Levante are still going through the motions after one of their best ever seasons in 2011-12, in which they secured European football for the very first time. They famously shocked pundits and fans alike, who had tipped them for relegation at the beginning of last term, by topping the League table after 10 weeks of action. Spain’s big hitters eventually restored order, but the Valencian outfit still finished sixth overall.
Their priority for the upcoming campaign will be to attempt to balance the rigors of the Europa League while continuing to compete in the top six domestically. With a relatively inexperienced squad for such an ambition, Levante may struggle to adjust.
The Granotes’ Coach Juan Ignacio Martinez has already lamented the lack of key reinforcements to continue his concrete style, centred on team unity. Martinez openly admitted he needed at least six new players to balance the attack and defence, with his team having scored 54 and conceded 50 last season.
The man of the hour, striker Arouna Kone has been signed permanently from Sevilla, after impressing immensely with 15 successful strikes last term, whilst Angel Rodriguez has also finalised a move from Elche to bolster their delicate attacking situation.
Martinez has secured his main objective in the imposing Pape Diop from Racing Santander. Influential midfielders Michel Herrera and Pedro Rios have been brought in from Hercules and Getafe respectively. The former in particular is expected to deliver a creative spark in a slightly lopsided middle of the park at times.
Hector Rodas has returned from a loan spell to strengthen the defence alongside David Navarro from the Swiss League and Greek Nikolaos Karabelas from AEK Athens. Former Bayern Munich full-back Christian Lell is also on the verge of making the switch to Spain.
Experience and fitness will be vital in this arguably Levante’s most challenging campaign to date.
The difference maker – Arouna Kone
After completing his move from Sevilla, Kone did not get off to a good start by missing the first week of Levante’s pre-season training camp. A move to the Premier League and Tottenham Hotspur continues to be touted, but the Ivorian international is still desperately needed in Valencia.
Best signing – Pape Diop
Not to be confused with West Ham’s Papa, Diop is no less imposing in the midfield than his fellow Senegalese international. Martinez repeatedly specified the former Racing Santander man as top of his most wanted list, and securing his signature has been a shrewd move.
His time? Nabil El Zhar
After a relatively indifferent first season, El Zhar should be ready to fulfil the potential that saw Liverpool sign him at the age of 19. The lightning quick winger is renowned for his dribbling abilities, but having been unable to settle to life in England he moved to Levante last year.
Coach – Juan Ignacio Martinez
After taking over a Levante side lingering in mid-table, Martinez masterminded their best ever campaign with a dynamic style, based around teamwork. This was the Spanish man’s first notable job, nicknamed JIM for his catchy initials – he will have a colossal task on his hands this season.
The big question…
Can Levante balance European and domestic football effectively? A team of limited resources simply cannot be expected to compete at the highest level in either competition. Villarreal were relegated last season, after beginning the year in the Champions League. An example that the balancing act can become extremely treacherous, and that nobody is immune from the drop.
Probable line-up: Munua; LELL, Ballesteros, Juanfran, KARABELAS; El Zhar, Iborra, DIOP, Pallardo, Barkero; Kone.
IN: Pape Diop (m, Racing Santander), Keylor Navas (gk, Albacete), Arouna Kone (s, Sevilla), Nikos Karabelas (d, AEK Athens), Angel Rodriguez (s, Elche), Miguel Herrera (m, Valencia), Pedro Rios (m, Getafe), Hector Rodas (d, Elche) and David Navarro (d, Neuchatel Xamax)
OUT: Ruben Suraez (m, Guizhou Renhe), Valmiro Valdo (m, Alante), Javier Farinos (m, free agent), Pedro Cabral (d, Celta Vigo), Abdelkader Ghezzal (s, Bari), Asier Del Horno (d, free agent), Javi Venta (d, Villarreal), Pedro Botelho (d, Atletico Paranaense)