Comment: Manchester City and Arsenal exits show Premier League clubs must beat La Liga rivals in the transfer market in order to to win on the pitch
There will now be three Spanish sides in the Champions League quarter-finals
Thursday 13 March 2014
The reign in Spain continues. There will be three Spanish sides in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, and based on their showings in the last-16 ties, if they are kept apart in the quarter-final draw on 21 March, it would not be a surprise to see all three of them in the semi-finals.
Real Madrid have scored six away goals in Germany and will see off Schalke next week, and with Atletico Madrid knocking out Milan and Barcelona seeing off Manchester City, English clubs are getting no closer to chipping away at La Liga and the Bundesliga’s European dominance.
For all City’s spending last summer, they bought players who Barcelona did not want. Their team is a fine mix of some of Europe’s best players but Yaya Touré was sold by the Catalans and Sergio Aguero, Jesus Navas and David Silva were all allowed to leave Spain without bids from La Liga’s big two.
The step up that Premier League clubs must make to match Barcelona and Madrid on the pitch will only happen when they start bidding for the same players, then beat their Spanish rivals to the signatures; something that has not happened for a long time.
Last season there were no English clubs in the quarter-finals. This season Chelsea should avoid a repeat of that, though if Jose Mourinho starts bemoaning the gulf in squad quality, as he does in the Premier League, his complaints will be far more valid than they are on the domestic front.
The Premier League provided three of the four Champions League semi-finalists every season between 2006-07 and 2008-09 but no more than one English club has reached the last four in the seasons since. That was about the time the Premier League stopped beating La Liga in the transfer market.
Both Manchester City and Barcelona are desperate to sign a centre-back this summer. Who will get the best player? If it comes to a battle between the two clubs for one outstanding available defender, Barça will be favourites – just as last summer they were spending close to €90m on Neymar while City were buying the best of the leftovers from La Liga.
Lionel Messi dinks the ball over Joe Hart (GETTY) Manchester United sold Ronaldo to Real Madrid and were unsuccessful in their bid to re-sign him before he renewed his contract for life with the Spanish League leaders. United also failed to get Barcelona’s Cesc Fabregas last summer. And Chelsea signed Samuel Eto’o, a centre-forward who Barça had deemed past his best in 2009.
Mourinho will no doubt mention that fact if he reaches the last eight and is drawn against a Spanish side. And if Chelsea are in that draw on 21 March there is no question who Mourinho will prefer to meet if he has to go back to Spain.
He will have seen enough over Manchester City’s two legs against Barça to believe he can do what Manuel Pellegrini failed to do and devise a game plan good enough to emulate Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad and Valladolid, who have beaten them in the Spanish League this season.
He will not want his old club and joint favourites Madrid, whose players he upset last season and are still smarting from his suggestion they queued up to preen themselves in front of the mirror before going out on to the pitch.
And he will not fancy Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid, who do all the things his best Chelsea, Inter and Porto sides have done in the past and now have a young goalkeeper with a point to prove and a striker, Diego Costa, who Chelsea themselves want to sign.
He will want another crack at Barcelona and he will feel that against a defence that has conceded eight times from corners in the league this season and has Dani Alves at right-back – at times rattled by James Milner – he will have more than a puncher’s chance.
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