Beginner's Guide to La Liga
The Primera División de Liga de Fútbol Profesional, commonly referred to as La Liga, is Spain’s top professional football league. The league is home to some of the biggest, most successful and best supported clubs in Europe, with clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona attracting supporters from around the globe.
La Liga is the third best-attended football league in Europe, with match attendances averaging around 29,000 spectators. In recent years the league has also been praised for promoting home grown talent, developing into one of the most open and competitive domestic leagues in Europe.
La Liga comprises 20 Spanish football clubs. These clubs compete in a round robin tournament, playing each of the other clubs in the league both at home and away. Three points are awarded for a win, whilst a single point is awarded for a draw.
The league operates a promotion-relegation system, with the bottom three clubs in La Liga relegated at the completion of the season. These clubs are then replaced with the top three clubs from Spain’s second tier league, the Segunda División.
The La Liga season starts a few weeks later than other football leagues in Western Europe, and the first match of the season kicks off in September. The tournament runs until June, with players enjoying a short break during the Christmas season.
La Liga in Europe
La Liga contributes four clubs to the UEFA Champions League Football Tournament. As from 2009 the top three clubs in the league qualify automatically for the group stages of the Champions League, whilst the fourth placed club earns entry to the third qualifying round of the tournament. The fifth and sixth placed teams in the league are awarded entry to the qualifying rounds of the Europa League.
The Spanish first division is the home of the most successful club in the history of the Champions League – Real Madrid. Although only two Spanish clubs have won the Champions League, Real Madrid and Barcelona have claimed a total of 11 Champions League titles, making Spain the second most successful nation in Champions League history, with Italy being the most successful.
Clubs from La Liga have also achieved modest success in Europe’s second tier league tournament, the UEFA Cup, by winning the UEFA Cup on five occasions. Spanish clubs have been particularly successful in the UEFA Cup since the turn of the Millennium, winning the tournament three times in the past decade.
La Liga is home to one of the most intense club rivalries in the world. Known as ‘El Clásico’, matches between Barcelona and Real Madrid symbolise the divisions between Spanish royalists and the Catalan nation in the South of Spain.
The rivalry also stems from the fact that the two clubs have been the strongest and wealthiest in Spain for many decades, and are therefore frequently pitted against one another in the battle for the La Liga and the domestic knockout cup.
El Clásico matches are amongst a handful of domestic matches in the world that are known to provoke such intense emotions that crowd violence and clashes between supporters of both sides can result. The notoriety of the fixture extends beyond the borders of Spain, with each match watched by millions of football fans around the world.