Besides the Clasico madness of the last few days, a few thoughts on the dominance of teams from the Iberian peninsula and England. It is astonishing to see that teams from Spain and Portugal as well as England (Schalke being the exception here as they are neither Iberian nor English) are so strong in the European competitions this season.
We would expect an English team to be at this stage of course. And Man United looked the likeliest to be the English contender as Chelsea and Arsenal struggled with their own problems and came up against superior opposition. Barca were expected reach the semis, no matter what team they come up against, they seem unstoppable. Real have not reached the latter stages of the Champions League in seven years, and their presence in this year’s semis certainly has something to do with José Mourinhos being their manager.
However, to have three teams from Portugal in the semi-finals of the Europa League is unprecedented. It could be an all Portuguese final in Dublin in May, provided Villareal are beaten by Porto. However, they are strong and have just won the Portuguese league title and therefore are strong favourites. Benfica always looked comfortable against PSG and PSV and deservedly are in the semis. Braga remain the dark horse in this race. They have beaten Liverpool and Dynamo Kiew on their way to the semis and are now up against mighty Benfica. It is no coincidence that the three teams from Portugal are the top three in the league, Benfica coming second with nineteen points(!) behind Porto and fourteen ahead of Braga.
Villareal however are only the fourth strongest Spanish side behind Barca, Real and Valencia. As the Spanish league is dominated if not suffocated by the two giants we might ask if this is the real picture and the true strength of the Villareal side.
Man United will not be able to repeat their feat of 1999 but a record breaking nineteenth league title is almost secure and a Wembley final on 28 May is within their reach. Provided they get there and are successful, they will level with Liverpool on European Cups and will have overtaken them with league titles. It looks like there will be replay of the 2009 Final where Barca simply outplayed Man United in Rome.
What is striking is that exclusively all teams in the semis in Europe this season come from an insular or peninsular background, with Schalke the only aberation waiting to be corrected. A few years ago talk was about how the Eastern European teams dominated the then UEFA Cup and have since become stronger in the Cahmpions League but could not muster a real challenge to go all the way to the final. The trend of teams from the east of Europe dominating has been stopped for the time being, if they can sustain their challenge, is a matter of time. But it is frightening that football in Europe seems to be dominated by its fringes with a big gaping hole in the middle.