- Europe has a clear one-two
Count Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, Borussia Dortmund among teams that could win Champions League, but if you see a European power ranking than has anybody but Bayern Munich and Real Madrid in the top two spots, hit Ctrl+W, go to Twitter, unfollow the author and be thankful for all the free time you’ll have going forward. On current form, there’s no question Bayern and El Real are the world’s top two teams. Anything other ranking is talking potential, not present day reality.
After today’s 6-1 blowout in Gelsenkirchen, Real Madrid hasn’t lost since late October. In that time, they’ve climbed to the top of the Spanish league and dealt two lopsided defeats to an Atlético team that entered the month with one all-competition loss. Today at Schalke, their 6-1 served as a counterpoint to the moderation Ancelotti preached in yesterday’s press conference. Whether planned or not, this was a statement of intent, one which saw their talented attack pile on its overmatched opponent.
Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund both lost in league this weekend. Paris Saint-Germain lost to Montpellier last month. All of England’s top teams have stumbled recently. In the meantime, Bayern and Real press on. Bayern hasn’t lost since Dec. 10 (their only competitive defeat under Pep Guardiola), while Real Madrid hasn’t fallen since Oct. 26’s trip to the Nou Camp.
- Harsh realities for the German Bundesliga
Only Spain’s Liga sports a better one-two than Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, but beyond that duopoly, the Bundesliga looks a lot like the Spanish Primera División before Atlético Madrid’s recent emergence. While a BVB team that’s struggling in league gives the false impression teams like Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke can match their play, the league actually has two European elites that are head and shoulders ahead of the circuit’s versions of Valencia, Sevilla, Villarreal and Málaga.
Last week provided the first evidence, with Bayer Leverkusen putting up no fight as Paris Saint-Germain took a 4-0 lead of the BayArena. Today, Schalke’s result was even worse, with three Real Madrid players scoring twice as the Miners fell behind, 6-1. If this is what the Bundesliga has to offer beyond Bayern and Dortmund, it’s difficult to argue this is the best league in the world.
And in fairness, that argument’s only gained momentum over the last two years. And compared to leagues like Italy’s or France’s, Germany certainly has enviable depth. Ligue 1 only placed one team in the knockout round, while two of Serie A’s three qualifiers also departed in the group stages.
But where the Bundesliga is now being mentioned with England and Spain as the top leagues in the world, results like Bayer’s and Schalke’s are informative. The circuit still has a way to go to make the argument its on the same level as the Premier League or La Liga.
The scoresheet speaks to Real Madrid’s attacking brilliance, but a highlight at the other end of the field shouldn’t be overlooked. One minute after Karim Benzema gave los Blancos and early lead, Iker Casillas — the team’s No. 1 in cup competitions only — offered a reminder of why he’s still Spain’s first choice. On a cross from the right for Julian Draxler, San Iker was able to get back from the left post to the middle of goal, his leaping stop denying the talented German from four yards out. On a day where Casillas saw little action, the Madrid icon made one of the tournament’s best saves.
The controversy around the Madrid legend’s benching died down this summer, but performances like today’s offer a reminder. Casillas may not be the elite keeper he was four years ago, but he’s still more than capable of moments that evoke similar qualities. Whether it’s for Real Madrid or another club, the 32-year-old is still worthy of being somebody’s starter. He is, after all, in goal for one of the top teams in this year’s Champions League.