Betting on La Liga: Intro to Spanish Football

laligaThe Spanish Primera Liga, better known simply as ‘La Liga’ is one of the most popular football leagues in the world, and home to two of the biggest clubs in world football, Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Though La Liga contains many talented teams, Real and Barcelona have been a class above the chasing pack for many years, and La Liga is almost invariably a two horse race which detracts somewhat from its appeal. Atletico Madrid are doing a great job of trying to change that though, winning the league in 2014 and challenging again in 2016.

Since the League’s inception in 1929, the two clubs have won 59 titles and 36 of the last 50. Between them they have won every year since 2003-2004, when Valencia were victorious, with the exception of 2013-2014 when the League was won by Atletico Madrid. The dominance of the two teams makes the meetings between them, known as ‘El Clasico’, the most eagerly anticipated football matches in the annual calendar.

Format of La Liga

Like the English Premier League, 20 teams compete in La Liga from all over Spain. The competition begins in August and runs until June with each team playing every other team both home and away for a total of 38 matches. As with most FIFA competitions, three points are awarded for a win, one for a draw and none for a loss. At the end of the season, if two teams are tied on points then head-to-head goal difference (goals scored vs. tied team – goals allowed vs. tied team) is used as the tie breaker, which is different to most other European leagues who use total goal difference for the season. In Spain, total goal difference is used as the second tie breaker.

Because La Liga is deemed one of the top three European leagues by UEFA’s quality measurement system,  the three teams which finish at the top of the table automatically qualify for the group stages of the Champions League with the fourth place team entering a two legged playoff against another European side, the winner of which enters the group stages.  Teams which finish fifth and sixth  (and the fourth place team should they lose the Champions League playoff) are entered into the Europa League, the second tier of European club competition.

At the bottom of the table, the three lowest finishing teams are relegated to the Segunda División and replaced by the top three teams from that league for the following season. Though for the 2010/2011 season the Segunda División began using the playoff system, where only the first and second placed teams are automatically  promoted, with the third promotion spot given the the team which wins a two round playoff between the third to sixth place teams.

Sponsorship and Media Coverage in Spanish Football

La Liga is the number two league in the world in its international appeal, trailing only the English Premier League. Live matches are shown in Spain on Canal+ Spain and Canal+ Liga with Cuatro and TVE showing highlights. Beyond Spain, live La Liga matches are shown on pay-TV channels all over the world.

There has been unrest among La Liga teams in recent years who claim that the division of revenue is unfair to everyone except Barcelona and Real Madrid, who stand to share 35% of all TV revenue under the new deal, a total of €280m. Opponents claim it will be a case of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.

Shirt sponsorship in La Liga comes largely from Spanish brands, with the exception of Barcelona who traditionally have had a charity’s logo adorn their shirts, and Real Madrid, who are sponsored by gambling giant bwin.

Recent History of La Liga

messi ronaldoAs mentioned, Real Madrid and Barcelona usually dominate La Liga and the rivalry between the two is fierce. The two have finished first and second every year since 2004-2005 with the exception of  2007-2008 where Villareal took 2nd, and 2014 when Atletico Madrid won.

In the 2009-2010 season Madrid finished second, 25 points ahead of nearest rivals Valencia and in 2011 the gap was 21 points. As well as domestic success, Barcelona and Madrid have dominated the Champions League; Madrid emerged victorious in 1998, 2000, 2002, and 2014. while Barcelona won in 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2015. Between them they haven’t lost a Champions League final in which they appeared.

The two clubs are also home to what most agree are the two best players in the world at the moment: Lionel Messi (Barcelona) and Cristiano Ronaldo (Madrid). Messi fits in extremely well with Barcelona’s short-passing, high tempo, possession based game, while Ronaldo plays the expansive winger role to perfection with a deadly eye for free kicks to boot. At the time of writing, Messi has 289 goals in 323 games for a scoring ratio of 0.90, while Ronaldo, who spent much of his career at Manchester United has 233 goals in 212 games since moving to Madrid, equivalent to 1.11 goals per game.

Though both teams have large international fan bases Barcelona probably have the larger following due to their purist style of football which is very enjoyable to watch, and the fact that they are still run as a football club rather than a business, which is extremely rare in this day and age.

La Liga Interesting Facts

-Real Madrid have the most league titles with 31.

-Barcelona recorded 100 points in the 2012-13 season, the most ever and 88% of the maximum possible.

-Goalkeeper Andoni Zubizeretta is the most capped player in La Liga with 622 appearances.

-Lionel Messi holds the record for the most goals scored with 289 at the time of writing (11/15), ahead of Telmo Zarra on 251.

-Messi holds the record for most goals in a season with 50.

-The record win in La Liga was by Athletic Bilbao when they beat Barcelona 12-1 in 1931.