With no representatives in Friday’s quarter final draw of the UEFA Champions League, can the English Premier League still seriously lay claims to being the best league in World football, or is it time to acknowledge that they have slipped behind La Liga and the Bundesliga (with 3 and 2 clubs representing each respective domestic league).
The English Premier League Champions Manchester City went out of the tournament before the knockout stages for the second year in a row, while Chelsea became the 1st ever trophy holders to go out in the Champions League format at the group stage. With Manchester United and Arsenal exiting the tournament at the last 16 stage, to Real Madrid and Bayern Munich respectively, fans of the EPL will watch the quarter and semi final draw for the competition tomorrow with little personal interest.
With a deepening financial crisis crippling the country’s economy and over a quarter of the population unemployed (around 55% of the nation’s youth are currently out of work) Spain’s successes at the Euro Championships last summer and in this year’s Champions League have given the population something to take their minds off their daily woes.
All three Spanish sides that progressed produced spectacular comebacks, only Valencia narrowly failing to prosper against big spending French league leaders Paris Saint-Germain.
F.C. Barcelona produced a stunning 4-0 win against A.C. Milan to overturn the 1st leg 2 goal deficit from the San Siro, probably the clubs best display since the 5-0 win over Real Madrid at the Camp Nou in November of 2010.
Málaga C.F. also performed epic heroics defeating Porto 2-0 at the Rosaleda in front of a delirious home crowd to progress 2-1 on aggregate and maintain their unbeaten European home record.
Real Madrid came from behind twice over the two legs against Manchester United to win their tie 3-2 on aggregate, albeit with the controversial sending off of Nani, when United were ahead 2-1 on aggregate, for a rash high challenge on Alvaro Arbeloa, which still has sections of the UK media seething.
Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund both claimed Premiership scalps, Bayern knocking out Arsenal in the last 16 and Dortmund topping their group in which Manchester City finished rock bottom. All three Spanish representatives will hope to avoid the Germans who are looking strong again. Bayern especially have found a level of consistency in Europe which has to be respected.
It is no coincidence that the top two sides from Spain and Germany top the betting with bookmakers to win the competition outright. Barça and Madrid are 1st and 2nd favourites to lift the trophy with the German top two in 3rd and 4th place to lift the coveted prize.
The footballing world’s attention will be focused on the draw tomorrow and the possibility of the big two in Spain meeting in the final, will they be kept apart? Málaga are just happy to be there. For the EPL giants it will be a case of try again next year.