In the early years of the 21st century, the La Liga title race was not a foregone conclusion. Between 1999/00 and 2003/04, Real Madrid and Barcelona won the league just twice in five seasons. The big two have dominated since then, save for Atletico Madrid’s triumph in 2013/14.
Spain’s top-flight is not just about the big two, though, and we have tried to reflect that here. Here are 10 of the best La Liga fixtures since the start of the millennium.
Deportivo La Coruna were the champions of Spain in 2000 – the first and only time they have finished on top of the pile. They had a great team back then, filled with stars like Roy Makaay, Djalminha, Pauleta, and Flavio Conceicao.
Deportivo’s signature performance of that title-winning campaign came against Real Madrid, who finished way down in fifth place. This thumping win in February removed all doubts about Deportivo’s title credentials, with Madrid utterly outclassed at the Estadio Riazor.
In the three seasons between 2000/01 and 2002/03, Barcelona never finished higher than fourth. Valencia were a more successful team in this period, reaching back-to-back Champions League finals and winning the title under Rafael Benitez in 2002 and 2004.
The final day of the 2000/01 campaign was a straight shoot-out for the final Champions League spot. Barcelona needed to beat Valencia to leapfrog them into the fourth spot; if the game at the Camp Nou was a tie or an away win, Valencia would qualify ahead of the Catalans.
A stunning Rivaldo hat-trick – perhaps the highest quality trouble in soccer history – settled this most dramatic of La Liga fixtures in Barcelona’s favor.
This is a scoreline that has lost none of its shock value 18 years on. Real Mallorca were a good side back then: they finished in the top half in 2002/03 and also won the Copa del Rey. In Samuel Eto’o and Walter Pandiani, they had two excellent forwards up top.
Still, no one anticipated Mallorca winning 5-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu. Real Madrid went on to win the league by two points, but this was an afternoon to forget for Vicente del Bosque’s men. Pandiani and Eto’o, the latter a former Madrid player, both got on the scoresheet in a famous win.
The original San Mames was Spain’s most atmospheric soccer stadium, and it bore witness to an incredible eight-goal thriller – one of the most memorable La Liga fixtures ever played at that ground – in February 2005. Athletic Bilbao were pushing for Europa League qualification, while Real Betis had their eyes on a Champions League place.
Betis played some fantastic soccer early on and raced into a 3-0 lead, with Athletic unable to cope with their attacking excellence.
The Basque side fought back, though, and by the 70th minute, they held a 4-3 lead and had all the momentum on their side. But Betis recovered and Ricardo Oliveira struck late on to earn them a point.
Getafe have not been known for free-flowing, attacking soccer in recent La Liga fixtures, but they more than played a part in this humdinger of a contest. This was a fine Sevilla team who would go on to finish in the top four and win the Copa del Rey, but Getafe edged them out in April 2010.
Getafe took a 1-0 lead through Adrian, then fell 2-1 behind before half-time. Pedro Leon restored parity at 2-2, but Luis Fabiano put Sevilla back ahead on the hour mark. Manu del Moray made it 3-3 to get up a grandstand finish before a Dani Parejo penalty won it for Getafe in stoppage time.
Soccer is a low-scoring sport, and while neutrals love to see goals flying in at both ends, a tense 0-0 tie can be just as compelling. This one certainly was, as Real Madrid tried and failed to break down a stubborn Valencia defense in April 2012.
This was cat-and-mouse soccer at its very best. There were so many chances, some for Valencia but most for Madrid. It was a breathless game featuring terrible misses, goalkeeping heroics, and no fewer than five shots against the post.
A 2-0 victory over Real Betis in late March moved Atletico Madrid to the summit of the standings, but a late wobble threatened their title hopes: a 2-0 loss to Levante and a 1-1 tie with Malaga let Barcelona back into the race. In the final round of La Liga fixtures, Atletico had to avoid defeat at the Camp Nou otherwise the Blaugrana would leapfrog them at the last.
Alexis Sanchez put Barcelona in front, leaving Atletico fans fearing the worst. But in the 49th minute Diego Godin rose highest to head home from a corner and bring the La Liga title back to the Vicente Calderon.
This was a topsy-turvy, pulsating encounter that had everything. Imanol Agirretxe broke the deadlock in Real Sociedad’s favor, but Timothee Kolodziejczak ensured Sevilla went in level at half-time. After the break, any semblance of control went out the window.
Four more strikes were traded before the 90th minute – one own goal and two penalties among them. Both teams pushed frantically for a winner thereafter, with Xabi Prieto making himself the hero by giving Real Sociedad a 4-3 advantage late on.
El Clasico is a fixture that often lives up to the hype, and we could have filled this list with 10 matches between Real Madrid and Barcelona. La Liga fixtures are not just about the big two, though, and you can find out more about some standout Clasico contests here.
Barcelona’s 3-2 win in 2017 is probably the pick of the bunch. A Real Madrid victory would have knocked their arch-rivals out of the title race, and the Blancos were ready to celebrate when Casemiro gave them the lead.
Barcelona turned the game on its head to lead 2-1, then Sergio Ramos was sent off for Madrid. Despite their numerical disadvantage, James Rodriguez drew the host’s level, before Lionel Messi scored a dramatic winner in injury time.
An astonishing game in April 2019 ended in a tie, despite Villarreal and Barcelona both being in commanding positions at different stages.
It was the away team who looked comfortable early on, as Philippe Coutinho and Malcolm put them 2-0 up. Villarreal stormed back and led 4-2 going into stoppage time in the second half, but goals from Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez somehow earned Barcelona a point.
La Liga Standings and Relegation Prediction, Best Bets, Odds 2022/23
La Liga | 29 August - 21:16 | Greg Lea
La Liga Title Winner Prediction, Picks, Best Bets 2022/23
La Liga | 29 August - 21:20 | Greg Lea
La Liga Futures
La Liga 2022/23 Top Four Prediction, Odds and Picks
La Liga Futures | 4 April - 20:45 | Greg Lea
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
© Rebel Penguin ApS 2023 (a subsidiary of Gaming Innovation Group Inc.)
We support responsible gambling. If you feel like you're losing control over your gambling experience, call 1-800-GAMBLER (NJ, PA, WV), 1-800-9-WITH-IT (IN), 1-800-BETS-OFF (IA), 1-800-522-4700 (NV), 1-800-522-4700 (CO, TN), 1-855-2CALLGA (IL), 1-800-270-7117 (MI).
WSN.com is registered with the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) under affiliate vendor ID 89744, with the Indiana Gaming Commission (IGC) under certificate of registration number SWR-000148, approved by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board as a gaming service provider, under certificate registration number 117656-1, possesses a Vendor Minor sports betting license from the Colorado Limited Gaming Control Commission (account number 94414163), granted a vendor registration number VR007603-20-001 by the Michigan Gaming Control Board, an interim Sports Wagering Supplier license, under license number SWS 066, issued by the West Virginia Lottery Commission, a sports betting vendor registration, under registration number #100400, issued by the Director of Gaming Licensing and Investigations of the Virginia Lottery to operate in the State of Virginia, and a Vendor Registration issued by the Sports Wagering Committee of the Tennessee Education Lottery Corporation.
Advertising disclosure: WSN contains links to online retailers on its website. When people click on our affiliate links and make purchases, WSN earns a commission from our partners, including ESPN and various sportsbooks.