Often criticised for being a three-horse race in the past decade, Spain has witnessed some of the greatest La Liga title races in the last 50 years. In fact, La Liga has witnessed more seasons with teams finishing level on points than any other league.
This season, though, did not give any indication of having a tense title race at the start. Atletico Madrid had clearly emerged as the favourites after an impressive start. But a poor second half of the season for Rojiblancos has seen themselves dragged into a tense title challenge.
As the competition enters the business end, Atletico Madrid have a slight upper hand. The Rojiblancos lead the way with 80 points, with Real Madrid, Barcelona and Sevilla close behind on 78, 76, and 74, respectively. Now, as La Liga witnesses the closest title challenge in close to 50 seasons, we look at ten of the best title races in Spain during the same timeline.
Ten of the Best La Liga Title Races in the Last 50 Years
1970/71 – Valencia 43, Barcelona 43, Atletico Madrid 42
The 1970/71 season saw Valencia end a decade long Madrid dominance of the Spanish league by a whisker. With five rounds remaining, Los Che led the table with a solitary point over Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.
Under Real Madrid legend Alfredo Di Stefano’s watch, Valencia surprised Spain by emerging as a strong title challenger. Los Che won three of their last four matches and went into the final round of La Liga with a single point lead. A victory against Espanyol was all that Valencia needed to ensure their title. But, Los Che fumbled at the final hurdle after Miguel Angel Lamata scored a 65th-minute winner for the Catalan side.
The result meant the winner of the Barcelona-Atletico Madrid game could become the champions of Spain. Lady luck, though, was on Valencia’s side. Luis Aragones cancelled Duenas’ opener as the Barcelona-Atletico Madrid match ended in a 1-1 draw. The result saw Los Che win the title ahead of Barcelona with a better head-to-head record.
1979/80 – Real Madrid 53, Real Sociedad 52
Real Sociedad were in contention to lift their first La Liga title before they squandered it on the final day. The topsy-turvy season saw Real Madrid and Real Sociedad leading the league on several occasions.
Real Sociedad and Real Madrid had peeled away from the rest at the halfway mark of the season. After 32 rounds, both clubs were neck-and-neck with each other, with the Basque club holding a point lead over Los Blancos. With just two wins to ensure the title, Sociedad traveled to Sevilla in search of extending their 13-month unbeaten run.
In an enthralling match, nine man Sevilla defeated Real Sociedad following an 83rd-minute winner from Daniel Bertoni. Real Madrid, on their part, prevailed over Las Palmas, courtesy of a Santillana brace. The Madrid giants went onto win their remaining match against Athletic Bilbao to lift the trophy.
1980/81 – Real Sociedad 45, Real Madrid 45, Atletico Madrid 42
The 1980/81 season saw Atletico Madrid emerge as favourites for the title after an impressive first half of the season. The second half, though, was a different story. Atletico Madrid won just five of their remaining fixtures and surrendered their lead after the 30th round.
A strong second half from Real Madrid and Real Sociedad saw them going at it in the business end of the season for the second successive year. This time, Real Sociedad had the last laugh. Despite a draw on the final day, Real Sociedad dethroned the defending champions on a better head-to-head goal difference record to lift their first-ever La Liga title.
1982/83 – Athletic Bilbao 50, Real Madrid 49
This time it was Real Madrid’s chance to lose it in the umpteenth minute. Los Blancos started the season brightly and occupied the top two spots from the fifth round till the last one. Real Madrid needed just a point on the final day to secure the La Liga crown. On the last day, Los Merengues traveled to Valencia while Leones visited Las Palmas.
Bilbao had a nightmare start, conceding in the third minute, but came from behind to win 5-1. Real Madrid, though, had an evening to forget. A 39th-minute winner from Tendillo helped Valencia secure a 1-0 win at the Mestalla. The result saw Athletic Bilbao lift the La Liga after 27 years.
1983/84 – Athletic Bilbao 49, Real Madrid 49, Barcelona 48
Athletico Bilbao once again left it late to clinch the league in one of the closest La Liga title races ever. Real Madrid and Athletico Bilbao yet again went toe-to-toe for the title. But unlike last time, Bilbao secured the better head-to-head record over their challengers. After 29 rounds, both clubs faced each other after a first-round goalless draw at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Los Blancos started the match brightly with Uli Stielke scoring the opener, but Andoni Goikoetxea soon equalised. Then veteran forward Dani scored the winner to guide Bilbao to a 2-1 victory. The result helped Los Leones open a two-point lead over their rivals.
More drama soon followed as Bilbao lost to Real Betis in the next round. The result left Real Madrid and the Basque side level on points, with Barcelona close behind. The final round of fixtures saw Athletic Bilbao host arch-rivals Real Sociedad, Barcelona face Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid play Espanyol.
