La Liga appears to have become a two team league – not unlike the one north of the border only with a few more shiny European Cups in the cabinet.
There have been a few analogies in the newspapers of late that have compared La Liga with the terminal duopoly that is the Scottish Premier League and there certainly are a few similarities.
The sporting titans that are FC Barcelona and Real Madrid bestride the footballing landscape in Spain and are equally as influential as the Old Firm clubs are in their league though perhaps not quite as dominant trophy-wise as their Scottish counterparts.
The clubs have the two biggest stadia in the country, the two broadest fanbases, the two largest turnovers, the two highest revenues from annual television income and both usually occupy the top two places in the league table.
It is little wonder therefore that a massive 21 point chasm has opened up between second place Real Madrid and third place Valencia and that gap could rise to 24 if Manuel Pellegrini’s men can successfully negotiate a tricky clash at Mallorca on Wednesday evening.
To put the gap in even sharper context, Real Madrid spent over €250m last summer in the most extravagant player recruitment drive ever seen in the sport. That figure is about half of Valencia’s total debt which is slowing no signs of disappearing. Los Che were due to move into a new stadium last summer but work on ‘Nou Mestalla’ had to be stopped due to lack of funds and the project remains in costly limbo.
That is not to say that Real Madrid are not in debt but it is structured so favourably towards the club as to not alarm their accountants or – quite astoundingly – bring any kind of censure from UEFA President Michel Platini who can barely keep his mouth shut when referring to financial disparity in football.
With such bias in place it is no wonder that spending sprees of such exorbitance are commonplace at the Santiago Bernabeu with the club free from sanctions and rarely brought to book by their creditors. They have even been bailed out by the municipal government in Madrid – during President Florentino Perez’s first stewardship of the club – who agreed to pay the vastly inflated fee of over £200m to the club for their training ground thus wiping out previous debts of £165m.
Celtic and Rangers have never quite had that level of financial influence in Scotland but their domination of the league title for over two decades points to an unhealthy division that could well be replicated on the Iberian Peninsula.
Like England, there have only been two winners of the championship in Spain over the past five seasons but, unlike the Premier League, this season’s title race was effectively whittled down to two as long ago as January.
Barcelona and Real Madrid have dropped very few points against lesser teams and the relentless march of the top two clubs in La Liga has shown little sign of abating.
Sure, Barcelona managed only a 0-0 draw in the derby against Espanyol but with that minor blemish aside they have dropped only two points from the last 33 available to them while Real Madrid have accumulated a whopping 45 points from their last 48 – their one blip was against their Catalan rivals.
But tonight could see that pattern alter somewhat as Los Merengues travel to Mallorca for a must-win match. The Balearic islanders sit in fourth place – the final Champions League spot – and are determined to hold off the challenge from a galvanised Sevilla team.
Sevilla also host Barcelona on the weekend in a match that Real Madrid see as a potential banana skin for Pep Guardiola’s title challenge.
The matches are coming thick and fast at the sharp end of the season and it remains to be seen if there will be any late twists or whether the two will maintain their familiar one-two procession all the way till the end of the campaign.
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