Serie A has the history. The Premier League has the money. The German and French leagues are much maligned but both have their star players. Outside of Barcelona and Real Madrid though, La Liga is somewhat underrated, criminally by some, who underestimate just how great the division is. It’s understandably called a three-club league, but La Liga is perhaps the best in the world.
Over the last twelve years the first tier of Spanish Football has been dominated by 3 teams. FC Barcelona (8 titles), Real Madrid CF (3 titles) and Atlético Madrid (1 titles). They won a combined twelve League titles over the span of as many seasons. Although, the title race is arguably the fiercest and most challenging in Europe.
Also over the last twelve seasons, the league’s been won by a difference of 5 points or less six times (2004-05; 2009-10; 2010-11; 2013-14; 2014-15; 2015-16) and once with the head to head system (2006-07).
But there is absolutely no doubt that the Spanish teams have dominated European football for years, too. Real Madrid (11 titles) and Sevilla CF (5 titles) are the most successful teams in The Champions League and The Europa League/UEFA Cup respectively, making Spain the most decorated country in both competitions with 16 Champions League titles (Obtained by Real Madrid (11) and FC Barcelona (5)) and 10 Europa League/UEFA Cup titles (Obtained by Sevilla CF, Atlético Madrid, Real Madrid and Valencia).
It is no surprise that FC Barcelona and Real Madrid are frequently present in the Champions League final but other clubs like Atlético Madrid and Valencia have had quite a few appearances in the prestigious competition’s final as well. Atlético lost their first final in a humiliating fashion after getting battered by the German giants Bayern Munich 4-0 in 1974 and reached the final twice in three years despite losing to their neighbors Real Madrid on both occasions (2014; 2016). Valencia on the other hand are one of the few teams to reach the finals in two consecutive seasons. Héctor Cúper’s men failed to triumph in both games: their first defeat being a 3-0 loss to Los Blancos and their second being a loss on penalties against Bayern Munich after the game had ended 1-1.
So while the top 3 spots in La Liga are basically reserved for Barça, Real Madrid and Atléti, that does not mean that the competitiveness for European football between mid-table teams isn’t entertaining. Since 1999, twenty-one Spanish teams have qualified to European competitions. Over the last 5 years, five different teams have achieved 4th place (Champions league play-off round), those sides being Malaga, Athletic Bilbao, Sevilla, Valencia and Villarreal.
La Liga has undoubtedly been the league that produces the best talents during recent times. Take for example Atlético Madrid. After selling two of the best goalkeepers in the world, David De Gea and Thibaut Courtois to Manchester United and Chelsea respectively, they’ve got another phenomenal goalkeeper on their hands in Jan Oblak. As well as selling two of the best strikers in the world, Sergio Agüero and Diego Costa to Manchester City and Chelsea respectively, they’ve brought in a world class forward in Antoine Griezmann from another La Liga club, Real Sociedad, who has a rifle of a left foot.
Or look at FC Barcelona. On the 25th of November 2012, Barcelona fielded an XI entirely of players who came through La Masia vs Levante. Also, in 2011, Barcelona set the record for most homegrown players to play in a UEFA Champions League final (Valdes, Pique, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi and Pedro) as well as being the first team to have two homegrown players score in a UCL final (Messi and Pedro vs Manchester United).
Barcelona and Real Madrid’s current managers aren’t what you’d consider top class. Despite Luis Enrique winning a treble and a double back to back, he’s not considered up to Barcelona’s standards. Barça recorded their worst start to a La Liga season in 10 years under him; same with Zinedine Zidane who guided Real Madrid to a historic 11th UCL title as well as going 40 games unbeaten. Real’s performances since he took over weren’t great overall nor convincing, and they had to resort to clutch moments by players such as Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo to win games they really should be dominating.
Despite this, La Liga’s got many smart, experienced and class managers. For example:
Jorge Sampaoli: After delivering a Copa America title to Chile in 2015, Sampaoli joined Sevilla after proving to be one of the world’s most prolific managers. With efficient tactics, he has completely transformed the Andalusian side completely. Bringing in players like Franco Vazquez and Luciano Vietto as well as bringing the best out of others such as Steven N’Zonzi. As of 1/28/2017, Sevilla sit in second place in La Liga, one point ahead of giants Barcelona.
Diego Simeone: El Cholo, as he’s called by many, won a league title and made two Champions League final appearances with Atlético de Madrid in three years, knocking Barça out in the quarter finals in both campaigns. In 15/16, Atlético had, by far, the best defensive record in Europe conceding just 18 goals in 38 league games. In the same season, they managed to beat Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu and Barça in the Champions League last 8. Atléti’s title in 13/14 was their first since 1996.
Eduardo Berizzo: The third Argentine coach on the list, Berizzo brought Celta de Vigo European football after failing to participate in both continental competitions in 11 years after finishing in 6th place last season (2015-16). As well as beating reigning champions Barcelona twice in both seasons at home scoring 4 goals in both games. Despite getting knocked out by finalists Sevilla in 15/16’s Copa Del Rey semi-finals, Celta shocked Atlético Madrid after they knocked them out on their own ground (3-2). More recently, they knocked Real Madrid out 4-3 on aggregate in the same round, reaching their second consecutive semi-final and after avoiding Atletico and Barcelona in the Copa draw, we could see them reach the final.
Ernesto Valverde: Achieving European football for three consecutive seasons with Athletic Bilbao, reaching the Copa Del Rey final in 2014-15 only to lose to then treble winners FC Barcelona and later beating them in the Super Copa de España 5-1 on aggregate, Valverde has shown his quality and is clearly one of the most underrated and overlooked managers in the world. Bringing the best out of 35-year-old striker Aritz Aduriz and discovering Spain’s future winger Iñaki Williams during his time at Athletic, Ernesto will surely attract interest of big clubs very soon.
Not to forget the departing Unai Emery who left Sevilla for PSG last summer after winning 3 UEFA Europa League titles back to back. Also, guiding the Andalusian club to a Copa del Rey final appearance in his last season with the club.
Also, Carlo Ancelotti and Pep Guardiola who are undoubtedly two of Europe’s best managers have both passed by both El Clasico teams along with José Mourinho who’s one of the most successful managers in modern history.
Marcelino Garcia, who was sacked by Villarreal this summer after problems regarding match fixing (loss to Gijon on the last day of the season helping Gijon stay up and Rayo Vallecano getting relegated), nevertheless, Marcelino got the yellow submarines Champions League football in his last season as well as a Copa del Rey semi-final appearance the season before, getting knocked out to eventual champions and treble winners FC Barcelona.
While many point to the Premier League as the league that all others should follow, there’s actually no competition between Spain and England in terms of team quality. While the Premier League brings money in from television coverage, La Liga is still miles ahead in terms of quality, something proven by the performances of Spanish sides in Europe, but also of how competitive the division is within itself.
It’s about time that La Liga was considered the best in the world, not just by those who watch it regularly, but by those who watch the Premier League too.