For many years now the Premier League has been regarded as the best on the planet, with a passion and quality that no other league around the world could compete with, and after reading an article on this very topic last week – more specifically why the Premier League was better than La Liga – it got me to thinking if that was actually the case anymore.
Certain arguments get brought out time and time again in support of the Premier League – it is more competitive, more physical, there are better players, less diving and a more passionate fan base. Yes some of these may well be the case, but in other respects, La Liga can more than compete with the Premier League.
One of the reasons people claim the Premier League has the edge on La Liga is the competitiveness. In Spain it is claimed that the big two of Real and Barca sweep all before them, always have and always will, where as in England there is a much more even race for the title, and the ‘best of the rest tag doesn’t apply here.
Well sorry to bust that bubble, but since the beginning of the 90’s there have been four winners of the Premier League – United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Blackburn Rovers. In the same time, there have been five different winners of La Liga – Real, Barca, Valencia, Deportivo and Athletico Madrid. Look further back and you’ll also see Bilbao, Sevilla and Sociedad in the mix. Perhaps more winners than you might have expected?
Yes more often than not it has been Real or Barca at the top of the pile, but in England this is not so different, with United dominating since the Premier League began, having firstly Arsenal to challenge them and then Chelsea in more recent times. Anyone who will tell you the Premier League is an open race is either deluded or lying to you.
To claim that La Liga is disappointing because you can predict the top two or even four before the season has even reached half way is somewhat strange – City, United, Chelsea, Arsenal / Spurs. No I am not moonlighting as mystic meg, I am simply making the point that the Premier League is not that different in terms of competitiveness.
This season again will be a two horse race, albeit with Manchester City as the challenge to the ever present United, yet City have won nothing yet, and despite adding themselves to the mix, this does not mean the Premier League is now more competitive than before. To claim the title will be a six horse race is quite frankly as believable as John Terry claiming to be an upstanding member of society. Teams such as Liverpool and Spurs are not challenging for the title, they are trying to get back into the top four, and secure a place in the Champions League. In actual fact, there is already a bigger gap between the top of the Premier League and third place than there is in La Liga.
This brings us on to the ‘best of the rest’ argument, with Premier League supporters claiming that the English league is more competitive with the strength and depth of our Champions League teams, with the top four being an open race whereas in Spain the places are pretty much guaranteed to go to the same teams.
Again, this is a misguided assumption. Until Everton managed to pip Liverpool to the final Champions League spot the tag of ‘top four’ applied firmly to Arsenal, Liverpool Chelsea and United. Yes Newcastle may count themselves as a former representative in Europe, and may well fancy their chances of repeating this again, but despite Everton and Spurs making cameo appearances in the top four, the English ‘best of the rest’ is no more or less shocking than La Liga’s is.
Clubs like Valencia, Sevilla, Villarreal, Deportivo, Betis, Atletico, Mallorca and Zaragoza have all finished in the top four in the last ten years, and to say that the Champion’s league places are thoroughly predictable in Spain when compared to England is wrong. In any league there will always be certain teams who frequently feature in the top half, just as there will always be teams who flirt with relegation.
Where I would concede that the Premier League has a slight edge over La Liga is with the teams at the bottom and their ability to beat the top teams. In every league there will always be a couple of whipping boys who do not belong in the top division, but in general the Premier League do have a stronger ‘bottom half’ of the table, with the ability to always throw up a couple of shock results over the course of a season.
Now La Liga are not incapable of this, and for anyone who says that a home game for Real or Barca mean an automatic win, so what’s the point in watching – I would ask you this – how often do United lose at Old Trafford? Chelsea under Jose Mourinho did not lose a home league game, nor did Arsenal in the 2003-2004 season. The difference here comes during away trips. During the English nightmare periods of Christmas and Easter where the fixtures come thick and fast, there is a much greater chance of an upset for a top team away from home than there is in La Liga.
Something that La Liga does have, undeniably, is the best two players in the world currently playing their trade in Spain, and I would argue have more ‘special’ players than the Premier League do. There are 13 Ballon d’or nominees from La Liga on the short list, 8 Barcelona ones and 5 from Real. England cannot compete with this by a long shot. In the Premier League there is Rooney, Silva and a couple more at a push, yet do these players hold a candle to Higuain, Messi, Ronaldo, Xavi, Kaka or Iniesta? There are some exceptional players in Spain at the minute who make the game a joy to watch.
Along with the best players, La Liga also has by far the two best teams in the world at the minute, and I defy anyone to disagree with that. If you put Barcelona in any league during the past 5 years, they would win it four out of those five times – if not five. Arguably the best club side the world has ever seen, no side in the Premier League can come close to both playing the way they do and making a clean sweep of the trophies.
The gulf in class between the Champions of each respective league was clear to see last May, with the Barca team passing around the United team like they were school boys. At this point, if any City fan wishes to say their team has a greater strength in depth than Barcelona this I suggest that before you compare yourselves to them, getting out of your group in a competition Barca have won 3 times in the last 5 years would be a good start. Chelsea and City may have money to burn, yet despite this, pale in comparison to Barcelona.
Real Madrid, despite last season amassing more points and goals than any other Jose Mourinho team – something that would have meant that they won any other league in Europe, finished a distant second to Barcelona – showing just how good both are. This does not mean La Liga is less of a competition than the Premier League, it just means these two are that good, and would finish heads and shoulders above anyone in any league across Europe.
There is one area that I hands down feel the Premier League does out do La Liga in however, and that is the fan base. Even teams fighting for their lives in the relegation zone record brilliant attendances and half full stadiums are not something we are accustomed to seeing in England. In Spain however, this is an all too familiar sight, with the atmosphere and passion of the Premier League being heads and shoulders above the majority of La Liga.
That is not to say that La Liga lacks any kind of atmosphere, and anyone who has been to the Nou Camp or smaller stadiums such as El Madrigal or the Mestalla will tell you that the stadiums are both vastly impressive and atmosphere is fierce, and the fans do care passionately about their teams, yet for the mundane league games, it is in England you will find the louder and more passionate set of fans.
Perhaps it is just personal preference – I would chose to watch a La Liga game over a Premier League game nine times out of ten, for a variety of reasons – I prefer the Spanish style of football and the amount of technical talent and ability in La Liga is a joy to watch, yet it would come as no surprise to me that someone could completely disagree with me and would rather watch a Premier League game.
By no means am I trying to say that the Premier League is not worth watching, of course it is, and over the last ten years the players who have graced our shores and the level at which football has been played is nothing short of extraordinary, I just feel that in the last couple of years the balance of power has begun to shift and now La Liga just edges the premier League in terms of world class players, not to mention a very special manager.