For the first time since the 1998-99 edition of the Champions League, La Liga will have just one representative in the knockout stage. And, once again, it’s Real Madrid.
Sevilla will quite rightly claim that they were placed in a tough group, alongside Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund. And the Europa League has long felt like their natural habitat anyway. The Andalusians will already be eyeing a record-extending seventh title.
However, it is extremely concerning for the Spanish game that Barcelona are in danger of becoming Europa League regulars, having been relegated to Europe’s ‘second division’ for the second year in a row.
Granted, they too were given a tough draw, with Bayern Munich and Inter for company in Group C, but the way in which the second-best team in Spain performed against both did not reflect well on the current strength of La Liga.
Indeed, the issue was even raised with Barca boss Xavi at the weekend, after his side coasted to victory over Athletic Club just a few days after easing past Villarreal. Xavi insisted that the Primera Division is actually stronger, and more competitive, than its been in years.
But Atletico Madrid, who are third in La Liga but already eight points behind Real, made a mockery of that claim by being knocked out of the Champions League on matchday five – despite being in a group with Porto, Club Brugge and Bayer Leverkusen.
Those are all decent sides in their own right – the Belgians have been the tournament’s surprise package this season – but they would have been easily beaten by the Atleti sides that reached the final in 2014 and 2016. The suspicion is that it’s not just Diego Simeone’s side that are in decline.
Real Madrid remain the kings of Europe and Spain still ranks second in UEFA’s club coefficients but there are worrying signs that La Liga is losing its lustre.