A Lobo Carassco winner helped Barcelona keep their title aspirations alive after a 2-1 win over Atletico Madrid. Real Madrid also kept their hopes alive after Emilio Butrageno brace helped them to a comeback victory over Espanyol. But to both clubs dismay, Inigo Liceranzu scored twice for Athletic Bilbao as they defeated arch-rivals Real Sociedad to lift their second successive league title.
1991/92 – Barcelona 55, Real Madrid 54, Atletico Madrid 53
The early to mid-1990s saw Johan Cruyff’s dream team emerge as the best in the continent. The dream team, though, had a tough start. While Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid emerged as clear title contenders, Barcelona lost three of their opening five matches to create doubts about their title credentials.
The Catalonian giants then lost just three of their next 33 matches to make up for the lost ground. Atletico Madrid, on the other hand, squandered their chances of going on top after a loss to Real Madrid in the 35th round of the league.
On the last day of the league, all eyes fell on Real Madrid’s trip to Tenerife and Barcelona’s home match against Bilbao. The Madrid giants needed either a point or a Barcelona loss to secure the title. But Real Madrid threw away a 2-0 lead against Tenerife to lose 3-2 courtesy of a Pier winner. Barcelona didn’t leave it to chance and cruised to a 2-0 win, with the help of a Hristo Stoichkov brace, to secure the league title.
1992/93 – Barcelona 58, Real Madrid 57
There was a sense of deja vu when Real Madrid and Barcelona went into the final round fighting for the title for the second successive season. Like the previous season, both teams went into the final day with Real Madrid leading Barcelona by a single point. Ironically, Real Madrid once again traveled to Tenerife while Barcelona played host to Real Sociedad.
Revenge was on the cards for Los Blancos but, once again, Tenerife became their stumbling block. The Canary Islands side struck twice to condemn Real Madrid to a 2-0 loss. Barcelona yet again won their last match of the season, with Hristo Stoichkov emerging as the hero, scoring the only goal against Real Sociedad to help Blaugrana lift the title.
1993/94 – Barcelona 56, Deportivo La Coruna 56
It was one of the rare occasions in the Spanish league where Real Madrid were not involved in a close title race. The 1993/94 season saw Deportivo La Coruna emerge as the surprise challengers to Barcelona’s crown. The Branquiazuis established themselves as the favourites after opening up a three-point lead over Barcelona, with just four games to play.
The next four matches saw one of the biggest turnarounds in the history of Spanish football. Deportivo needed just six points from their last four games to win the title. But, Branquiazuis drew two of their next three matches to enter the final day of the league with a single point lead over Barcelona.
The last day was nothing short of a miracle for the Blaugrana. The Catalan side came from behind to win 5-2 over Sevilla, courtesy of a Stoichkov brace. The result meant Deportivo needed a win against Valencia to secure their first La Liga title.
After a scoreless first half, Branquiazuis’ golden opportunity came in the 88th-minute. Deportivo La Coruna got a penalty after Pepe Serer brought down Nando inside the penalty box. On stepped Miroslav Dukic, in-place of the substituted Donato and the hesitant Bebeto. To Dukic’s and thousands of Deportivo La Coruna fans’ dismay, the Serbian shot the ball straight into the hands of Jose Gonzalez. The match ended 0-0 and helped Barcelona clinch their fourth straight La Liga crown with a better head-to-head record.
2006/07 – Real Madrid 76, Barcelona 76
It took more than a decade for La Liga to witness another nail-biting title chase. The Catalan giants started impressively and led the league for most of the season. But a disastrous second half of the season saw Real Madrid move level on points with Barcelona. The arch-rivals entered the last day of the season level on points. Barcelona needed to get more points than Real Madrid due to a better head-to-head record for the latter.
The Catalan giants cruised to victory over Gimnastic. But Real Madrid came from a goal down to win 3-1 against Mallorca, courtesy of a Jose Antonio Reyes brace. The result saw Real Madrid end level on points with Barcelona on 76 and winning the title with a better head-to-head record.
La Liga Title 2015/16 – Barcelona 91, Real Madrid 90, Atletico Madrid 88
After more than a decade, the 2015/16 season saw the La Liga title race go into the final day with three teams having a realistic chance at the title. It looked like the title was all done and dusted after 30 rounds after Barcelona commanded a nine-point lead over their challengers. But, a run of eight points from their next seven games put the title race back on track.
Barcelona needed a win in their final match against Granada to secure the title. Meanwhile, Real Madrid needed to win their game against Deportivo La Coruna and required Barcelona to drop points. Blaugrana prevailed under pressure and defeated Granada 3-0 courtesy of a Luis Suarez hattrick. The Catalan giants finished with 91 points, a point above Real Madrid, to help them defend their crown.
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