Primera Liga reasserts pre-eminence
by John S - BBC Sport 18 June 2007
In April, journalist Luis Martin in the Spanish newspaper El Pais claimed the Premier League had become the most competitive in Europe.
Martin presented a powerful case, using evidence from a distinguished series of witnesses.
There was Manchester United's manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who argued the presence of three English clubs in the Champions League made the Premier League the strongest in Europe.
Next in the witness box was former Real Madrid coach Vicente del Bosque, who said: "I don't think right now there is a more spectacular team than Manchester United in the whole of Europe.
"And I don't think Chelsea are a defensive team; they knocked Valencia out of the Champions League by attacking."
Chelsea's former Spanish defender Albert Ferrer, Middlesbrough's ex-Spanish midfielder Gaizka Mendieta, Everton's Basque midfielder Mikel Arteta and former Real Madrid and Bolton star Fernando Hierro all stepped forward to provide evidence of the respective strengths of the Premier League.
Powerful stuff, but they conveniently forgot one small point - how predictable the Premier League has become.
True, United and Chelsea provided us with a modicum of interest last season but nothing as compelling as the entertainment served up by Real Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla and Valencia in the Primera Liga run-in.
Just how interesting is a league where only two teams compete for the title and where clubs turn up at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge and are happy to rest players because they are expecting to lose?
The same applies to clubs who go to Liverpool and Arsenal solely intent on putting 10 players behind the ball, hoping to escape with a draw.
Over the last few years in England the relegation struggle has become more compelling than the race for the title. What does that tell you about the Premier League's competitiveness?
On Sunday Real clinched the title with a 3-1 win over Real Mallorca, a scoreline that does not tell the real story of just how close Madrid came to throwing away the Spanish crown.
Mallorca, who finished this season in 12th place, had several key players missing but still dominated the first half, had hit the post before they took the lead and missed a gilt-edged chance after the break that would have put them 2-0 up.
If Mallorca had taken that chance it is questionable whether Real would be celebrating their 30th title.
At times, Mallorca, with some inventive football, made Real look distinctly ordinary before Jose Antonio Reyes' introduction turned the game in Madrid's favour.
In the penultimate games of the Spanish season Real Zaragoza also gave Real a mighty shock before Ruud van Nistelrooy rescued his side with a stoppage-time equaliser.
Similarly, Uefa Cup finalists Espanyol, who finished the league in 11th place, did the same to Barca, coming away from the Nou Camp with a last-gasp goal to snatch a draw.
Surely that is the test of a league's strength, when you are never quite sure which team is going to win a match. Can you really say that about the Premier League?