Once again, leaving the Premier League in its wake, La Liga is dominating the Champions League with three big hitters in the final stages
“After the dust was settled, Spain once again had gotten the upper hand”.
It’s become quite a bit of a habit once the UEFA Champions League moves on to the knock-out rounds and incredibly strong teams start getting removed from the tournament left, right and centre. Having reached the quarterfinals, the competition already has a majority of Spanish clubs claiming the biggest slice of the cake.
Out of the eight top teams, three of them belong in La Liga’s ranks: Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and Atlético de Madrid. Real moved on to the next round after crushing Napoli both home and away (6-2 on the aggregate), Barça is still savoring the glow of its historic comeback against Paris Saint-Germain (6-5 after the two games).
On Wednesday, Atlético showed some impressive confidence after holding a goalless draw at home (they had won 4-2 the first leg game) that enabled them to eliminate Bayer Leverkusen. The German side will have nightmares with Slovenian keeper Jan Oblak, who was at the top of its game and made some fantastic saves to keep a clean sheet.
These three teams seem to have gotten the hang of it, as they have walked a very similar path to the one travelled last season. And the one before. And the one before that. It’s the fourth year in a row with all three teams moving on to quarterfinals, a figure that clearly states the amazing level of dominance that emanates from La Liga.
You have to go all the way back to the 2012-2013 season to find a different lineup of teams… and, even that year, Spain also had three representatives as Malaga CF provided the breakthrough performance that surprised the continent and tagged along regular title contenders Barça and Madrid.
Only Sevilla FC managed to let the side down in its Last 16 pairing against Leicester City. It’s one thing to be beaten fair and square: you were bested, the opponent deserved it more, end of story. But Sevilla managed to fumble many, many chances of beating the Foxes, including missing two penalties in both games and a first-leg match in the Sanchez Pizjuan where they were clearly, undoubtedly the better team.
But, football is a sport of mistakes. And Sevilla committed one too many. At the King Power Stadium, first Wes Morgan and then Marc Albrighton turned the tables (2-0) and then Samir Nasri, with a stupid red card before half-time, ultimately doomed Jorge Sampaoli’s men.
Even then, one goal meant leveling the aggregate, but first the crossbar denied Sergio Escudero and then the drama fleshed out in the form of a penalty taken by a wary Steven N’Zonzi that was a piece of cake for Kasper Schmeichel, who completed a huge 180 minutes in both games and allowed his team to move on to the next round.
Many analyses can be made of the top eight teams remaining in the competition. For example, the lack of Premier League sides: only Leicester remains alive, and even that condition seems short-lived as most of the other clubs wish for a pairing in quarterfinals against the Foxes, much less intimidating than last season.
The German Bundesliga keeps a clockwork record of two teams in the quarterfinals (Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund) and remains a competitive country, whereas Italy can only count on Juventus FC to save face and hope to conquer the title.
Finally, AS Monaco FC has become the wild card of the lot: Leonardo Jardim’s team impressed in both games against powerful Manchester City, and after defeating Pep Guardiola’s men they seem more than ready for another upset in the next round and move on to a semifinal that they haven’t reached since the legendary 2004 season.
Any hopes of conquering this year’s Champions League, though, will necessarily go through the Spanish teams and their performance. The current champion (Real Madrid), the current runners-up (Atlético) and a club that has won three of the last ten editions (Barcelona). La Liga remains top dog in Europe and, as we stated before, it’s become some sort of habit.