Oct 22, 2009

Weak week by Spanish clubs cast La Liga's dominance into question

Four losses, two wins, one draw. It was not a good week for Spanish clubs in European competition. Champions League title holders Barcelona, previously thought to be all but unbeatable, kicked things off with a dispiriting home loss to Rubin Kazan Tuesday. A day later, the Madrid clubs turned in a pair of stinkers; Real played poorly in losing to AC Milan at home and Atletico were trounced 4-0 by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Thursday Valencia struggled to draw Slavia Prague at home and Villareal were put to the sword by Lazio in Europa League competition. Only Sevilla (3-1 winners at Stuttgart) and Athletic Bilbao (2-1 over Portuguese side Nacional Funchal) managed victories.

There's no way around it: This was a very poor showing. Too much to be written off as a series of random events that conspire to trick you into seeing a pattern where none actually exists. (You know, that black swan stuff. Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Yada yada. Not ringing any bells? Okay, forget it, it's probably not even an apt metaphor).

Anyway this was weak by the Liga clubs and it should give pause to those who were calling the Spanish league the best thing in the universe over the summer (you know who you are, Rio Ferdinand). The Spanish clubs are beatable. Even Barcelona. Even at home. The galacticos have no defense, Barca's midfield can be dealt with and the league isn't really very deep beyond that. The Champions League trophy, along with the No. 1 ranking in our Top 25, are not the exclusive domain of Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. They can very well go to an English or Italian club. Or who knows, maybe even a French or German one.

To be fair, Atletico Madrid and Villareal are in deep crises. Villareal sit dead last in La Liga and have won just once (a 3-1 decision over Levski Sofia) in 10 matches. Atletico are about to fire their coach after a pathetic start where they've won just one liga match and a Champions League campaign that saw them draw APOEL Nikosia, among other disasters. The rojiblancos aren't going anywhere this season. Not in Europe; probably not in Spain either.

Then you've got teams like Deportivo La Coruna, Mallorca, Sporting Gijon and Espanyol Barcelona who have started strongly to the season and would probably do a lot better representing their country in Europe had they qualified last season. (Though one could say the same thing about Manchester City and Aston Villa vs. Everton and Fulham). And let's not forget about Sevilla, who have nary a blemish so far this season; their two losses came in Liga matches, which suggests the Spanish league is perhaps not that bad, either.

Or does it? Sevilla's Champions League group, with Stuttgart, Glasgow Rangers and Unirea Urziceni, is the weakest of the bunch--by a significant margin at that. You can't really say the Andalusians are being tested domestically or in Europe, and the Champions League knockout stage will likely prove their undoing (depending on who they draw, of course).

Real and Barca may very well get it together and should be able to mount a serious challenge in Europe before it's all said and done. But La Liga is not the dominant force many had (prematurely) figured. That much should be clear at this point.

Photo from wikimedia.

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