No plan for life without Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, a financial crisis and teams struggling with pace of European football… LaLiga’s decline is indisputable as they face having NO teams in Champions League last eight for first time since 2005
- Seven goals were put past Barcelona and Sevilla altogether in Europe last week
- Atletico Madrid lost to Chelsea and Real Sociedad were beaten by Man United
- Real Madrid and Barcelona have no succession plans for Ronaldo and Messi
- Diego Simeone’s Atletico have also suffered a mini-dip in recent matches
After Barcelona and Sevilla were both beaten last week in the Champions League – seven goals put past them in the process – the inquests in Spain began. “Why aren’t we any good any more?” they asked.
Things didn’t get any better on the Thursday when Real Sociedad conceded four against Manchester United and last night as Atletico Madrid’s attempt at drawing 0-0 finished in a 1-0 defeat Joe Cole said on BT Sport: ‘If that’s the best La Liga has to offer then it must be in trouble’.
The post-mortem so far has focused on Spanish teams being overpowered in Europe. If La Liga is slower and its players less physically imposing, then European football will expose that. And if on top of that fussy Spanish referees whistle every slightest contact then the culture shock when Uefa refs are far more permissive will be damaging too.
Inquests began in Spain about LaLiga clubs’ performances after Barcelona’s defeat by PSG
Joe Cole said LaLiga was in trouble after Atletico Madrid’s defeat by Chelsea in Bucharest
The trouble with that theory is that in the period 2006-2020 when Spanish teams won 17 of the 28 Champions League and Europa League finals, it was also true that the game in Spain was less intense, players’ physical attribute mattered less than elsewhere, and referees blew more fouls. It didn’t stop the domination.
One of the biggest reasons for the falling away is the very simple one: Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Real Madrid’s four Champions Leagues in five years were built on the foundation of Cristiano. Barcelona’s success was based on Messi. Now it’s the other lot with the player who can win the game on his own as Borussia Dortmund showed with Erling Haaland and Paris Saint German demonstrated with Kylian Mbappe.
Sevilla conceded three home goals to Borussia Dortmund in their Champions League first leg
Real Sociedad were then humiliated by Manchester United in Turin in a 4-0 reverse
So that’s the answer then: Madrid need to buy Mbappe and Barcelona need to buy Haaland. Except Barcelona have a £1billion (€1.2bn) gross debt, £229million (€266m) of which is payable to various financial institutions by June 30. And Real Madrid have predicted losses of £77m (€90m) this season if they don’t successfully negotiate a pay cut with the entire squad.
Madrid could see the post-Ronaldo ice age coming a while back and their plan to get through it was to buy up all the best teenagers in world football. The problem is that so far neither Martin Odegaard, nor Vinicius Junior, nor Rodrygo Goes, nor Brahim Diaz, no Take Kubo has yet developed into someone who can dominate a Champions League game.
Barcelona never had a strategy. As Messi said in his interview with Goal.com last summer: ‘There has been no clear project here for a long time, they juggle and plug holes with no real plan.’
They wasted their Neymar money by overpaying for Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho and then borrowed some more to overpay for Antoine Griezmann. They, like, Madrid are currently shadows of their former selves.
The culture shock when Uefa refs are more permissive than Spanish officials will be damaging
Real Madrid and Barcelona’s recent European success has been built on Cristiano Ronaldo (left) and Lionel Messi
That shows in the La Liga table with both trailing Atletico Madrid. So then why were the leaders in Spain also so bad last night?
In his nine-year rule at the club Diego Simeone has frequently erred on the side of caution. Last night he thought a 0-0 would be a very good result to take back to Stamford Bridge.
He has long raged against the injustice of the team that plays the second leg away potentially benefiting from the away goals rule for an extra 30 minutes. If his team are winning 1-0 at Stamford Bridge on 90 minutes in three weeks time he might get the last laugh.
His decision to be ultra conservative was also influenced by the mini-dip his team are suffering right now. Six first teamers tested positive for coronavirus in the last month and are either still out or back but not back to their best.
Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe are now the players to win games on their own
Diego Simeone’s decision to be conservative was influenced by the dip his team are suffering
Kieran Trippier has been severely missed during his 10-week suspension with the team conceding more goals in that period than in the first 12 weeks of the season. And they were denied home advantage in the first leg because of Spanish government controls on people entering from the United Kingdom.
These are all contributing factors but not reasons for Spanish football to dismiss the last week in Europe as just one of those things.
Chelsea’s flight to Bucharest was longer than it would have been to Madrid, and everyone has injury-riddled squads tired from a condensed fixture calendar.
So where does that leave what was once Europe’s most successful league as it teeters on the edge of across the board last-16 annihilation?
It’s not over yet. Real Madrid have nine players out injured including captain Sergio Ramos, top scorer Karim Benzema, and record signing Eden Hazard, but they could still overturn Atalanta.
It’s not over yet. Real Madrid have nine players out injured but could still overturn Atalanta
Sevilla, who are emerging as possible title candidates in Spain, are not out of their tie with Dortmund. And it’s not unthinkable that Atletico could beat Chelsea 2-1 at Stamford Bridge – though clearly not with the same mindset they took into last night’s game.
But even if those three find themselves in the quarter-finals no one in Spain expects any of them to reach the final.
Barcelona may yet try to buy Haaland this summer if a new president can renegotiate all that short-term debt and employ a sporting director capable of getting transfer fees for the likes of Coutinho, Dembele and Griezmann.
And Real Madrid might find a way of persuading Mbappe to not sign a new contract at PSG so they can bring him to the club without a transfer fee in 2022.
Failing that they will need to go back to drawing board and find a way to give the rest of Europe the runaround once more. Right now, like Gerard Pique holding Mbappe’s shirt, they are struggling desperately just to keep up.
Right now, like Gerard Pique holding Mbappe’s shirt, they are struggling just to keep up
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