This week’s ‘El Clasico’ threw up a feast of football the likes of which you would be fortunate to see again. A rampant Barcelona destroyed a shocked and disheartened Real Madrid team, inflicting the heaviest defeat of Jose Mourinho’s coaching career. But far from being well on their way to a third successive La Liga title, after such a comprehensive victory over their nearest challengers the Catalan club are only 2 points clear of their notorious rivals. This is because until Monday Madrid had been equally devastating in dispatching the rest of the LA Liga opposition. They have put five or more past teams such as Athletic Bilbao, Deportivo La Coruna and Racing Santander. And last season were able to amass a record breaking points tally of 96, finishing 25 points clear of third placed Valencia. Only to be beaten by an even bigger record breaking points tally of Barcelona’s 99. So is La Liga really less of a challenge to win for either of these teams than the Premiership, as you only have one real competitor? Is La Liga in danger of becoming like the SPL with its gross mismatch in quality and trophy distribution?
I don’t think so. There is still great quality to be found in the rest of La Liga. Players such as Forlan, winner of the 2010 World Cup’s Golden Ball, Mata, Pablo, Llorente, Fabiano, Nilmar, Navas Canella and many more are all great football players who ply their trade outside of the big two in Spain. Certainly recent records in Europe suggest the rest of the League is of a high standard. The UEFA cup is always considered a good place to test the strength of a league, consisting as it does of clubs just below the best whilst the elites compete for the Champions League. Since the change to a single legged final in 1998 there has been four Spanish victories, including one all Spanish final, compared with one English victory for Liverpool in 2001. Indeed Madrid’s lofty position could be a bit deceiving; besides their 5-0 humbling at the hands of Barcelona they have faced only one other team in the current top five. In which they played out a 0-0 draw on the opening day of the season with Malaga. December could be a crucial month in their bid to recapture the title, hosting both Valencia and Sevilla before the winter break.
The way TV rights are sold individually by the club as opposed to collectively in La Liga combined with the sheer number of fans the top two clubs have in comparison to the rest ensure that the league will continue to be unequal. Yet this separation is exaggerated and overemphasised amongst the English press whilst simultaneously overplaying the competitiveness of Premier League in a bid to promote it as the best in the World ahead of its Spanish competitor. Since the inception of the Premier League in 1992-93 only four clubs have won it. Since the same point in La Liga five clubs have won it. In both leagues it was 2004 that a team outside of the top two won it, Manchester United and Chelsea being England’s top two, Valencia in Spain and Arsenal in England.
The reason for increased competition this year in the Premier League is more down to a drop of quality in the top two. Manchester United have lost Ronaldo and Tevez, Chelsea are a bit older and don’t have the same squad size they used to in order to cover injuries to key players, Abramovich’s cheque book has run dry. But I believe come the end of the season once again it will be one of those two crowned champions. The perceived decrease in competition in La Liga though comes from a rise in quality from the top two. Barcelona have built an exceptional team from a golden generation of talent coming from La Masia, their academy. Where as Madrid, a club that demands success, even more so when their bitter rivals are enjoying so much, have spent drastically to recruit the best players and coach from around the world. Yet this does not mean they are impervious to defeat and will necessarily win the Champions League in an all Spanish final, Barcelona have already fallen to a 2-0 home defeat at the hands of newly promoted Hercules. It is simply that Monday night’s game had more world class players in than any other match between two teams could have, and that is why in a league format they will be quite comfortably one and two.