Ole - why the teams from Spain are in a different league
AN ALL-MADRID Champions League final for the second time in three years between Real and Atletico Madrid on May 28 will ensure a Spanish winner of Europe's premier club competition for a third straight year.
Indeed, until Villarreal's defeat to Liverpool in the Europa League semis, Spanish clubs had won all 17 of their knockout ties against non-Spanish opposition this season.
Here are three reasons for Spain's prolonged domination of European competition.
TOP TWO RAISE THE BAR
Barcelona and Real Madrid's sustained success is the easiest to understand. They are the two richest clubs in the world with the capacity to continually invest in the best players.
However, that also has a drip down effect that raises the standard of the league.
Other clubs have the experience of facing the best in the world at least four times a season. Travelling to face the best Italy, Germany or England has to offer is not nearly as intimating as a visit to the Camp Nou or Santiago Bernabeu.
The Spanish national team's success in winning three consecutive major tournaments between 2008 and 2012 was based around the "tiki-taka" short passing style also commonly associated with Barcelona.
Yet, it is the tactical variety of a number of skilled coaches that has worked for Spanish teams in European competition.
Diego Simeone's Atletico Madrid could not be more opposed to the Barcelona model in terms of style but their rock-solid defensive structure has stifled Europe's best.
Real, Sevilla and Villarreal are all deadly on the counter-attack while Athletic Bilbao are kings of the set-piece.
That variation makes Spanish sides far more unpredictable than many of the European rivals.
A key to all the Spanish sides who have gone far in recent years has been a reliance on a core group of homegrown players.
Producing their own top class talent obviously saves the clubs money in the long run but also fosters a unity and spirit often lacking when superstar talents from around the world are merely thrown into the same team.