Atlético, Valencia and Sevilla are killing La Liga’s ‘two-team league’ cliché

Sevilla’s season has, thus far, been stupendous. Win on Wednesday in Warsaw and the team claims its second straight Europa League, capping a campaign that’s seen the team set a record for points in a season. Guided by the silk-haired, elbow-patch wearing Unai Emery, Sevilla’s tributes have not stopped pouring in.

The club’s manager re-posted one video to his own Twitter timeline (if you’re a top-level coach without a Twitter account, you may need to re-think your career choice). It featured a group of girls in a car, replacing the words in a popular Spanish pop song with Emery’s name. “Es que yo sin tí, Emery, no podría yo ser felix.”

He’s also been perfecting that delicate 21st century art of the selfie, something not too many La Liga coaches can claim to have mastered. Excluding those that have presided over Barcelona and Real Madrid, there aren’t many who have managed to rack up 76 points during a 38-game season, either.

It’s a mark which would have guaranteed entry to the Champions League via Spain’s top flight in any season over the last decade. Going back slightly further, the total would have seen Sevilla win the league in 2001-02, or 1999-2000. But unfortunately for the Blanquirrojos, the current La Liga has seen a couple of other Primera División sides, Atlético Madrid and Valencia, begin stepping out of Barcelona and Real Madrid’s shadows, growing minds of their own and making the case for the top of the Spanish league to the best in Europe.

“Next year we will be even better,” boasted Los Che’s bear-like boss Nuno Espírito Santo, presumably after pocketing a large bonus from Peter Lim for ending Los Che’s two-year Champions League drought. Lim took control of the club this season, and his investment has allowed the club to jump from eighth place to fourth; from 49 points to 77 points.

Valencia manager Nuno Espirito Santo celebrates after the La Liga match between Valencia CF and Club Atletico de Madrid at Estadi de Mestalla on October 4, 2014 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)

Valencia manager Nuno Espirito Santo celebrates after the La Liga match between Valencia CF and Club Atletico de Madrid at Estadi de Mestalla on October 4, 2014 in Valencia, Spain. (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)

Money’s been spent on the likes of Nicolás Otamendi, André Gomes and Álvaro Negredo, but Nuno’s been able to combine the new with the young, enthusiastic players who were already knocking around at Mestalla — defender José Luis Gayà, midfielder Dani Parejo and forward Paco Alcácer. The resulting soccer’s been great, at times, with only Barça accruing more points in the mini-league between the league’s top five.

The season’s left local press in the city reminiscing about the glory years, when Rafael Benítez ruled with a magic wand and led the club to two titles. Those titles were won with 75 and 77 points, with the latter total being matched this season. But at the increasingly strong top of the Spanish league, that mark is only good for a Champion League playoff spot.

Ahead of them? Last season’s champions. Just. After winning the league with 90 points last season and reaching the Champions League final, many have expressed a smidgen of disappointment at Atlético’s third place finish. Yet, ignoring what occurred last time out, its tally of 78 points is its highest in the last decade.

Head coach Diego Simeone of Club Atletico de Madrid reacts during the La Liga match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Cordoba CF at Vicente Calderon Stadium on November 1, 2014 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)Getty Images

Head coach Diego Simeone of Club Atletico de Madrid reacts during the La Liga match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Cordoba CF at Vicente Calderon Stadium on November 1, 2014 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

Diego Simeone doesn’t miss the chance to tell you that the Rojiblancos are actually competing with Valencia and Sevilla, not Barça and Madrid. Given how rocky things were in the pre-Cholo days, it’s a believable tale. Atléti used to pride itself on suffering, so to finish above Valencia and Sevilla, who have both had their best point totals this millennium, should be considered a success. “I’d give the season a nine out of ten,” Simeone said after ending the campaign this weekend with a goalless draw in Granada.

All of which brings us nicely back round to Sevilla. Poor Sevilla, seemingly the odd team; seemingly the fifth of four. Poor Emery; poor Grzegorz Krychowiak, who has had such a good debut season in midfield for the club; poor Carlo Bacca and all his goals; poor Vitolo and his call up to the Spanish national team; and poor female fans and their in-car Emeryoke.

Except this story doesn’t have to have a such a poor ending. There doesn’t need to be an odd team out. What if Sevilla’s resurgence could still have its perfect ending?

Thanks to a new, never-before used passage way, Sevilla can still make the Champions League. From this season onward, the winners of the Europa League will be granted a place in the next edition of the Champions League. And guess who is the favorite in Wednesday night’s Europa League final against Dnipro? Bingo.

If Sevilla had come fourth, Valencia would have been banished to the Europe League, and Spain would have, like normal, four teams en route for next season’s Champions League. In this scenario, though, Spain could end up with five teams rubbing shoulders with the likes of Bayern, Juventus and Chelsea next season.

Now La Liga could be presented the chance to prove there really is vasts amounts of life beyond the top two. And Sevilla could be given the prize its season would normally have merited.

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