Forza Futbol

A Better Lens at Spanish Football

 

 

Rising Star: Vicente Iborra

 

 

 

It is time to look back on the 2011/12 campaign and look forward to next season. Today, we will be evaluating the contributions of each member of the Levante squad to what was, beyond all doubt, the greatest season in the club’s 103 year history.

 

*Asterisks indicate the “Starting 11″ of the season

Italics indicate the best player in each line

 Season Awards follow individual player evaluations

 

Goalies

*Gustavo Munúa (37 league starts) – Unlike last year, Munúa never left any doubt that he was the #1 goalkeeper. In the 2010/11 campaign he lost his starting role just 4 games into the season to Manolo Reina, though he would later earn it  back. This year he was the best defensive player for Levante. He produced many magical saves, like Negredo´s penalty in Sevilla. Without his consistency, something he lacked the season before, Levante would not have finished in a european spot. I am hard-pressed to remember any boneheaded plays or goals he should have saved. An outstanding campaign, perhaps the best of his career, for the Uruguayan.    A+

Keylor Navas (1 league start) – Keylor was a little shaky in his few starts in Copa, conceding several away goals (3 vs. Depor and 3 vs. Alcorcón). Within the club he has earned a great deal of respect and admiration. His humility and work ethic have been very notable throughout the season. Somehow it was not surprising when he filled in for Munúa against Athletic Bilbao, in the decisive final game of the season, and helped lead the team to victory. He saved some tough shots, one from Fernando Llorente stands out. Though we have only seen limited glimpses of Keylor, Levante fans are really  hoping he is able to return next year. That will most likely depend on whether Albacete, the club with his rights, earns promotion to Segunda or not.     B-

 

Defense

*Javi Venta (24 starts, 25 appearances) – His early season form was excellent, showing off some of his best form, even assisting Koné in his historic 1-0 goal against Real Madrid. Midway through the season Javi´s form dipped. He seemed physically exhausted and not as solid defensively as we have come to expect from him. Part of this may be JIM’s insistence on not using rotations or giving him a rest, but essentially no one is calling for a renewal of his contract. At 36 years of age, this was probably his last year as a profressional.    B

*Ballesteros (36 starts, 1 Liga Goal, 1 Copa Goal) – The pillar, the quiet leader and brute force of the defensive line completed perhaps his best campaign ever, certainly his best in a Levante shirt. He scored goals (including one from outside the box against Depor in the Copa), outraced Cristiano Ronaldo in a sprint and helped carry Levante to Europe. In the last few games, he showed signs of breaking down (showing a little more tiredness than normal and even needing to be subbed against Mallorca), leaving us hoping that he can still be at his best next year and that this was not his last great campaign.   A+

*Cabral (15 starts, 16 appearances, 1 Liga Goal) – When Nano left, many were concerned if Gustavo Cabral could fill his spot. Cabral’s performance the second half of the season did not leave us missing Nano at all. He was quick, solid in defense and even scored us a brilliant goal in the Bernabeu from a set piece. Levante fans are hoping that he can return next year, though the club have no means of paying his million euro buy clause.   B+

*Juanfran (28 starts) – Like Ballesteros, Juanfran seems to only be getting better with age. He showed the quickness and foot skills of a 20 year old. He has signed a contract extension and beat out Asier Del Horno for the Left-Back position. Let’s just hope he does not kick any tables or chairs playing at home with his daughter (he broke his toe doing precisely that, forcing him to miss several games and training midway through the second half of the season.   A

Pedro Lopez (17 starts, 21 appearances) – A great signing and a great replacement for Javi Venta. Struggled against quicker opponents (See film of matchup with Jeff Montero from Betis/Villarreal), but nonetheless was good at reading the moves of those attacking him. His adjustment back to First Division football and to Levante have been great and hopefully that transitions to a better campaign next season. He has beaten out Javi Venta and earned his spot over the course of the year as the starting right back for next season.    B+

