Tantalising Madrid derby in store as Atletico await in last-eight...
Levante have restored some pride thanks to goals from Xisco Munoz and Sergio Gonzalez as they registered a 2-0 victory over a second-string Real Madrid side.
The tie was all but over after Madrid ran riot in the first-leg thanks to an 8-0 victory where Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema both claimed hat-tricks. The hosts had little to play for other than pride.
Jose Mourinho made nine changes to his Madrid side that romped tonight’s opponents in the first-leg prior to the Christmas break. Interestingly Ezequiel Garay partnered Ricardo Carvalho in central defence rather than David Mateos who was utilised at right-back.
With Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel di Maria sitting this one out it was two of the summer recruits in Pedro Leon and Sergio Canales who stepped in to support Karim Benzema from the flanks as the Frenchman continued his run in the team due to Gonzalo Higuain’s season ending injury.
Esteban Granero filled the space just behind Benzema with Fernando Gago making his long awaited return from injury to partner Sami Khedira in central midfield.
There was an exhibition feel to the game as the first-half passed without any real incident. Both sides were happy enough to keep hold of possession when they had it and never really looked to threaten in the final third.
Levante had the best chance of the game on 10 minutes following a dazzling run from Xisco Munoz who weaved his way through the centre before eventually unleashing a right-footed shot in the eighteen-yard box that was well saved by Madrid's stand-in goalkeeper Alberto Adan. Valmiro Valdo was unable to cash in on the follow-up.
Xisco looked the brightest player on the pitch in the opening half as Levante looked to utilise their attacks down the flanks as he and Valdo interchanged from time to time.
Madrid offered very little in attack. Most of their play was in the middle of the park as the midfield trio of Khedira, Gago and Granero looked to orchestrate proceedings. Pedro Leon and Canales were having little effect on the game and were unable to supply a lonesome figure in Benzema who was anonymous throughout.
It took 35 minutes for the visitors to have their first meaningful attack. Pedro Leon showed a glimpse of his talent as he provided a lovely jinked run down the left to get to the byline before supplying a teasing cross that was teed up by Khedira via his chest to Canales whose effort was superbly blocked by a Levante shirt. Granero pounced on the rebound but his effort sailed way over the bar.
Madrid came out for the second-period with more attacking emphasis. Granero was unlucky to see a long range effort trickle inches past the post after some good play to open up the space and unleash the shot.
However it was Levante who took the lead on 62 minutes thanks to Xisco who converted from the penalty spot. Fernando Gago was judged to have handled the ball in the penalty area by referee Javier Alvarez much to Jose Mourinho’s amusement. The goal had come against the run of play as the Merengues had dominated possession after the interval.
The goal gave the home-side belief and they should have doubled their lead minutes later through Rafa Jorda. Substitute Christian Stuani, who scored a stunner of a goal at the Nou Camp at the weekend, did brilliantly to nod a floated ball down in the penalty area to his team-mate but unfortunately for Jorda he smashed his effort way over the bar on the half-volley.
Madrid continued their domination with the ball but struggled to create any real clear cut opportunities. Kaka nearly equalised ten minutes from time as his header rattled the woodwork following a beautiful out swinging cross from Juanfran down the right.
Sergio however restored pride for the hosts as he made it 2-0 minutes from time thanks to a beautiful free-kick that beat Adan at his near post. The stand-in 'keeper made a fine save from Stuani minutes prior but was helpless against the elegant strike from Sergio which had precision and power.
Despite the setback the Blancos progress to the quarter-finals where they will meet city-rivals Atletico Madrid.