Casual fans may not be aware of this but the oldest team in Valencia is actually not Valencia CF but Levante UD. However the accomplishments and profile of the younger brother has far overshadowed that of the older brother and their priorities are vastly different. For Valencia CF, Champions League competition and league title challenges are the norm; for Levante survival in the Primera Liga is and remains their only goal leading into the new season.

In fact, at one point in time last year, it looked like even achieving that aim would be a miracle. A rag-tag bunch made up of unknown locals and semi-famous Europeans struggled to get to grips with the pace and standard of the competition and by the end of 2006, Levante were relegation certainties.

Then things took a total turnaround; the arrival of veteran goalkeeper Jose Molina and defender Serrano tightened the defence and a run of 7 wins and 6 draws in 2007 saw them climb up the table to respectability. The recovery was also credited as the work of new coach Abel Resino who breathed new life into the squad.

Going into the new season, there certainly is an air of optimism that the battle against relegation would be easier this time round. Levante is a better side then most people give credit for; a 4-2 win over local rivals Valencia, a 1-0 win over Real Madrid and a 1-1 draw with Barcelona are testimony to their ability. It just so happens that their offensive style of play is less effective when facing side that packs their defence and hits on the break.

Still do not expect things to change. Coach Abel is regarded as an offensive manager, playing with the defensive line high up the field and he will continue to do so. This is sometimes seen as a risky stile of playing which is why the defensive reinforcements is so crucial. The addition of Italian veteran Bruno Cirillo can only help the likes of mainstay Alvaro and fullbacks Monolo and Rubiales. Molina has since retired, leaving the way open for Argentine Pablo Cavallero.

Levante were fortunate that they managed to hang on to Italian midfielder Damiano Tommasi. His leadership and distribution in the middle of the park was one of the team’s biggest strength and he looks set to continue his partnership with Diego Camacho.

The key to Levante’s attacking play is the utilisation of wingers on both flanks. Not many clubs in Europe do so now but Felix Ettien is a  a strapping muscular presence on the right and with an abundance of skill and with his direct style, he is a handful for any defence.

On the left, Resino has swapped the inconsistency of the mecurial Laurent Robert for the dependability of Brazilian Savio. The 33 year-old performed admirably but could not prevent Real Sociedad from relegation and he will be hoping for better luck with Levante.

Rounding out the attack are the odd pairing of Dutchman Riga Mustapha and Georgian international Shota Arveladze. Both are comfortable on the ball and show a keen eye for goal but only Riga made good on his promise last year with 9 goals. Cosidering that he is technically a right winger, his return is outstanding.

Arveladze may be 34 but he is a proven goalscorer and has shown consistency no matter where he has played so his addition is a bonus for Levante considering that the rest of the strikers like Nino, Cameroonian Albert Meyong Ze and even new arrival Geijo are more like squad players. Nino was one of the second division’s most highly rated striker but he struggled at the highest stage.

Levante Possible First XI:
Cavallero; Manolo, Serrano, Alvaro, Rubiales; Ettien, Tommasi, Camacho, Savio; Arveladze, Riga



The last season was a disappointing one for the Catalan giants; not only were they knocked out of the Champions League at an early stage, they effectively threw away the Spanish League title and lost the chance to win three titles on the trot. More than the statistical failure, the way the season imploded amongst dissension within the team and tactical errors seemed to suggest that they were coming to an end of a mini-dynasty.

One knew that there would be a response; afterall a team like Barcelona is not used to failure but few would have guessed that the answer would come in the shape of Thierry Henry. The mercurial striker joined Barcelona after more than a year of courtship and his arrival has turned the dark clouds of failure into rays of optimism and hope.

More than just adding a superstar, the Frenchman’s arrival gives Barcelona an awesome frontline. Even Barcelona’s captain Carlos Puyol was moved to describe them as, “perhaps the best attack line in the world. The rest of Europe and Spain will be terrified.” After all, who chance would any defence have against the likes of Henry, Ronaldinho, Lionel Messi and Samuel Eto’o?

Yet the critics are not satisfied; already questions are being asked about how Frank Rijkaard is going to fit them into his favoured 4-3-3 and who is going to be dropped. Actually there is a way in which Rijkaard can accommodate all his superstars and Barcelona’s subsequent signings follows this same train of thought. One only has to look at Brazil and how they managed to play Ronaldinho with Ronaldo, Kaka and Adriano together at the last World Cup for a clue.

The answer lies in a change of formation; a switch from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2 would solve the problem. Both Eto’o and Henry may be used to being the focal point of the attack but they are also versatile enough to play with another partner so pairing them both upfront is a no-brainer.

The key to making this work is to utilise Ronaldinho and Messi as inside-halves instead of employing them as wingers. With their skills set and dribbling abilities, they are more than capable of stretching defences by going outside to the flanks or cutting in towards goal. With Henry and Eto’o’s propensity to move to the sidelines to draw defenders out as auxiliary wingers, both Ronaldinho and Messi would have even more space to manoeuvre. This is very similar to Brazil’s famed 4-2-2-2 ‘magical square’ formation.

What it means is that the two midfielders in the centre will have the job of protecting the defence as well as distributing the ball. Barcelona’s squad of players are geared towards doing exactly that. Deco reportedly has fallen out Rijkaard and is on his way out so the playmaker’s position should be contested between Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez. Alongside them, the defensive midfield position will be filled by either Rafael Marquez or new signing Yaya Toure.

The way the formation is strung out usually leaves both sides of the field unprotected; Brazil of course uses Roberto Carlos and Cafu as their full-backs and the attacking-minded duo is able to exploit the space in front of them to full advantage. This was also the reason Barcelona made Eric Abidal the most recent signing; with him and Gianluca Zambrotta manning the flanks, Barca are one of the few teams in the world who can make this tactic work.

The only weakness in the side is in the middle of the defence where Puyol is often exposed by the inadequacies of his partner. The Catalans have been busy shopping for a capable defender and their prayers have been answered by the arrival of Argentine Gabriel Milito. An assured player, Milito is capable of initiating play from the back and would complement Puyol perfectly. If either is lost through injury (and Puyol is likely to still be out when the season starts), their best solution would actually be to retreat Marquez into defence and to pair Iniesta up with Toure.

With a line-up chockfull of attacking power and with an imaginative midfield, it seems Barcelona have acted swiftly and smartly in reloading their team for another assault on domestic and European glory. And we haven’t even talked about fledging talents like Giovanni Dos Santos and Bojan Krkic waiting in the wings.  

Demise? What demise?

Barcelona possible First XI:
Valdes; Abidal, Puyol, Milito, Zambrotta; Marquez, Iniesta; Ronaldinho, Messi; Henry, Eto’o