|Organising body||Liga de Fútbol Profesional (LFP)|
|Number of teams||20|
|Level on pyramid||1|
|Relegation to||Segunda División|
Copa del Rey|
Supercopa de España
UEFA Champions League|
UEFA Europa League
|Current champions||Barcelona (25th title)|
|Most championships||Real Madrid (33 titles)|
|Most appearances||Andoni Zubizarreta (622)|
|Top goalscorer||Lionel Messi (385 goals)|
|TV partners||List of broadcasters|
The Primera División, commonly known as La Liga and as La Liga Santander for sponsorship reasons with Santander, is the men's top professional football division of the Spanish football league system. Administered by the Liga Nacional de Fútbol Profesional (English: National Professional Football League), also known as the Liga de Fútbol Profesional (LFP), La Liga is contested by 20 teams, with the three lowest-placed teams relegated to the Segunda División and replaced by the top two teams in that division plus the winner of a play-off.
62 teams have competed in La Liga since its inception. Nine teams have been crowned champions, with Real Madrid winning the title a record 33 times and Barcelona 25 times. Barcelona won the inaugural La Liga in 1929 with Athletic Bilbao claiming several titles in the league's early years. Barcelona and Real Madrid dominated the championship in the 1950s, winning four La Liga titles each throughout the decade. Real Madrid dominated La Liga from the 1960s through the 1980s, when Barcelona, Athletic Bilbao, and Real Sociedad won the league twice in those years. From the 1990s onward, Barcelona has dominated La Liga, winning 15 titles. Although Real Madrid has been prominent, winning 8 titles, La Liga has also seen other champions, including Atlético Madrid, Valencia, and Deportivo de La Coruña. In the 2010s, Atlético Madrid has become an increasingly stronger team, forming a trio alongside Real Madrid and Barcelona.
According to UEFA's league coefficient, La Liga has been the top league in Europe over the last five years and has led Europe for more years (13) than any other country. It has also produced the continent's top-rated club more times (21) than any other league, more than double that of second-placed Serie A. Its clubs have won the most UEFA Champions League (18), UEFA Europa League (11), UEFA Super Cup (15), and FIFA Club World Cup (6) titles, and its players have accumulated the highest number of (FIFA) Ballon d'Or awards (19).
La Liga is one of the most popular professional sports leagues in the world, with an average attendance of 26,983 for league matches in the 2017–18 season. This is the sixth-highest of any domestic professional sports league in the world and the third-highest of any professional association football league in the world, behind the Bundesliga, and the Premier League.
The competition format follows the usual double round-robin format. During the course of a season, which lasts from August to May, each club plays every other club twice, once at home and once away, for 38 matchdays. Teams receive three points for a win, one point for a draw, and no points for a loss. Teams are ranked by total points, with the highest-ranked club at the end of the season crowned champion.
Promotion and relegation
A system of promotion and relegation exists between the Primera División and the Segunda División. The three lowest placed teams in La Liga are relegated to the Segunda División, and the top two teams from the Segunda División promoted to La Liga, with an additional club promoted after a series of play-offs involving the third, fourth, fifth and sixth placed clubs. Below is a complete record of how many teams played in each season throughout the league's history;
|Period (in years)||No. of clubs|
Ranking of clubs on equal points
- If all clubs involved have played each other twice:
- If the tie is between two clubs, then the tie is broken using the goal difference for the two matches those clubs have played against each other (without away goals rule)
- If the tie is between more than two clubs, then the tie is broken using the games the clubs have played against each other:
- a) head-to-head points
- b) head-to-head goal difference
- c) total goal difference
- If two legged games between all clubs involved have not been played, or the tie is not broken by the rules above, it is broken using:
- a) total goal difference
- b) total goals scored
- If the tie is still not broken, the winner will be determined by Fair Play scales. These are:
- yellow card, 1 point
- doubled yellow card/ejection, 2 points
- direct red card, 3 points
- suspension or disqualification of coach, executive or other club personnel (outside referees' decisions), 5 points
- misconduct of the supporters: mild 5 points, serious 6 points, very serious 7 points
- stadium closure, 10 points
- if the Competition Committee removes a penalty, the points are also removed
- If the tie is still not broken, it will be resolved with a tie-break match in a neutral stadium.
