Posts Tagged ‘la liga’
The best league in the world. The most popular league in the world.
Both are common phrases to hear, when describing the English Premier League. Of course, they’re almost always used by British journalists or ex-players covering the English game on TV.
The recent announcement of the FIFpro World XI for 2012 was heavily criticised by many of those same British-based experts, after it consisted entirely of footballers playing for clubs in the Spanish Primera Liga.
How could it be possible that the Premier League was not represented, they asked? There were no questions of why the team included no players from the German Bundesliga, or Italy’s Serie A. But then they aren’t considered as being the best league in the world.
The most controversial omission was Robin Van Persie, who was the best player in England during 2012. He was overlooked, legitimately, in favour of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Radamel Falcao. The first two require no justification, though even Falcao managed to outscore Van Persie over the calendar year – as well as making a significant contribution to Atletico Madrid’s Europa League and European Super Cup wins.
There’s no question that the English league is the most hyped in the world, and it may even be true that it’s the most popular. After all, the revenue generated from worldwide TV rights are unmatched by any other top flight football league.
Whether it is the best though, is an entirely different question.
La Liga is generally seen as the next best league – again, based usually on the judgement of English-based experts alone. So in explaining the reasons why the Premier League rules, it is merely a case of those very people detailing why it is better than La Liga.
The main arguments usually include one or more of the following:
- English football is more entertaining to watch;
- There are only two strong teams in Spain;
- Every game in England is competitive, regardless of the gulf in class between the two competing sides;
- There is a better atmosphere in the stadiums;
- Most of the world’s best players play in England
Some of the above statements are often used with such conviction that they cannot possibly be false, but there is plenty that can be said in support of Spain’s case for having the strongest football league in Europe.
In Barcelona and Real Madrid, La Liga contains arguably the two best club sides in the world. Neither are invincible, but there wouldn’t generally be too many people who would strongly disagree with that assessment.
The strength of those two teams in itself doesn’t reflect the general health of the league, but a look at the performances of Spain’s teams in Europe over the last decade certainly points to a depth in the quality of teams further down the league.
Results in European competition are one of the few ways in which the strength of a given league can be truly measured and compared. Doing so would only lead to a conclusion pointing very much towards Spain rather than the Premier League.
Since 2000, six Champions League finals have included a Spanish club, five of them won by the team from La Liga. The other was Valencia’s 2001 penalty shoot-out defeat to Bayern Munich. The most recent three occasions have seen Barcelona triumph over English opposition.
In the UEFA Cup/Europa league over that time, nine different Spanish teams have reached at least the semi final, and there have been two all-Spanish finals. Atletico Madrid and Sevilla have each won the competition twice since 2005, and Valencia lifted the trophy in 2004.
In contrast, only six different English representatives have made it to the last four, and not since Liverpool defeated Alaves in 2001 has the Premier League delivered a winner.
For a league considering itself so strong, the performance of English teams in the Europa League has been quite dreadful. Every club in the top nine places of La Liga in 2010/11 had experience of competing in a recent a European semi final, though it’d be almost unimaginable for the same to be true of the Premier League.
Based on present league placings, such a scenario would have to have seen the likes of Swansea, West Brom and Everton mixing it with the continent’s best, while even Man City have so far failed to make any kind of impression on European competition despite resources that perhaps only one or two clubs in the world can match.
Middlesbrough and Fulham did managed to achieve some continental success by reaching finals in 2005 and 2010 respectively, though neither had to face Spanish opposition until the final. Both were beaten – emphatically in Middlesbrough’s case.
The only other argument from those above that I will address is that of how competitive the matches within each league are deemed to be. Is it really true that Real Madrid and Barcelona have games where they only have to turn up to win, whereas Manchester United and Man City have to fight much harder for any points earned?
It may appear that English games are more competitive, but is that based more on the style of football? Does the fact that English teams adopt a more physical approach give an impression that smaller teams compete better against the top teams in England than in Spain?
If results were compared, it would be difficult to see any noticeable difference.
How often do any of the teams near the bottom of the table cause any problem to one of the title contenders, in either country?
Wigan’s win against Man United last spring comes immediately to mind, but there are few other examples to offer from recent seasons. Barcelona were near unbeatable in the 2010/11 season but still lost 2-0 at home to Hercules, who were relegated and won only one other away game during the remainder of the season. Evidence that hugely surprising results do occur in Spain, too.
