The reasons why LaLiga Santander is the tightest league in Europe

Andrés Iniesta and the sporting directors of this year’s breakout teams have analysed the competitiveness of Spain’s top flight, where Real Sociedad lead the way, newly promoted Rayo Vallecano are sixth and CA Osasuna are pushing for European qualification too.

One third of the 2021/22 LaLiga Santander season is in the books and it’s already clear that this campaign is following the pattern of the past few years, with maximum competitiveness and excitement from the first to last minute of every game, as well as a bunched-together table with teams able to set ambitious objectives. The 2020/21 campaign was already the most fascinating competition in Europe, producing one of the closest title races of the century as four clubs were separated by just three points with five rounds to go, and now the current season promises to be just as tight.

After 13 rounds of action, the top three sides are separated by just one point, as Real Sociedad have 28 points and Real Madrid and Sevilla FC have 27 each. The distance between the sixth-placed team in the league, Rayo Vallecano, and the league leaders is just eight points. These stats once again place LaLiga Santander as the most competitive and thrilling of the five major European leagues, with none of those other competitions as close as Spain’s top tier. In Serie A, there are 13 points between first and sixth. In Ligue 1, there is even a 10-point gap between the leaders and second place. It’s a polar opposite situation.

The goal difference stats of LaLiga Santander also show how competitive the competition has been. Real Madrid have the largest goal difference at this stage, with +15, but that’s not as high as the goal difference leaders in England, Germany, France or Italy. Looking at the other end, Getafe CF and Levante CF have the worst goal difference stats in LaLiga Santander right now with -13, but each of the Premier League, Bundesliga, Ligue 1 and Serie A has at least one club with an even lower number than that. This shows that there are few easy games in LaLiga Santander, as no teams are being thrashed week after week. 

Anything can happen in LaLiga Santander. RC Celta Vigo can come back from a 3-0 half-time deficit to draw 3-3 with FC Barcelona, or Valencia CF can pull off a comeback of their own against Atlético Madrid, scoring two stoppage time goals to turn a 3-1 disadvantage into a 3-3 draw. Newly promoted sides like RCD Espanyol or Rayo Vallecano can defeat Real Madrid 2-1 or FC Barcelona 1-0 respectively. Second-bottom Levante UD can play out a thrilling 3-3 draw with Real Madrid and even bottom-placed Deportivo Alavés can earn a 1-0 victory over the reigning champions, beating Atlético Madrid 1-0. Anything goes. If you blink, you might miss it.

In the current campaign, this has certainly been the case as comebacks are the order of the day, with stoppage time proving decisive game after game. Around 10 percent of the goals scored so far have come in stoppage time, with as many as 36 points changing hands in those additional minutes across the first 13 matchdays of this LaLiga Santander season. There is drama from minute 1 to 90… and then beyond as well!


In this league of equality, the first among equals are Real Sociedad, the impressive leaders of the table at this stage. The Txuri-Urdin are one of the clubs to have made the most of the more equal sharing of income that has existed in LaLiga since 2013, thanks to the centralised sale of audiovisual rights and the league’s Economic Control framework. With a solid academy structure and with efficient signings in the transfer market, acquiring talents such as Alexander Isak or David Silva, La Real have become the perfect example of how savvy management can build a squad capable of taking on the best teams of Spain. The CIES Football Observatory even ranked Real Sociedad as having the second most sustainable squad in Europe’s top leagues in terms of player age, average stay in the first-team squad and contract duration. Right now, there are 12 academy graduates in the first team and that squad has an average age of 25.6.

The result of all this is that Real Sociedad have been in the top positions in LaLiga Santander at various points over the past couple of seasons, with six matchdays at the very top in the current season. According to Beyond Stats – a big data project from LaLiga and Microsoft, using Mediacoach stats – Imanol Alguacil’s team rank third-best for goals conceded (10) and third-best in terms of making the most of each goal (earning 0.47 points per goal). Looking at other stats, Álex Remiro is the goalkeeper with the most clean sheets (seven) and Mikel Merino is the best player for ball recoveries in the opposition half in LaLiga Santander and the second-best overall. Centre-back Robin Le Normand has stood out too, winning the October Player of the Month award. Making all of this even more impressive is the fact that Real Sociedad are one of the youngest teams in LaLiga Santander and they have also been playing in the Europa League and have overcome a plague of injuries. This all proves that La Real are worthy leaders and, even if they weren’t among the main title favourites, they have earned respect across Spain and Europe.

