It’s bottom-of-the-table versus second-from-bottom in a proverbial relegation six-pointer at the Ciutat de Valencia and there’s value in backing Levante to nick the spoils in a tense encounter, a result that would lift them above Sporting Gijon on the head-to-head and bring them back to within two points of safety. Take the 5/2 available on the Granotes to win to nil.
Broadly speaking, you could argue the psychological advantage is with the visitors, who can bide their time, reasonably happy with a point, while looking to pick off Levante on the counter. But, in reality, you suspect the fallback is being factored too much into their thinking and the Asturians might ultimately find themselves caught between two stools.
Sporting boss Abelardo seems to be overly concerned about Levante’s line-up in the build-up, effectively admitting his team selection will reflect his attempts to second-guess what the hosts are going to do, and that’s probably not the ideal way for a struggling side to be going into a game against the only team below them.
On the back of a rousing come-from-behind win over Atletico Madrid last weekend, you would expect the Rojiblancos to be full of beans, keen to go after the opposition and embrace the opportunity to cut them adrift. Instead, several players have indicated their intention to play with the clock, slow the tempo and generally prey on any nerves.
Local opinion is that Abelardo will deviate from the common use of 4-2-3-1 and settle on a trivote, congesting the midfield. So we shouldn’t expect a glut of goals as might be anticipated by the respective shot data. From Levante’s perspective, there’s no fallback and, if they do edge ahead, we shouldn’t expect them to throw bodies forward in search of a second.
However, they do have goals in them, not to mention an appetite for this kind of nerve-shredding occasion. The Orriols outfit are more skilled than most in the art of periodisation, saving their best for specific matches when the stakes are highest. They’ve played six home games in 2016, winning four. The other two were against Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Last season, 25 of Levante’s 37 points came against the six teams who ultimately finished below them. This season, a similar story appears to be unfolding with five of their six victories arriving against the seven teams immediately above them with four of those opponents still to play, this being the first of four successive matches against bottom-half opposition.
Levante boss Rubi is at pains to dismiss talk that this is a make-or-break moment in their season, and he’s right, they can maybe afford one more hiccup. But the sheer magnitude of the game is lost on nobody and confidence surely comes from the fact that the Granotes were comfortable 3-0 winners in the reverse fixture at El Molinón back in November.
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