They pummeled each other relentlessly for 37 league fixtures. They ran wild on helpless opponents, delivered breath-taking surprises, and pretty much established what seems to be a new league order in Spain. With one fixture to go, on 96 and 95 points respectively, Barcelona and Real Madrid postponed the title winner’s identity with vital wins over Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao, even though the balance seems to heavily favour the leaders as they host Real Valladolid in their final league fixture.

2009/10 was supposed to be the dawning of a new era in Spain. The arrival of big star names such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Cristiano Ronaldo – for a world record fee of €94M – and Kaka was meant to steer the spotlight away from the English Premier League. It was a means of rejuvenation for a league that has long been criticised over the past five years for bipolarity. Sadly now, things seem to be even worse in La Liga.

True, the country’s top two titans ensured a battle that will mathematically, at least, go down to the wire. But that’s about as good as it gets. With more than 20 points separating second and third position, was there really any sort of competition?

One thing that the average observer cannot help but notice is the “Cinderella Story” atmosphere in La Liga. Things have become too much predictable, and match outcomes could have been easily figured out when considering the precious, yet minimal amounts of information. By no means a rigged league, things do nonetheless appear as if they are following some magical script.

To clarify this idea, Barcelona’s 2-1 loss to Atletico Madrid this season was, unsurprisingly, very much forecast. Putting aside the match environment and condition, other similar – yet rare – scenarios have developed as well, such as the Blaugrana’s draw with Villarreal, and their recent 3-2 win over Sevilla last weekend.

The same pattern seems to have followed with Real Madrid too: The wins over Sevilla, Osasuna, and Mallorca – all during the second part of the season – have a strain of magic weaved through them. Some may call it faith, others may call it sheer, hard work, but the bottom line remains that the league season has become all too predictable. The Merengue particularly have become very accustomed to last-grasp winners, something they have taken as a personal trademark ever since the days of Fabio Capello.

Barcelona have succeeded where Real failed to tick the box. They have managed to repel a €250M assault, despite summer investment revolving around the €100M-mark themselves, and practically have both hands on the league trophy. But still, something seems to be quite strange.

How is it that Real Madrid, having won more matches than their perennial foes, and having scored more than a hundred goals this season, oddly finds themselves in second position, whereas this feat would have statistically won them any other league? Conversely, how is it that a team holding Lionel Messi, who has 32 goals to his name at the time of writing, are still not league champions yet?

Football legend Zinedine Zidane declared recently that whatever the outcome of this La Liga season, Spain can be proud of boasting two champions. Great words from the accomplished French icon, but we all know that the celebrations will only occur in one Spanish city, while the others’ inhabitants will have an early night.

As managers Josep Guardiola and Manuel Pellegrini have stated, neither team deserves anything less than the title. Both clubs have been magnificent all year long, but that’s as good as it gets.

Both teams all but buried the competition last summer with astronomical spending, leaving the crumbs for the other teams. With all of Valencia’s attacking force, they are well over 20 points behind second-placed Real Madrid. Sevilla have had a season full of ups and downs, and they have paid the price as they find themselves still fighting for that crucial Champions League qualifying fourth place.

With Barcelona and Real Madrid’s Spanish players on a different level than those of the rest of the country, legitimate questions are posed over the efficiency of La Furia Roja to function as a whole, synchronised unit. It is true that when Spain won Euro 2008, Los Blancos had comfortably won the league, but their level was not very different than that of the other top-gun contenders.

Football is getting more fiscal by the minute. It seems that the world has plunged yet again into inflated player prices, similar to those witnessed at the beginning of this millennium. But with the money disappears the competition. With stagnation and boredom creeping into La Liga, the days of the Spain harbouring Europe’s most exciting league seem over. More worryingly, the worst seems yet to come.

 

 


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