A team in red and blue is dominating the Liga, and it’s not FC Barcelona. Levante’s journey this season has been a fairytale, a sport movie depicting victory for the perennial underdogs that you’d laugh right out of the theater because it’s just too darned unrealistic. A team that is flying in the face of everything we believe is vital to soccer success – money, star players, age, studied nutrition and what not, and we have no clue how they are doing whatever they are doing. (Well, Malaga is proving money is not the only key too, and not in a good way). It’s not just a temporary blip either. After 9 completed games in the league, they sit right at the top of the table, followed by Real Madrid at a close second. And FC Barcelona sits third.
Yes, third. But hold on, if you’re contemplating clutching your forehead and rolling on the ground. We were third after the eighth league game last season, and that didn’t turn out too bad. That’s the thing about winning endlessly, you walk down the short term memory lane only to find manitas and more, players jumping around in circles, big shiny cups, happy goal celebrations, speeches and fireworks. Last season, we drew six games, lost two games and won nine games by a 1 goal margin. That’s 17 games out of 38 with equal/worse results than the Granada game. Agreed a lot of it was towards the end of the season, but surely you remember the “we’re doing everything right, the darned ball just needs to go in” phase, and the February jinx that liberally extended itself to March and half of April. The point we’re trying to make is (yes, surprisingly, there is one!) every season in the recent past has had its share of “It’s all over, Real Madrid is far too superior, I’m off to bury my head in my sand then” moments, and that’s before Pep sprinkles his pixie dust and dishes out happy endings galore.
It’s just not the results, you say, it’s the entire way of playing – tired shells limping around the field like wounded warriors seemingly indifferent to it all. They display individual bursts of brilliance, but that flow and sharpness like a well-oiled machine whirring into motion has been lacking in the last couple of games. This might partially stem from playing eleventy billion games without a break, or the early spate of injuries which has effectively killed any passing thought in Pep’s head about the possibility of player rotation. The only kind of player rotation possible now is maybe taking turns to be the goalkeeper, and it’s not like we had an overflowing abundance to start with.
But this too shall pass. Injured players eventually heal, and we are expecting a fleet of forwards to be ready after the next international break. Okay maybe not a fleet, but Sanchez and Pedro, and that’s two more than what we have, which is basically Villa and half a Messi. Iniesta is back, and so is Cesc, so now we actually have the opportunity to apologize profusely to Xavi’s tendons for the misuse and beg to be spared their wrath. Pique and Puyol will be back soon too, and supposing the Football Gods make amends for their pixie dust mess-up by not taking out our players in alphabetical order, Pep just might be able to pull this team back together and hit the peak at the right time.
“I promise you that we’ll work hard. I don’t know if we’ll win, but we will try very hard. Fasten your seat belts, you are going to enjoy the ride” – Pep Guardiola (2008)
And that still holds true.