It was said of QPR’s win over Chelsea earlier this month that the result was further proof of something which simply wouldn’t happen in Spain. But Chelsea haven’t been consistent this season to keep up with the top two and are a long way off the league leaders.
Even in the two weeks since then, Real Madrid have been held to a goalless draw by bottom of the table Osasuna. Meanwhile, amongst the points dropped by Madrid last season on their way to the title were draws against Villarreal and Racing Santander – both of whom went on to be relegated.
In Barcelona, the likes of Messi, Iniesta et al. have helped the club to a record-breaking first half of the season. A first league defeat did finally occur yesterday, and it was to 12th placed Real Sociedad – a team who made Real Madrid work extremely hard to hold on for a 4-3 win during the previous round of fixtures.
There’s a lot for football fans to admire about the Premier League, but to boast that it is the best in Europe, or to dismiss so much that the Spanish league has to offer only goes to highlight an English bias that, beyond one’s personal preference, appears to be very hard to justify.
What a difference a week can make.
Seven days ago, Barcelona were in London preparing for the first leg of their Champions League semi final with Chelsea, at the start of a week which could have ended with them closing the gap on Real Madrid in La Liga to just a point and also reaching their third Champions League final in four years.
Results could barely have been worse for a team considered by many to be the amongst the greatest club sides in footballing history.
A first leg defeat at Stamford Bridge was followed by a home loss to Real Madrid which effectively ended the Spanish title race in Madrid’s favour. And to wrap up a truly miserable week, last night saw Pep Guardiola’s men crash out of Europe in front of their own fans for the second time in three seasons.
Barcelona must be sick of playing English clubs in European competition.
For all of the success enjoyed in Champions League finals, where Barcelona’s last three European Cup wins have involved English opposition, Premiership sides continue to frustrate the Catalan giants in two-legged ties – and particularly in games at the Camp Nou.
Liverpool are still be the only English side to have beaten Barcelona in their own stadium, but Fernando Torres’ late equaliser extended Chelsea’s unbeaten run against Barca to seven games – four of which have been in Spain.
Manchester United, too, left Catalonia unscathed on their way to an aggregate Champions League semi final win during Frank Rijkaard’s last season in charge in 2008. United won the final, as Barcelona’s conquerors usually do: Of the ten sides who have condemned Barcelona to a European semi final defeat, only Leeds United and Valencia have failed to win the resulting final.
Chelsea will be hoping not to be the third, and they’ll need plenty more good fortune if they are to win a first Champions League title. Roberto Di Matteo and his players will receive plaudits for two defensive displays which frustrated their opponents, but Barcelona have only themselves to blame for their exit.
Even in the face of Chelsea’s strong and well organised defence, Barcelona created enough chances over the two legs to have rendered Chelsea’s three goals irrelevant. Wasteful in attack and a defence that was too easily caught out on the counter attack, Barcelona may see similar reasons why they are no longer competing for the two top prizes on offer.
Despite a nightmare week on the pitch, Barcelona’s season isn’t over. A cup final to Athletic Bilbao gives Pep Guardiola the chance to become the first Barcelona coach to win the Copa del Rey twice since Ferdinand Daucík achieved the feat during the 1950s. In doing so, Guardiola would also equal John Cruyff’s record of eight domestic trophies.
It may not be the season finale that manager, players or fans were dreaming of only a week ago but with three trophies already in the bag this season, a disappointing season for Barcelona is still more successful than a dream season at almost every other club.
If Guardiola opts to stay for another year, then their response to previous disappointments under his tenure should tell us that they won’t be down for long.
With Real Madrid’s lead having been cut from ten points to just four, every round of games has taken on added importance.
A Cristiano Ronaldo inspired victory in the Madrid derby on Wednesday night prevented Barcelona from gaining further ground but even though it was a huge result for Real Madrid, and one that should help to calm the nerves of some of their players, the title race is far from over.
The Clásico is next weekend, and for Barcelona to stand any chance of winning their fourth Liga title in a row, it’s almost certainly a must-win game for them.
Aside from the encounter with Jose Mourinho’s side at the Camp Nou, Barca face potentially tricky away fixtures at Levante this weekend, and then against Betis in the final round of games.
Fifth placed Levante have already beaten Real Madrid at home this season, although a dip in form has seen them win just three of their nine home games following the winter break.
