What to make of Levante's decision to sack Juan Ramon Lopez Muniz

Colin Millar by Colin Millar / 05 March 2018, 09:25

When Levante defeated Real Sociedad 3-0 in late September, their coach Juan Ramón López Muñiz was strengthening his reputation as one of Spain’s most reputable names in the dugout.

After their procession of last year’s Segunda title, Muñiz’s side had negotiated their opening five La Liga outings without defeat and had already accumulated an impressive nine points. The unbeaten run included impressive home victories over Villarreal and Real Sociedad, alongside a famous draw at Real Madrid and holding city rivals Valencia at home.

Macedonian playmaker Enis Bardi starred for the newly-promoted side and central defender Chema’s outrageous strike in the 3-0 victory over La Real was an early goal of the season contender. They were a side who tactically were outwitting opposition managers and whose promotion ‘bounce’ was generating momentum against some of the top flight’s strongest sides.

Yet this early optimism has fizzled out spectacularly with just one more win in 22 outings – a victory in Las Palmas, which arrived in late November. They have not registered another win in the three-and-a-half months since but they had retained patience with Muñiz. The Valencia-based club were the only club in the bottom five not to make a change in the dugout, with three of those clubs onto their third permanent manager of the campaign.

Reinforcements arrived in January in a bid to rejuvenate their campaign – former Sevilla captain Coke joined from Schalke, while former Blackburn midfielder Ruben Rochina and experienced Italian striker Giampolo Pazzini joined too. However, there had been no upturn in form with only two points garnered from 10 matches this calendar year.

Rousing 2-2 draws against Deportivo (where they rescued a two-goal deficit in the final ten minutes) and at home to Madrid, when Pazzini netted a dramatic last-minute equaliser. Yet four successive defeats since has indicated that no such momentum could be generated.

The pressure on the 49-year-old had been growing and last week’s 2-0 home loss against Real Betis leading to the fans waving white handkerchiefs and chanting for the tactician to ‘go now’. A narrow loss at Alaves three days later did not relieve the pressure and on Sunday they led Espanyol 1-0 until the dying seconds but could not see the victory through. It was one failure to many for Muñiz, who was dismissed within the hour.

Only two clubs – Las Palmas and Malaga – have scored fewer than Levante’s 22 goals this season while no side has drawn as many games (12) as the Valencia-based club. The problems are evident yet should not prove impossible to fix – there are concerns with stagnation in attacking play yet this is a side who have a degree of resilience and rarely crumble. A 4-0 loss at Betis and 5-0 home reverse to Atletico Madrid are the exceptions, with draws against Real Madrid (twice), Valencia and Sevilla.

Muñiz’s managerial trajectory is not a typical one: initially number two to Juande Ramos at Malaga, he earned success at Marbella before two separate stints as manager at Malaga, where he won promotion, alongside a season with top-flight rivals Racing Santander. He re-joined Ramos at Dnipro in Ukraine before returning to Spain, where he impressed in 2015/16 with second tier before joining 18 months ago.

This dismissal ensures that he will not have a relegation on his CV which includes two promotions and four seasons in the top flight. Levante lie 10 points off Alaves, in 16th, and just one above Las Palmas and the relegation zone. It appears to be a clear shootout as four clubs scramble to end the season in 17th place, and Levante must pray their new man hits the ground running.

Meanwhile, it's the club's reserve team coach Paco Lopez who has replaced Muniz at the helm for the rest of the season.


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