Spanish siesta gets a wake-up call from Germany

Real Madrid's Eder Militao (left) and his teammate Casemiro react during the Uefa Champions League Round of 16 second leg match.
Real Madrid's Eder Militao (left) and his teammate Casemiro react during the Uefa Champions League Round of 16 second leg match.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

LISBON • For the first time in 13 years, there is no Spanish team in the semi-finals of the Champions League.

The way in which Barcelona were dumped out, with an 8-2 defeat by Bayern Munich, has emphatically ended the era of La Liga supremacy. There was one basic similarity in the way the Catalan giants, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid exited Europe this season - they simply looked too slow.

It is not that their players lack speed individually but that their styles of play lack the intensity and dynamism, relentless pressing of the top German and English teams.

The Spanish sides are not able to attack with that same forcefulness, to turn from defence to attack in a matter of seconds, and they also struggle defensively to handle teams that play in such a manner.

Barcelona's capitulation was the most blatant example of how far behind Spain has fallen in terms of the tactical evolution of the game.

Less than a decade ago, it was the cutting edge of modern football - its tiki-taka game and supreme control of possession simply passed opponents to death.

But an often underestimated part of the Barca way under Pep Guardiola, which brought Champions League titles in 2009 and 2011, was just how quickly his team could retrieve the ball once they had lost it. There was little sense of that hunger to quickly seize back control from the Germans last Friday.

More recently, Real Madrid's successes in Europe, with four Champions League titles between 2014 and 2018, came with a different style. But since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, they have lost their fear factor and like Barca, they have struggled when trying to play the ball out from the back against an aggressive press.

Atletico Madrid built their success under Diego Simeone on a platform of defensive soundness and a clinical counter-attack.

But they have lost that attacking element, shorn of the invention of Antoine Griezmann and with Diego Costa no longer the danger he once was.

The one team in Spain that is the closest to the modern form of playing are Sevilla, who are the last La Liga team left in Europe and will take on Inter Milan in Sunday's Europa League final.

  • Spanish winners in the Champions League in the past 10 finals, while there had been only one German champion.

But they will be in the Champions League next season and having finished fourth in La Liga, doubts remain that they can go on a deep run in European football's premier competition.

Spanish coaches like Guardiola are among the greatest students of the game, but they now have a new puzzle to solve - how to match teams who have pressed their top-flight clubs out of Europe.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2020, with the headline 'Spanish siesta gets a wake-up call from Germany'. Subscribe