Levante vs. Atletico Madrid: 6 Things We Learned
Levante were always likely to make awkward opponents for Atletico Madrid, and so it proved, with the title favourites falling to a 2-0 defeat on Sunday afternoon.
Atletico had lost two of their three previous visits to the Ciudad de Valencia and found the going just as tough this time around.
An own goal from Filipe Luis gifted Levante an early lead, and they rarely looked like surrendering their advantage thereafter. The home side defended deep, soaked up pressure and sporadically offered a threat on the counterattack.
Atletico lacked ideas and were foiled by Levante goalkeeper Keylor Navas on the few occasions they did fashion opportunities of note. A second-half goal from David Barral subjected them to defeat and gave both Barcelona and Real Madrid reasons to be hopeful going into the final weeks of the season.
Here are six things we learned from Levante vs. Atletico Madrid.
Racism Is Still a Big Problem in Spain
Levante midfielder Papakouli Diop nearly kicked off a brawl with a celebratory dance toward the end of the match. There was, however, more to it than first seemed to be the case, as he explained in a post-match interview, via AS.
I went to take a corner and part of the Atlético support began doing monkey chants. To take the heat out of the situation, I started to dance, but I didn’t insult anyone. I find it disrespectful that it happens in all stadiums. I don’t know if it can be called racism, but the monkey chanting has to be stopped now.
Football Vines posted a video of the incident to Twitter.
Coming just a week after a banana was thrown at Barcelona full-back Daniel Alves, it was another reminder that racism remains a problem in both Spanish football and Spanish society.
Atletico Are Starting to Show Signs of Fatigue
Atletico were superb in their Champions League semi-final, second-leg victory over Chelsea in midweek, but perhaps understandably, they lacked the same energy on Sunday.
Diego Simeone’s side have played two matches a week for five of the last six weeks. Such a hectic period was always likely to have an adverse effect on a squad that, while well balanced, lacks some of the depth of their title rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Nine of Atletico’s squad have started 30 or more of their league matches this season, compared to zero for Barcelona and just two for Real Madrid (although there are a further three Madrid players who could reach that landmark if they play in both of the club’s two matches in hand).
Atletico have leaned on their strong defence in recent weeks, recording clean sheets in victories over Villarreal, Getafe, Elche and Valencia. But they conceded an early, sloppy goal on Sunday and then lacked the energy or inspiration to break down a resolute Levante defence.
They have a week’s rest ahead of their match at home to Malaga next weekend, and Simeone will hope to use that time to get his squad fit and ready for the final weeks of the season.
The Devil Is Still Alive in Diego Costa
Diego Costa accumulated more cards than goals in the five seasons previous to this one, and although he has at least partially cleaned up his act during the current campaign, there are still flashes of the devil that lurks within him.
Costa endured a frustrating first half. He was starved of service and adjudged offside on the two occasions he escaped the close attentions of his marker David Navarro. He grew increasingly irritated as the half wore on, arguing with the referee and while becoming embroiled in little skirmishes with various Levante players.
He was lucky not to be sent off after throwing his head back into Mohamed Sissoko’s as the pair waited for a free-kick to be delivered into the box. It was a stupid action and one that could have ruled him out of Atletico’s Primera Division run-in had the referee or his assistants spotted it.
Simeone needs Costa to channel his energy more positively in the coming weeks if Atletico are to end the season on a high.
La Liga Title Is Still in Atletico’s Hands
Coming into Sunday’s match, Atletico knew that two victories from their final three league matches would be enough to secure their first league title since 1996.
That scenario has not altered, but Simeone's side now have no margin for error.
They host Malaga next weekend before travelling to the Camp Nou to face Barcelona on the final weekend.
Presuming both sides win their penultimate fixtures, Barcelona would be able to overtake Atletico, via a superior head-to-head record, with a victory in that match. Such a result could, however, hand the title to Real Madrid, which, if they do not drop points in the meantime, would go into the final weekend level on points with Atletico and three ahead of Barca.
Atletico know what they need to do. Anything less than two victories is likely to see them pipped to the post.
Keylor Navas Will Make a Fine Goalkeeper for a Bigger Club
Navas has been one of the most impressive goalkeepers in La Liga this season and displayed his class once more with an excellent display on Sunday.
He made a superb save from Raul Garcia’s well-struck, close-range effort inside the opening quarter hour and made a similarly difficult stop to keep out Toby Alderweireld’s deflected, top-corner-bound effort during the second half.
He was also strong and secure when dealing with high balls into the area, even when put under heavy pressure.
Navas will likely leave Levante this summer, with talks over a new contract having broken down, as per Costa Rican sports website Yashinquesada.com (via Inside Spanish Football).
Atletico are one of the clubs, alongside Sevilla and Villarreal, that have been linked with a summer move for the Costa Rica international, as per Inside Spanish Football. He proved on Sunday that he would be a suitable replacement for Thibaut Courtois if the Belgian is recalled by Chelsea for next season.
Levante Not Always Pretty but Certainly Effective
Teams know what they are going to get when they face Levante: a strong, physical, well-organised, defensive side. There is nothing particularly sophisticated about their approach, but that doesn’t mean they are easy to overcome.
Joaquin Caparros’ side fought for every ball on Sunday, completing, as per Squawka, all 40 of their attempted clearances while making a number of vital blocks from goal-bound efforts on target. They prevented Atletico from getting regular clean sights at goal.
Levante even produced one moment of real quality, with Barral finishing a lovely one-touch, three-player move for the second goal.
The victory moved them up to ninth in the table as next season will be their fifth consecutive top flight campaign.
Not bad for a team constructed largely of free transfers and loan signings.
Stats via Soccerway unless otherwise noted.