While both Real Betis and Real Sociedad are well-run teams with talented footballers and settled line-ups, few would have put Spain in the likely candidates to win the Europa League this season.
With the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United both battling it out to alleviate their respective scarcity of silverware in recent years, the two English sides were relatively short favourites for the competition. They may still even be a value pick, if you take advantage of the ESTNN offer.
However the presence of some of Europe’s biggest guns, failing to fire in the Champions League, has made the Europa League an especially spicy prospect.
Juventus were perhaps not expected to top their group ahead of Paris Saint-Germain, but few expected them to find Benfica too tough an opponent.
La Liga’s showing in the group stages of the Champions League was lamentable by their usual standards. Sevilla were well-beaten by Borussia Dortmund at home and this season more than others, their favourite competition feels far closer to their true level.
Few could have foreseen Barcelona’s exit from the Champions League after a summer of heavy investment and lofty ambitions. The message coming out of Camp Nou was that they could now compete on every front after dreadful start to last season under Ronald Koeman. Yet they find themselves in the exact same place they were last season on the European front.
Less would have imagined that Atletico Madrid would not just be knocked out of the Champions League, but also face the ignominy of finishing last in their group. It is the first time they have ever done so, and it came under their most successful manager ever.
It leaves Spain with four representatives in the Europa League. As Real Sociedad showed against Manchester United in their group win at Old Trafford they will feel confident they can mix it with anyone left in the competition. Manuel Pellegrini’s Betis have cruised through the groups, dispatching of Jose Mourinho’s Roma in the process. They were only knocked out by eventual winners Eintracht Frankfurt last year.
Adding city rivals Sevilla, who admittedly look lacklustre still, and a talented Barcelona side gives La Liga a decent shot at continuing their run of picking up silverware in Europe. Each of the last three seasons has seen a Spanish winner of either the Europa League or the Champions League. How much focus Barcelona afford to the competition will likely play a role too, but with an eighth of the representatives left in the competition and a stellar record in the 21st century, Spain will fancy its chances of celebrating continental success again.