At one point last season it looked like Levante might have been heading for the last Champions League place in La Liga. Partly because they were the League's surprise package and partly because it looked as if no-one was keen to take it off them.
A 1-0 win against Madrid in September spawned a run that would see them top the League by the end of October. Eventually Malaga came strong to take fourth, Atletico Madrid sneaked into fifth and even though Los Granotes finished sixth it was still a landmark season for the Valencian side. That finish propelled them into Europe and the Europa League for the first time in the club's history.
Coach Juan Ignacio Martinez still says the focus has to be on the League with the club competing at the top level for the third consecutive season for the first time in their history. However in a competition featuring clubs such as Inter, Liverpool and Lyon it is only right that the players and fans will be looking to progress from the group stages of the Europa League.
Arouna Kone and Xavi Torres, two key performers last season, have both moved on, but JIM has been able to add new faces. Papa Diop joined from Racing Santander to add steel to central midfield whilst Christian Lell and Nikolaos Karabelas have increased competition in the full-back areas. To improve attacking options Michel, Angel Rodriguez, Theofanis Gekas and most recently Obafemi Martins have all come in.
In fairly comfortable circumstances Motherwell were dispatched in the qualifying rounds and before Thursday’s match against Helsingborgs President Quico Catalan claimed his Levante team ‘would be flying’. In a group containing FC Twente and Hannover 96, Catalan feels they 'will qualify for the last 32'.
Their style under JIM has not always been appreciated in Spain, although his thrown-together team of much travelled professionals has proved successful. This week they took their journey to the next stop against the Swedish champions at the Estadi Ciutat de Valencia.
In taking that step they shaded possession and completed more passes than they have done in any La Liga game so far this season – something not synonymous with their usual way of playing. Just before half-time they got their reward, with veteran left-back Juanfran giving them the lead they both sought and deserved with his trusted left boot.
The second half was more Levante. More work rate, more defending and more of what has carried them this far. It beautifully typified the more familiar style of the club as well as being effective once again. The Swedes could not find an equaliser and although Levante didn't find a second they hung on for a famous European win in the Valencia night.
Tougher tasks will come, but Levante have waited 103 years for this and in the early days of this season's Europa League they're demonstrating they are not just here to participate, they are here to compete.