Sports / February 25, 2009

An introduction to European soccer

So, I was never really into sports when I was younger. I guess it’s because my dad never sat me down to watch baseball, and my friends didn’t throw Super Bowl parties (at least not ones I ever got invited to). Two years ago, all that changed. I spent my junior year of high school as an exchange student living in Spain. It was there that I truly began to appreciate sports. My host brothers were big soccer fans, and watched every game they could.

The first soccer game that really sparked my interest was Real Madrid (my host brothers’ team) versus Olympique Lyonnais (six-time French champions). Olympique had yet to concede a single goal in the Champion’s League after four games. Real Madrid needed to beat them to ensure a spot in the playoffs. The game ended with a 2-to-2 tie and both teams moved on to the playoffs in the end. I was so enthralled, jumping up and screaming “GOOOOOOOOAAAAAAL!” I ended the game hooked.

After watching a few more games, I realized just how dramatic soccer really is. Every other game has a back story like that one. Old rivalries, new feuds, competing interests, and players playing against the team they used to be loyal to. It’s a soap opera on the field, and every game you feel like you’re watching history in the making.

Soccer this year is as exciting as ever. The European leagues have reached the point where their stories are all taking shape. Whether by nearly complete domination, such as in Spain’s La Liga or Italy’s Seria A, by a winner-take-all close-knit brawl such as the English Premier League, or by an upset such as in the German Bundesliga, each of the major European leagues are looking like they’re headed down their own paths. Let’s take a look at how the leagues are shaping up this year so far.


A month ago, it seemed like anyone could win the English Premier League: Chelsea, Liverpool, and Manchester United were all prime bets. A string of 10 victories in a row for Manchester, and some bad luck for the rest of the teams left Man U. up by seven points over second place Liverpool. Some bad performances by Arsenal, as well, have left them out of a Champions League qualifying, right behind a phenomenal Aston Villa.

We are still waiting to see a bloom out of the newly rich Manchester City, whose recent takeover by the Abu Dhabi Group has left them with billions to spend on insane transfers. And yet, they’re still lingering in the middle of the table, unable to go anywhere. Tottenham Hostspur, who looked promising in the preseason with some newly bought talent, has done surprisingly badly this year, at times fighting not to be relegated.


This year, Spain has been all Barcelona. They have the number one, three and five best strikers in Spain, and have conceded the fewest goals. Fresh out of a winning streak, with 22 games in a row without a loss, their best three strikers alone have scored more goals than any team in any major league in Europe.

However, the league has recently been shaken up a bit. Barcelona just lost against their cross-town rivals, Espanyol, in their own stadium. Espanyol is dwindling in second to last this year, so this was a big upset. With this loss and a recent tie, Real Madrid brought Barcelona’s lead from 12 points down to seven. Even so, that’s a lot of points for Real Madrid to make up.


Italy has, as well, been marked by near complete domination this year. Despite the best efforts of Juventus and AC Milan, Inter Milan is standing high at nine points over second place Juventus, and after their most recent victory against AC Milan, it looks like they’re not going anywhere.

Several players have shone this season in Italy. The most famous of these is David Beckham, who was loaned to AC Milan over the winter. The team and the fans like him so much that the club has been in a custody war with the Los Angeles Galaxy over him. Although it seems that Beckham is going to stay in L.A. for now, it may not stay that way for long. Beckham has stated that he would like to play in Milan more, and the club has repeatedly said that they are not done trying to buy his contract.

Gordon Barratt

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