Robbie Dunne reports on Sevilla's efforts to change the footballing landscape in Spain
If we learned anything from the opening 18 games in La Liga, it is that there is a growing sense of parity between the top and bottom, while the lines between the different tiers are becoming increasingly blurred.
There seems to be more of an even keel than ever before, and while it has not fully infiltrated the top two just yet, you get the sense that it’s coming.
Other Spanish top flight teams are finally starting to catch up with the seemingly infinite resources on offer at Real Madrid and Barcelona, or at least relatively infinite resources compared to some La Liga clubs.
Atlético Madrid, the go-to team for neutral fans since their unlikely success in 2013-14, started the trend and have entrenched themselves in the conversation for La Liga title to the point that their recent poor form, which is something the team from the capital were previously known for, comes as a huge surprise.
They announced plans for a new stadium last week, and are set to continue to grow in stature parallel to Real Madrid and Barcelona. While it remains to be seen what happens after Diego Simeone leaves, the club is trying its best to wedge themselves into the conversation that once upon a time focused only on Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Sevilla, meanwhile, are a team who have historically struggled to trouble the top three or four. They are in the melting pot at the winter break, and will be hard to shake off for either of the traditional powers.
They currently lie just four points behind Real Madrid having played a game more, and will play los blancos twice in 2017 in the league. Their improvement under Jorge Sampaoli is one thing, but the club as a whole is in a far healthier place than before. Monchi, the man who has turned profits on every player from Aleix Vidal (€11 million) to Carlos Bacca (€24 million) is certainly a huge part of that but they now owe the hacienda (the Spanish taxman) zero euros. And that's not 'nada'.
They received €30 million in 2013 for television rights, and that number has jumped to €48.3 million in 2016. The forecast is becoming fairer every year for the Andalusian side.
They are in the market for Julian Draxler, whose situation at Wolfsburg has reached crisis point, in an effort to push them over the edge and into the upper echelon of Spanish football, if they are not there already. Add the German to an attack that includes Samir Nasri and Vitolo - both of whom are in the best form of their lives - a resurgent Lucianno Vietto and Ben Yedder, who has been one of the signings of the season, and you have a side that can compete on every front.
Image: Laurent Cipriani AP/Press Association Images
If you mix that with a number of good - and better than good - managerial appointments, well then, as the Spanish football writer Sid Lowe often says, "Hay Liga": there is a league.
The good managerial appointments include Real Sociedad, who hired Eusebio Sacristán after letting David Moyes go, and they are playing some of the best football in the league at present. Villarreal, who looked to be overachieving under Marcelino, have moved on to the next level under Fran Esribá. Even Deportivo La Coruña are now playing a sophisticated attacking style that could (and did against Real Madrid) trouble some of the bigger sides.
There appears to be more solid and long-term thinking being done in La Liga that will result in something beyond the odd flash-in-the-pan season. The better structures in place at every level of these clubs have become evident on the field.
There is a narrowing gap at the top of Spanish football, and the sharing out of the television money is certainly one aspect that has helped that playing field become more level.
However, using that money wisely and pinpointing the right managers with a willingness to play expansive styles is forcing the top dogs to reassess their own strategies against the perceived “weaker teams”. There will be plenty more parity on display next year, with some big scalps likely to be taken in La Liga. Perhaps even Barcelona and Real Madrid have reason to be concerned as they look ahead to 2017.