The La Liga title race is no stranger to dramatic comebacks, which might concern the current league leader, Barcelona.
La Liga title races have ranged from three-horse races, dull and predictable ones to dramatic comebacks. This has occurred several times throughout history. It does not only involve the two giants, Real Madrid and Barcelona, but also Atletico Madrid, Real Sociedad and even Valencia.
The race for silverware in the 2022/23 season appears to be dull with Blaugrana 13 points clear from their archrival, Los Blancos. Xavi’s men have suffered a heavy loss in the Copa Del Rey semifinals against Luka Modric and Co., plus a goalless draw while hosting Girona. Such could lift Real Madrid supporters’ hope for making a comeback at the end of the season.
Unfortunately, their unexpected home loss to Villareal last weekend quickly turned their optimism into gloom. It is rather unlikely for them to bounce back and topple the Catalan side with ten games. Carlo Ancelotti’s men have to divide their focus on the Champions League and Copa Del Rey final in May.
Yet, this does not rule out the possibility of a dramatic comeback, as it has happened before.
The incredible stories of dramatic comebacks in La Liga title races
Before the three-point system
La Liga title race comebacks were quite dramatic prior to 1995. At that time, a win was only worth two points instead of three as today. The 1994/95 season was the last season to use that system.
A comeback took place in the inaugural season back in 1928. At that time, the league only consisted of 10 teams and Real Madrid led by seven points with 11 games remaining. However, they had to share points with Barcelona who secured eight wins out of 10. Los Blancos were on the top of the table but the Catalan side had one game left against Arenas de Gatxo as it was postponed before. Eventually, Blaugrana lifted the trophy two points ahead of their archival after crushing them 2-0.
In the 1949/50 season, Real Madrid’s chance to seal the title faded despite leading by seven points ahead of Atletico Madrid, the eventual champions. However, Los Choconeros had their own setback in the 1951/52 season. They lost the title to Barcelona who were seven points adrift from them beforehand. Blaugrana once again replicated the comeback in the following season as they denied Espanyol’s hope for the league title despite trailing seven points from their local contender.
The title race in 1980/81 was probably one of the most memorable ones with a Cinderella story. Real Sociedad managed to topple Atletico Madrid, the league leaders for the previous 25 weeks, and Real Madrid in the final fixture. The former was trailing due to being unable to win a single match in the last seven attempts, whereas the latter was simply unlucky.
Vicente del Bosque and Co. had snatched a 3-1 victory over Valladolid and Real Sociedad was already 2-1 behind against Sporting Gijon towards the final whistle. Surprisingly, Jose Maria Zamora netted an equalizer in the last minute to pick up a point on the road. It was enough to help Real Sociedad seal their first ever La Liga title.
Last but most certainly not least, there was the 1991/92 campaign with a fortunate victory for Johan Cryuff’s men despite being eight points behind Real Madrid on match day 14. This title race was also known for its dramatic overturn since Barca sat second below their archival with a one-point gap. Barcelona defeated Athletic Bilbao in the last match but needed a miracle from the Canary Islands as Los Blancos were visiting Tenerife. To everyone’s surprise, they slumped to a 3-2 defeat despite their initial two-goal lead. The La Liga trophy once again belonged to Camp Nou.
In modern days
The stunning overturn in the La Liga title race has declined significantly since the three-point system for a win was introduced in the 1995/96 season. The only time the Spanish top tier saw it again was during 2003/04 season. That season was also infamous for one of the worst title collapses in the European leagues.
Real Madrid were the reigning champions and the pace setters during that season. Everything seemed to be under control which was unexpected for a squad full of stars that included Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo Luiz, Luis Figo, Roberto Carlos, David Beckham and the legendary skipper Raul Gonzalez. Los Galacticos were still on top, 12 points clear from their rivals as the season went into the last 12 matches.
Los Blancos somehow lost their fortune as they suffered seven defeats in the final ten matches as well as losing out on the Copa Del Rey to Real Zaragoza. Matters went from bad to worse as Carlos Queiroz’s men dropped to fourth in the standings. Rafael Benitez’s Valencia eventually lifted the title. Such failure ultimately cost the Portuguese his position in the Bernabeu. The capital side went trophyless and were forced to watch Los Ches and Barcelona thrive in Europe in the following two seasons before Fabio Capello took charge in 2006/07.