Qualifying for European competitions
The top teams in La Liga qualify for the UEFA Champions League. The first, second, third and fourth placed teams directly enter the group stage of UEFA Champions League. Teams placed fifth and sixth play in the UEFA Europa League, along with the cup winners. If the cup winners finish in the top six, an additional berth in the Europa League is given to the team that finishes in seventh.
In April 1927, José María Acha, a director at Arenas Club de Getxo, first proposed the idea of a national league in Spain. After much debate about the size of the league and who would take part, the Real Federación Española de Fútbol eventually agreed on the ten teams who would form the first Primera División in 1929. Barcelona, Real Madrid, Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad, Arenas Club de Getxo and Real Unión were all selected as previous winners of the Copa del Rey. Atlético Madrid, Espanyol and Europa qualified as Copa del Rey runners-up and Racing de Santander qualified through a knockout competition. Only three of the founding clubs, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao, have never been relegated from the Primera División.
The 1930s: Athletic Bilbao
Although Barcelona won the very first Liga in 1929 and Real Madrid won their first titles in 1932 and 1933, it was Athletic Bilbao that set the early pace winning Primera División in 1930, 1931, 1934 and 1936. They were also runners-up in 1932 and 1933. In 1935, Real Betis, then known as Betis Balompié, won their only title to date. Primera División was suspended during the Spanish Civil War.
In 1937, the teams in the Republican area of Spain, with the notable exception of the two Madrid clubs, competed in the Mediterranean League and Barcelona emerged as champions. Seventy years later, on 28 September 2007, Barcelona requested the RFEF to recognise that title as a Liga title. This action was taken after RFEF was asked to recognise Levante FC's Copa de la España Libre win as equivalent to Copa del Rey trophy. Nevertheless, the governing body of Spanish football has not made an outright decision yet.
The 1940s: Atlético de Madrid, Valencia and Barcelona
When the Primera División resumed after the Spanish Civil War, it was Atlético Aviación (nowadays Atlético Madrid), Valencia, and FC Barcelona that emerged as the strongest clubs. Atlético were only awarded a place during the 1939–40 season as a replacement for Real Oviedo, whose ground had been damaged during the war. The club subsequently won their first Liga title and retained it in 1941. While other clubs lost players to exile, execution, and as casualties of the war, the Atlético team was reinforced by a merger. The young, pre-war squad of Valencia had also remained intact and in the post-war years matured into champions, gaining three Liga titles in 1942, 1944, and 1947. They were also runners-up in 1948 and 1949. Sevilla also enjoyed a brief golden era, finishing as runners-up in 1940 and 1942 before winning their only title to date in 1946.
Meanwhile, on the other side of Spain, FC Barcelona began to emerge as a force under the legendary Josep Samitier. A Spanish footballer for both Barcelona and Real Madrid, Samitier cemented his legacy with Barcelona. During his playing career with Barcelona, he scored 333 goals, won the inaugural La Liga title and five Copa Del Rey. In 1944, Samitier returned to Barcelona as a coach and guided them in winning their second La Liga title in 1945. Under Samitier and legendary players Cesar Rodriguez, Josep Escola, Estanislau Basora and Mariano Gonzalvo, Barcelona dominated La Liga in the late 1940s, winning back to back La Liga titles in 1948 and 1949. The 1940s proved to be a successful season for Barcelona, winning three La Liga titles and one Copa Del Rey, but the 1950s proved to be a decade of dominance, not just from Barcelona, but from Real Madrid.
1950s: Barcelona and Real Madrid Dominate La Liga
Although Atlético Madrid, previously known as Atlético Aviación, were champions in 1950 and 1951 under catenaccio mastermind Helenio Herrera, the 1950s continued the success FC Barcelona had during the late 1940s after they had won back to back La Liga titles. During this decade, Barcelona's first golden era emerged. Under coach Ferdinand Daučík, FC Barcelona won back to back doubles, winning La Liga and Copa Del Rey in 1952 and 1953. In 1952, FC Barcelona made history yet again by winning five distinctive trophies in one year. This team, composed of László Kubala, Mariano Gonzalvo, Cesar Rodriguez and Joan Segarra won La Liga, Copa Del Rey, Copa Eva Duarte (predecessor of Spanish Super Cup), The Latin Cup and The Copa Martini Rossi. Their success in winning five different trophies in one year earned them the name 'L’equip de les cinc Copes' or The Team of The Five Cups. In the latter parts of the 1950s, coached by Helenio Herrera and featuring Luis Suárez, Barcelona won yet again their third set of back to back La Ligas, winning them in 1959 and 1960. In 1959, FC Barcelona also won another double of La Liga / Copa Del Rey, conquering three doubles in the 1950s.