Asier Del Horno (12 starts, 13  appearances) – It is very sad to think that this might have been his last campaign in a Levante shirt, maybe even his last as a professional. Injuries stopped him from being the standout force he was last year. Juanfran beat him out for the Left-Back spot, and Cabral’s quick adaptation left no room for Asier. His contract has ended and it would be very surprising if he were offered a new contract. ¡GRACIAS, ASIER!    B-

David Navarro (3 starts, 4 appearances) – It is hard to evaluate Navarro. He signed in February, after delaying to see if another offer arrived, which left him little time to show anything. In the few games he did play, notably a win away against Real Sociedad, he interchanged notable breakups with dangerously slow passes back to Munúa that led to several heart attacks in the stands. Nonetheless, it would be nice if he stayed on next year, particularly if Cabral cannot return.   C+

 

Defensive Midfielders

*Vicente Iborra (27 starts,  32 appearances) –  Quite simply, Levante is lost and confused, and too easy to beat without Vicente Iborra. It is absolutely incredible to watch what IBO is capable of doing during a game. His long range passes, defensive breakups, clearances and the occasional header and long-range shot really showed that he was at his best this season. He recognized his area for improvement in a recent interview, stating he needs to get to the opponent’s area more often and create more danger with shots. Other than that, Levante fans are hoping and praying that no one shows up shopping for Vicente this summer and that a new contract offer comes with a higher exit clause to reflect the tremendous growth of this wonderful canterano.   A

*Xavi Torres (31 starts,  33 appearances, 5 Goals) – Made an excellent tandem with Iborra. When both played together, Levante played its absolute best football. The counter-attacking style depends on having Iborra and Xavi Torres give everything they’ve got to block shots, close down defenders and break up passes. Xavi showed his best goal scoring side this season as well: 5 league goals from a Defensive Midfielder say a lot. If Levante manage to pull off a miracle before this Thursday and reach a deal with Xavi, it will be just that: a miracle.  A+

Farinós (18 starts,  29 appearances) – For most of the season he seemed like the piece that did not fit. His taking over a starting role for Vicente Iborra, after the historic 7 straight wins, led to a dramatic slide in the team’s form. Iborra replacing him in the lineup led the team back to Champions League placing form. It is still unclear if Farinos can fulfill the more defensive responsibilities that Levante need from him. He does not cover ground well or read his opponents very well. At the end of the season he showed signs of improvement, the only hope saving him from a worse rating.  B-

Pallardó (8 appearances) – Played just 129 minutes over the course of the season, most of them junk minutes. It is really hard to say what this season was for Pallardo, other than a huge disappointment. Will be 26 at the start of the new season, and though he is a good backup for Levante, one cannot help but wonder if he would be better off somewhere else.    N/A

 

Right Midfielder

*Valdo (31 starts,  33 appearances,  7 Goals, 6 Assists ) - A genius, the best way I can describe Valdo on the field. He completed another exceptional campaign in which his dribbling, passing and finishing were fundamental for Levante. No doubt his career has been resurrected in Valencia. He found the net 7 times and setup his teammates to do the same on 6 other occasions. He really has shown he has a lot of futbol left in his boots. Let’s hope he’s still lacing those boots up for Levante, at least for another season.   A+

Nabil El Zhar (9 starts,  22 appearances) - Showed some signs of real brilliance, but mixed that with some disappearing on the pitch. He was brilliant in the second-leg of the Copa against Deportivo, finding the net and sending a long range assist to Barkero for another goal. In the league, his best performance was against Real Sociedad. He ran the Real defenders crazy throughout the game and provoked a key penalty. He is a great player to have already lined up for next year, the second of his two year deal, but fans and coaches will be hoping for more consistency from Nabil.    B-

 

Center Attacking Midfielder

*Barkero (29 starts,  31 appearances, 7 Goals, 9 Assists) - How on Earth was this guy still in Segunda a season ago? Barkero is an incredible player for Levante to have, perhaps the best creative inside midfielder Levante have seen and will see in a long time. His passes, set pieces and goals lifted this team to European form. Thankfully his contract was for two seasons, though maybe three or four would not have been a bad idea. Hopefully Levante can pull off another Barkero-like signing from Segunda, a market much more accessible and yet still abundant in talent.  A+

