While los Granotes are aiming to push away from the bottom three, los Leones have half an eye on Europe...
Levante have made a positive impression in the opening months of the Primera Division season, but if they want to avoid the ignominy of dropping into the relegation zone over the brief Christmas recess then they will have to ensure they defeat Athletic Bilbao in Valencia on Saturday evening.
Los Granotes’ form at the Ciutat de Valencia has been the foundation to their campaign as they have picked up exactly two-thirds of their 15 points at the venue. Luis Garcia’s men are not completely impotent on their travels, earning a win over Almeria as well as a draw last weekend against Sporting de Gijon.
Having taken the lead with less than quarter of the match to play through Felipe Caicedo, it seemed that they would score a vital three points towards securing their safety, but an equaliser 10 minutes from time was to thwart the newly promoted side, who have yo-yoed between the top two divisions for almost a decade.
Recently the club have been on the end of some questionable refereeing decisions, but veteran defender Asier del Horno has elected to keep quiet on the matter, indicating his belief that grumbling will simply exacerbate the situation.
If Levante can show the kind of mature attitude on the field they are displaying in the media, they have every chance of earning enough points to ensure their survival, but this is a match they certainly won’t want to lose.
Athletic Bilbao have been almost perennial mid-table achievers over the course of the last decade, and there is little to suggest that the Basque side are going to do anything to shake that tag this season. With nearly half the matches played they lie eighth in the standings, keeping half an eye on developments above them in case there is the opportunity to reach Europe.
Undoubtedly their strength lies in their form at San Mames, where they’ve earned an impressive 18 points from a possible 24. Last weekend they gained an impressive 2-1 success over Espanyol, rallying from a goal down at the half-time interval to score twice late on and maintain their impressive run.
After watching his side display what he described as “soul and character”, coach Joaquin Caparros will be keen for them to go and claim three points in Valencia to maintain their recent momentum. Mikel San Jose believes this is a task not beyond his side.
“Clearly we would have liked to get many more points away from home, but is complicated because all the teams in the league are very strong at home,” the centre-back said. “We are able to win at Levante.”
Scoring more points away from home is now a set priority for the Basques, who will be travelling to Valencia with the hope of scoring three such beasts.
Nano was expected to miss out due to suspension, but his appeal against a yellow card has been successful and he will be able to feature.
Felipe Caicedo is expected to overcome a persistent ankle problem to feature while Juanfran is a greater doubt for the weekend’s fixture. Hector Rodas, Nacho Gonzalez, Iborra and Miguel Perez are still issues.
Fernando Amorebieta is suspended but has been suffering from muscle problems this week in any case. A more worrying complaint is Fernando Llorente, who has endured a sprained ankle but is expected to feature.
Andoni Iraola, Koikili and Mikel San Jose are fighting muscular complaints of varying degrees of severity.