Levante Is the Last Place Real Madrid Will Want to Go in Need of 3 Points
Even before Angel di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo took care of Copenhagen, AS had billed the match with the Danish champions as "a vitamin boost" for Real Madrid after the pride-sucking defeat at home to Atletico Madrid and the narrow and controversial win at Elche.
But if the Champions League tie was just the cleansing Carlo Ancelotti's side needed after slipping five points behind Atletico and Barcelona at the top of La Liga, they face the prospect of being thrown in the dirt all over again when they travel to ninth-place Levante on Saturday.
On the surface, a team that has scored just one goal at home this season should not cause Madrid too much bother, but that would be to ignore the torrid time the Valencia side have doled out to Los Blancos ever since they returned to the top flight in 2010.
In four matches in the Copa del Rey and La Liga in the last three seasons, Madrid have only once come away from the Ciutat de Valencia stadium as winners, pulling off a scrappy 2-1 win last season thanks to a late goal from substitute Alvaro Morata.
That rain-soaked match began with Ronaldo being hit just above the eye by the elbow of David Navarro and ended with an altercation taking place between Pepe and Levante captain Sergio Ballesteros. The bickering continued in the post-match interviews, with Sergio Ramos saying Ballesteros should swap football for boxing and Levante's Juanfran saying Pepe had been intent on winding up the hosts.
That match was the culmination of three other tension-filled fixtures between Madrid and Levante in Valencia, which included Ballesteros having a confrontation with Jose Mourinho at half-time in a Copa del Rey tie two seasons previous and Mourinho insulting his former Chelsea charge Asier del Horno in 2010.
For fans of off-the-ball incident, Levante-Real Madrid rarely fails to disappoint. Lovers of free-flowing, beautiful end-to-end football, however, might want to look elsewhere.
The last four matches between the sides at the Ciutat de Valencia have ended 0-0, 2-0 (the second leg of a Copa del Rey tie, the first leg of which finished 8-0 to Madrid), 1-0 and 1-2, with the general script being that the hosts set up camp inside their area, only attack via set pieces and are unafraid of bringing an attack to an end with an unsporting challenge.
Of course, several things have changed since that action-packed November night last year.
Mourinho, involved in two unsavoury incidents at Levante in the past, will not be in the Madrid dugout on Saturday, and Ancelotti does not quite have that same hell-raising capacity as his predecessor.
Mourinho's opposite number that night, Juan Ignacio Martinez, has also moved on, as has the now-retired Ballesteros.
However, fans of controversy should still make sure they are in front of their televisions or laptops for kick-off, as up to 10 players in last year's match could be involved, including protagonists Ramos, Pepe, Navarro and Juanfran.
A scene-by-scene repeat of last year's rowdy clash is unlikely, but with Levante only conceding four goals in their last six games and now finding their feet under Joaquin Caparros—a coach who has made his name playing uncompromising football that gets results—one thing for certain is that Real Madrid are not in for an enjoyable Saturday evening.
Without Gareth Bale and Xabi Alonso, they will have to dig deep if they are to leave Valencia with the three points and still be in touch with Atletico and Barcelona, who face comparatively easier fixtures at home to Celta Vigo and Real Valladolid, respectively.
Richard Martin is a sports journalist based in Madrid.
You can follow him on Twitter @rich9908
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