Spanish and Italian Free for All Eclipses EPL's Flat Finale

Adam MichieCorrespondent IApril 21, 2008

With three of the four teams in the Champions League semi finals coming from the Premier League for the second year in succession, it would be easy to nail the lid shut on England’s claim to the best and most exciting league in Europe.

With only a handful of games left to play in England, Italy and Spain, it is interesting to note the outcomes and events of many of this weekend’s fixtures and what it meant to each league.

While the observations that follow are hardly conclusive proof of anything, it does make you think about where the game is being taken to in their respective countries.

This weekend, Serie A was more like a battlefield than a football league. From the ten matches played referees dished out a total of 50 yellow cards and nine reds.

In Spain it was a similarly X-rated tale with 60 bookings and four players taking an early bath. These leagues are not noted for their dirty play but the figures here seem to be more akin to a prison league than two of the world’s best domestic competitions.

Over in the Premier League, where player discipline has been very much in the public eye this season, this weekend’s fixtures, in comparison to their Mediterranean cousins were a well mannered tea party. Just 22 yellows and one red were shown across nine games.

While the Latino temperament is renowned for it’s fieriness it is surely no coincidence that the amount of cards issued in Italy and Spain this weekend is more to do with the competitive nature of this season’s competition going into the final few weeks.

While Real Madrid have opened up a 10 point lead at the top of La Liga; between Atletico Madrid in 4th place and Recreativo Huelva in 18th, there is no more than three points separating each team.

With the league as tight as it is, is it any wonder that players are putting it all on the line in order to make that final push for success?

In Italy, the league is just as tight as their Spanish counterparts. From Fiorentina in 4thand Reggina at the very foot of the table, no team has more than a four point gap between themselves and the team below them.

For the Premier League however it is not as tight. The league is fractured in numerous places with point deficits, meaning that with just a few games to go, most teams have little to play for, whether they are already consigned to relegation, stuck in mid table or soaring away at the top of the league.

Five points separate third and fourth, eight points separate fourth and fifth and ninth, tenth and eleventh are split by five points.  

In the bottom half, twelfth and thirteenth are separated by six and in the relegation zone, a whopping 16 point gap divides nineteenth and twentieth.

The vast margins between those in England is summed up even more when you consider that between Manchester United at the top and Derby County at the bottom, 70 points divide them—in Italy and Spain the comparative difference is 48 and 47 points respectively.

While the same four English sides seem to be ruling the roost in Europe’s premier competition, domestically, the story is very much the same.

The worrying gulf between the four at the top and the rest when the end of the season comes around detracts from what should be a climactic culmination of a club’s efforts over the season.

When teams in Spain and Italy are scrapping tooth and nail until the very last day, the entertainment and excitement in those leagues are surly more appealing than the seeming inevitability of the Premier League.

While those can argue that the quality of the football may not be as good, predictability is boring.

A good indicator for exciting football and competitive graft are results away from home. This weekend in England there were only two away wins and two draws, while in Spain, their fans saw five wins on the road with one draw, and in Italy four away victories and a draw.  

While these statistics only reflect one weekend in three different league seasons and could essentially mean nothing, my paranoid mind worries that because of the domination of a few, the Premier League is losing it’s appeal.

In recent years the same concerns have been voiced for England’s cup competitions but thankfully, and to the benefits of both competitions, this season Tottenham took the League Cup out of the hands of the "big four" and Portsmouth and Championship side Cardiff are the unlikely finalists in the FA Cup.

If teams and players in the Premier League are becoming happy to accept a bit part in English football history and leave the glory for a handful of clubs then the game is lost.

In Spain and Italy it seems that fighting to the last make the games more entertaining and the league’s outcomes more exciting to the people who really matter—the fans.

So for those valiant souls whose names filled the notebooks of the men in black this weekend in Spain and Italy, and kept the competitive spirit of the game alive until the season’s end, "Salute!!!"