La Liga includes two of the most historic clubs of all time and the two best players on the planet, but it is potentially Europe’s least competitive league. This year’s champion may have already been decided this past weekend, and the tournament is not even one-fifth completed.
This year, F.C. Barcelona rides atop La Liga standings with a resounding eight-point lead over rivals Real Madrid. Some say La Liga is over, and this enormous deficit is almost impossible to overcome. Indeed, there are 20 teams in the Spanish League, but rarely do the other 18 put up a challenge against the galáctico and blaugrana powerhouses.
Defending champions Real Madrid had one of their worst starts to league play in a decade, losing two games, tying two and winning three. They currently reside in seventh place — an incredible anomaly for head coach José Mourinho’s side. In addition to this bad rut, showman Cristiano Ronaldo publicly announced he was upset, causing a media explosion that put Mourinho and team president Florentinio Pérez on the spot with everyone demanding an answer for the superstar’s depression.
So, is it panic time for Real? I think so.
Last year, second-place Barcelona finished nine points behind Madrid, but an unbelievable 30 points in front of third-place Valencia. In the 2010-2011 season, Barcelona held a four point margin ahead of Real Madrid, whose nearest opponent was again Valencia, below second place by 21 points. A nearly identical situation occurred the year before that: Barcelona were three points in front of Real and 28 points in front of Valencia. This similar trend dates back to 2003, when Valencia was the last king of Spanish soccer other than Real or Barça. You would have to go back to the 1983-1984 season to find a total of three teams other than the ones already mentioned that have won La Liga: athletico Bilbao in ‘84, Atlético Madrid in ’96 and Deportivo de La Coruña in 2000.
Real Madrid will find themselves out of this month’s rut. Ronaldo’s fancy step overs, heel flicks and bicycle kicks will definitely help his team make their way to Barcelona, but Real probably will not surpass their rival.
There may be new challenges, though. Radamel Falcao has brought glory to a new Atlético Madrid side that could fight for a top spot, and the recently developed Málaga are making their presence known. But these are obstacles Madrid and Barcelona can surpass. The two sides play pinpoint, perfect football almost all of the time. Andrés Iniesta, Xavi and Cesc Fàbregas demonstrate how they are world champion players with fancy footwork and timely passes. Xavi Alonso, Sergio Ramos and Iker Casillas defend the Madrid gates like warriors, tackling and sacrificing their bodies with gumption, fury and talent.
Chances are Barcelona will lose one or two games, so will Real Madrid, but not many more. In the last three seasons, the maximum amount of losses by a championship team — Madrid or Barcelona — has been only two.
These two teams, with world-class players in Lionel Messi and Ronaldo, rule the soccer world, and one currently has a comfortable lead over the other. I’m not crowning Barça champions yet, but I am saying it will be very difficult for the Catalan side to relinquish this lead.
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Oct. 10 print edition. Nico Cantor is a contributing writer. Email him at [email protected]