Real Betis also gave Madrid a tough match when the sides met in February and at times looked like taking a point from the game before eventually losing 3-2. They were also the first visiting team to score at the Camp Nou this season, ending Barcelona’s run of nine consecutive clean sheets. Barcelona may have won 4-2, but will be aware of the threat posed by Betis not least from last year’s 3-1 defeat in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarter-final against a Betis side who at the time were in the Spanish second division.
Barcelona realistically need to win all six of their remaining games and if they can achieve that, then the pressure will firmly be on Real Madrid’s stuttering side, who have more than one potential slip-up of their own.
Saturday’s home match against Sporting Gijon should be a formality and nor should a side of Real Madrid’s quality be too worried about dropping points in their final away game at Granada.
But Mallorca and Sevilla on their day are each capable of taking advantage of any tension at the Santiago Bernabeu when they visit the Spanish capital.
And Real Madrid’s away fixtures are tougher still – not only do they have to travel to Catalonia to face Barcelona, but also to San Mames in the Basque country to take on Athletic Bilbao. The latter may be made slightly less dangerous to Real’s title ambitions if Bilbao have their focus elsewhere – such as the Europa League semi final or the final of the Copa del Rey – but Athletic’s rivalry with Real Madrid is fierce and there’ll be no shortage in desire to get a result against Madrid in front of their own fans.
When Barcelona fell ten points behind, I felt they still had a chance of winning the title if they were able to win their remaining 16 games, something I honestly couldn’t see them being able to do.
With ten wins on the bounce, they’re on course to achieve the near impossible but there’s still so many potential twists left in the title race before any trophy is handed out, it’s difficult to predict the eventual winner.
The only prediction I’m willing to make is that the question of who will be crowned 2011/12 Spanish champions is one that will keep us guessing until the season’s final day.
The result was hardly one which will blow the title race wide open, but Real Madrid’s home draw with Malaga ensures that Barcelona are not quite out of the hunt for a fourth consecutive La Liga title.
In many ways, it’s the kind of result which has been on the cards for couple of months, with Real Madrid having been forced on numerous occasions to come from behind, or grind out a narrow victory.
Their 4-1 home win against Athletic Bilbao could so easily have been a different story had Athletic doubled the early lead which they had deservedly established in the game. Two penalties by Cristiano Ronaldo turned the game in Real’s favour after the break, by which time Athletic Bilbao had been reduced to ten men.
Only a week later, another early second half goal by Ronaldo helped Real Madrid come from behind to earn three points against Real Zaragoza, and it was a penalty scored by Ronaldo in first half injury time versus Levante that denied the visitors a half time lead at the Bernabeu. Even after the earlier sending off of Vicente Iborra, Levante kept themselves in the contest until Karim Benzema put Real 4-2 ahead.
Real Madrid’s away form has also been far more about points than performances in recent weeks, with all four victories on the road during 2012 achieved by only a single goal – a contrast from the margin of their away wins during the first half of the season.
Jose Mourinho’s side are still huge favourites to win La Liga, and there won’t be too much worry that they’re now only eight points clear of Barcelona.
Barcelona are keeping the pressure on, and Pep Guardiola’s men have been in consistent form since originally falling ten points behind the league leaders in January.
And with Real Madrid yet to visit three of the grounds that have cost Barcelona points this season, as well as a fixture against their Madrid rivals at the Vicente Calderon next month, there is still potential for a late twist in the race to be crowned Spanish champions.
FC Barcelona’s draw to Villarreal on Saturday has left the reigning Champions seven points adrift of Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid.
The Catalan club may be favourites for the Spanish Cup after last week’s aggregate win over Real Madrid, and will resume their bid to become the first club to successfully retain the Champions League later this month.
But in La Liga, it is difficult to see how they will be able to overturn the deficit that exists between themselves and their rivals from the capital, though it hasn’t stopped the official FC Barcelona website from pointing out how it may be possible.
In a desperate attempt to dispel the doom and gloom following the weekend’s results, an article entitled “Reasons to believe” has appeared on the site, citing five reasons why a fourth consecutive league title is still possible which are as follows:
- The team is able to overcome all kinds of setback
- Home form
- Improvement on the road
- Recovery of resources
- History speaks for itself
Unfortunately it is easy to counter most of the above with a much stronger reason describing why it is Madrid fans who should be the ones believing that a title is not far away.
Barcelona’s home form is indeed impressive, but Real Madrid have been untouchable at the Bernabeu against every team they’ve faced besides Barca and there’s no indication that they’ll lose points in their remaining nine home fixtures.
