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February 25, 2021

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Spanish Euro grip slides further

The warning signs flashed last year and after three home defeats in this season’s UEFA Champions League last 16, the decline of Spanish football on the European stage is becoming ever harder to ignore.

The country’s pride was already hurting from Barcelona being hammered 4-1 by Paris Saint-Germain and Sevilla losing 2-3 to Borussia Dortmund, but Atletico Madrid’s limp 0-1 loss against Chelsea on Tuesday was perhaps the hardest defeat to swallow.

Atletico has been the best side in Spain all season but against a Chelsea side still learning the ropes under Thomas Tuchel, it was utterly toothless and failed to have a shot on target.

“This is a big reflection of how poor La Liga is at the moment,” said 2008 UCL winner with Manchester United Rio Ferdinand on BT Sport.

Former Chelsea player Joe Cole added: “If that’s the best La Liga’s offering they have problems. It’s definitely shifting.”

Spanish sides won six of the previous 10 UCL titles but last year no teams reached the semifinals for the first time since 2007.

The writing was on the wall then, as Barcelona was humiliated 8-2 by Bayern, Real Madrid was outclassed by Manchester City in the last 16 and Atletico was overpowered by RB Leipzig.

Now, there is a serious threat of Spain not having a team in the quarterfinals for the first time since the 2004-05 campaign. Its hopes may rest on Real, which was visiting Atalanta yesterday.

Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman has said it’s too early to jump to conclusions about Spain’s decline in Europe, but his side are a case in point.

The vanguard of football a decade ago, the Catalans have failed to evolve their style of play or squad while squandering hundreds of millions of euros on flops such as Philippe Coutinho, Antoine Griezmann, and Ousmane Dembele.

Real has also recruited poorly, with record signing Eden Hazard being riddled with injuries and expensive Brazilian youngsters Vinicius Jr and Rodrygo failing to deliver.

Spanish clubs’ misadventure in the transfer market was recently mocked by the Bundesliga CEO when he talked of “poorly managed cash-burning machines” last week.

But physical weakness may be an even bigger factor in Spanish clubs’ decline.

While Barcelona played far more passes than PSG last week, it fell way short in distance covered, the French side running 1.4 kilometers more.

Atletico was also overrun by Chelsea, and although Sevilla outperformed Dortmund in nearly every area, it made a string of individual errors which the Germans ruthlessly pounced upon thanks to their superior pace.

“It’s impossible when your opponents run like they’re on a motorbike and you do not,” said former Real Madrid youth player and coach Alvaro Benito on radio station Cadena SER.

“The reality is in Spain players want the ball at their feet. They get accustomed to the speed of their league and playing at 80 percent instead of 100.”

When it comes to intensity, few teams can match UCL holder Bayern, which thrashed Lazio 4-1 away on Tuesday.

“A recent statistic showed Bayern ran 20km more per game than the average La Liga team. That’s the style that made them European champions, everyone breaking into space, going for second balls, arriving in the area,” added Benito.

Meanwhile, Bayern teenager Jamal Musiala has decided to play in the future for the German national team instead of England after a talk with Germany coach Joachim Loew, the attacking midfielder said yesterday.

The 17-year-old became the youngest English scorer in the UCL when he netted the 4-1 last 16 first leg win over Lazio.

Hours later he announced his decision to play for Germany.

“I have a heart for Germany and a heart for England,” Musiala told Germany’s ARD Television. “I thought about it a lot but at the end I listened to the feeling that it is the right decision to play for Germany.”

The Stuttgart-born Musiala played almost his entire youth career at Chelsea from 2011 before joining Bayern in 2019 and thus was eligible to also play for England.

He has also represented both Germany and England at national youth level but said a chat with coach Loew helped swing the decision in Germany’s favor. “I had a very good and honest discussion with Joachim Loew. We met in Munich and he showed me clearly my way to the national team,” Musiala revealed.

He said Germany team director Oliver Bierhoff had also been present.

“I was impressed by how well informed they both were. Mr Loew analyzed very well my style and my weaknesses. He sees me in the future in my strongest position, that in the attacking midfield,” Musiala added.

Germany has advanced to this year’s European Championship and Loew said Musiala would be called up next month for the team’s three World Cup 2022 qualifying matches.

Germany hosts Iceland on March 25 before visiting Romania for another World Cup qualifier three days later. It also plays North Macedonia on March 31.


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