Spanish sides have been dominating the Champions League and Europa League, but English clubs have been taking both LaLiga’s tricks and talent
Spain might only have three teams amongst the best 16 in the whole continent this season, but there seems to be confidence in their chances of succeeding.
We all felt a bit fuzzy last week when Real Madrid got unceremoniously knocked out of the Champions League in a brutal way. And that dizziness increased as Atlético were crushed by a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick in Turin, a season-defining loss which has turned Simeone’s critics even madder at a manager they just don’t like.
Sevilla’s tragicomical demise on Thursday with the most bonkers 120th minute goal was just another example of how the once mighty Spanish teams are, in some cases, a shadow of their former selves. Weeks before, Betis had been the ones to not take Rennes seriously enough and they ultimately paid the price.
Up to this point, Barça have been the most consistent of the lot, slicing and dicing through Olympique Lyon (5-1) earlier this week and becoming the only surviving team in this season’s Champions League. Villarreal, meanwhile, had few problems moving on to the quarterfinals in the Europa League against Zenit (2-1).
Finally, Valencia secured a 93rd minute draw in Krasnodar (1-1) which was just enough to squeeze on to the next round, avoiding their second European KO this season after being (unfairly) kicked out of the Champions League in the group stages.
Barça, Valencia, Villarreal. Three teams still alive in a moment of the season where Spain used to have four or five representatives a few years ago.
The winds of change
The current state of affairs wildly contrasts with the way Premier League sides are kicking ass and taking names this season in Europe. Just a quick glance at the quarterfinalists in both competitions: Manchester City, Tottenham, Liverpool, Manchester United (Champions League), Arsenal and Chelsea (Europa League).
? The quarter-final draw ?
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) March 15, 2019
That’s six of them. Six out of sixteen. Almost 40% of the remaining teams in European tournaments have the Premier League badge on them.
Why has the trend changed so much this season? Premier League sides always had money to set up impressive squads, but up until two seasons ago it almost never guaranteed success. Sure, Liverpool began changing that perception with their spectacular performance last year, but again, they failed to put up a challenge to Real in the final (Salah’s early injury might have had something to do with it).
Is it the importing of managerial talent from abroad, specifically from Spain? Possibly so: three of the managers (Pep Guardiola, Mauricio Pochettino and Unai Emery) amassed plenty of experience in our country. And you can notice the influence in the way the teams develop and behave on the pitch.
At the same time, the ‘Sarri-ball’ so hyped back in the day by Maurizio Sarri in Napoli had a strong resemblance to the playing style favoured by the Spanish national side. Jürgen Klopp is also a fan of fast-paced football, leaving aside traditional British tactics. The only exception might be Solskjaer’s United, but again, their season has been a heck of a roller-coaster and can’t be measured in the same standards as the other sides.
It was inevitable at some point that this transfer of talent and knowledge took place with the Premier League as the new ‘place to be’. The draws last Friday were promising enough to secure at least a Spanish Europa League semifinalist (that Valencia v Villarreal is going to be *really* tense), while the whole pack of contenders in the Champions League were praying to avoid Barça (the ‘lucky’ team will be Manchester United).
? The quarter-finals draw in full ?
— UEFA Europa League (@EuropaLeague) March 15, 2019
However, even with the Culés being the top favourites (right next to Juventus), the increase in potential of English sides shouldn’t be considered a fluke or a coincidence. They have done their homework. Spain and LaLiga have a lot of terrain to cover if they don’t want to trail behind and lose the position of privilege they used to have in European tournaments.