Napoli aiming for a perfect finish at Liverpool, all to play in Group D – Champions League in Opta numbers

It’s fair to say that LaLiga’s reputation took a battering last week when three of its four representatives were eliminated from the Champions League with one game to play in the group stage.

What made this scenario even uglier for Spanish football is that none of it was that surprising.

Barcelona’s elimination before it had even played was the headline of headlines, but Atletico Madrid and Sevilla also had their fates sealed, albeit under quite different circumstances.

Sevilla won 3-0 at home against Copenhagen, although the scoreline was very flattering, while Atlético drew 2-2 with Bayer Leverkusen, Yannick Carrasco saw a last-gasp penalty saved before Saul Niguez headed the rebound against the crossbar and a continuation. The effort was blocked at the line by Carrasco.

Last week’s problems mean that, for the first time since the Champions League was expanded to 32 teams in 1999, there will only be one Spanish team in the round of 16: Real Madrid.

But given LaLiga’s decline, that could become the norm before too long.

Dark days

Barcelona and Seville can at least aim to have particularly difficult groups.

Most would still have expected Barca to at least be in the top two, but Bayern Munich and Inter were likely to always be troublemakers, and they were. As for Sevilla, actually the best they could have hoped for was second place behind Manchester City, but Borussia Dortmund’s starting XI simply boasts so much more quality than the Andalusians.

And then there is Atlético. Along with Club Brugge, Porto and Bayer Leverkusen, Diego Simeone’s team would have been the majority favourites, yet they go into matchday four with a chance of finishing last.

They also go into Tuesday’s trip to Porto without a win in their last four Champions League games, their longest run since going nine without a win between December 2008 and December 2009.

That, of course, makes it their worst run in the competition under Simeone, although Barca can top that in the ‘problems’ at stake as they fail to make it out of the group for the second year in a row.

Before last season, Barca reached at least the round of 16 for 19 straight campaigns, and if they lose to Viktoria Plzen on Tuesday, it will be the first time they have lost four successive Champions League away games since October. of 1997.

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fall from grace

Not so long ago that LaLiga was considered, at worst, the main ‘rival’ -if leagues can have rivals- of the Premier League. It had superstars, El Clasico, winning teams at various levels in Europe and there was a brand of football widely associated with the competition.

LaLiga still has its attractions – and let’s not forget we’ve seen Spanish teams win the Champions League and Europa League in the last 18 months – but the Premier League is now, without a doubt, the biggest domestic league in world football in virtually all the senses.

This has more or less become the case for money, something many LaLiga clubs don’t have much of.

For example, last season in the Premier League, Sporting Intelligence estimated that Norwich City alone received less than £100m (€116.1m) in prize money and television revenue. Even then, Norwich raised £98.6m (€114.5m), and £79m (€91.7m) of that was the equal share each club receives.

By comparison, that’s roughly the same as the €115m (£99.1m) Barcelona received last season. Only Atlético de Madrid (€154m, £132.7m) and Real Madrid (€158m, £136.1m) have earned more in LaLiga, highlighting the financial might of the league. PremierLeague.

In football, few issues can be completely separated from money, but there is an argument that Spanish football has suffered from a lack of evolution.

The Premier League has always been regarded as ‘physical’, but the competition is so powerful now that clubs can also sign most of the top technical players. Their resources and improved training make it easier than ever before to turn technical players into bigger physical specimens and physical players into better technicians.

Likewise, the competition can boast a variety of different playstyles and philosophies. Again, it would be unfair to say this is exclusive to the Premier League, but the point is that there are signs of evolution everywhere in English football when once it might have been seen as an isolated thing.

The entrenched principles of Barcelona make it very difficult for them to change course; stylistically, Atlético has hardly changed during Simeone’s tenure; and Sevilla are working with the same buy-sell model they have had for 20 years, while on the pitch they are currently paying the price of not adapting to key defensive losses and signing too many older players in the last three years.

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Of those three and Madrid, Los Blancos are probably the only ones who could be said to have evolved with the times, with Zinedine Zidane and Carlo Ancelotti valuing approaches seen as more pragmatic than is perhaps known by the club.

However, there is a perception that LaLiga football is slow, and this certainly doesn’t help the idea that the Spanish game has struggled to modernise. It is considered a greater financial power than the German Bundesliga, and yet in eight Champions League meetings between teams from those countries this period, Spain have one win to Germany’s five.

Too little and too late?

Training is still a high standard in Spain, and that is highlighted by the technical qualities of the players, but with money tight compared to bigger clubs and the Premier League, the best managers and players soon leave.

Evolution is hard: you just hope your team lands on the perfect combination of coach and sporting director, but after one or two, if you’re lucky, good seasons, one walks away and the cycle starts all over again.

That may be a simplistic way of looking at it, of course, but it’s hard to shake the idea that LaLiga are paying the price for their own shortsightedness.

In 2015, a new television money sharing deal came into force, with 50 per cent of all revenue shared equally between all clubs. It was badly needed, but arguably too late.

LaLiga had the best players in the world for more than a decade, but much of the money from that era went into the pockets of the big two rather than improving the league’s infrastructure or commercial influence.

However, the new TV money distribution deal was a huge win for LaLiga as a whole, and the league’s crackdown on financial irregularities will also help the competition build a sustainable future.

In that sense, the future of LaLiga can be quite bright. But will it ever be the same? Due to the power of the Premier League, probably not.

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