Discussing the bright start to the season, Real Sociedad’s sporting director Roberto Olabe explained: “We operate in a difficult world, as LaLiga Santander is one of the best competitions. Leading the league is a way for us to grow and it helps our young players, in a mental and an ambition sense, to ask ‘why not?’ and we’ll then see where that takes us. We aren’t dismissing any possibility, as we know that this is yet another very competitive and even LaLiga Santander season, with points being shared. We want to be part of the action at the top this season.”


After Real Sociedad (28 points) are Real Madrid and Sevilla FC (27 points) and then, just a little behind, Atlético Madrid (23 points). These are three of the four clubs from the 2020/21 LaLiga Santander title race, which went down to the wire. The fourth was FC Barcelona, who have slipped to ninth with 17 points. An 11-point gap to the leaders would be enough for seventh in the Bundesliga, fifth in Serie A or even third in Ligue 1! But, there is little margin for error in LaLiga Santander, where 17 points is currently 11 points away from both the leaders and the bottom-placed side.  

That’s because there are many other clubs who keep collecting points week after week, making the mid-table very strong. For example, last season’s LaLiga SmartBank winners RCD Espanyol have come up and kept performing well, meaning they’re currently on the same number of points as their city rivals Barça, ahead of the Derbi de Barcelona next Saturday, November 20. The Pericos have achieved several eye-catching results, such as beating Real Madrid 2-1 in front of their home crowd, drawing 2-2 away at Real Betis and holding Europa League champions Villarreal to a 0-0 draw when they came to town. Making RCD Espanyol so tough is the fact that they have Raúl De Tomás, nicknamed RDT, leading their line. With seven goals so far, the same as Vini Jr and Luis Suárez, he is the leader in the race for the Zarra Trophy, the award given out each season to the highest scoring Spaniard. It has certainly been an impressive start for this side that played in LaLiga SmartBank last term.


Also in the middle of the pack are Athletic Club, a historic Spanish club who are currently eighth. Then, one point and one position above them are CA Osasuna, another of the standout teams so far. Depending on who the Copa del Rey winner is, seventh could grant qualification for the Conference League, which would be a mighty achievement for this modest club that only returned to Spain’s top tier in 2019. Under Jagoba Arrasate, they’ve been doing so well and finished 10th in their first year back up and then 11th. This year, they’ve taken another step forward and were unbeaten on the road up until Matchday 12, having won 2-1 away at Villarreal CF, having drawn 0-0 at the Bernabéu against Real Madrid, having produced two awesome 3-2 comebacks against Cádiz CF and RCD Mallorca. At this stage, the Rojillos have actually won the most points from stoppage time so far, with five.

Analysing the start to the campaign, CA Osasuna sporting director Braulio Vázquez said: “Dreams are important in football and it’s nice for us to see people thinking big. That’s the magic of the sport. But we know at this club how difficult it is just to stay in LaLiga Santander, so there’s no doubt that this remains the main objective. Michael Robinson did always say that CA Osasuna is a big club with unhealthy conformism, so we don’t want to fall into that trap either and we need to stay ambitious. At the same time, I like to remember a phrase from our former coach Pedro Mari Zabalza, who said ‘If we become overconfident then we’ll be bad’. We need to find the balance between the two attitudes to keep growing. We know we can compete against anyone and that’s what we have been demonstrating.”


Another team to have competed against all opponents is Rayo Vallecano, who have surely been the biggest shock of the Spanish football season so far. With Andoni Iraola, the team from the capital have the youngest coach in the division and they have impressed. After finishing sixth in LaLiga SmartBank last year and coming up through the playoffs, they’re now sixth in the top tier and would qualify for Europe if the season finished right now. They’re only one point behind the Real Betis of Nabil Fekir and then there are just two more points to reigning champions Atlético Madrid.

David Cobeño, the Rayo Vallecano sporting director, reflected on the great start, saying: “There are some very good squads at LaLiga SmartBank level. We then kept the core group we had last year, building on the momentum of the promotion, and we have added an extra touch of quality with the signing of certain players, such as Radamel Falcao.” The Colombian superstar has certainly been a key part of the early season success story, joining La Franja at the very end of the transfer window. Already he has five LaLiga Santander goals, scoring at a rate of one every 67 minutes, which is the best minutes-per-goal ratio in the division.

