Liga - Stylish Levante back to fourth
Levante returned to fourth in La Liga with a 3-1 home win over Real Betis, putting them back in the European places.
The Valencia-based side had slipped outside the top four following the weekend’s play but they defied their weak home form to race 2-0 up through goals from Jose Barkero and Xavi Torres.
Jorge Molina pulled one back for the visitors just before half-time but Arouna Kone added a third as the hosts used their famed counter-attacking style to great effect.
They now lie a point ahead of Athletic Bilbao and Malaga, but five shy of their local rivals Valencia in third.
With 13 matches remaining, Levante have an impressive 38 points, all-but guaranteeing the top division status they would ordinarily be content with.
They are also in a good position to qualify for Europe, although the Real Madrid and Barcelona duopoly has created a somewhat congested top half meaning seven of the teams below could easily come fourth with a good run.
Even Betis, who languish in 12th, are still not out of the Euro hunt, almost directly between the relegation and European places, with the latter admittedly looking a remote possibility after their storming start to the season.
An open and even start saw Betis make much of the early running, although that tends to suit Juan Ignacio Martinez’s direct counter-attacking Levante side.
The first chance of note fell to the visitors as a Benat free-kick wreaked havoc in the home box: Levante were able to clear.
The next major opportunity resulted in the opening goal: and some strike it was too, as Barkero swung a delightful free-kick over the wall and inside the near post from a tight angle by the right side of the penalty area.
That was on 32 minutes and Betis almost responded with an identical goal, but Benat’s dipping free-kick landed just shy of the crossbar.
Soon afterwards it was 2-0 to the hosts as a now routine counter attack saw full-back Juanfran overlap with a direct forward run before whipping over a brilliant fizzing cross that Torres merely needed to guide inside the far post.
Betis were shell-shocked by that somewhat Anglo-Saxon move, but the short-passing Andalusians responded with wave after wave of attacks leading into half-time.
One such drive saw them halve the deficit as Jorge Molina exploited some horrific defending to poke a low finish past Gustavo Munua, the Spanish forward afforded a free run after no less than three home defenders kicked air in succession.
It was just a stutter for the hosts though as Betis piled men forward to leave inviting gaps to exploit; the tactical decisions from Pepe Mel were questionable too, as he withdrew Jefferson Montero - their main attacking threat - while reshuffling his defence repeatedly to introduce attacking options, further enticing the hosts.
And they got the match-killing third soon afterwards when, on 52 minutes, another penetrating break saw Abdelkader Ghezzal pick out Kone with a fine low ball, the Ivorian rattling a ferocious finish past Fabricio.
Betis rallied gamely enough but ultimately to little avail, their only two efforts on target fielded comfortably by Munua.
And it was the home side who came closest to adding to their tally, as Ghezzal’s low effort was tipped just wide by Fabricio, substitute Roque Santa Cruz’s late rugby conversion of a finish summing up Betis’ lack of end product as they slumped to a 13th Liga defeat of the season.