Posts Tagged ‘real madrid’
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.
In the final part of my look back at some of my personal highlights of following Liverpool in the Champions League, the final three matches are from the 2007/8 and 2008/9 seasons. For the rest of the series, click to read part 1, or part 2.
9. Marseille 0-4 Liverpool
Midway through the 2007/8 group stage, there looked to be only a remote prospect of anything resulting from Liverpool’s Champions League campaign that was worthy of celebrating.
Bottom of the group with one point from three games – six points adrift of group leaders, Marseille – Liverpool’s only hope of qualifying was to win all three of their remaining games. The Reds’ response, while not as dramatic as their Istanbul heroics, has to be considered as the most emphatic turnaround in fortunes of a side who looked certain to be heading out of the Champions League at the group stage.
The recovery began with a record-breaking 8-0 home win against Besiktas, and when Porto arrived at Anfield on matchday 5 needing only a point to guarantee their passage into the next round, they too were beaten 4-1.
But the big test was to come in Liverpool’s final fixture away to Marseille on a bitterly cold December evening.
With both sides level on points, Liverpool could only go through by winning at the Stade Velodrome – something no other English club had ever managed to achieve.
Steven Gerrard’s early goal, scored from the rebound after his penalty had been saved, helped Liverpool get off to a perfect start and Fernando Torres weaved his way between the Marseille defence to add an excellent second goal with only 18 minutes played.
Marseille created chances of their own, but when Liverpool got an early second half goal, the contest was over and Liverpool had survived yet another dramatic Champions League scare.
10. Liverpool 4-2 Arsenal
It might have been tempting to include Liverpool’s second round win over Italian champions-elect Inter Milan in the list for this series, but for sheer drama, the quarter-final against Arsenal was the stand-out Champions League game of the season.
A 1-1 first leg draw at the Emirates had led to some suggestions from the Arsenal camp that Liverpool would be looking to progress on away goals, and may have looked to simply play for a 0-0 draw at Anfield.
But any ideas Liverpool had of keeping a clean sheet were scuppered once Arsenal went ahead in the first half. That was cancelled out by Sami Hyypia’s equaliser before the interval, and with 20 minutes remaining of the second period, Fernando Torres put Liverpool on aggregate for the first time with a wonder strike at the Kop end.
There was enough time left for more twists in a pulsating finish which started when Theo Walcott’s 80-yard run was finished by Adebayor to give Arsenal a second away goal – and with six minutes to go, they were heading into a semi-final meeting with Chelsea.
But less than a minute later, Ryan Babel earned a penalty that was dispatched by Gerrard, and it was once again advantage Liverpool – and the sixth time throughout the two games that there had been a change in the aggregate leaders of the tie.
As Arsenal searched desperately for another equaliser, Liverpool grabbed a fourth goal on the counter attack. In the second minute of added-on time at the end of the second leg, the tie was finally decided with some certainty.
It wasn’t to lead to a third Champions League final in four years though, mostly thanks to injury time drama at the same goalmouth in the semi-final, when a John Arne Riise own goal gave Chelsea a draw at Anfield. That result proved to be crucial in helping the Londoners to finally overcome Liverpool in the last four.
11. Liverpool 4-0 Real Madrid
Despite the rich European pedigree of both teams, Liverpool and Real Madrid had never been drawn to play each other over a two-legged European tie. On departing Anfield following their first visit to the stadium in March 2009, Real Madrid may well have wished that statistic was still true.
Knocked out of the competition at the second round stage in each of the previous four seasons, Real Madrid had also started the season badly in Spain in their quest for a third straight La Liga title. But a change of manager shortly before Christmas had led to an improvement in results, and Juande Ramos’ team faced Liverpool on the back of a recent run of ten straight victories in La Liga.
Yossi Benayoun’s goal had been enough to settle a tight first leg at Santiago Bernabeu in Liverpool’s favour, and although Real Madrid hadn’t enjoyed much Champions League success since winning the trophy in 2002, there was more than enough quality in their team for them to turn the tie around on Merseyside.
Several of the Real Madrid team that started the match have since gone onto become key members of their title-winning team under Jose Mourinho, and of those who did go on to leave Madrid, Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben have each helped their new clubs to reach Champions League finals.
No amount of quality – or experience – could cope with Liverpool’s performance on the night though, and from the moment that Fernando Torres opened the scoring against his old city rivals after 16 minutes, the Reds never looked back.
Two goals from Gerrard and a further strike by Andrea Dossena handed Real Madrid their biggest defeat in the Champions League era, and just one goal short of their heaviest European loss of all time. But the star of the show despite the loss was Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas, who made a host of spectacular saves to deny Liverpool an even more convincing win.
In the resulting quarter-final, Liverpool were unable to overturn a first leg 3-1 loss at home to Chelsea, despite their considerable efforts in a 4-4 draw at Stamford Bridge.
Meanwhile, Real Madrid’s emphatic defeat signalled the start of a new era of ‘Galacticos’, and a €300m summer spending program was sanctioned – with an intention of seeing Real Madrid return to the summit of Spanish and European football.
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.
This week has seen the credibility of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play again called into question, this time by Arsene Wenger.
When the regulations were originally announced, the intention of UEFA was that clubs would no longer be able to spend recklessly in pursuit of success, and that clubs’ maximum allowed expenditure would be based on the amount of football related revenue generated.
An instant flaw in the system was in its delayed introduction. Clubs were given two years before the rules were due to come into play, allowing astronomical spending sprees from the likes of Real Madrid and Manchester City in order to build squads of world-class players before any repercussions could be felt by the ruling.
Another challenge, one which is ongoing, has been to ensure that sponsorship deals are market value, and are not artificially inflated. Man City’s £400m stadium sponsorship deal raised that very issue, given the record-breaking nature of the deal coupled with the fact that the sponsors – Etihad – are a company owned by a relative of the club’s owner.
The deal, for a club yet to compete for a Premiership title or establish itself amongst Europe’s elite, was more than double the value of the existing world record for stadium sponsorship and has therefore attracted questions over whether the inflated cost is an attempt to help Man City balance its books following a colossal investment in players and wages.
Man City’s announcement of almost £200million in losses over the last year has again led to the current Premiership leaders being put in the spotlight, as new concerns are raised over the authority of UEFA to impose sanctions where clubs fail to meet the Financial Fair Play criteria.
Arsene Wenger has suggested that it would be difficult for UEFA to ban clubs from entering the Champions League or Europa League competitions even if they had not managed to meet the financial regulations specified. The Arsenal manager suggested that attempting to enforce such punishments could lead to legal challenges either from clubs or from individual players.
Should his concerns prove to have any foundation, then the reputation of UEFA will surely suffer another blow.
Only by strongly enforcing the guidelines they published when announcing the FFP in 2009 can UEFA hope to retain any credibility in their attempts to create a fairer playing field for clubs competing in European competition.
And there can be no exceptions made.