The 2011-2012 Champions League draw was a classic example of when the rich gets richer, at least for La Liga sides.
Barcelona and Real Madrid, the top two favorites to win the tournament this season, got relatively easy paths to the knockout stage. Meanwhile, Villarreal got stuck in the toughest group of the competition, already called the Group of Death. The other Spaniard team in the competition, Valencia, got an average group.
Barcelona is in the Group H, with AC Milan, BATE Borisov and Viktoria Plzen. The defending Italian champions are a tough opponent, of course, but the Bulgarian and Czech sides won’t be a problem for Barcelona.
Real Madrid leads Group D, with Olympique Lyon, Ajax Amsterdam and Dinamo Zagreb. Sure, Lyon used to be Real Madrid’s nemesis, but they are not the same team that dominated France for seven years.
On the other hand, Villarreal will have to deal with Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Napoli in Group A. Bayern and City seem to be the favorites in that group, but the truth is anyone could get into the knockout stage or get eliminated even from consolation in the Europa League.
How does this affect La Liga?
Barcelona and Real Madrid would probably win any group anyway, but having both in easy groups while Villarreal and Valencia will struggle more means more advantage in the Spanish league for the two juggernauts.
While Barça and Madrid probably will be able to rotate their starters in the last group phase games, Valencia and Villarreal will need to use their best squads in both La Liga and the Champions League from the start.
Don’t be surprised if by December there is already a 10- or 15-point gap between Barça/Madrid and Valencia/Villarreal.
But even if the two chasers are close to the top two by the end of 2011, the effort needed to keep pace in the first semester will end affecting them in the second half of the season.
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