Thursday, September 22, 2011

David v. Goliath: Racing and Valencia Hold Real Madrid and Barcelona

Si, hay liga indeed. Maybe.
I watched the Madrid game yesterday, and caught most of the Barca game through a combination of Radio Barca and Gol TV courtesy of the Druid in Inman Square. Both teams drew in fixtures to Racing de Santander and Valencia respectively, in what was probably the best set of results for La Liga's PR officers. However, it is very apparent that the top two teams are breaking away in terms of attracting and contracting talent, and there appears to be no end in sight.

For fans of different teams in La Liga the situation looks frustrating and difficult to reconcile.  I am a fan of one of the big teams, Barcelona, but I cannot stand the fact that our spending power and that of our rivals Madrid has reduced the others in the league to mere also-rans. Points differences between the second place finisher (either Barca or Madrid each of the past three years, with the big points jump at the 2009-2010 season) and the third place finisher tell a depressing story.

2010-2011  21 pts between Madrid (2) and Valencia (3)
2009-2010* 25 pts between Madrid (2) and Valencia (3)
2008-2009   8 pts between Madrid (2) and Sevilla (3)  
2007-2008  (Villareal finished above Barca; Madrid won the title)
2006-2007   5 pts between Barca (2) and Sevilla (3)
2005-2006   1 pt between Madrid (2) and Valencia

*In 2009, both Barca and Real Madrid brought in some remarkable players, and a few, in Barca's system at least, seemed to come in to their own at just the right time. Madrid's 2009 shopping spree included Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Benzema, Albiol, Lassana Diarra, Arbeloa, Xabi Alonso, Esteban Granero, and a goalkeeper called Adan. Ay Caramba!

I like to think that there is hope, but that means some hard decisions need to be made, specifically something on the order of salary caps and/or some sort of redistribution of wealth. Fine to say, nearly impossible to implement. It would require the leaders from Barca and Madrid to pony up to the table and offer to sacrifice a significant percentage of their earnings to create a more balanced league. As things now stand, the big two will continue to bring in the most talented and most expensive ball players, leaving the others to the remaining scraps. While football is a funny game, and one can regularly see examples of Davids beating (or drawing) Goliaths -- reference the most recent match from either Barca or Madrid -- the current course if unaltered is untenable.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Money League: Group Phase Thoughts

The Champions League 2011-2012 edition has begun. The groups were drawn last week, so it is prediction time:

Group A: Bayern Munich, Villarreal, Manchester City, Napoli

This is the group of death -- Manchester City and Bayern Munich are the most likely to advance. Villareal traded Santi Cazorla over the summer, but kept Rossi. Still, they are weaker and will struggle to get to the knock-out round. Napoli are no pushover, though, and might give Bayern or Man City a run for their money.

Group B: Inter Milan, CSKA Moscow, Lille, Trabzonspor

This is the snooze group. Inter and CSKA advance, methinks.

Group C: Manchester United, Benfica, Basel, Otelul Galati

This is too easy for Man United. Benfica should also advance. Swiss side Basel are familiar faces in the Champions League, but have not yet made it out of the group stage. Otelul Galati are a Romanian side I know nothing about. Good for them for making it this far!

Group D: Real Madrid, Lyon, Ajax, Dinamo Zagreb

Such is my loathing for RM that I am hoping for a miracle here in the shape of Ajax or Dinamo. Alas, it is extremely unlikely that either of those will make it through.

Group E: Chelsea, Valencia, Bayer Leverkusen,Genk

Genk is such a great name for a football club. They will be the whipping boys here. Should be interesting to see who between Valencia and Leverkusen make it through (along side of Chelsea, of course). My hopes are that Valencia can do the job -- they could use the money to keep up with Barca and RM.

Group F: Arsenal, Marseille, Olympiakos, Borussia Dortmund

With the crap Arsenal have been playing lately, it is hard to imagine them making it through. Their new signings might just provide the necessary spark, however. I expect some hard fought matches in this group, and it should get very entertaining. Dortmund were incredible last year in the Bundesliga -- they are my tip to win this group.

Group G: FC Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk, Zenit, Apoel FC

I bet this will be closely fought group, but I don't expect any of these teams to make it past the first knock out round.

Group H: Barcelona, AC Milan, BATE Borisov, Viktoria Plzen

BATE Borisov play their European games at the Minsk Stadium in Belorussia. I am glad Barca plays them in September, rather in December as the temperature must drop brutally. Good to BATE for making it into the CL - I hope they enjoy the experience. Barca's game against Viktoria Plzen in the Czech Republic should be interesting, but I assume they have both the quality and the depth to get the points from those fixtures. The Milan games should determine who finishes first and second in the group, and they (Milan) are bound to run us close.

Visca el Barca!