Everything You Need to Know About La Liga – A Detailed Guide
La Liga is known as one of the five top leagues in Europe. It is the highest-tier footballing competition in Spain but is known for being one of the most famous and important leagues in the world. Even though the two clubs reign supreme and have done so during the better part of the league’s history, there is still so much more that people should know about the Spanish championship.
The premier football competition in Spain is known to most by the name La Liga. Officially, it is called “Campeonato Nacional de Liga de Primera División,” or to simplify it a bit “Primera División.” That and a lot more coming your way in the following lines.
The History and Founding of La Liga
The first Primera Division in Spain was held officially in 1929, but the idea of establishing it came a year before that. A proposal was made by José María Acha, the director of Getxo, who perceived the notion of Spain having a national league. It took a lot of debates to establish the original format, and they eventually came down to ten clubs that would start the competition.
The first clubs to be included were past Copa del Rey winners, Athletic Club, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Real Sociedad, Real Union, and Getxo. They were joined by Espanyol, Atletico Madrid, and Europa as Copa Del Rey’s runners-up. Racing Santander was added through qualifications.
Interestingly, the trio of founding clubs which includes Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Athletic Club, were never relegated from the Primera Division and remain top-tier clubs to this day.
The Format of the League
Even though the number of clubs has changed throughout the years, the current system includes 20 top Spanish clubs. This format was introduced in 1987 and lasted till 1995, when two more clubs were allowed to join.
However, It lasted only two seasons, and from 1997 till the present day, La Liga encompasses 20 clubs in its system. They follow a regular double round-robin system, where each club plays against one another two times, a home and an away game, totalling 38 matches a season.
The same as in other top leagues, a promotion and relegation system is adopted where the clubs with the worst record drop down to the Segunda Division and are substituted by the best clubs in the second-tier league of Spain.
Currently, the three worst clubs are directly relegated and replaced by the two best clubs from the Segunda Division. The third club is determined through a play-off system where four additional clubs play for the final promotion spot.
As far as the top of the league goes, the best clubs are rewarded with direct or qualification spots for European competitions. The top four clubs qualify directly for the forthcoming Champions League Group Stage.
The fifth-positioned club of the league will get a spot in the Europa League Group Stage. In contrast, the sixth club of the league will qualify for the subsequent Conference League play-off round.
La Liga Past Winners
With 94 years of history behind us, La Liga has only nine champions. You can probably guess that Real Madrid and Barcelona are the most successful ones. Actually, the duo accounts for 61 Spanish titles in total. Real Madrid is by far the most successful club in Spain, with 35 titles to their name.
Barcelona is the second-best club, with 26 titles, followed by Atletico Madrid with 11. Athletic Bilbao has managed to capture eight titles, but the last one came in 1983. Valencia has six, but their last title-winning campaign was in 2003. Real Sociedad has two trophies, while clubs like Deportiva La Coruna, Sevilla and Real Betis have won the title only once.
However, only three clubs have interchangeably won La Liga in the last 18 years. Barca has won 10, Real Madrid six, and Atletico Madrid two times. Blaugrana is currently on a three-year hiatus but are on the cusp of recapturing the La Liga title after three years. Here is a list of the past ten winners.
|2020/21||Atletico Madrid||Real Madrid|
La Liga Top Goalscorers
There have been a number of deadly attackers playing in La Liga. Some of the best goalscorers in the world have featured for Spanish clubs and have made their mark not only in Spain but in world football as well. Currently, the top two are all-time greats Lionel Messi, with 474 goals, and Cristiano Ronaldo, with 311 goals to his name.
While the legendary duo is still actively playing football, they two don’t feature in Spain anymore. Messi has moved to PSG, while Cristiano Ronaldo is playing football in the Far East with the Saudi side Al-Nassr. Lionel Messi currently holds the record for scoring the most goals in a single season, when he scored 50 during the 2011/12 campaign.
Among the active players who are still competing in Spain is Karim Benzema, the fifth of all time. He currently has 233, but he will certainly add some more goals and surpass the likes of Hugo Sanchez at the fourth spot (234 goals) and Telmo Zarra in third (251 goals).
Here is a list of La Liga’s top scorers from the past ten seasons.
|2021/22||Karim Benzema||Real Madrid||27|
|2014/15||Cristiano Ronaldo||Real Madrid||48|
|2013/14||Cristiano Ronaldo||Real Madrid||31|
Spanish Clubs in Europe
La Liga clubs have had tremendous success when competing in European competitions. We can’t go on without mentioning Real Madrid, as the Blancos have won the Champions League a record number of 14 times so far. Currently, they are still in the competition and are looking to add a 15th title and increase their Champions League trophy tally.
Barcelona is the only other Spanish club to have won the Champions League. Blaugrana has five trophies, with the latest one coming in 2015. Atletico Madrid has appeared in the final three times but never managed to win. The same goes for Valencia, as they have two final appearances.
When it comes to the Europa League, the Spanish clubs are far more successful. There have been five La Liga winners to win the tournament, with Sevilla being the all-time leader with six trophies. Los Nervionenses won the title in 2020 last and are looking to do it again this year.
Atletico Madrid has three Europa League titles. Interestingly, Colchoneros have never lost when appearing in the final of the Europa League. The same thing goes for Real Madrid (two trophies) and Valencia and Villarreal (a trophy apiece). Athletic Bilbao, Espanyol, and Alaves have reached the final but never managed to win one.
La Liga Rivalries
The Spanish league boasts a few rivalries, both intercity and local ones, that make the game even more interesting to watch. Without them, the league would not be the same, and even though things sometimes get out of hand, it makes for much better viewership.
- El Clasico: Played between the two best clubs in Spain, Barcelona and Real Madrid. The two most successful clubs of Spanish football regularly compete for a title, making their encounter a pivotal part of the season and sometimes the determining factor.
- The Madrid Derby: The second most hated club for Real Madrid supporters is their home-time rival Atletico Madrid. With the rise of Atletico and the Colchoneros being back to the top of Spanish football, this rivalry has become as heated as ever.
- The Basque Derby: Played between two founding members of the Primera Division, the derby pits the two clubs from the Basque country against one another. However, sometimes the game between Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad can become much more heated than any other derby in Spain. Sometimes making it even more dangerous to watch.
- The Seville Derby: Sevilla and Real Betis are not regular title contenders in Spain. In fact, in recent seasons, Sevilla has been the more successful of the two. But this year, we are seeing a much stronger Betis side, making the Seville Derby much more relevant than it ever was.
- The Catalan Derby: With two clubs coming from Catalunya and Barcelona, it makes sense that the games between Barca and Espanyol have earned the monocle of a derby game. Actually, the two hated sides try to one-up each other every season. Espanyol might not be winning any trophies any time soon. But they will be happy if they prevent Barcelona from doing it.