La Liga Loca's Big Season Review: Athletic to Espanyol
Athletic BilbaoFinal Position 10thLLL Rating B+Spain may be suffering from a fairly substantial economic crisis, but thatÃ¢ÂÂs certainly not an issue in the Basque Country, where a centre specialising in bottling of gargantuan proportions has been established, bigger than anything Coca Cola could dream up. Two finals, two stone-cold freezes from Athletic Bilbao is the story if LLL was wanting to be hard-headed and harsh about the clubÃ¢ÂÂs season. Two finals (two more than Real Madrid), two memorable events for their fans and fantastic promise for the future, is an alternative view, with a squad that can only improve and mature under Marcelo Bielsa should the teamÃ¢ÂÂs big names and barking mad coach stay together for the new campaign. AtlÃÂ©tico MadridFinal Position 5thLLL Rating B-AtlÃÂ©ticoÃ¢ÂÂs domestic campaign was like a drunk HR manager running for the last train to Haywards Heath, getting stuck in the doors but managing to squeeze through before spilling onto the floor and landing face first into his kebab. Despite a change of manager at Christmas, Diego GodÃÂn losing his marbles in the last minute of every game to throw away countless points and AtlÃÂ©tico being AtlÃÂ©tico, the side managed to sneak into fifth. But thatÃ¢ÂÂs far from the Champions League place that was targeted to help improve the clubÃ¢ÂÂs awful finances.
In Europe, it was Diego Simeone's imperious version of AtlÃÂ©tico who trounced pretty much every side that stood in its path, with Falcao particularly fantastic. Although the side won the Europa League for the second time in three years, the title wonÃ¢ÂÂt help pay the (enormous) bills and attract the big hitters. Unless the club are intending to melt down the trophy, that is. LLL suspects the owning Gil family have already considered it, though.
BarcelonaFinal Position 2ndLLL Rating C+Losing the league to Real Madrid by nine points due to some flimsy performances away from home - Getafe being the particular highlight - and failing to beat a Chelsea side that gave BarÃÂ§a pretty much every single opportunity available to win their Champions League semi-final sees a distinctly ordinary season for PepÃ¢ÂÂs Dream Boys. The injury to David Villa, illness of Eric Abidal and occasional defensive idiocy of Gerard PiquÃÂ© certainly didnÃ¢ÂÂt help the side through the season, but over all there were too many players underperforming and failing to give the support necessary to the truly mesmeric Leo Messi, who was Gwen Stefani to BarÃÂ§aÃ¢ÂÂs No Doubt. Although the Copa del Rey was won, as Barcelona fans were keen to remind Real Madrid last season, who cares about that when the league was lost?
BetisFinal Position 13thLLL Rating B+An end of season that avoided any last minute need nappy-wearing panic for Betis saw the side snuggly in mid-table, but it wasnÃ¢ÂÂt plain sailing for a ridiculously inconsistent side that both lead the table and were fourth from bottom in the same season, after a run in late 2011 of nine defeats from ten games. Fortunately, the Betis president, Miguel GuillÃÂ©n, is the most sensible seÃÂ±or to be running the club - well, heÃ¢ÂÂs the only sensible seÃÂ±or to have ever run the club considering most predecessors kept receipts in shoeboxes and bought nonsense players for billions - and stuck by poor Pepe Mel, a chirpy fella who seemed under constant pressure despite the fact nobody ever really thought the newly promoted Betis would return to la Segunda after just one season.
EspanyolFinal Position 14thLLL Rating C+The Pericos may, just may have been contenders for a European spot after a fairly uneventful but comfortable campaign on the whole. With 11 games to go, Espanyol were in fifth before the Europa League alarm clock went off - and like a lazy layabout giving up on the idea of an early morning run - the Perico players hurled it into the corner before going back to bed for four hours and then slumming about on the sofa. This campaign might seem like a classic in comparison to next yearÃ¢ÂÂs though, with Espanyol in all sorts of financial trouble and having to sell, refinance and give Mauricio Pochettino a second job to pay the bills. A weight-loss expert might be an idea considering the Espanyol boss lost about ten kilos over the final part of the season.