This week marks the start of the European club competitions and for the first time Spain will have five teams participating in the Champions League, while Villarreal and Athletic Bilbao will battle for the glory in the Europa League.
Can Spain reign in Europe again?
Valencia overcame Monaco in a play-off in August, meaning that Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid and Sevilla, along with Valencia, will all try to become the eighth Spanish team in the last 15 years to win European football’s most coveted prize.
Spanish teams have done particularly well in general in Europe, with seven of them also winning the Europa league since the turn of the millennium. The prospects for this year also look promising for all of them to add to the list of winners.
Barcelona and the two teams from Madrid will fancy their chances of progressing to the very latter stages of the Champions League. The Catalan club are the favourites to regain their title that they won against Juventus and have demonstrated their prowess with early season victories in La Liga away to Bilbao and Atlético.
Luis Enrique’s men have a relatively straightforward group and barring any major surprises will qualify for the knockout phase, where the introduction of summer signing, Arda Turan, who cannot play until January because of Barça’s transfer embargo, will add yet more guile and class to an already scintillating frontline. The only problem they may encounter is if they suffer injuries across their forward line, but even so, don’t bet against Lionel Messi and company to be too far away from winning their fifth Champions League in the last 10 years.
Real Madrid are Barcelona’s main rivals. They are in a tricky looking group, drawn alongside Paris Saint-Germain, but like their rivals, they will feel they have enough to reach the knockout stage and should be considered real contenders even in Rafa Benitez’s first year in charge.
Atlético have had a productive summer in the transfer market, bringing in (amongst many others) Jackson Martinez as well as bringing left-back Filipe Luis back home. Under the stewardship of Diego Simeone and with a squad of exciting talent, Atlético will definitely feel they can get through their modest group and they can beat anyone over two legs.
Valencia, likewise, will feel they can progress to the knockout phases. Their group isn’t too difficult and if they can win their home games then that will put them in good stead to qualify for the latter stages.
Sevilla, who qualified thanks to winning the Europa League, have the proverbial group of death. They have to contend with Juventus and Manchester City and will be underdogs to progress. They could finish third in their group and end up defending their Europa League crown.
In the Europa League, Villarreal and Athletic Bilbao will both feel confident about getting through their respective groups. The only challenge they face is to themselves as their smaller squads will be tested by a long European campaign.
Last May, Spanish teams won both the Europa League and the Champions League in the same year for the third time in the last ten years. Don’t bet against one or two celebrating glory again this season.