LaLiga suits older players, but Real Madrid shows why youth is needed to compete for the Champions League

During Real Madrid’s incredible 3-1 win over Manchester City last week, which earned them a ticket to the Champions League final, there seemed to be a moment of “changing guards”. Los Blancos the semi-final rematch started with seven players in their XI who were 29 or older (ranging from Luka Modric at 36), and the average age of manager Carlo Ancelotti’s starting lineup was also 29 years.

By the time City were on their knees after two last-minute goals Rodrygo leveled the equalization on the aggregate, and before Karim BenzemaThe penalty in overtime ended things, Madrid players who went to the pitch had an average age of 26, three years younger than at the start of the game, and included seven of those who were 26 or younger.

The Madrid stars with the most minutes in the Champions League this season have an average age of 30: Thibaut Courtois (30), Vinicius Junior (21), Benzema (34), Modric (36). But of these, only goalkeeper Courtois finished the 120-minute semi-final against City – there were players on the field like Eduardo Camavinga (19), Rodrygo (21), Dani Ceballos (25), Jesus Vallejo (25) i Federico Valverde (23). (Average age of these five: 22½ years.

With Madrid wanting to sign a contract with the 23-year-old striker Kylian Mbappe from PSG in a free transfer this summer, as well as the 22-year-old Monaco midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni for around € 60 million, the victory over City may not only have marked the beginning of a new era emerging at the Bernabeu, but also that young people are starting to take the lead. It was intriguing and it was late.

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The previous three champions of the Spanish LaLiga were Barcelona, ​​Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, but until this season, each tried to keep up with the changing atmosphere of European football. In the 2019-20 season, Madrid were knocked out by Manchester City in the round of 16, with a total score of 4-2, defeated at home and away; in the shortened quarterfinals in one game due to the COVID pandemic, Athletics fell 2-1 against rookie in the Champions League RB Leipzig, and Barcelona won 8-2 from Bayern Munich.

The following season, in the round of 16, Barca lost 4-1 at home to PSG and lost 5-2 overall; The athlete was completely uncompetitive in the overall defeat by Chelsea 3-0. And by the time European champions Thomas Tuchel soon finished with Madrid at Stamford Bridge, in the semi-final rematch, Los Blancos they chased the shadows and were lucky to lose only a 3-1 draw.

Although there is no team in the European elite leagues that does not feel the weight of too many games and too little time to recover, as well as too much mental and physical pressure, the fact remains that the trend in the Champions League is that the most capable, fastest, heartless and most intense club will win , but a slower, older side.

There are many reasons to explain Madrid’s excellent victory in Spain this season – most of them relate to their superior attitude, relentless ability to stand up in the big moments and the fact that several of their players have “best” performances. But one of the reasons is the fact that LaLiga is more thoughtful, more technical, less oriented towards brutally fast counterattacks or constant suffocating pressure.

In other words, it’s still a league where the fact that a player or group of players can be in their mid-30s is no harm. This is a race for the title in which the turtle can beat the rabbit – quality, intelligence and experience can not only cope with youth, strength and athleticism, but can also dominate.

Let’s add Villarreal to this equation. For anyone with a glimmer of romanticism in their heart, the Yellow Submarine is advancing within 45 minutes of entering the finals in Paris – as they tied the 2-0 deficit by halftime before falling to a 5-2 overall score. be a joyful memory.

There is a lot to be said about the club, its team and the way Unai Emery’s international footballers knocked out Juventus and Bayern before pushing Liverpool hard. But one key thing is that, like the Madrid and Barca old guards, Villarreal has guys who prefer to make the ball run rather than run after an intense sprint. Raul Albiol is 36, Vicente Iborra is 34, Etienne Capoue and Dani Parejo on 33.

This was partly due to fitness and injury problems, but also largely due to the age of the first XI – where there are also a few players like e.g. Manu Trigueros, Gerard Moreno and Francis Coquelin at or around 30 – that Villarreal just couldn’t handle Liverpool’s rush of intensity and high-pressure football in the second half. What’s more, after drinking coffee with a few of Liverpool’s technical staff before the game, I know they analytically knew this was going to be the case. They calculated that Villarreal’s storm would last at best half a game.

The old Spanish team, which does not have to live every week with intensity and high demands on athleticism or physical endurance, is at a disadvantage if it is asked to perform a massive, exhausting 45-minute flash to reverse the deficit against the elite team in Europe. To complement its technical excellence, top-notch coaching and vast reserves of intelligence, character and experience, to once again compete more comprehensively in Europe, LaLiga needs its teams to be a little younger, a little faster and a little more intense.

Anyway, after that first hint of change in Madrid (and remember, it’s just the first hint – Benzema, Modric, Kroos and Courtois will still be some of the club’s dominant forces next season), the “golden old” LaLige retaliated in great style.

If you take Saturday’s games as an example, LaLiga won’t be young and fashionable anytime soon, because “Grandpa’s Gala” still seems to be running things. The numbers on Friday and Saturday were extraordinary.

It started with Levante beating Real Sociedad on Friday. Jorge Miramonwho turns 33 in a month, scored for the home team, but La Real‘s head for the equalizer came from the 36-year-old David Silvawho has just extended his contract for another year.

Then Mallorca lost 6-2 at home to Granada really sent the Grandad Gala into orbit. 38-year-old Save Seville scored a magnificent goal from 25 yards and brought the Icelanders back into the game – hit with as much precision and toxicity as any young man. Maxime Gonalons32, was among the assists for Granada, but that was less than the 40-year-old’s performance Jorge Molina. He scored one goal and scored two more, the second of which, the sixth Granada, was a great shot from the penalty area with a turn and a finish that every player would be proud of.

Iago Aspas34 i Thiago Galhardo, 31, was among Celta’s scorers in their 4-0 win over Alaves, and Aspas is repeating himself in the argument that age seems to be a state of mind in Spain. He is the entrance to win the Zarra award for the Spanish player who scores the most in LaLiga. Celta’s talisman has won the trophy three times already, aged 29-31 between 2016-2019, but two awards before his hat-trick triumph went to the Athletic Club Aritz Adurizwho was then 34 and 35 years old.

There was more evidence. When Cadiz beat Elche 3-0, it was partly thanks to the first goal scored by 38-year-old Alvaro Negredo, scored by the 33-year-old Lucas Perez.

The cherry on top of the cake came in a thriller in Seville when Barca sealed their Champions League qualifiers with a 2-1 win against Real Betis. 39-year-old Dani Alveswho in the 90th minute won the ball more often than anyone else on the field, scored a nice ball from right to left for Jordi Alba (32) to fly into the penalty area and kick from the volley with his left foot for the winner in the 95th minute.

So, for now, everyone is greeting the “golden old women”. This weekend was a lot of fun to watch, but for LaLiga clubs to win regular European trophies again, it was long overdue for young, energetic, athletic and technically talented players to start carrying more weight and responsibility in leading Spanish teams.


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