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Understanding Spain’s Primera Division

Your guide to making sense of the league table



Spain’s Primera Division is made up of 20 teams. The usual round-robin format applies, where teams play eachother twice, home and away. At the end of the season, each team will have played 38 games. The team with the most points at the end of the season is the champion.

Matches are played every weekend throughout the season, except when there is a break for international games. There are usually at least two matches played on a Saturday evening, with the rest on Sunday afternoon and evening (kick-off times vary). In the 2009-10 season, a Monday night match was also introduced. There are also midweek fixtures at intermittent periods throughout the season, with these matches played on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings.

The Points System

Three points are awarded for a win, one for a draw and none for a defeat. A team cannot accrue more points by scoring more goals in a match, although this will help their head-to-head record against other teams as well as their goal difference.

La Liga differs from some other leagues in that teams’ head-to-head records are used to separate them if they are equal on points. Whichever team has the best goal difference in the two matches will be placed highest if the points are equal. If head-to-head goal difference is the same, goal difference over the entire season is used, and then goals scored.

When more that two teams are sharing the same number of points, the points accumulated in the matches between the teams are used to rank them, then goal difference if required. If this is not sufficient, goal difference over the entire season is used, and then goals scored. Further tie-breakers are seldom required beyond that.

The League Table

The winners of the Primera Division go automatically into the following season’s Champions League. This also applies to the runners-up and the team that finishes third. The fourth-placed team must get through the third qualifying round before they take their place in the Champions League group stage.

The teams who finish in fifth and sixth place enter the Europa League.

Staying Up

The bottom three clubs in the Primera Division are relegated to the Segunda Division – the division below. These teams are replaced by the three top ranked teams at the end of the Segunda Division’s 42-game season.

It is unusual for any team to be relegated with 40 points, and as in other leagues containing 20 teams, this is the target for clubs aiming to avoid the drop.

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