Best League in Europe?

by admin

Friday, March 9th, 2012

The silkiness of Lionel Messi. The explosiveness of Cristiano Ronaldo. The intricate passing fluidity of Xavi and Iniesta. Superstar footballers roll right off the tongue, on the sunny isles of Spain, the country who are currently the World Cup and European champions. Two out of the last three Champions League finals have been won by Barcelona, the hallmark for Spanish sides. The 80s and 90s belonged to Italian football, with a European Cup final represented by Serie A  on 13 occasions. Real Madrid began to dominate towards the turning of the millenium, with an influx of ‘Galacticos’ flooding to the capital. However, ever since the formation of the Premier League in 1992, TV corporations such as Sky have managed to increase the standard of English football, with Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United all having appeared in Champions League finals in recent years, with sides such as Newcastle and Fulham having performed admirably in the UEFA Cup. However, as we look to a 2012 Champions League quarter-final with no English side in sight, we pose the questions – which league remains the strongest?

The German Bundesliga has always provided entertainment throughout the years, as it has proven to be one of the most open leagues in Europe. However, despite Borussia Dortmund’s credible title surge this season, it would be difficult to find any side other then Bayern Munich capable of mounting a serious challenge on a European scale, as proven by Leverkusen’s 10-1 aggregate trouncing by the Catalans.

Ligue 1 has really opened up in recent years, as the chain of Lyon success was finally broken in 2008, with Bordeaux, Marseille and Lille having collected the crown since. PSG’s recent multimillion euro takeover, which seems to be all the rage these days, has threatened to attract a higher standard of player to the division, but one does not hold out much hope, as clubs have found it hard to keep hold of rising starlets in recent years, with Lille’s Eden Hazard looking to follow in the footsteps of Samir Nasri and Yohann Cabaye to the bright lights of England.

Serie A is on fire this season. Just 11 points separate the top 5 this season, making for an extremely exciting run-in. AC Milan seem to have rejuvenated a spark that seemed to wane following the Champions League success in 2007. Juventus have shrugged off the nightmarish visions of relegation for cheating six years ago, and have been playing some fantastic stuff, spurred on by the impetus of maestro Andrea Pirlo. Napoli have been the true surprise package in the last couple of years, with Marek Hamsik, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani edging them towards the latter stages of the Champions League.

Which brings us to the top two – La Liga and the Premier League. The shift in power of these leagues has been swaying over the last two decades, with clubs from each league regularly making appearances in the final rounds of Champions League football. However, while many may point to the fact that the power of Barcelona and Real Madrid is far superior to the now-Europa League competitors Man City and Man United, one may point out the strength of the rest of the league. Valencia currently occupy the third position in La Liga, but already remain a staggering 24 points off the challengers. The gap between third place and first in Scotland is the exact same – does that make Scotland the marker for best football? Athletic Bilbao performed admirably in turning over their Mancunian opponents at Old Trafford in March, but only Fernando Llorente and Javi Martinez are players from that squad likely to be known on a European level.

Who knows who the superior league is? Would the grit of Stoke turn over the resilience of Rayo Vallecano? Would the sumptuos football of West Brom overcome a Fredi Kanoute-inspired Sevilla side? It remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure – neither league can boast to be as strong as it once was. The Deportivo La Coruna side of 2004, who famously overcame a 4-1 first leg deficit in Milan, to advance towards a semi-final, now ply their trade in the second division. Liverpool are throwing money around in vain desperation at clawing themselves back to their glory days of Istanbul 2005. Villareal, the side who were a Jens Lehmann penalty save away from a Champions League final, are struggling to keep their heads above the perilous waters of relegation, whilst a side who had similar nightmares of Champions League penalty misses, are shoving managers out the door quicker than a Russian sneeze. La Liga or the Premier League? I think I’d rather choose the 00s…

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