Some time ago, somehow, I was appointed bwin’s de-facto Spanish correspondent. It may have had something to do with my CV stating that my interests include appreciating Miro’s work over a glass of Amontillado, but by the same gesture I was never asked to become the Togolese correspondent on the strength of my sterling charity work digging irrigation ditches with my bare hands. I digress.
Anyhow, the Spanish correspondent gig had a fancy ring to it so – even lacking the guarantees of all-expenses jollies at the Bernabeu or video link-ups with Lionel Messi – I snatched at the opportunity before I got lumbered with League Two.
After all, La Liga is the best two-team league in the world now Glasgow Rangers are in the Highland Division Three and my thorough no-stone-unturned research invariably needs to take in what sort of form Shakira, Antonella Rocuzzo and Sara Carbonero are in.
But this job isn’t all glitz and glamour. There’s the mundane stuff to do, the mind-numbing mundane stuff like writing about rudimentary Real Madrid and Barcelona wins and coming up with excuses as to why I can’t go for a pint with Guillem Balague.
So there’s nothing too untoward this week in that eventually I’ll get round to having a look at Barca’s trip to Levante but rather than reeling off statistics about the Catalan kings’ 327 consecutive wins, I prefer instead to focus on the team I’ve developed a bit of a soft spot for.
Levante are nicknamed Los Granotes – the Frogs – and if Barcelona are the Primera Liga’s princess then this lot really are the frogs. Levante’s budget is roughly 20 times less than Barca’s and Lionel Messi’s annual salary is over twice that of the entire squad.
The club achieved a surprise promotion to the top flight in 2010 and have managed to elongate a decent run for about three years with a rag-tag collection of waifs and strays that they’ve begged, borrowed and stolen to get by.
Halfway through their return to La Liga they were dead, buried and set to be missed by few until they collected 30 points from the end of January onwards to stay up at a canter.
Last season they briefly led the division and ended up posting a club record high of sixth place and a Europa League slot and this time around they’re in the top-four mix once again.
Not many of their squad would get a gig on the front cover of GQ and the recognisable names are known mostly for the wrong reasons.
Nabil El Zhar was amongst a cast of thousands in Liverpool’s academy that never made the grade. Theofanis Gekas has played everywhere and wound up at Portsmouth in 2009 for a one-minute cameo from the bench. And last, but by no means least, we have Mr Obafemi Martins, who’s apparently only just turned 28 despite looking like Nelson Mandela.
A couple of weeks ago, Real Madrid just about left Levante with three points but also left about three pints of blood on the turf.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s black eye was sustained in combat and post-game, Levante skipper and folk-hero Sergio Ballesteros appeared in the Galacticos dressing room wearing nothing but a towel and a demonic glint in his eye and duly set about pinning Pepe to the wall. This is my kind of team.
As you can imagine for a side cobbled together for next to nothing, the football isn’t particularly ‘tiki-taka’ and the method behind the madness is further illustrated by a sign scrawled opposite the opposition’s changing room which reads, “you might win, but you’re going to suffer.”
Whoever questioned whether Messi could do it on a cold night in Stoke may want to revise that analogy.
That dawbing is also far from an idle threat. It took Madrid three cracks to win at the Ciutat de Valencia and already this season, Levante have taken four points from Atletico and Valencia.
Barca drew at Levante in 2010/11 and had to come from behind last year for a 2-1 win. As they say, teams can win here, but it won’t be easy.
bwin’s 3way football betting market has Levante miles out at 35/4 for the win but given the arduous nature of the venue, certainly a draw could be on the cards at 5/1, with the Barca victory the usual odds-on at 1/4.
If any side can overcome the testing circumstances then it’s Tito Villanova’s mob. They were imperious in midweek against Spartak Moscow in sub-zero temperatures on a plastic pitch helpfully doused with water minutes before kick-off, but if they are to get the points, it’ll be by a slim margin.
Both Barca and Real have just about made off with 2-1 wins here lately and 8/1 for that score again is value. It’s also odds against at 13/10 for Barca to win with under 3.5 goals in the game and evens that Barca won’t score in both halves.
I’ve also made a couple of quid recently on the yellow cards market and when Levante hosted Real a fortnight ago there were eight cautions in total, four of which came in the first half. So, if you’re looking for a safe bet on your accumulator, it’s 1/2 there will be over 1.5 yellows in the first 45 minutes.