On the road Real Madrid have dropped points in just two games, winning eight and that highlights why there is such a gap at the top. Barcelona have won only half as many, and drawn five. The article notes that it is still possible for Barcelona to match the record of 13 away wins in the league, but only if Barca win every one of their remaining nine away fixtures, something which seems highly unlikely based on results so far.
Madrid’s form is nothing new. They achieved 96 points in 2009/10 – a club record – and 92 points last year. If they were to match their tally of two years ago, Barcelona would need to win 17 of their 18 remaining games in order to come out on top.
The fourth reason to believe relates to the fact that several of Barcelona’s key players have been missing through injury. That’s unfortunate but is a situation unlikely to fully change until late-April or May, given that David Villa is recovering from a broken leg.
Villa, the team’s second highest goalscorer this season, may return in time to play a part to the conclusion to the Champions League, but there’s plenty of work for Barca to do in the league if they wish to stand a chance of retaining La Liga – work which they must do before Villa returns.
Real Madrid have had fewer problems with injuries to key players, but have a squad which would cope much better should they suffer any significant losses following an investment in players to the tune of more than €400m since the summer of 2009.
Even though the situation may look grim for Barcelona, the title race isn’t over yet. But despite the optimistic outlook which is coming from the club, more realistic fans might already be accepting that this year’s trophy looks incredibly likely to head back to Madrid.
In the days when I was lucky enough to enjoy Sky Sports at home, I used to follow Spanish league football a lot more than the Premiership, and one game still stands out.
It was not an obvious classic between two giants or a famous upset, but a seemingly routine fixture for the title favourites against the team placed bottom of the table.
Barcelona versus Albacete. May 1st, 2005, and the day Lionel Messi scored his first goal for Barcelona.
The hype had been building on the continent for some time about a special player who was about to break through into the Catalan club’s first team, but excitement hadn’t reached England except to those who had a keen interest in Spanish football
At Real Madrid, David Beckham was in his second season and Michael Owen his first, and last.
Ronaldinho meanwhile was lighting up the Camp Nou and would later that year claim a second successive FIFA World Player of the Year award, but they were the only reasons for most casual English football fans to pay attention to events in the Spanish league.
But back to Messi, who was hailed as the ‘next’ Maradona.
We’d heard that before about many players, most notably in the case of Ariel Ortega who, despite obvious talent, never reached his potential and failed to live up to the huge expectations on him after moving to Europe.
In Messi’s case, he really was set to be the next Maradona, with the Argentine legend himself backing up the claims, and he made his first big mark in the fixture with Albacete.
With five games to go in the title race, Barcelona had a three-point lead over Real Madrid with a game in hand. However, the lead had been 11 points less than a month earlier and the pressure was being applied by their Madrid rivals.
A 17-year-old Messi had appeared in seven of Barcelona’s games during 2004/5, making his debut in the city derby with Espanyol aged 17 years and 114 days. Most of those appearances had been as a late substitute and his only start had been in a meaningless December Champions League game in Ukraine.
Against Albacete in round 34 of the season’s calendar, it would be another brief cameo for Messi, though a highly memorable one.
Into the 88th minute of the game, a solitary Samuel Eto’o goal had given Barcelona a narrow lead as Messi prepared to make his entrance.
The atmosphere which greeted him was one of that welcoming a legend onto the field of play rather than a youngster who had less than three hours of senior level experience, but the anticipation of great things was evident.
Not even two minutes had gone by before Messi got on the end of a Ronaldinho pass and produced a delightful chip over the Albacete keeper, Raul Valbuena. The ball dropped into the top corner of the net but was wrongly ruled out for offside.
35 seconds later, he sent a dangerous low cross into the box for another Barcelona youngster, Andres Iniesta, but his attempted shot was blocked.
If nothing else, Messi’s presence had lifted the whole stadium and the noise reached another level when on 90 minutes and 15 seconds, Messi lobbed the on-rushing Valbuena, and this time his goal stood.
It all happened within three minutes of his entrance into the game, and ensured the points were sealed. The title followed two weeks later – Barcelona’s first for six years.
After being crowned World Player of the Year, Ronaldinho joked that he couldn’t be the best player in the world as he wasn’t even the best player at his club.
The debate has moved on since then, and only Pele and Maradona are considered valid players to which Messi can be compared.
Incredibly still aged just 24, there’s plenty of time for Messi to end even that debate.