The 1950s also saw the beginning of the Real Madrid dominance. During the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, there were strict limits imposed on foreign players. In most cases, clubs could only have three foreign players in their squads, meaning that at least eight local players had to play in every game. During the 1950s, however, these rules were circumvented by Real Madrid who naturalized Alfredo Di Stéfano and Ferenc Puskás. Di Stéfano, Puskás, Raymond Kopa and Francisco Gento formed the nucleus of the Real Madrid team that dominated the second half of the 1950s. Madrid won the first division in 1954, 21 years later since 1933, and retained its title in 1955. They were winners again in 1957 and 1958, with only Athletic Bilbao interrupting their sequence. All in all, Barcelona and Real Madrid won 4 La Liga titles each, with Atletico De Madrid and Atletico De Bilbao winning one each during this decade.
The 1960s–1980s: The Real Madrid years
Between 1961 and 1980, Real Madrid dominated the Primera División, being crowned champions 14 times, including five-in-a-row from 1961 to 1965 and two three-in-a-row sequences (1967–1969 and 1978–1980). However, their only European Cup triumph during this period came in 1966, a sharp contrast to their five successive victories in the competition from 1956.
During this era, only Atlético Madrid offered Real Madrid any serious challenge, adding four more titles to their tally in 1966, 1970, 1973, and 1977. Of the other clubs, only Valencia in 1971 and the Johan Cruyff-inspired Barcelona of 1974 broke the dominance of Real Madrid.
The Madrid winning sequence was interrupted more significantly in 1981 when Real Sociedad won their first-ever title. They retained it in 1982, and their two in a row was followed by fellow Basque team Athletic Bilbao, who won back-to-back titles in 1983 and 1984. Terry Venables led Barcelona to a solitary title in 1985 before Real Madrid put together another five in a row sequence (1986–1990) with a team guided by Leo Beenhakker and including Hugo Sánchez and the legendary La Quinta del Buitre – Emilio Butragueño, Manolo Sanchís, Martín Vázquez, Míchel and Miguel Pardeza.
The 1990s: Barcelona's dream team
Johan Cruyff returned to Barcelona as manager in 1988, and assembled the legendary Dream Team. When Cruyff took hold of this Barcelona side they had only won two La Liga title in the past 11 years. Cruyff, who knew the history of FC Barcelona as a player, did not want history to repeat itself. He decided to build a team composed of international stars and La Masia graduates in order to restore Barcelona to their former glorious days. This team was formed by international stars such as Brazilian legend Romario, Denmark’s magician Michael Laudrup, Bulgarian forward Hristo Stoichkov, Dutchman Ronald Koeman, and Spaniards Andoni Zubizarreta and Jose Mari Bakero. Cruyff’s Dream Team also consisted of La Masia graduates Pep Guardiola, Albert Ferrer, and Guillermo Amor.
Johan Cruyff changed the way modern football was played and incorporated the principles of ‘Total Football’ into this team. The success of possession-based football was revolutionary and Johan Cruyff’s team won their first European Cup in 1992 and four consecutive La Liga titles between 1991 and 1994. In total, Cruyff won 11 trophies in eight years, making him the most successful manager in Barcelona’s history until the record was broken by his protege Pep Guardiola two decades later.
Barcelona's run ended with Real Madrid winning La Liga in 1995. Atlético Madrid won their ninth Primera División title in 1996 before Real Madrid added another Liga trophy to their cabinet in 1997. After the success of Cruyff, another Dutchman – Ajax manager Louis van Gaal – arrived at the Camp Nou, and with the talents of Luís Figo, Luis Enrique, and Rivaldo, Barcelona won La Liga title in 1998 and 1999, which included their fourth double of Liga and Copa Del Rey in 1998.
As Primera División entered a new century, the two giants of Spain, Real Madrid and Barcelona, found themselves facing new challengers. Between 1999/00 and 2004, Deportivo La Coruña finished in the top three on ten occasions, a better record than either Real Madrid or Barcelona, and in 2000, under Javier Irureta, Deportivo became the ninth team to be crowned champions. Valencia were also a fierce team in the 2000s and under the management of Héctor Cúper, Valencia finished as Champions League runners-up in 2000 and 2001. His successor, Rafael Benítez, built on this and led the club to a Liga title in 2002, as well as winning the UEFA Cup and La Liga in 2004.
