It wasn’t a terribly good couple of weeks for La Liga teams in the Champions League. Barcelona got ritually sacrificed by Kylian Mbappe and PSG. Sevilla got an even bigger foot in their ass from Dortmund. Atletico Madrid, the current leader in La Liga, were held at arm’s length by Chelsea and lost 1-0. Only Real Madrid came away with a win. That only came about because they got to play against 10 men for 73 minutes, and they were still pushing rope for almost all of it before breaking through at the very end against what can be a defensively ropey Atalanta side.
Some of this could look different in a couple weeks, obviously. Atletico could turn it around in London, though they’ve looked pretty indifferent of late and can’t seem to keep a clean sheet if their life depended on it. Madrid could easily gallop away from Atalanta … or collapse at home.
Sevilla and Barcelona are toast.
But the problems for La Liga run a little deeper than that. The problem is La Liga is boring as shit.
For the past decade or so, it was Italy’s Serie A that was considered to be the hardest to watch. Italian’s love of defense and tactics made most games a slog played in the dark in a decrepit stadium that looked like it was used in Spartacus. Not only wasn’t there much of a competition, as Juventus would waltz to the Scudetto every year, but nothing would ever happen. Two teams on Ambien playing Go Fish with blank cards
That’s not true anymore. Italy finally looks like it might be shaking free of the Juve deathgrip, but also both Milan sides, Atalanta, Roma, and one or two others that are immensely fun to watch. Games now feature teams actually trying to score, and frantically.
Meanwhile, nothing ever happens in Spain. When you look at league-wide stats among the top-five leagues in Europe, La Liga trails behind in almost every category that would signify that something, anything is happening.
Goals per game? Last at 1.21, some 10 percent behind the next closest. Ok, well maybe it’s full of shitty marksmen and they’re creating more chances than the goals would suggest? Nope. Spain is last in expected goals per game at 1.20.
And it keeps going. La Liga is last in shots per game. Last in shots on target per game. Last in key passes per game (passes that lead directly to a scoring chance). Last in passes into the final third of the field. Significantly last in shot-creating actions (passes, dribbles, drawing fouls). Last in goal-creating actions. Last in tackles in the attacking third. The only category La Liga isn’t last in is how much they pressure without the ball in the attacking third, where they’re fourth.
All of this suggests that in La Liga, they’re not terribly interested in moving the ball quickly into the penalty area, they’re not terribly interested in shooting at all, and they’re definitely not interested in winning it back quickly. Hey, it’s Spain, enjoy the sun and sangria and don’t work too hard, right? Can’t argue with that. It’s an entire economy based around the afternoon nap for a reason, and you can see the effect. Sevilla simply never see anything like the hair-on-fire pressing and speed of Dortmund, and were blown away by it. Barcelona, Champions League vets as they are, should have been more prepared for what PSG was going to offer. They were split open like Ric Flair in TNA. Chelsea were able to easily hold out Atletico because they’re simply not that hard to hold out. They’re not that lively. Barely anyone in Spain is.
It filters down. Real Sociedad was run over by Manchester United in the Europa League. Certainly the structure of the league is a problem, where Madrid and Barcelona get to keep a larger portion of the TV money, which doesn’t allow the other clubs to keep up transfer-wise with even mid-level Premier League clubs. The La Liga leaders were well beaten by England’s barely fourth-best team. Germany’s sixth-best team was a class above Spain’s fourth-best team. Current standings aren’t really the best way to judge it, but it gives some idea.
Spain has always been the most technical league. It produces players with the best touch and passing. But the game everywhere else has souped up. We’ve seen it with the Spanish National team. Sure, they can keep the ball forever, but where do they go with it? Usually nowhere but up their own ass, and then they either get blitzed by someone who wants to get up the field as quickly as possible or they can’t produce enough to escape a smaller team, like Russia in the World Cup last time around.
Spain suffers from lack of exposure too. Both Italy and Germany have gotten their games on ESPN, while Spain still remains on the college station-level production values of BeIn Sports that not that many people get. That’s hurting their middle class too. Though when they’re turning out this kind of product, does anyone think they’re missing much?