How do you solve a problem like La Liga?
For the past couple of days, media outlets here in Britain have been full of stories speculating on who might move where and when and for how much: but here at Get the Mott and Buckett there's a more pressing issue regarding our Iberian cousins.
And so it was. On the 21st week of the 2010/11 La Liga season, Barcelona won their third consecutive title. Real Madrid's 1-0 loss to Osasuna on Sunday evening means they are now 7 points behind leaders Barcelona. In any other league in Europe that would be an assailable lead; not, however, in Spain.
For all the mitigating circumstances: the extra balls thrown on the pitch in the last ten minutes; Cristiano Ronaldo complaining that "all the opponents tried to do was kick us" - Real Madrid deserved to lose. They had two shots on target in the entire 90 minutes, and only one clear-cut opportunity. Ronaldo was kept, as has been the case for a lot of this season, at a distance. The two midfield pivots: Lass Diarra and Sami Khedira were woeful. And Karim Benzema proved that he can't cut it at the highest plain in the land.
But worse for Los Meringues is the worrying trend that this result seems to have continued. Madrid have now dropped 12 points away from home: two at Mallorca, Levante and Almeria and three at Osasuna and Barcelona. The last four teams they failed to beat were placed 17th, 18th, 20th and 1st (but let's forget about them). Three of La Liga's bottom five teams have now taken points off Madrid. And they have failed to score more than one goal in their past five games. As absolutely, wonderfully, brilliant Cristiano Ronaldo is, can Madrid afford to continue to rely on him? Can they survive without the vision and passing of Xabi Alonso? How badly do they miss Gonzalo Higuain? Is the squad good enough? Why didn't Mourinho invest properly in January? All of these are problems. But let's face it, they are not the problem.
The problem is Barcelona. With a seven point lead at the top of the Primera Division, Barca have effectively won the league. In late January! This morning's papers in Spain were full of similar sentiments: 'The league escapes Madrid' pronounced Marca. And over at El Mundo Deportivo, editor Tomas Roncero announced in his editorial: "Fighting for the league only to lose it in week 36 is a waste of effort now.... a team that can't win at Mallorca, Levante, Almería and Osasuna cannot expect to win the league."
But it's not just about those games, it's about other games. Barca's games. If throwing the towel in with 17 games to go sounds like madness, consider this caveat: Madrid trail Barcelona by seven points - a gap they've never turned around before. But it's effectively eight points. Because if the teams finish level at the end of the season, head-to-head goal difference will decide the league, and Barca, lest we forget, are 5-0 up. This morning, some even suggested that Barcelona might give Madrid April's clasico, by resting all their star players for the Champions League semi-final three days later, safe in the knowledge that the league title had been wrapped up.
Mathematically of course, it isn't. But you can understand why most people think it is. Barcelona didn't drop eight points for the whole of last season; and this year they have won 15 games in a row - a new La Liga record no less. Real Madrid would win any league in Europe except this one.
But in a league where draws are the new losses; and losses are the new catastrophes, what can be done to stop this duopoly? Or, as Deportivo fans displayed on a banner earlier this season: "Stop us becoming a Scottish league."
TV rights is one way of alleviating this unfair balance. In a league where Arab billionaires and Russian oligarchs are short on the ground, TV money, along with gate receipts, is the only plausible way of competing with the big teams. Unfortunately for the other 18 teams in La Liga, a new collective deal means that incomes will be higher, but, as always with Spanish football, not all teams will be equal. A new £2billion deal means: 16 teams will receive a 45% share of the money each year. Athletico Madrid and Valencia will each get 11%, and Madrid and Barcelona will each receive 35% of the total. La Liga's 'other teams' had effectively signed their own death warrants; just so most of them could stay in business.
Of course, the domination of The Big Two in Spain is not a new phenomenon. Between 1948-1999, Real/Barca only failed to win 12 titles. But the problem now is not that Real Madrid/Barcelona always win the league; they are the only teams who can win the league.
Real Madrid broke a La Liga points total last year, and yet still couldn't win the league. Asked at the end of the season to comment on the amount of points the two teams were racking up, Pep Guardiola replied: "It's F***ing barbaric." Quite.