As the European club football season has concluded, it’s the time when many pundits, including yours truly, pause to consider the state of the European game and ponder the eternal question – Which is the best league in Europe?
We can argue about excitement, crowd sizes, atmosphere and the competitive nature (or lack) of the respective leagues, but, in the end, it arguably comes down to who has won the big European prizes and the representation of the various leagues in the latter stages of the UEFA Champions League and Europa League.
And on that basis, it is hard to question the continued dominance of Spanish football. Atletico Madrid won the Europa League, outplaying French titans Marseille, while Real Madrid made history, winning their third consecutive UEFA Champions League title (you could say that Madrid is now Europe’s Footballing capital).
A Premier League renaissance in Europe
However, while the crown still rests on the head of La Liga, the pretenders are surely the Premier League, who this year staged something of a renaissance in Europe. England’s five representatives all booked their place in the last 16 of the Champions League, with Liverpool and Manchester City progressing to the last 8, where they faced off. After dispatching Guardiola’s Premier League champions, Klopp made it all the way to the final, and if wasn’t for an injury to Salah, and Karius’s horror show, one could argue that they might have found a way to win!
And what about the other European leagues? While Italian sides have done well in Europe and Serie A seems to be getting stronger, it still fails to match the PL or La Liga. Meanwhile, the Bundesliga and Ligue 1 seem to still be remarkably uncompetitive, with Bayern and PSG running away with their respective leagues.
To test the strength of what I think are the best two leagues in Europe, I have picked my La Liga and Premier League sides for a fantasy wonder tie, to be played in the imaginations of football fans across the continent.
La Liga Team
Goalkeeper – Jan Oblak
He has been pivotal in a watertight Atletico defence that has only conceded 20 goals in the league, and managed to keep 22 clean sheets – hence why he has pipped Marc Andre Ter Stegen.
Right Back – Alvaro Odriozola
The 22-year-old, who has attracted interest from Real Madrid, has had a fine season in the right back position for Real Sociedad. He is solid defensively but like more modern day full backs, he enjoys attacking with his pace on the wing. He has definitely earned his place in Spain’s World Cup squad.
Centre Back – Gerard Pique
The Spain international has been integral to Barca’s back four this season, helping the team to concede only 29 goals. He remains a cultured and assured presence for club and country.
Centre Back – Diego Godin
One of the world’s best centre backs when at the top of his game, Godin has been at the heart of Atletico’s defence and offers better defensive cover than the sometimes impetuous Sergio Ramos.
Left Back – Jordi Alba
After finishing the 2016-17 season on shaky terms with then manager Luis Enrique, Ernesto Valverde’s arrival has given Alba a new lease of life, striking an important partnership with Lionel Messi. Alba has scored 2 goals and provided 8 assists, including the equaliser in the league clash against his former charges Valencia in December.
Defensive Midfield – Sergio Busquets
He is the man who gives the Blaugrana stability between defence and attack, and has been in fine form this season. He scored 1 goal and provided 3 assists in their domestic double winning campaign. But it is worth mentioning that he does so much more that usually goes unnoticed. When he has been out, Barcelona have not looked the same.
Central Midfield – Toni Kroos
In a poor domestic season for Los Blancos, Kroos has been a calm, cultured and consistent presence in their midfield, while other team mates have had their ups and downs. He scored 4 goals and provided 6 assists in 24 league games this season.
Central Midfield – Dani Parejo
After trying to force through moves to Sevilla and Barcelona, Parejo has been reinstated as captain and has used his midfield magic to help Los Che book a place in the 2018-19 Champions League.
Right Winger – Lionel Messi
He has been one of the reasons the Blaugrana reclaimed the Liga title from their great rivals Real Madrid, scoring a whopping 34 goals and providing 12 assists.
Striker – Luis Suarez
The Uruguayan striker has been in great form this season, netting 25 times and providing 12 assists. While there has been some talk of him moving on, the Blaugrana should try to get a couple of more seasons out of him.
Left Winger – Iago Aspas
After a failed spell at Liverpool, the Celta Vigo man has had a phenomenal season, scoring 22 times. His highlights from the season include hat-tricks in the games vs Sevilla and Las Palmas, and a goal in both clashes against Barcelona.
Bench – Cristiano Ronaldo, Saul Niguez, Nacho, Marcelo, Marc Andre Ter Stegen, Sergio Ramos and Isco.
Premier League Team
Goalkeeper – David de Gea
Has been United’s best player this season and is surely one of, if not, the best goalkeepers in football at the minute.
Right Back – Kyle Walker
After ditching Tottenham for the blue side of Manchester, the young Englishman has enjoyed a solid season. Blessed with great pace and a growing presence on the ball, he has improved massively under Guardiola.
Centre Back – Virgil van Dijk
Since joining Liverpool from Southampton, he has added steel to the Reds back four, something they were sorely lacking earlier in the campaign. Van Dijk offers a huge physical presence together with a great ability to read the game.
Centre Back- Jan Vertonghen
The Belgian has enjoyed a fine season at the back, helping Pochettino’s charges to a Champions League place. He has been ever present in the Spurs back four and offers an aerial threat in the opposition box.
Left Back – Andrew Robertson
One of the finds of the season, the Scottish international has displaced Spaniard Alberto Moreno on the left side of defence for Jurgen Klopp’s charges and has generally played well throughout the campaign. He is a high energy footballer with a great crossing ability.
Central Midfield – Nemanja Matic
He has added a bit of steel to United’s midfield in what has been quite a dour and trophy-less season for the Red side of Manchester. For me he just edges N’Golo Kante and offers extra defensive quality at set pieces.
Central Midfield – David Silva
The Spain international has had a difficult time off the field this season, but when he has played, his creativity has helped the Citizens unlock their attacking potential, providing 11 assists, 3rd behind his teammates Kevin de Bruyne and Leroy Sane.
Right Attacking Midfield – Mohamed Salah
Since coming back to the PL, Salah has formed part of Liverpool’s potent front three- using his mix of lightening quick pace and lethal finishing. Possibly Europe’s best player this season?
Central Attacking Midfield – Kevin De Bruyne
The Belgian has played a significant part in City’s title winning campaign scoring and assisting for fun. De Bruyne has been easily one of European Football’s best attacking midfielders with perhaps the finest passing game in Europe.
Left Attacking Midfield – Roberto Firmino
The Brazilian has been a crucial part of Liverpool’s skillful front three. He managed to net 27 times in 50 appearances and it is fair to say he has adapted exceptionally well in what is a physically demanding league.
Centre Forward- Harry Kane
Easily the Premier League’s best striker at the minute and quite possibly in Europe. Kane has once again scored over 30 goals helping his team London qualify for next seasons UEFA Champions League. Blessed with two good feet, strong in the air and with the ability to link play, or lead the line, Kane is the complete centre forward.
Bench – Ederson, Sergio Aguero, Paul Pogba, Leroy Sane, James Tarkowski, Benjamin Mendy and Sadio Mane.
Editorial credit: Mitch Gunn / Shutterstock.com