The game was barely a quarter of an hour old when Juan Carlos Valeron steered home its opener. Eight minutes later, Pizzi sent in a fine curling effort into the top corner and exactly eight minutes on from that, Nelson Oliveira’s accurate but tame effort found the bottom right hand corner of the net. Deportivo, the visitors, had raced to a three-nil lead after just under half an hour. Levante, the hosts, were stunned into silence and the same can be said for those observing events at Ciutat de Valencia stadium on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
And, as if three goals were not enough to secure all three points, Bruno Gama rounded out a perfect outing for Fernando Vazquez’s men in the last minute of the game. Receiving the ball from the ever-green Valeron, the Portuguese shimmied past his marker to nestle the ball home to ensure a most unlikely win for the visitors.
Never mind that Depor headed into this game off the back of three consecutive wins, they were not expected to win this one. This was a side that had just managed one win on the road all season and that also held – and still does – the unenviable record of having shipped the most goals on their travels. In addition, while Levante have been impressive for the best part of the season, punching above their weight again and even flirting amongst the European places not so long ago, Depor have spent much of the time rounding out the table at the bottom.
Only recently had the Galicians elevated themselves in the standings and that word ‘recent’ needs to be emphasised. It is now just a day over two weeks that Depor seemed destined for a quick return to the Segunda Division as they were sitting in last place with seven points separating them and 17th place in the table.
Yet, since their convincing victory in the Galician derby, the Blanquiazules have seem an inspired bunch. They followed up the fine win over their local rivals by collecting all three points away to Mallorca in a true relegation battle. They then accounted for Real Zaragoza after fighting back from being a goal down. Off the back of these three wins, Depor’s defeat of Levante has brought them two points clear of the drop zone.
It has been a remarkable and rapid turnaround spearheaded by the inspirational Valeron, the wily veteran Carlos Marchena and a number of Portuguese imports such as Gama, Oliveira, Pizzi and Riki. Vazquez, who took over in mid-February, is perhaps deserving of some of the credit, too. There may be still some may to go before they are truly safe, but, Depor’s great form of late warrants the return of their favoured nickname, SuperDepor.
Deportivo’s guests for next weekend, Athletic Bilbao, meanwhile, were dealt a lesson by Real Madrid, or rather, Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese was in sensational form at San Mames, opening the scoring after barely two minutes with a trademark free-kick. Just after the hour mark, he then sent in a powerful header before setting up Gonzalo Higuain to make it three-nil. The Portuguese now has 50 goals in all competitions this season.
While Ronaldo was certainly the star in the Basque country, the locals will remember the evening as the last time they played Real Madrid at their beloved San Mames stadium. No other team had played more times at Spain’s oldest stadium than Los Blancos with their final visit there on Sunday evening number 102.
As a piece of history in Bilbao draws to its final conclusion, in Zaragoza a second string Barca side showed that the future remains bright for the Catalans.
Tito Vilanova fielded a line-up that included starlets Thiago Alcantara, Cristian Tello, Martin Montoya and Marc Bartra and they certainly took their chance to shine, the former two in particular. While Bartra and Montoya did their bit to earn a rare clean sheet for the Catalans, Tello and Thiago ran the show at the other end with Tello scoring two goals both assisted by Thiago who chipped in with one for himself. No Messi, no Iniesta, no Pique, no Pedro, no Villa, no Alba, no problem.