Barcelona and Real Madrid in the Champions League Semi Finals, Valencia, Atheltic Bilbao and Atletico Madrid in the Europa League Semi Finals. Spain is more than just the big two in a sort of wide, continental perspective, dominating the European club competitions.
The La Liga is usually criticized for being a joke of a league. A league in which Real Madrid and Barcelona feel disappointed when they don’t win 3-0. Where too much money and power is held within two clubs, while the rest fight for crumbs, for a chance to finish third and fourth. The top two spots? A closed club, for members only. Just like Augusta, but without the sexism.
Well, as much as it’s ‘easy’ for the two giants of Spanish and European football to win titles, there’s something to said about the depth of the La Liga. Athletic Bilbao, always a team worth examining as to see how the hell they manage to rely only on Basque players and still hang around for so long. They’re 11th in the Spanish league, but they were very impressive in the Schalke clash, going through with a 6-4 aggregate score. They knocked out Manchester United previously, if you didn’t remember. The same Manchester United who are winning the title in the so called toughest league in the world.
Atletico Madrid, always a source for disappointment, won the Europa League in 2010. Despite being ranked 7th in the La Liga table, it’s pretty close from 6th to 12th, and Atletico have a shot of reaching Europe through the league once again. They beat Hannover of Germany 4-2 on aggregate, including an impressive 2-1 away win to cap off the quarter final.
Third and last would be Valencia, 30 points behind Real Madrid, 24 points behind Barcelona, still good enough for third in Spain and probably another season of Champions League football. A team in a terrible financial state, but enough talent to beat AZ 4-0 and make it to the Europa League Semi Final.
The La Liga might not be the best example of parity in Europe. The TV contracts need to be sorted out, and it remains to be seen how financial fair play will change anything in the conduct of the big two clubs. Still, despite the huge difference between Barcelona/Real Madrid and the rest, there’s much more to the league, as the results in Europe have shown, than just the El Claisco.