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Levante remains on the up

Tiny coastal club regains Liga lead after last-gasp victory

Just how is Levante doing it? The record-breaking run of the side with the smallest budget in La Liga continued apace on Wednesday night as Juan Ignacio Martínez's men recovered from a goal conceded after three minutes to win a rollercoaster affair 3-2 courtesy of a 40-yard thunderbolt by Rubén Suárez in the 93rd minute. It was breathless stuff, and Levante is holding on for the ride.

"This run we are on is almost impossible," understated Martínez after the game against Real Sociedad, his side's seventh straight victory. "Having to talk so much about being top of the table is quite difficult psychologically, so coming back to win tonight is even more impressive."

Never before has Levante won so many games on the trot, and only Barcelona and Real Madrid have matched its point-plucking verve in the first nine games of a season in the past decade. Precisely those two behemoths of the Spanish game now find themselves chasing Levante, for the time being at least. Osasuna, a traditionally tough prospect at its Reina de Navarra home, will be the next side to try and halt Levante's extraordinary trajectory.

The Pamplona team won a rare away point on Wednesday at the expense of Getafe. Dani Güiza, the one-time Spain forward, climbed off the bench to twice cancel out Ibrahima Balde's strikes for the visitor as Getafe saved itself from a worse fate - dropping into the relegation places. Luis García Plaza, Levante's coach last season, may well be ruing his decision to switch from coast to capital.

Still unbeaten, along with Levante and Barcelona, after the latest round of fixtures is Sevilla, which has stabilized under its own new managerial appointee, Marcelino. A 2-2 tie against visitor Racing Santander might have been tinged with a hint of disappointment - the Cantabrian club has scraped together five points so far this season - but how it was attained and the continuity of a zero in the games-lost column is recompense enough. Manu del Moral scored twice, the equalizer in second-half stoppage time, to save the side he joined from Getafe in the summer.

Málaga, meanwhile, slumped to a third consecutive defeat at Rayo and its own place in the top six now looks precarious as the early promise of Manuel Pellegrini's expensively assembled side plummets unchecked. For Spain international Santi Cazorla to be talking of Málaga's next game against Espanyol as "a final" tells its own cautionary tale about building a team in a summer.

Diplomatic response

"We don't take any notice of them. We just do our own thing." So goes the immaculately diplomatic reply when any player from one of La Liga's twin giants is asked about the form of the eternal rival. On Wednesday night it was Xabi Alonso's turn to trip out the stock answer after Real Madrid's commanding 3-0 win over Villarreal, a far more impressive performance than that of Barcelona in its insipid 0-1 win at Granada. It is a response designed to neutralize the potential for a screaming headline (Xabi: We are top dogs now, say); it is also clearly a lie. But how much does the form of one depend on the other? Is there a strange, internecine dynamic constantly powering up one side of Spain's football feud while the other is necessarily forced to buckle downward?

After a patchy start to the season, October has seen the emergence of an almighty Real, perhaps close to a true embodiment of what coach José Mourinho expects of his team after just over a year in charge. Besides the 4-0 Champions League destruction of Lyon, Real has scored 15 and conceded just once in four Liga wins. In the last two outings, it has won with quick knockouts, scoring four at Málaga in the first half while all three against Villarreal came in the first half-hour. The new Madrid wants the ball from the kick-off, strangling its opponent by pressuring high up the field and then enjoying the extra share of possession. It's not all about feeding Cristiano Ronaldo and trying to score in three seconds flat: Alonso is in charge of the center, Kaká looks like the player he was at Milan, and Karim Benzema is showing he is perhaps an even better player outside the box than in it, drifting into space and playing superb passes such as the one that allowed Ángel di María to culminate an exquisite end-to-end counterattack for 3-0.

Mourinho's Real is now as good on the ball as when the other team has it, something that has been said so often of Pep Guardiola's Barcelona. October has not been so bad for the champion, perhaps - Barça hasn't conceded a goal and only dropped points against Sevilla. But there were worrying signs in Granada on Tuesday night. While Madrid seems able to turn up the tempo almost at will, Barcelona's pace was unusually slow. While Real is less dependent on Ronaldo, Barça's players seemed obsessed with the need to supply Messi with an opportunity to exit his mini goal-scoring drought. The Argentinean shared the compulsion, running into too many blind alleys when it was not going to be his night. Messi will bounce back, but Mourinho's Madrid may now have enough might to match its rival.

Other results: Zaragoza 0-1 Valencia; Mallorca 1-2 Sporting.