Real Madrid won two Liga titles in 2001 and 2003 and also the UEFA Champions League in 2000 and 2002. With world-class players like Raúl, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Gonzalo Higuaín, Real Madrid won back-to-back La Liga titles in 2006–07 and 2007–08. All in all, Madrid won 4 La Liga's and two champions league from 2000-2010.
The 2000s also continued the success of FC Barcelona. In the 2004–05 season, Barcelona won their first title of the new century under the brilliance of Ronaldinho. Barcelona retained the title and won it again in the 2005-2006 season, as well as winning the UEFA Champions League against Arsenal, achieving their second European Double. Under the era of Pep Guardiola, powered by La Masia's talent, such as Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andrés Iniesta, Barcelona added three straight Liga titles in 2008, 2009 and 2010. FC Barcelona also became the first team in Spain to achieve the Treble in the 2008/09 season, winning all three major competitions in a single season consisting of La Liga, Copa Del Rey and the Champions League. From 2000-2010, FC Barcelona won 5 La Liga titles and 3 Champions League.
In the 2011–12 season, Real Madrid won its 32nd title under the management of José Mourinho with a then record-breaking 100 points, a then record of 118 number of goals scored, most overall (32) and away (16) wins in a single season in La Liga. A year later, Barcelona replicated the same feat under coach Tito Vilanova matching the 100-point record. Atlético Madrid won the 2013–14 title, their first in 18 years, and the first title in ten years that Real Madrid or Barcelona had not won.
In the 2014–15 season, under the deadly trio of Messi, Neymar, Suarez, nicknamed the 'MSN', Barcelona made history by becoming the first team to achieve a second Treble. The 'MSN' hit a record breaking 122 goals, eclipsing the 118 goals scored by Madrid in the 2011–12 season. Barcelona continued the dominance in the 2015–16 season, winning the Liga/Copa Del Rey double resulting in 4 titles in 6 years.
Real Madrid brought back the La Liga title under the management of Zinedine Zidane in 2016–17, but Barcelona won the title in the 2017–18 season, as well as winning their eighth double, for a total of 7 La Liga titles in 10 years.
20 teams contest the league in its current season, including the top 17 sides from the 2017–18 season and three promoted from the 2017–18 Segunda División. Rayo Vallecano and Huesca are the two clubs promoted directly from the second division, and the winner of the play-offs, Valladolid.
Stadiums and locations
|Athletic Bilbao||Bilbao||San Mamés||53,289|
|Atlético Madrid||Madrid||Wanda Metropolitano||67,703|
|Getafe||Getafe||Coliseum Alfonso Pérez||17,393|
|Levante||Valencia||Ciutat de València||26,354|
|Real Betis||Seville||Benito Villamarín||60,720|
|Real Madrid||Madrid||Santiago Bernabéu||81,044|
|Real Sociedad||San Sebastián||Anoeta||25,000|
|Sevilla||Seville||Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán||42,500|
|Villarreal||Villarreal||Estadio de la Cerámica||23,500|
La Liga clubs in Europe
The Primera División is currently first in the UEFA rankings of European leagues based on their performances in European competitions over a five-year period, ahead of England's Premier League, Italy's Serie A, and Germany's Bundesliga in fourth.
Real Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia are in the top ten most successful clubs in European football in terms of total European trophies. These three clubs, along with Sevilla and Atlético Madrid, are five of the most successful teams in European competition history; these five are the only Spanish clubs to have won five or more international trophies. Deportivo La Coruña are the sixth-most participating Spanish team in the Champions League — after Real Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Atletico Madrid and Sevilla FC — with five Champions League appearances in a row, including a semifinal appearance in 2003–04.
In 2005–06, Barcelona won the Champions League and Sevilla won the UEFA Cup, making the La Liga the first league to do the European "double" since 1997. On 25 August 2015, La Liga became the first league to classify five teams for the UEFA Champions League group stage (Atlético Madrid, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Sevilla and Valencia).
