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Levante loss signals cup crash

Copa del Rey

Round of 16

Tuesday January 26th, 2021

Estadio José Zorrilla, Valladolid, Spain


Toni Villa 13’; Shon Weismann 65’


Enis Bhardi 23’; Mickaël Malsa 45’; Coke 59’; José Luis Morales (Pen) 80’

A lacklustre performance saw Real Valladolid dumped out of the Copa del Rey against familiar opponents Levante, despite taking the lead through Toni Villa inside quarter of an hour. Enis Bhardi equalised ten minutes later with a low-struck free-kick before Mickaël Malsa capitalised on a mistake from young defender Ignasi Vilarrasa to send the visitors into the break with a one-goal advantage. Coke extended the lead for Los Granota just inside the hour mark, only for Shon Weissman to grab a lifeline six minutes later. However, the match was wrapped up with a controversial penalty decision which handed Levante captain José Luis Morales the opportunity to book his side’s place in the quarter-finals.

Having met just four days earlier in the league at the Estadi Ciutat de Valencià, the sides were more than familiar with each other. However, Sergio made wholesale changes to the starting eleven which drew 2-2 on Friday night. Only Luis Pérez, Joaquín and Toni Villa featured in the initial line-ups from both matches. As has become customary in cup matches, Roberto replaced Jordi Masip in goals with Vilarrasa and Pablo Hervías completing the back four, which saw Luis Pérez playing at centre-back for the first time in Pucela colours. Ahead of them was a two-man shield of Roque Mesa and Kike Pérez, who tucked in behind Waldo, Kuki Zalazar and Villa, with the latter assuming the captaincy for the night. Up front, Sergio Benito took on the lone striker role and earned his third start of the competition.

For Levante, Paco López was without ex-Pucela loanee Jorge De Frutos, who had pulled up with an injury against his former side last week while enjoying an excellent performance. The manager, like his counterpart, set out a 4-2-3-1 system with goalkeeper Dani Cárdenas returning to the stadium where he made his LaLiga debut in the sides’ 1-1 draw back in November. The young stopper had given a good account of himself in his first senior start, most notably pulling off a first-half save from Sergi Guardiola’s downward header at point-blank range to keep the match scoreless at that stage. Only Rubén Vezo remained in the starting back four, joined in this match by Toño, Sergio Postigo and Coke. Malsa was the only midfielder to remain from the previous match in Valencia, with Gonzalo Melero, Rubén Rochina, Enis Bhardi and Son – operating more as a winger than his usual full-back role – came in to replace captain José Luis Morales, Nemanja Radoja and the aforementioned De Frutos. In attack, the two-man spearhead which had yielded a goal for both Dani Gómez and Roger Martí was adjusted to see Sergio Leon operating as the single striker.

It was the hosts who went ahead first through Villa on 13 minutes. Kike Pérez’s smart through-ball to the edge of the box saw the stand-in captain lead by example and he split the gap between Toño and Postigo to toe-poke the ball past Cárdenas for the opener.

Three minutes after this, Roberto was called into action for the first time at the opposite end. Malsa struck his left post and the rebound fell to Son from close range, but the goalkeeper was able to block it and scramble onto the loose ball.

Levante earned their equaliser in creative fashion after winning a free-kick on the outskirts of Pucela’s penalty area. Bhardi struck his effort along the turf, which squeezed under the edge of the wall courtesy of Waldo jumping in attempt to block it. Roberto remained rooted to the spot and could only watch in anguish as the ball skipped past him.

The match was very evenly balanced in the first half, with both teams fashioning opportunities to add a second. Waldo, not at fault for the equaliser but perhaps keen to make amends nonetheless, almost repeated the goal he scored against Athletic Club at the same end of the José Zorrilla in May 2019. In that match, Waldo had collected the ball on the left flank, strode forward before cutting inside and whipping a pin-point laser into the far away top corner of Iago Herrerín’s goal. This move echoed his wonder strike, with the only difference being that the ball failed to dip and find that corner, instead drifting harmlessly over the bar.

On the stroke of half-time, Levante struck a killer blow, taking advantage of an error from Vilarrasa. The young left-back, who has featured in the first-team squad of late due to the raft of defensive absences, played the ball back into the area of Roberto but without sufficient force for it to find the goalkeeper. Malsa stole in, rounded Roberto and slotted home effortlessly to send his side in at the break with the goal advantage.

Joaquín was replaced at half-time by Rubén Alcaraz, who had scored at the Estadi Ciutat de Valencia in the previous encounter, as a way of shoring up the midfield which had struggled to gain a foothold in the match. Levante, however, began the second period of play much as they had ended the first, on the front foot. Twice Roberto was called into action inside the first six minutes to deny Los Granota, firstly repelling Son’s angled shot for a corner, then blocking Coke’s back-post header from the resulting set-piece with his feet. The Levante left-back was to have the last laugh, when he beat the former West Ham number one. Rochina’s free-kick from left found the head of Sergio Postigo and Roberto saved the initial effort, but could not scramble to his feet in time to deny Coke from close range.

Sergio made a triple substitution as the match looked like it was starting to slip from his team’s grasp. Off came Villa to be replaced by Guardiola, Waldo made way for Weissman and Sergio Benito exited the field for Fabián Orellana. The substitutes’ impact was almost immediate, with the Israeli striker reducing the deficit to one just two minutes after setting foot on the pitch, rising above Rubén Vezo to head home at the back post from Orellana’s cross.

Paco López countered the move by making changes of his own. Sergio León was swapped out for Dani Gómez who had opened the scoring on Friday night, as well as the arrival of club captain and talisman Morales.

Alcaraz appeared motivated to score against Levante in consecutive matches, forcing Cárdenas into a save with a free-kick on target.

It was not to be his, or Real Valladolid’s night, and the visitors rounded off the scoring when the Catalan midfielder conceded a penalty by catching Postigo when attempting to clear from his own box. After what seemed like an eternity spent reviewing the incident, Morales kept his cool to send the ball to the right of centre while Roberto went the opposite way.

The loss ended a positive cup run for the Blanquivioletas, but – in truth – they had laboured in the previous two legs against lower-league opposition and offered nothing in their first test against a side in their division. Levante move on to Friday’s draw for the quarter-finals, while Sergio and his men set their sights on overcoming bottom side Huesca at the José Zorrilla on Friday night.

REAL VALLADOLID (4-2-3-1): Roberto; Ignasi Villarrasa, Joaquín (Rubén Alcaraz 45’), Luis Pérez, Pablo Hervías, Roque Mesa, Kike Pérez (Oriol Rey 82’), Waldo (Shon Weissman 63’), Kuki Zalazar, Toni Villa (Capt.) (Sergi Guardiola 63’), Sergio Benito (Fabián Orellana 63’).

Subs unused: Jordi Masip; Óscar Plano, Míchel.

LEVANTE (4-2-3-1): Dani Cárdenas; Toño García (Óscar Duarte 80’), Sergio Postigo, Rubén Vezo, Coke (Carlos Clerc 80’), Gonzalo Melero, Mickaël Malsa, Rubén Rochina (José Luis Morales 68’), Enis Bhardi (Nemanja Radoja 56’), Son, Sergio León (Dani Gómez 68’).

Subs unused: Aitor Fernández; Giorgi Kochorashvili, Edgar Sevikyan, Roger Martí.

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