against Osasuna falls foul of that category.

And if Levante have become a difficult team to defeat, this is seen in their goal difference tally.

One of the few teams to have a positive goal difference

Whilst Levante are not the most prolific of teams, with 34 goals scored, they have only conceded 33, giving them a goal difference of +1.

They are, alongside Athletic Club, the only teams in the Spanish league outside of the top six to be on a positive goal difference.

This shows how they are difficult to beat as most of their matches are closely fought.

Aside from el comandante, Roger Martí has also been in inspired goalscoring form, having reached double figures, including his side’s 121st minute winner against Villarreal in the quarter finals of the Copa del Rey.

Despite a few loan spells at Valladolid and Real Zaragoza, the Valencia-born striker has been at the club since 2011 and is having one of his most successful seasons.

Their defence includes former Valencia player Rúben Vezo, former Espanyol centre-back Oscar Duarte and former Sevilla right-back Coke.

Their midfield comprises of former Celta centre mid Namenja Radoja, José Campaña (who in 2020 received his first Spanish cup), Mikael Malsa and Rubén Rochina.

Morales, 33, and Roger Martí, 30, are the two highest goalscorers in the history of the club in Spain’s top flight. Morales has scored 47 goals, and Martí has chipped in with 37 Primera strikes.

Martí is the club’s all-time top scorer with 64 goals in all competitions, including 22 goals in the Segunda División.

Their attack also includes former Betis striker Sergio León and former Real Madrid youth products Daniel Gómez and Jorge de Frutos.

What can they achieve this season?

Under Paco López’s stewardship, Levante have become one of the in-form teams in Spanish football over recent weeks.

They are in eighth place and within six points of sixth place Villarreal, although they are as close in terms of points (10) from fifth place Real Sociedad as they are to Elche in the relegation zone.

And the likes of Granada, Athletic, Celta Vigo and Valencia are breathing down their necks.

Having finished 12th, 15th and 15th in their last three campaigns, it would not be unfair to say that they are overachieving.

They know this LaLiga season is tight and a dip in form could see them slide down the table.

Their next few league fixtures are against Athletic Club, Real Sociedad, cross-city rivals Valencia and Real Betis, which will be a proper gauge of this season’s prospects.

But Levante have a possible (albeit outside) chance of playing in the Europa League next season, either through their league finish or the Copa del Rey.

And with el comandante in scintillating form, they will definitely be a team to watch over the next few months.

James Felton

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