Performance by club
| League champions|
All-time La Liga table
The All-time La Liga table is an overall record of all match results, points, and goals of every team that has played in La Liga since its inception in 1929. The table is accurate as of the end of the 2017–18 season. Teams in bold are part of the 2018–19 La Liga.
|11||Deportivo La Coruña||46||1843||1568||569||403||596||2090||2269||1||5||4||1||–||1||12||1941–42||2017–18||1|
|2018–19 La Liga|
|2018–19 Segunda División|
|2018–19 Segunda División B|
|2018–19 Tercera División|
|2018–19 Divisiones Regionales|
|To be determined|
|No longer exists|
All-time La Liga table (3 pts. since 1995)
|2||Real Madrid CF||882||561||166||155||1.041||1.849|
|4||Atlético de Madrid||806||385||192||229||381||1.347|
|8||Deportivo de La Coruña||806||302||227||277||12||1.133|
|12||Celta de Vigo||654||241||168||245||-8||891|
|16||Racing de Santander||616||175||184||257||-181||709|
|18||Real Valladolid CF||540||161||159||220||-139||642|
|28||UD Las Palmas||190||49||44||97||-109||191|
|40||Real Murcia CF||76||12||20||44||-57||56|
Eligibility of non-EU players
In La Liga, players can claim citizenship from the nation their ancestors came from. If a player does not have European ancestry, he can claim Spanish citizenship after playing in Spain for five years. Sometimes, this can lead to a triple-citizenship situation; for example, Leo Franco, who was born in Argentina, is of Italian heritage yet can claim a Spanish passport, having played in La Liga for over five years.
In addition, players from the ACP countries — countries in Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific that are signatories to the Cotonou Agreement — are not counted against non-EU quotas due to the Kolpak ruling.
Until the season 2008–09, no official awards for individuals in La Liga existed. Following the 2008–09 season, the Liga de Fútbol Profesional (LFP) governing body sanctioned LFP Awards to player individuals. Additional awards relating to La Liga are distributed, some are sanctioned by the LFP or the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) and therefore not regarded as official.
The most notable of these are four awarded by Spain's biggest sports paper, Marca, namely the Pichichi Trophy, awarded to the top scorer of the season; the Ricardo Zamora Trophy for the goalkeeper with the least "goals-to-games" ratio; the Trofeo Alfredo di Stéfano, for the player judged to be the best overall player in the division; and the Zarra Trophy, awarded to the Spanish domestic player with the highest goal total in La Liga.
The first La Liga player to be involved in a transfer which broke the world record was Luis Suárez in 1961, who moved from Barcelona to Internazionale for £152,000. Twelve years later, Johan Cruyff was the first player to join a La Liga club for a record fee, £922,000 from Ajax to Barcelona. In 1982, Barcelona again set the record by signing Diego Maradona from Boca Juniors for £5 million. Real Betis set the world record in 1998 when they signed Denílson from São Paulo for £21.5 million.
Four of the last six world transfer records (in euro) have been set by Real Madrid, signing Luís Figo, Zinedine Zidane, Cristiano Ronaldo (plus a deal for Kaká days before Ronaldo which fell just below a world record due to the way the fee was calculated) and finally Gareth Bale, who was bought for £85.3 million (€103.4 million / $140 million) from Tottenham Hotspur in 2013.
The Brazilian forward Neymar was the subject of an expensive and complicated transfer arrangement when he joined Barcelona from Santos in 2013, and his outgoing transfer to Paris Saint-Germain in 2017 set a new world record fee at €222m (via his 'buyout clause'). Barcelona soon invested a large chunk of this money in a replacement, Ousmane Dembélé, whose deal – €105m – was the second most expensive ever before Philippe Coutinho's transfer to Barcelona for €142m.
- As of matches played 29 April 2018
|2||Cristiano Ronaldo||Real Madrid||2009–2018||311||292||1.07|
|3||Telmo Zarra||Athletic Bilbao||1940–1955||251||278||0.9|
|4||Hugo Sánchez||Atlético Madrid, Real Madrid & Rayo Vallecano||1981–1994||234||347||0.67|
|6||Alfredo Di Stéfano||Real Madrid & Espanyol||1953–1966||227||329||0.69|
|7||César Rodríguez||Granada, Barcelona, Cultural Leonesa & Elche||1939–1955||223||353||0.63|
|8||Quini||Sporting Gijón & Barcelona||1970–1987||219||448||0.49|
|9||Pahiño||Celta, Real Madrid & Deportivo||1943–1956||210||278||0.76|
|10||Edmundo Suárez||Valencia & Alcoyano||1939–1950||195||231||0.84|
- As of 16 May 2016
|10||José Mari Bakero||1980–1997||483||139|
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