May 14, 2012, 11:20 AM EDT
One hundred points. A plus-89 goal difference. They’re numbers you’d expect from Ajax in the Eredivisie … four years ago. Not even Porto’s getting these kinds of returns from their stomping of Portugal.
They’re also completely unsurprising figures – numbers we would have expected from Barcelona or Real Madrid at the beginning of the season. Thus, we get a complete lack of fanfare outside the Santiago Bernabeu when a team scores 121 times and posts 100 points. And given the trajectory of the Spanish league, it wouldn’t be surprising if those records were short-lived. Real and Barça can push each other to new levels (again) next season.
The Scotland comparison will keep coming up, an ill-conceived parallel. The Scottish Premier League’s duopoly features two teams losing their grip on continental relevance. Celtic and Rangers dominate a collection of clubs with no footprint beyond their nation’s borders. In contrast, La Liga’s best were threatening to make the entire continent into a duopoly before their Champions League slips. Rather than acquiesce to irrelevancy, the rest of Spain took similar strides in Europa, with Atlético defeating Athletic to claim their second title in three years. Anybody holding their breath for a Hearts-Kilmarnock final?
Most disparaging of Spain comes from an implicit pro-England lobby (hence all the Scotland references), but there are a few other ideas in play here. First, most people tuned La Liga out when Real won at the Nou Camp (fair enough). Second, it’s much easier to write off Real’s accomplishments as a function of league quality than to go team-by-team, figure out La Liga, compare the clubs to similarly-ranked teams in other leagues, and formulate a more substantial opinion. If people don’t have time beyond the last Clasico, they’re certainly not going to consider why Sevilla and Athletic couldn’t crack the league’s top eight.
This year, Spain set a record for UEFA coefficient points. Atlético won Europa League. Two teams made the Champions League’s final four. These facts should make Real’s accomplishments more remarkable, not less.
Unfortunately, we’re not ready for that discussion. We still haven’t decided if Real’s Celtic or Rangers.
Elsewhere in Spain
Stuff that stuck out:
- There’s no mistake in that relegation list. Villarreal is down. An 88th minute goal from Radamal Falcao allowed Rayo and Zaragoza to sink the Yellow Submarine. Two seasons after qualifying for Champions League, Villarreal fall to the level currently occupied by Villarreal B (who get automatically relegated to the Segunda B, thanks to their parent club).
- On the other hand, Zaragoza did it again. Concluding a season in which they spent most of the year in last, the Blanquillos tore off a four-game winning streak to finish the campaign. Starting with a mid-March upset at Valencia, Zaragoza won eight of their final 11 games, giving the cash-strapped club a fourth term in the Primera.
- Down in the Segunda, Deportivo La Coruña has secured an immediate return, while Real Valladolid can do the same if they out-point second place Celta de Vigo mid-week.
- As for the Primera, Málaga earned their chance to qualify or Champions League thanks to Salomon Rondon’s 49th minute winner against Sporting Gijon. Expect their Qatari owners to engage in another round of summer signings in an effort to secure their group stage spot.
- Valencia, having already locked up their group stage place, closed the season in meek fashion, losing at Real Sociedad. It was the final match of Unai Emery’s tenure with Los Che, the now former Valencia boss headed to Spartak Moscow.
- Speaking of meek: Athletic Bilbao. The team took only one point from their last four league matches, and giving up three goals at Levante on Sunday, the squad gave more credence to speculation they’re out on their feet. With a disappointing 10th place finish confirmed, Athletic have 10 days to prepare for their Copa final.
- He ended the season with 50. Lionel Messi did play at Real Betis on Saturday (he always plays), but he was kept off the scoresheet. Ten-man Barcelona needed a late goal from Seydou Keita to salvage a draw in Seville.
Up next: Spain’s season is over save the Copa del Rey final, the last chance for Athletic Bilbao and Barcelona to claim silverware. Barcelona has won a the Club World Cup, Supercopa, and UEFA Super Club this year, but they’ve been shut out of (for lack of a better term) conventional honors.
Your takeaway highlight:
The goal that sent Villarreal down. Given how much air he got, it seems almost obligatory to mention: Falcao means Falcon.
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