Whose better? La Liga or Premier League?
First up, last night I was excited to look at previews for the website and started the editing of our new-look site. I couldn’t be happier with how it looks, it’ll give Jumpers For Goalposts an entirely different feel altogether and I can’t wait to be publishing on the new lay-out. We’re having our new logo branded over the weekend, so hopefully we’ll be up and running Monday or at some point in the week.
On to the football now, where Athletic Bilbao, Valencia, Atletico Madrid and Sporting Lisbon have made the Europa League final.
Athletic Bilbao, conquerors of Manchester United, drew 2-2 with FC Schalke to book their place in the semi-finals where Marco Bielsa’s side will meet Sporting Lisbon. (who happened to knock Manchester City out) Elsewhere, Valencia overcame a 2-1 deficit to beat AZ Alkmaar, winning 4-0 on the night and Atletico Madrid drew 1-1 with German side Hannover to secure their place in an all-Spanish semi-final with Valencia.
Meanwhile in the Champions League, Barcelona are set to face England’s only remaining club in English football for the semi-finals and Bayern Munich face the mountainous task of trying to take down Real Madrid.
In two European competitions, there are five Spanish representatives from a combined total of eight semi-finalists, a staggering amount and surely, we have to ask the question: Is La Liga stronger than the Premiership?
Spanish teams of old were very physical, ‘big’ sides. Though clearly blessed with wonderful, individual players, Spain drew an emphasis on strong athletes, such as Miguel Nadal, Ruben Baraja, Fernando Hierro and Diego Tristan, who are just a few players I can call from my genre. I’m sure that if you go back through time, most Spanish national sides had an emphasis on stronger players before they moved away from all of that to the current model of technicall gifted players. I could name the entire Spanish squad at the moment as examples for technical brilliance, even Carlos Puyol and Gerard Piqué, Spain’s two centre-backs, are brilliant with the ball at their feet. Puyol may be less so great with a ball at his feet, but Piqué can carry the ball out of defence expertly and at both club and national level, the two prove to be the ground for many attacks such is their pass completion rate from the back.
Spain have maybe become more an idol for ‘total football’ fans than Johan Cruyff, the pioneer of total football and that brand of football has filtered its way down to every other Spanish team. If you watch much Spanish football, you can see that every team is technically sound, no matter what their level. I watched a match between Real Betis in 15th and 1st-place Real Madrid. Real Betis pressured Real Madrid, passed the ball at speed and were insicive with their decision making and the first half ended 2-2. Although the match ended in triumph to Real Madrid as you’d expect, Betis had played football to just as good a level.
In the Europa League this season, Athletic Bilbao made Manchester United look like mugs. Sir Alex Ferguson’s well drilled, fast, energetic team of talent were no match for Marco Bielsa’s young Athletic Bilbao side, who played with an enthusiasm and pace often found lacking in Manchester United. Iker Muniain, Oscar De Marco, Javi Martinez, Fernando Llorente, Ander Herrera and Markel Susaeta have all been magnificent for Bilbao and the brand of football they play is incredible and more so that bar one Venezuelan, every Bilbao player is Spanish and most of them are from the Basque region.
Against Barcelona, English teams rarely enjoy much luck. Manchester United faced Barcelona in last season’s Champions League, fielding energetic players designed to squeeze space in the middle of the park. Despite a bright five minutes from Manchester United, it was Barcelona who dominated the match, winning 3-1. Manchester United were out-played, out-classed, out-passed and promptly humiliated, as they had been a couple of years ago against the same team.
Defensive, negative tactics have failed to work against Barcelona, so it may come as a surprise that a team condesendingly branded ‘Barcelona Lite’ have fared better out of all the other English clubs. Two seasons ago, Barcelona travelled to the Emirates Stadium to face Arsenal and having wiped the floor with Arsenal in the first half, Barcelona found themselves still at 0-0. Two goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovc in the second half presented Barcelona a two-goal cushion and many thought that was that. Arsenal however continued to play the only way they know how, ‘pass and move’ and eventually found a way back into the game through Theo Walcott and not long after, Cesc Fabregas found himself fouled inside Barcelona’s penalty area by Carlos Puyol. Fabregas converted the penalty and Arsenal drew the tie 2-2. Despite being hammered in the second leg, (in Arsenal’s defence they had enormous injury problems) it showed that you could attack Barcelona.
A year later, Arsenal met Barcelona again and this time, with a gifted midfield of Samir Nasri, Alex Song, Cesc Fabregas and Jack Wilshere, with Robin Van Persie assuming his usual role as striker, Arsenal played out a much more even game than before and prevailed with a 2-1 win. Again, injuries cost Arsenal in the second leg, as well as a ludicrous sending off, but Arsenal had highlighted a way to succeed against Barcelona and indeed, Spanish opposition: Play their football.
When in debate over La Liga and Premier League, it’s often said that if every team played the same, then football would be boring. I couldn’t disagree more with that statement. Athletic Bilbao and Stoke City both wear red and white striped shirts, but I’d sooner drive to Bilbao in Spain, than an hour down the A38 to Stoke if I were given the choice to see either.
Football would be far more enjoyable in England if we played to a level of technical brilliance, rather than dogged determination. It’s got us nowehere since 1966 and as English football has stood still, countries such as Spain, Japan, Germany, Brazil, Argentina have developed and overtaken us in terms of ability. More than being enjoyable, we’d be progressive, our football in England would take giant leaps in terms of progression.
At the moment we stand still, wearing a blindfold, oblivious to the shift in power, consistently arguing our need to play a horrible, negative defensive style.
It’s not as if we have bad players, we have great players in the mould of Wayne Rooney, Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott, Adam Johnson and Scott Parker. Those players, as well as our other emerging talents are technically incredible players around which we should be modelling for our future. Instead, we commend Stoke City for their resilience in defending and Robert Huth’s bully-boy, cheap tactics.
Look at the two best teams in the world, Real Madrid and Barcelona. Both of those sides would step into the Premier League, hammer everybody in the Premier League, win the domestic trophies and then go again. At the moment, those two sides are the benchmark for domestic football and our club sides are nowhere near them.
Our best club side over the past twenty years is Manchester United and the stark reality is, that they’re a third place finish in La Liga, nothing more, maybe even lower than that after what we witnessed in their two legs versus Athletic Bilbao.
That’s your lot from me this week, I’ll see you Monday!