LaLiga: A battle beyond imagination
The whole of England was watching the Liverpool-Manchester City game yesterday. Probably the only game that was worth watching in Premier League this week. The other games wouldn’t cause a big problem on the table. No mid-table or bottom half team could possibly the rampant City, Liverpool or Chelsea sides. City, Liverpool and Chelsea were still steady at the top, too good to be halted.
Then there was the situation of the Spanish League. The European Champions humbled by the unknown Alaves. Atletico going up the table to follow up. Sevilla reigning supreme, at least until Barcelona played against a bottom half team.
The bottom half team was Valencia though, very tricky at home. About three hours after the City-Liverpool game ended, Spain was still left in a cliffhanger. The Barcelona-Valencia game ending at 1-1.
Sevilla goes into the international break as league leaders, Barcelona and Atletico on hot pursuit just one point behind. No team looking stable or in cruise control. While talks of Jose Mourinho’s sacking were spreading like a virus, no one even noticed that maybe Julen Lopetegui wouldn’t even complete six months at Real Madrid.
So much of action, as good as or maybe even better than that in England. Still, the ignorance towards LaLiga is inexplicable.
Ever since its inception in 1992, the English Premier League has been one of the best leagues in the World. The fan following of the league is very widespread across the globe. It has been hailed by many as the undisputed best and most competitive leagues in the world. Leicester City winning the title in 2016 is just another argument for the debate.
The Premier League features solid end-to-end football. It displays a more robust and clinical form of the game. Physicality has been a mainstay in English football and clubs have trusted the style. This leads to teams playing long balls, end-to-end stuff, no fuss, no build-up play and a much higher tempo than any other leagues display.
Pep Guardiola who had been an advocate of possession-based football was slammed by people for running away from challenges. His brilliant tactics that led to Barcelona’s invincible run in 2009, winning all six trophies and his berserk performance with Bayern Munich was undermined because he managed in the so-called easy leagues.
To Guardiola’s credit, he took up a job at Manchester City and got them playing a possession-based, fluid football with a lot of passes. The result just as good, Manchester City finished with 100 points on the table, with possession football.
The season from City just was an eye-opener. The style of football that was displayed in Spain, which was termed boring and defence oriented, basically blew away the competition in the whole of England. City’s team isn’t filled with big names, apart from Sergio Aguero, but yet Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva and Leroy Sane came into much limelight due to their clinical performances.
Premier League is a great league and fun to watch, no doubt. But the so-called most competitive league in the world was reduced to a one-horse race last season. The league’s Spanish counter-part was mocked by English fans for being a two horse race.
What was the reason that one season, turned the whole of England upside down? The one reason which made the most competitive league a one-horse race. The style of football that England never witnessed before, had such a huge impact that the national team actually used build-up play in the World Cup.
The one reason lies just about 800 miles apart, at the football capital in Europe, which is the nation of Spain. The Spanish style of football, perfectly implemented by Pep took Premier League by storm.
Spain, two times European Champions and 2010 World Cup 2010. The country which has dominated European competitions for the last decade or so. Spain has a love for football like any other European nation.
The passion for football led to the idea of implementing a league system of football in Spain. In 1929, the Spanish Football Federation agreed on the project and 10 teams formed the Primera Division. Since its inception, nine different teams have won the title but it has been dominated by Barcelona and Real Madrid for the better part of last decade.
The main fact that people state to put Premier League over LaLiga, is the no. of people who could challenge for the title. The big six as they are named, namely, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester City, all were capable of a title hunt while people reduced LaLiga to Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Rewinding back to the 1990s, there was a sight of Johan Cruyff, taking the sidelines with his dream team and implementing the idea of total football. The Cruyff Era was actually when Barcelona started to have some success.
But during the late 1990s and early 2000s, both Barcelona and Real Madrid were actually falling behind in the title race. Barcelona squad boasted the likes of Patrick Kluivert, Pep Guardiola, Figo and Luis Enrique, followed by Rivaldo and the youth of Xavi and Puyol. During that tenure, Barcelona failed to win, any league title.
