This weekend, a friend joined my regular watching crew for the Racing match. He doesn't follow the sport and he likes to mess with me, so he put a few dollars on Racing and spent the day cheering against me. When he arrived and announced his decision, it was quickly pointed out to him that the three goal cushion from the bookie wasn't necessarily as large as he thought it was.
His outlook on the game got less rosy when we told him that the three league matches Barça had played at home had ended 5-0, 8-0, and 5-0. In the end, he won a small amount of cash on the 3-0 final score, but it should have been a complete loss for him as Barça dominated the game and created a host of chances that should have ended in a couple more goals. 83% possession and 19 shots!
No one is really surprised that Racing lost or even that they were comprehensively defeated, but it did get me thinking about how far superior Barça are to the rest of the league. Yes, Real Madrid can compete, but I'm not sure there is anyone out there who thinks someone other than those two teams will win the title this year.
But is La Liga that bad? Sporting Gijon has just one point from seven matches. Racing have four. Granada and Sporting have scored just two goals apiece. Barça and Real Madrid account for 27% of all the goals scored in La Liga (compare that to 23% for Manchester City and United in England). Watching Barça win to the tune of 8-0 and Real Madrid scoring six in multiple games. Yet Levante are also second, level on points with Barcelona and one ahead of Real.
Malaga spent gobs of money this summer (€52m, €3m less than both FCB and RM) and are currently sixth, behind Sevilla and Valencia. Those two teams spent a combined €20m less than Malaga and Levante are well known for having financial problems. Certainly it's still early and it would be one of the great shocks of the modern era if Levante ended up in a Champions League spot at the end of the year, but for the moment there's decent amounts of parity throughout the league.
Yet, as I just suggested, it's not very sustainable. Malaga has a good shot at getting into the CL not because they have a great squad - they have a solid one - but because eventually Levante will succumb to their lack of financial muscle while Malaga will soldier on, perhaps even adding to their squad in January. And that is where the most disparate aspect of La Liga appears: TV rights money.
TV deals are done on an individual basis in Spain; Liverpool are hoping to implement that model in England as well so as to earn more money than, say, Wigan. Barcelona and Real Madrid earn the lion's share of the money from TV in La Liga and are thus able to finance their incredible spending habits. Levante do not have that power and so they're forced to engage in the relegation battle most years. Atletico de Madrid is the third highest earner in Spain, but the numbers don't lie: in 2010, Real earned nearly €160m, Barcelona just under €180m, and Atleti just €62m.
In the short term, Levante are creating a small amount of competition, but, in the end, they will fall apart and FCB and RM will compete alone for the title. Only Malaga has the funds to get into that mix, but for now they're boxed out by the TV deals that will force their owners to invest heavily with personal funds rather than being able to reinvest earnings.
Yet none of that suggests that La Liga is actually not fun. As a Barça fan, it's easy to say that it's a perfect system, but as a fan of the league, it's even easier to yawn when there's another goalfest that you saw coming from a mile away. 8-0 is hardly the kind of score that gets the neural fan's motor running. Yet at the same time, Manchester United beat Arsenal 8-2 and I doubt many people called it boring (I missed it, so I have no opinion) or pointed out that the league as a whole was awful. Real Betis continues to ply their lovely way through the middle of the table, Sevilla is quietly going about being solid, and Valencia is quite exciting as well.
For me, it's still an exciting league, though more parity in the TV rights money would help even things out more and make for more exciting games rather than just playing the classicos and proclaiming the winner of those the league champion. Germany has done a good job of it and the Bundesliga is quite pleasant to watch, as is the national team and while Spain is obviously doing well on that front, greater depth could serve the public and general fan base better than a restricted league of 2.