It’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for, the decisive battles to decide whether the Premier League or La Liga is superior. The English competition holds a slender one point advantage, but will they be able to hang onto it?
Real Madrid – Chelsea
A battle between two sides which are having a rough time, by their standards at least.There’s no love lost between the dug-outs, especially as Rafa Benitez might view this as an audition for the Madrid job in the Summer.
Chelsea appear to be exhibiting a little more stability and shape under Benitez. Ironically, Roman Abramovic has always demanded two things: a team with flair, and the Champions League. Roberto di Matteo delivered the latter with an ultra-defensive approach in the final two rounds, then was given an array of new attacking talent to mould into a completely different sort of side, only to find Abramovic lost patience during the inevitable teething problems and brought in a coach renowned for the sort of tactical strictness di Matteo offered in the first place!
A team in transition is likely to lack the punch to halt Real Madrid, even though Jose Mourinho’s side isn’t firing on all cylinders. Chelsea’s defence won’t hold Ronaldo and co at bay, especially as they look weak in midfield: Mikel Obi won’t cope with Mezut Ozil. Madrid win.
Premier League 7 La Liga 7
Real Mallorca – Wigan Athletic
Whoever Wigan got, it was bound to be an intriguing game. Roberto Martinez has his side playing an attractive passing game and consistently hitting way above their weight: it wasn’t until the late 1970s that Wigan even entered the Football League at the fourth level, and the town has always been seen as a rugby league stronghold rather than a soccer hotbed.
With Arouna Kone up front, they boast a player capable of scoring past Spanish defences, and Mallorca don’t boast much of a defence. In such awful form, and up against a bright side that moves the ball around well, they won’t cope. Wigan win.
Premier League 8 La Liga 7
Real Sociedad – Stoke City
Well, somebody had to get Stoke! A couple of years back English football dinosaurs eagerly jumped onto the notion that Lionel Messi might look good in Spanish conditions (it’s always sunny in Spain, don’t you know?) but he’d struggle on a wet November Tuesday in Stoke.
It was a bizarre, specious argument, and the fact that Valencia looked rather comfortable on a Stoke Thursday last season offered concrete proof of its ludicrousness to the Luddites, but there was a kernel of logic lying beneath the lazy argument: Stoke are physical, very direct, and aren’t just strong from set pieces: they play for them. If they manage to impose their style of play on their opponents, they’d cause problems.
Set pieces would be a danger because the likes of Carlos Vela would be of little use when picking up Stoke’s big men, but by the same token he and Antoine Griezmann have the creative edge to pierce Stoke’s back four.
Real are no shrinking violets and would have the wherewithal to repel Stoke, if not dominate them as Unai Emery’s strong Valencia did. This would be a tight match, with little to choose between the sides, and probably few scoring chances. Draw.
Premier League 8½ La Liga 7½
Real Valladolid – Norwich City
Two very similar sides in terms of where they’re coming from: newly promoted Real, enjoying a surprisingly impressive return to the top flight, and The Canaries, an equally unexpected presence in the middle reaches of the table having lost their inspirational coach, Paul Lambert, but settled quickly under the under rated Chris Hughton.
Both teams are disciplined, energetic and positive. Norwich will be used to the sort of threat Manucho poses, but Oscar could cause problems as he drifts into unexpected positions. At the other end, Norwich have good width and Grant Holt is a similar target man to the Angolan. Another draw, especially in Norwich’s current form.
Premier League 9 La Liga 8
Real Zaragoza – Aston Villa
Tricky one this. Aston Villa are a big club which has been sliding uncomfortably in recent years. Paul Lambert has been appointed to correct the slump with the acknowledgement that he’ll need time to carry out a root and branch revision of the squad. Early signs were that it would be a long and painful process, but all of a sudden his inexperienced side has found some form, exemplified by a fine win at Liverpool and a defeat snatched from the jaws of victory against Manchester United.
Zaragoza, meanwhile, are certainly looking better than they did in the last two seasons, but the youthful energy of Villa will give them problems. I wouldn’t have said this a month ago by any stretch of the imagination, but Villa win.
Premier League 10 La Liga 8
Sevilla’s inability to turn up for anything but the big games is getting irritating, and they will surely pay the price with a lowly league position. Fulham, meanwhile, have a range of attacking options and experience at the back, but their away form is remarkably poor: a club tradition which seems to be eagerly respected by each successive Cottagers team.
Still, the London club are more reliable than Sevilla, and in Dimitar Berbatov they have a striker more than capable of out-thinking Sevilla’s centre backs. Fulham win.
Premier League 11 La Liga 8
Valencia – West Ham United
West Ham are strong and direct, and can work up a real fury at home. The loss of Mohamed Diame will be a huge loss though, costing them perhaps their most impressive creative option. Valencia are blowing hot and very cold, of course, but they’ve been capable of pulling off major results in the Champions League and Roberto Soldado will trouble West Ham’s back four. Valencia win.
Premier League 11 La Liga 9
So there you have it! It was close, but the Premier League have it by a margin of one win. That makes them the official best league in the world, recognised by FIFA, the United Nations and the Vatican, at least until the end of this weekend when the league positions will change and I’ll have to work out all the fixtures and outcomes again! Good job it’s the holidays!