Why Other La Liga Teams Are Rising to Real Madrid and Barcelona's Level
This has been a very exciting La Liga season thus far, and we are not even halfway done. There is a major battle at the top of the table, but the real story may be the fact that Real Madrid and Barcelona have both looked vulnerable at some points.
Why are other Spanish teams now seeming to rise to the occasion against the big two? Just how are sides like Athletic Club Bilbao, Villarreal and Atletico Madrid getting the best of them? What is going on in Spain?
In this article, we will take some time to look at the reasons why other La Liga clubs are now adding more competition in Spain and what it could mean for the league.
As a disclaimer, I will refer to Barcelona and Real Madrid as the big two, though I fully believe Atletico Madrid have now made it a big three.
Feel free to get involved in the discussion below, and tell us what you think!
Due to the debt crisis which has nearly every Spanish club trying to dig their way out of a hole, youth development has become the way to go.
Spanish clubs know they cannot compete with other teams when it comes to spending big on talented stars so now they must develop their own. And while these stars often leave after making a name for themselves, it has given La Liga teams a powerful strategy.
If we look at clubs such as Villarreal and Athletic Club, both have a very young squad. In most cases, the players have grown up together and know how to play together.
These teams may not boast the best players around, but what they do have is talented players who know how to compete together.
Youth development alone will not solve the issues in La Liga. However, it is giving some clubs a new identity and a way to fight their problems with debt.
Competition with Each Other
For the past few years, there has been absolutely no competition with Barcelona and Real Madrid for the top spot in the table. And while Atletico Madrid have changed that, no other club is in the debate at this point.
Though there is not much competition for that prized spot at the top of the table, elsewhere, there is a massive war going on in La Liga.
Ever single club outside of the top three is fighting to finish the season in European play. Playing in the Champions League or the Europa League gives these clubs another trophy to fight for and, more importantly, money.
La Liga clubs have become extremely competitive with one another. As of Tuesday, there is only an eight-point gap between Real Sociedad, which are sixth, and Celta Vigo, which sit 14th in the table.
Spanish clubs know how important it is to play in Europe.
While they are aware that finishing above Real Madrid or Barcelona is basically impossible, clubs now see the importance of getting results against these two giants.
For some, taking points off of the big two goes a long way in finishing the year near the top of the table. For instance, Athletic Club and Villarreal have both taken points off of the big two and now sit in the fourth and fifth spots in the table, respectively.
Atletico Madrid have tested both of the big two this year and are currently level with Barcelona at the top of the table.
La Liga clubs, for the most part, may not be anywhere near the talent level of Barcelona or Real Madrid, but they do understand that getting a rare result against them could be what saves their season.
When Barcelona or Real Madrid go into a game, they are expected to win. The pressure is so high that after a single loss, some fans start to call for the manager's head. That isn't healthy.
With unrealistic expectations placed on the big two, they have been given goals that they could never achieve. And while Barcelona and Real Madrid enter every game with insurmountable pressure to win, their La Liga opponents come into the match with the complete opposite.
When a Spanish club faces off with one of the big two, they literally have nothing lose. The fans and the players would love a win or draw, but when it really comes down to it, they are usually expecting to lose and just want to see their team play well.
It is really easy to play your heart and soul out when you know everyone is expecting you to lose.
There is nothing more dangerous than facing someone who has nothing to lose, and Barcelona and Real Madrid do this usually every week.
The fact is that La Liga teams are not actually approaching the level that Barcelona and Real Madrid are at, except for Atletico Madrid. Instead, they now know that they can be beaten and go into the game giving everything they've got.
A Change Is Taking Place
Do not get me wrong, other than Atletico Madrid, the other clubs in Spain are nowhere near the level of Barcelona and Real Madrid. It will be a long time before someone outside of the top three wins the league, but something is changing in Spain.
We saw a bit of this change this summer when Mesut Ozil left Real Madrid. We have also seen this change recently when both Cristian Tello and Martin Montoya seemingly gave Barcelona an ultimatum, threatening to leave.
What is happening to the big two of Barcelona and Real Madrid?
Every club is made up of individuals. From the players and the coaches to the bosses and the grounds crew, a club has to keep everyone happy—and that is a very tough job.
It seems as though lately that things are changing for the big two. They no longer look unbeaten as they were roughly two seasons ago, and in some matches this year, they have looked downright human.
The best cannot stay the best forever.
Coaches change, players come and go and the game of football as a whole is evolving. While Barcelona and Real Madrid may still boast two of the most talented squads on the planet, that will not decide matches.
It is how players respond on the pitch and to their managers that will determine a season.
Perhaps things became too easy for the big two. Perhaps the league became too simple that they are now paying the price of not having any competition. Change is coming.
Above anything else, European competition may be the cause for La Liga teams now starting to challenge Barcelona and Real Madrid.
It has become quite clear that the big two value European glory far beyond that of the domestic campaign. I remember when Barcelona hoisted the La Liga trophy in 2012/13, and I heard fans complaining that it the was the only piece of silverware at the end of the season.
The Champions League takes a lot out of the two giants. It dictates their season and claims every bit of their attention.
European play controls the big two so much so that they rarely field their best XI against La Liga rivals. The domestic campaign has become a competition in which the big two expect to only compete with each other so they rarely put their best on the field against anyone else.
Do not get me wrong, La Liga is still a very important trophy, but it is not on the same level as the Champions League for Barcelona and Real Madrid. It makes sense that they rest their best players when they can.
Between such a demanding European tournament and playing an insane amount of games every year, Barcelona and Real Madrid cannot give their full attention to every match.
They cannot hold every match and competition at the same level, and it appears as though La Liga is taking more of a back seat than ever. But you can bet that while the big two have their attention split between competitions, the rest of La Liga is focused on a single goal.
Are other Spanish clubs now rising to the occasion? Is something changing in Spain? Who will be the club to topple the big two? Leave your thoughts and comments below!