When a certain league features the best players in the world, the best managers in the world and the two most successful and most popular European football clubs, it must be considered the best league in the world.
With all the five nominees for FIFA’s Player of the Year Award (Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Xavi Hernandez, Andrés Iniesta, and Kaka) and all the key players of the Spanish team that won the Euro 2008 and the World Cup 2010 (except Torres), all eyes will be focused on La Liga this season.
Barcelona and Real Madrid have the best players in the world within their ranks, and also two of the best managers in the world: José Mourinho and Pep Guardiola, the last two managers who won the Champions League. With so much quality in both teams, the title race promised to be an intense affair and the two El Classicos are certainly the two most awaited matches of the season for football fans all over the world.
However, despite the general misconception, the Spanish league is not only Barcelona and Real Madrid. True, these teams clearly dominated last season, but it was because they were incredibly strong, not because the rest of the teams was weak.
Atletico Madrid has a very powerful team, led by Diego Forlán (the best player of the 2010 World Cup) and Kun Aguero, and they are the current Europa League champions (having defeated Liverpool and Fulham). Many experts tip them as possible dark horses in the title race this season. In the last two seasons, they beat Guardiola’s dream team twice.
There’s also Sevilla, who has won two Uefa Cups in the past five years and has such illustrious players as Jesus Navas, Kanouté, and Luis Fabiano. They beat Real Madrid in the league last season, and knocked Barcelona out from the Copa del Rey. Valencia, despite losing Silva and Villa, seems pretty strong this season, and will be another team making life difficult for Barcelona and Real Madrid at the top.
Sure, in the end either Barcelona or Real Madrid will almost certainly win the league, but they won’t have an easy path.
In the Premier League, the top teams are almost expected to destroy the minnows (at the end of last season, Chelsea beat Stoke City 7-0 and Wigan 8-0, and started this season by beating Blackpool and Wigan 6-0). In La Liga, that just doesn’t happen; Barcelona and Real Madrid are the strongest teams, but they have their work cut out for them in every game.
Like Hercules showed recently, teams in Spain know how to play football and can always surprise the two giants. Even in Barcelona’s glorious sextuple year, they lost five games in the league, which proves that there are no easy opponents.
La Liga is often “accused” of being a two-horse race, but the Premier League, regarded by many as the best league, is too. We all know (except some overconfident rival fans) that in the end either Chelsea or Manchester United will win the league.
And the difference between the top teams and the rest is much bigger than in La Liga. No one is very surprised when Chelsea beats Wigan 8-0. In Spain, Barcelona, and Real Madrid simply can’t win by that margin; the average level is much superior.
In England, there are six/seven very good teams and the rest of the teams can rarely cause surprises and are often steamrolled. Last season, even the difference between the two top teams and the third-best team was an example of La Liga’s overall quality: while in the Premier League,
Arsenal, who finished third, lost the four matches against Chelsea and Manchester United and didn’t even put up a decent fight, Valencia and Sevilla (third and fourth in La Liga) both managed to take points off Barcelona and Real Madrid and always put up good fights.
In addition, La Liga also features the most attractive football.
Barcelona is widely considered to be the most entertaining team in the world, and even the small teams usually know how to circulate the ball and play attractive football. The English game is a lot more physical and thus (at least in my opinion) not so entertaining to watch.
A Saragoza vs Malaga match will probably prove to be a very entertaining enjoyable-to-watch match, while a Stoke City vs Fulham match is likely to be a pretty boring match. Arsenal is probably the only exception in England, as they try to emulate the Barcelona style of play. However, their lack of success doesn’t inspire other teams to try and play the same way, which has to some extent hurt the English National team.
It is clear the Spanish style, so to say, has brought much more success than the English style. Spain’s ability to maintain and control possession has led them to the World Cup title, while England’s inability to do so has, in the eyes of many analysts, ruined their chances.
If more teams played like Arsenal, English players would have a ball possession “culture” that would significantly improve their chances at international events.
Even at the club level, Spanish clubs have enjoyed more success recently. Since 2000, Spain has four Champions League titles, and four Uefa Cup/Europa League titles. Plus, Valencia has reached the Champions League final twice.
In the same period, England has won two Champions League (plus four final appearances), and one Uefa Cup.
Only Liverpool and Manchester United have captured European trophies for England over the last decade, while in Spain Barcelona, Real Madrid, Valencia, and Atletico Madrid have all won European trophies in the same period. Matches like the 2009 Champions League final show the limitations of the English game (compared to the Spanish); Barcelona’s total football proved too much for a star-filled Manchester United team to handle. They just couldn’t find an answer to Barcelona’s possession style.
I could go on forever, but to sum up: La Liga has a lot more star power, the quality of football is better and its clubs have enjoyed incredible success in Europe over the last decade. I guess it’s a matter of taste (everyone can prefer a certain league over another), but, in my opinion, La Liga is clearly the best league right now.