Atletico Madrid v Levante – Wanda Metropolitano at 15:15 Live at Sky Sports

Levante all but assured themselves of a place in La Liga next season with a dramatic last-gasp 2-1 win over Las Palmas last weekend despite finishing with nine men at Ciutat de Valencia.

Coke gave the Frogs the lead but it was canceled out five minutes after half-time and the hosts then found themselves a man light when the goalscorer received a second yellow card.

Las Palmas pressed for a winner but it was Levante who found the decisive goal, two minutes into stoppage time through Jose Campana, and there was still time for Ruben Rochina to be sent off. The result moved from the Frogs eight points clear of the bottom-three as we enter the final furlong.

Paco Lopez inspires Levante

Having managed just three wins in their previous 27 games – and none in 14 – the club knew they needed to roll the dice. Paco Lopez was the man chosen to breathe new life into Levante’s survival challenge and having collected 10 points from his first four games in charge, has all but secured their top-tier status.

A season ticket holder as a youth, Lopez is a former player and coach at the club. Plucked from the B-team, he’s galvanized his boyhood club by tapping into the emotional phycology of the situation. Speaking in a press conference soon after his appointment, the new boss said:

“I want us to be bold, brave. We’re a good team, we have good players. It might be a cliche but my diagnosis is that psychology will be very important; I want to change our emotional state.”

Lopez went on to speak to the players, one-on-one and collectively, trying to convince them that they could play a bit. His team responded to the rallying cry and although the Frogs have not always been brilliant, they have been bold and rewarded for their efforts by beating Getafe, Eibar and Las Palmas, as well as holding Girona on their travels.

At the conclusion of last week’s contest, the emotion was clear in the camp. They know they’ve taken a big step forward but Lopez was quick to bring the squad back down to reality. Don’t expect Levante to down tools until survival is confirmed mathematically and so a determined display is expectant on Sunday.

Atletico unlikely to be toppled

Hosts Atletico Madrid produced their own energy-sapping display so pick up a valid point at rivals Real last Sunday but Diego Simeone’s men are in the midst of juggling Europa League duties too and the Thursday-Sunday schedule is unlikely to give the capital club their best opportunity to pick up maximum points here.

The Mattress Makers do boast a phenomenal W55-D2-L0 home record against bottom-half clubs under Simeone but I’m not convinced they can claim a 56th success with ease. Atletico has scored three or more goals on just six occasions this season in La Liga and their squad is already down to the bare bones.

Jose Giménez and Sime Vrsaljko are still doubts for the home team and following the January sales in Madrid, Simeone’s options are limited. With a midweek round of league action on the horizon, it wouldn’t be a great surprise to see Atletico attempt to rest and refresh where possible and that should give Levante an opportunity to keep the contest competitive.

Asian Handicap Betting Recommendation: Levante 1.50 at 2.190

By @MarkOHaire

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