Despite seeing his team positioned between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF at the top of the Liga, Levante UD coach Juan Ignacio Martínez admitted thoughts of the Granotes remaining among the UEFA Champions League places come the season's end was "the stuff of dreams".
Juanlu's 33rd-minute strike earned Levante a 1-0 victory at Real Betis Balompié on Sunday to give them a share of the Liga lead for the first time in their history. Along with Barcelona and Sevilla FC, the Valencia side are one of only three teams unbeaten after six Liga games. "
Our fans will enjoy seeing us up there, but from the dressing room to the boardroom we are merely viewing this as another step forward," Martínez explained, "Being among the leaders is great but it's meaningless at this stage of the season."
On the back of their fourth successive victory – a sequence that includes a 1-0 triumph at home to Real Madrid CF on 18 September – the Frogs are continuing to reproduce the form that brought a strong end to the Liga last season. It was a reluctance to tamper with the team he inherited from Getafe CF-bound Luis García at the beginning of the current campaign that Martínez believes has reaped rewards.
"You don't play around with something that is working well," the 47-year-old explained. "We are going through a good spell and I don't believe in change for change's sake. What we have managed to achieve has been based on the values of hard work and self-sacrifice."
A former coach of Cartagena FC, Martínez has looked to 36-year-old club captain and central defender Sergio Ballesteros along with fellow veterans, goalkeeper Gustavo Munúa, Javi Venta, Nano and Juanlu, to provide an experienced backbone to his side. Forward Arouna Koné – scorer of the winner against Madrid – has arrived on loan from Sevilla to replace last season's top scorer Felipe Caicedo, now at FC Lokomotiv Moskva.
With a first team containing a number of thirtysomethings, coach Martínez admits reaching the top has taken monumental effort. "It takes so much to win even a single point in this league that you can imagine how we celebrate when we manage to clock up each one," he said. "The points we have gained thus far have cost us a lot. You only have to ask the players.
The players who have stairs have to crawl up on their elbows when they get home after a game," he added. "I haven't even heard them talking about being leaders. If we start daydreaming now we will concede goals. Levante's war is one against ourselves and what we are looking to do is to get to May with our objective completed."
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