Spanish Professional Football Division – La Liga

An overview of La Liga - Spain's unique men's soccer top-flight league

The Campeonato Nacional de Liga de Primera División - La Liga

The Campeonato Nacional de Liga de Primera División is quite a mouthful but has a more palatable name – La Liga. “La Liga” directly translates to “the league” in English. On the other hand, “Campeonato Nacional de Liga de Primera División” means “National First Division League Championship”. This is the men’s top professional football division in Spain.


La Liga – A Brief History

The idea to create a top soccer division was first floated in 1928. It was the vision of one man, Getxo director José María Acha. The idea came to fruition in 1929 and saw ten founding teams picked on various merits. Barcelona, Athletic Bilbao, Real Madrid, Getxo, Real Sociedad and Real Unión qualified as previous Copa del Rey winners. Copa del Rey is the oldest cup competition in Spanish soccer.

Atlético Madrid, Europa and Espanyol were chosen as Copa del Rey runners up. A knockout competition was held to determine the tenth team, with Racing de Santander coming up trumps. Despite various challenges, such as having to halt during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s, La Liga has since grown exponentially. Modern La Liga features 20 teams with the Liga Nacional de Fútbol Profesional (LNFP) as the official governing body. From inception up to the 2000s, two teams had clear dominance in the competition – Barcelona and Real Madrid. Their closest challengers were Athletic Bilbao (early on in the 1930s), Atletico Madrid and Valencia.


The Competition Format In La Liga

A typical La Liga season runs from August to May. The number of groups in the league is always a fixed 20. The teams are not static, though. The three lowest-placed teams at the end of each season get relegated to the lower Segunda División. Three from that division step up to replace them. The top two teams in the lower league are promoted to La Liga automatically. The third is determined via a play-off clash involving the third, fourth, fifth and sixth-placed clubs.

La Liga uses the double round-robin format, meaning that throughout the season, each club plays every other club twice. A total of 38 matches–once at home, and once away. Each win means three points for a team, while a draw gets one point. A loss means no point. The ranking system depends on total points, and the crowned champion is the team with the highest tally at the end of the season.


Distinction From Other Leagues

Over time, La Liga has perfected a soccer-style described in uniquely floral terms – beautiful and flowing. Tiki Taka, they call it. In contrast to other top leagues in Europe  –Serie A, for instance, has set itself apart as more tactical and defensive. The English Premier League, on its part, is seen as too quick and physical. It’s not just slickness and aesthetics that La Liga is lauded for, nonetheless. Some of the world’s biggest names in soccer have roots in the league.

The league is awash with historic clubs, but two – Barcelona and Real Madrid – have immensely outshone their rivals domestically. The two giants boast continental dominance as well. Indeed, in the years from the Champions League’s re-branding in 1992 up to 2020, Real and Barca have won it 11/28 times. That’s a whopping success rate of ~40% for Spanish clubs. This has contributed to UEFA coefficients consistently ranking La Liga the world’s best division from 2012 to 2020.

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