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La Liga tops Premier League as Spain's European superiority continues

"The English Premier League may be the best marketed, it may have the best structure, the fullest stadiums, the biggest TV deal and could be considered the best product, except there's one problem," opines Spanish football journalist Jordi Quixano of El Pais.

"Spanish teams are superior and the football in Spain is of a much higher technical standard. English teams may have more money, but look at the achievements of Spanish teams and there's only one winner."

Naturally there will be some bias when you ask a Spaniard what they think of the Premier League. Another said "the Premier League is a huge lie" but there are other indicators which show their country's dominance, something Manchester United's executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward noted last season.

"I don't like the fact that there are consistently more players from Spain in the list for the Ballon d'Or," he said.

Four Spanish teams qualified for the Champions League this season. Three are still in it, just as three were in the quarterfinals last year ahead of an all-Spanish final between Real and Atletico Madrid.

Four English teams also qualified but only Manchester City and Arsenal are left and both lost their Round of 16 first legs at home, to Barcelona and Monaco respectively. There exists the very real prospect that the only English team left in Europe a week from now will be Everton in the Europa League and that's if they can get a positive result in Kiev after beating Dynamo 2-1 on Thursday.

Barcelona's recent win at Manchester City was the latest triumph for a Spanish club vs. English opposition.

England's Premier League may be football's commercial powerhouse and the diminishing value of the Euro will weaken the hand of continental sides further. But, as it stands, Real Madrid at £345.8m have the most expensive squad of those left in the Champions League, followed by Manchester City, Chelsea, PSG and Barcelona.

Atletico Madrid's squad cost £112 million but the club boasts an excellent youth system that has promoted Koke, Fernando Torres, Saul and Gabi to the current team. Manchester City, whose current squad cost £294m, intend to have an excellent youth system, but don't currently have a single homegrown player in their first team.

Spain is smaller in population than Germany, England and Italy and have more European Cup winners than any country with 14. Madrid's early dominance -- they won the first five - gave them a fast start but, even in the last 20 years Spain has had seven winners and four different finalists.

Madrid and Barcelona have triumphed four and three times respectively since 1995, while Valencia (twice) and Atletico have been finalists and Villarreal and Deportivo La Coruna have reached the semifinals. No country has a spread of teams that have done so well.

It's not only the Champions League in which Spanish clubs are excelling. Europa League holders Sevilla have won the competition (which was known as the UEFA Cup until 2009) three times in the last nine years and a Spanish club has lifted the trophy six times since Valencia's 2004 triumph. Two Russian clubs have won it, while no other nation has been successful it more than once.

But why? As well as excellent coaching for kids and a far higher ratio of coaches, Quixano thinks it's all about intensity of the style of play. 

"If a Spanish team are losing 2-0 after 75 minutes then the game is over," he says. "In England, the game lasts 94 minutes. The teams never give up, the fans demand that, which is entertaining but it also means the English teams are playing a lot more football."

Under Pep Guardiola, Barcelona beat teams in 60 minutes -- even in the two Champions League finals against Manchester United. That effectively meant that, while they spent as much time on the pitch, their effort was required to be a third less strenuous than that of English teams every week.

Luis Enrique has made Barca more intense, playing the ball further up the field. After their recent victory at Manchester City, he gathered his players in the dressing room and asked them why, having dominated the first half in which they took a 2-0 lead, they were less effective in the second and allowed City to score.

The players weren't quick to respond. Barca's coach insisted it was because they'd eased and not kept the ball in forward positions. Enrique, a fan of the intensity of English football, if not the technical level, wants more intensity from his players.

"Another reason English football struggles is because of the way their defenders play," continues Quixano. "There's still the obsession with two big, physical, central defenders. In Spain, you have footballers at the back like Raphael Varane, Sergio Ramos, Shkrodan Mustafi or Gerard Pique.

"They're more comfortable on the ball," adds Quixano. "Sir Alex Ferguson didn't choose Pique because he had Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, who were more aggressive. Pique learned to be more physical and aggressive in England and that made him a better player."

Spain stalwarts Cesc Fabregas and Gerard Pique have both played in their country of birth as well as England.

Spanish players are happy to go to England because they earn more money and most Spaniards are happy for them to go because they can master another type of football and become better players, to the benefit of the national team.

Pique never regretted what he learned at United while Mikel Arteta and Juan Mata will say that they learned to play football in Spain, but English football introduced them to a new education.

You also get much more for your money in Spain. All 20 Premier League club are in the top 40 in the world for revenues (and eight are in the top 20). Huge Liga clubs like Sevilla and Valencia have smaller revenues than Swansea and Stoke, yet they're far more successful -- even if they consistently lose their best talents.

Jordi Amat signed a contract extension at Swansea this week that will pay him three times what he was on at Espanyol, a team good enough to reach the UEFA Cup final in 2006, yet which operates on the budget of a side in the English championship. And he'll be paid on time too, which isn't always a given in Spain.

Indeed, now even Spanish staff are moving to middle ranking teams. Also at Swansea is ex-Sevilla goalkeeping coach Javi Garcia, who was credited with studying the methods of all Benfica's penalty takers in the Europa League final.

While the Premier League may promote itself as the best in the world and does have many positives, Spain's football factory keeps producing teams good enough to give them UEFA's highest co-efficient.

Andy Mitten is a freelance writer and the founder and editor of United We Stand. Follow him on Twitter: @AndyMitten.


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