Valencia on the other hand, under Hector Cuper, were a very fearsome side, finishing runners-up in the UEFA Champions League in 2000 and 2001. They won LaLiga twice in 2002 and 2004 under Rafa Benítez. In 2000, a team called Deportivo La Coruña secured the league title.
So, competition in LaLiga, surprises and shockers came a long time ago in Spain. A decade and a half before the underdog Leicester team proved that Premier League was ‘competitive’, a fairly unknown La Coruña side had defeated the two Spanish powerhouses to the title.
People lay claim that anyone could go to Stoke, be it United or Liverpool or Chelsea and still come back empty handed. Shock wins are a part of the league. Shock wins never tip any league over the other. On the contrary, just give this a thought. How many of the big six have been relegated in recent times?.
When Chelsea won the UEFA Champions League in 2012 and finished only sixth in the league, there was another tide hailing the superiority of the Premier League. 'The Champions of Europe are struggling in England. England is so competitive.'
In 1999-00, Real Madrid had to rely on their Champions League win for UCL qualification, because they finished out of the top 4.
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was the runner-up in the Pichichi trophy, scoring 24 goals for Atletico Madrid. Would you believe if I told you, Atletico were relegated that season? A team with a big goal-scorer, relegated. Where else would that happen? Atletico is one of the biggest Spanish clubs. Want to know who accompanied Atletico to the second tier? Sevilla, the dark horses every season and coincidentally, league leaders at this moment.
So much for competition, LaLiga is beyond imagination. How can a team of Barcelona’s stature not win the league for six long years otherwise? And if that was a fact, how on earth does that justify a two horse race? Did ponies beat the horse to the title?
There has been a dominance by Barcelona and Real Madrid in recent times, but the Premier League also is reduced to a big six from which at the moment only three seem to be title contenders. If you followed LaLiga recently then you should know better. Barcelona, who dismantled Tottenham at Wembley, are winless in their last four games. Real Madrid, the European Champions, haven’t scored in their last 4 league games.
People wonder how a cold rainy night in Stoke would affect Lionel Messi’s performances. It is just a delusion to think Messi couldn’t perform in Premier League. Just like it was to think possession football won’t play well in England. Messi has scored 22 goals against the big six in 29 matches that he faced them.
Forget a cold rainy night in Stoke, LaLiga has more ominous away crowds. The Anoeta, the Mestalla, the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán, all are stadiums where you would sweat for 90 minutes. Lionel Messi might have stunned Sevilla at the 88th minute to get away with a point. It won’t be as lucky for others. Ask Real Madrid, they were torn apart by Sevilla at home.
Of all the teams that had to stop Barcelona's invincible run, it was Levante, at home. Who would have expected that Levante could pull off such a feat, even though Messi was absent in the game?
LaLiga is simply unpredictable. It is still a two horse race in the Premier League, the great Alan Shearer said. In LaLiga, Sevilla are on top with 16 points. Villarreal are 16th on the table. Before stating the related fact, the leaders and the 16th spot are separated by 15 points in EPL. The gap between Villarreal and Sevilla? Only 8 points. If Sevilla loses two matches and Villareal win two, suddenly the tables will turn.
The only thing that isn’t as amazing in LaLiga is the actual style of play. More possession oriented and defence oriented gameplays aren’t effective for entertainment. But if the style is implemented to perfection, like Barcelona from 2009 and Manchester City now, then entertainment is going nowhere.
If Arthur or Andre Silva played in Premier League right now, they would have been hailed as the next big thing. But LaLiga is not having as big a fanbase or as big a media coverage as Premier League. Lionel Messi’s masterclass vs Tottenham was hailed by the British media and it caught the eye of people all over the world. In reality LaLiga witnesses these mesmerising performances week in and week out.
LaLiga is a great league contest and it is proving its worth in this early season. The reigning champions winless in their last four matches. A young blood Sevilla side on top of the league. Great teams like Villarreal and Valencia in the bottom half.
Everything is nicely poised for a great season ahead, starting with the Barcelona-Sevilla game next week. The Premier League is great but, for me, LaLiga is better. There is no best league in the world, it is opinions that matter. But it is a fact that this season, LaLiga is bound to have more surprises and more title challengers than any other league.
LaLiga, a battle beyond imagination.