Beginners Guide to La Liga
Spanish soccer’s top flight has long been one of the absorbing spectacles anywhere in the world and it’s a league that continues to lift standards when it comes to the beautiful game.
Founded in 1929, La Liga has been a stage for colorful, vibrant and committed soccer. The division has been home to some of the finest footballers, coaches and teams the game has ever seen too.
It’s a division that’s come to be defined by the two biggest teams involved: Real Madrid and Barcelona. The former, the capital club and most successful side in La Liga history with 32 titles, have winning with the world’s best player as their modus operandi, while the latter, 24-time champions, seek to sample glory with an accompanying flair.
The finest players the division has ever seen have donned the iconic white of Real and the striking red and blue of Barca. Alfredo di Stefano inspired Madrid to eight championships during his heyday between 1954 and 1964, wonderfully supported by Hungarian star Ferenc Puskas.
Barcelona’s talisman during that era was Laszlo Kubala, a four-time Liga winner. However, it’s the “Dream Team” assembled by Johan Cruyff, another player who dazzled the division, in the early 1990s and, more recently, Pep Guardiola’s magnificent outfit that have become synonymous with the Blaugrana (blue & red) jersey.
The rivalry between the two has taken many twists and turns, although the modern day struggle between Real’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona’s Lionel Messi to be considered the finest player of their generation has added more fuel to the fire. The stunning goalscoring of both forwards has pushed each team onto new heights.
For a long time it made for a duopoly in La Liga. However, the emergence of Atletico Madrid under their enigmatic manager Diego Simeone has added a refreshing edge to title races that had previously grown a little stale.
Aside from Atletico, the division is bristling with sleeping giants. Valencia, Sevilla, Villarreal and Athletic Club will all be hopeful of following the path tread by the capital club, as they seek to force their way into the race for the title without the massive monetary backing.
Aside from the “el Clasico” encounter between Real and Barcelona that’s played twice a year (arguably the biggest club soccer game in the world), there are other iconic rivalries dotted about the division. The matches between Real and Atletico (the Madrid derby), Barcelona and Espanyol (the Barcelona derby), and Real Sociedad and Athletic (the Basque derby) are all well worth savoring.
A finish in the top four spots would be achievement in itself for any side outside the illustrious trio. The top three sides will qualify for the UEFA Champions League automatically, while the side in fourth will still have the chance mix it with European soccer’s elite should they progress through a qualifying round.
Europa League soccer will be on offer to those teams who can muster fifth and sixth places finishes. Aside from that, the next 11 best-placed teams will make up mid-table, either looking up at the continental spots or over their shoulder towards the relegation trapdoor.
Indeed, the three teams propping up the table, as is standard for European leagues, will face the ignominy of relegation to the Segunda Division; they will then be replaced by the three top teams from the second tier the following term.
Often there are extremely fine margins in the tussle for the title, European spots or to stay afloat in La Liga. While plenty of leagues separate teams that have accumulated the same number of points based on goal difference — the goals conceded subtracted from the goals scored — La Liga’s tie-breaker is head-to-head record over the course of the campaign’s two matches.
It places a greater emphasis on teams to attack one another, especially when they’re positional rivals, as the result could have major connotations come the end of the season.
Mesh all these enamoring factors together, and in the eyes of many La Liga is the most fascinating, intense, entertaining and high-quality sporting competition around.
Aside from La Liga, the Spanish clubs play in two club competitions — Copa del Rey (the King’s Cup) and the Supercopa de España (the final between the winner of La Liga and the winner of the Copa del Rey tournament).
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