Rubén Suarez (7 starts,  25 appearances) - THE SUPER-SUB. Coming off the bench as a regular, Rubén still managed to net 8 goals, 3 of them in dramatic fashion. His last minute free kicks against Real Sociedad, Espanyol and Villarreal turned a 1 point draws into victories. Without those 6 additional points, this season would not have been all that it was. Though his form is not good enough over 90 minutes (he typically shows some poor physical conditioning), he is the best sub Levante can have. Just having him on your bench gives you a quick chance to completely change up a game. Quico, PLEASE RESIGN RUBÉN!!!   A

 

Left Midfielder

*Juanlu (12 starts,  18 appearances, 5 Goals, 1 Assist) – Though injuries and JIM left him out of completing the season the way he would have wanted to, Juanlu’s amazing start to the season, where he netted all five of his goals in the initial games, left him miles ahead of the other players at his position. It really was sad to see him out for so long and then have to see him playing behind Botehlo. However, he should be fresh at the start of next season when he will be dearly needed again as one of several Levante players with prior European experience. He scored Osasuna’s first European goal, will he score Levante’s? A-

Botehlo (18 starts,  25 appearances) – At times a complete train wreck and at other times showing signs of being a young star. Botehlo has to figure out what is more important to him: partying or football. If he really dedicated himself to football, he could really be someone, but as is he seems like more of a star fallen off. Most likely, he will never star for Arsenal or Levante. His future will probably be in another team.   B

Oscar Serrano (7 starts,  14 appearances) – In his second game he came on to assist Koné in the Bernabéu, but one is hard-pressed to think of anything else that he did. Levante fans are disappointed that he was given a two-year deal when he signed from Racing in the winter break. Serrano did not show much of anything for Levante. Let’s hope the summer break and starting the preseason with Levante can make him be a more important player for the team next season.    C

 

Striker

*Koné (33 starts, 15 Goals, 3 Assists) – Even people who do not follow Levante know what this season meant for Koné and just how important he was for Levante. His ball control was really his best characteristic. Levante need a striker who can hang onto the ball and make something of the few attacking chances Levante have in some games. Koné was better than Caicedo at scoring goals, controling the ball and combining with teammates. Though Caicedo was probably a better finisher, Koné was healthier throughout the season. Levante have signed him on a 2 year deal, but all projections point to Koné exiting to the Premier League, leaving Levante looking for a replacement striker, again.   A

Ghezzal (9 starts,  16 appearances, 2 Goals, 2 Assists) - Was streaky. After his winter loan deal, he started off wowing the crowd with an almost-goal long shot against Racing, but then went months without scoring. An assist to Kone against Betis at home and a double against Athletic Bilbao were highlights for him. The goals against Athletic being his first in over a year for him. Levante fans will always remember him as the goalscorer of the European placing 3-1 win.  B

 

Winter Transfer Departures

Nano – It was very sad to see Nano leave for China. He was a pilar in the defense along with Ballesteros. However, Levante could not say no to the 1 million euros his transfer brought in.    A

Arandá – Showed some good skill moves in his limited appearances, along with a couple of goals. However, he was terribily out of shape and showed no signs of improving. Additionally, his attitude was poor, he seemed to believe he should be starting over Koné. Levante fans were very happy to see him leave for Zaragoza, where his attitude came out in the media (refusing to listen to Jimenez´s pregame talk against Osasuna).     D

Héctor Rodas – Did not play before going out on loan to Segunda side Elche. Contributed several goals, including a double in one game. Lots of hope and fan admiration are placed in him as the best fruit to come from the youth system since Iborra. Next season will be an important decider as to whether his long-term future is blue and granate. N/A

Rafa Jordà – Had not been given minutes to show much of anything. Has scored 3 goals so far in China, playing for the same team as Nano.  Attitude and professionalism were always top-notch from Rafa. N/A

 

 

 

Awards

Defensive Players of the Year: Gustavo Munúa and Sergio Ballesteros

Offensive Players of the Year: Barkero and Koné

Rising Star: Vicente Iborra

Dean On May - 30 - 2012

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