One of those goals earned the team a last-gasp 2-1 victory away at Athletic Club. Another of those strikes secured the 1-0 win over FC Barcelona, a match where nine of Rayo Vallecano’s starters were also at the club in LaLiga SmartBank last year. Cobeño continued: “We have to remain humble and achieve our goal of survival first of all, but from there it is free to dream. We have the recent example of Granada CF to look to, as they won promotion into LaLiga Santander and went straight into the European qualification spots. That could be an example for us to look towards.” The Granada CF success story was another demonstration of how anything is possible in Spanish football, as they went from playing in the 2018/19 LaLiga SmartBank season to facing Manchester United in the 2020/21 Europa League quarter-finals. This year, though, the Andalusian outfit have had an inconsistent start and are down in 17th. Anything can happen, for good or for bad, in the very competitive world of LaLiga Santander.

Andrés Iniesta, the former FC Barcelona player who is now a LaLiga Icon, reflected on this, stating: “The nice thing about LaLiga Santander is that it is all very even, with lots of parity. Every matchday is intense because every fixture is very complicated. I obviously hope that Barça win LaLiga Santander, but I’m sure it’ll be a difficult and hard-fought title race. We’ll need to see if Real Sociedad, Sevilla FC or Atlético Madrid can keep up their current pace and consistency until the end, but we have seen in recent years that other teams have managed to stay up there and that is nice for those watching.” A decade ago, when Iniesta was wearing the FC Barcelona shirt, both Real Madrid and the Blaugrana managed to win the league title with 100 points in back-to-back seasons, which was a LaLiga Santander record. Now there isn’t such an imbalance. It’s the opposite, as we’re witnessing the tightest and most exciting league in Europe.

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Real Madrid reveal new retractable pitch

Real Madrid’s renovation of the Santiago Bernabeu continues, and the club has just released a video looking at the impressive retractable pitch and storage system being put in place. The system would allow the ground to host lots of events other than football, including tennis, NFL matches and large-scale music concerts. As the video shows, the pitch system sees the grass divided up into trays which slide underground, revealing an artificial surface beneath. A great video showcasing one of the most ambitious and impressive stadium refurbs in world football!

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LaLiga Santander Matchday 12 preview:The Basque Derby between Real Sociedad and Athletic Club takes centre stage

The midweek round of goals and dramatic LaLiga Santander action is over, but there’s another dose of top-flight Spanish football coming up straight away as Matchday 12 takes place this weekend. There are several fascinating games, from Valencia CF and Villarreal CF’s derby to FC Barcelona’s first match of the post-Ronald Koeman era to the first Basque Derby of the season. It promises to be a thrilling weekend of football in Spain’s top flight.

The first match of the round is Real Madrid’s trip to take on Elche CF at the Estadio Manuel Martínez Valero, a stadium where the Franjiverdes held the Blancos to a draw last season. That is the early game on Saturday, at 14:00 CEST, with Carlo Ancelotti’s side looking to get back to winning ways after being held to a midweek draw at home to CA Osasuna. Meanwhile, Elche CF will hope to catch Real Madrid napping in this early kick-off.

The next fixture is a clash between Sevilla FC and CA Osasuna, with the Andalusians boasting a 100 percent record at home so far this season and the Rojillos having won four and drawn one of their five away matches so far. It’ll be interesting to see whether the excellent home record or away record is extended.

A big derby match then follows, with Valencia CF taking on Villarreal CF at Mestalla on Saturday evening. These two clubs have had disappointing starts to the season, so will be targeting a win in this hotly anticipated Valencian Community clash to jumpstart their campaigns.

FC Barcelona then return to action at 21:00 CEST on Saturday night for their first match since the sacking of Ronald Koeman. That came when the Blaugrana lost a second match in a row in midweek, falling to Rayo Vallecano after also losing ElClásico three days earlier. The fans at the Camp Nou will expect a response from the players, now led by caretaker coach Sergi Barjuán, as they host a Deportivo Alavés side who have won their past two games. There is great expectation as a new era kicks off at Barça.

On Sunday, Cádiz CF will look to get back to winning ways after a series of disappointing results when they host RCD Mallorca in the first match of the day. Likewise, champions Atlético Madrid are hoping to bounce back from two 2-2 draws in a row when they host a high-flying Real Betis side that actually come into this fixture with more points. Diego Simeone has enjoyed eight wins and one draw from the nine times he has coached in this fixture, although he’ll have to experience his 10th home match against Real Betis from the stands due to a suspension.

Getafe CF then take on RCD Espanyol in southern Madrid, with the Azulones still searching for their first victory of the season. They came so close to claiming it in midweek, only for a 97th minute goal to deny them the three points and leave them with just a point from their trip to Granada CF. Against one of his former clubs, new Geta coach Quique Sánchez Flores will hope to achieve that much-needed first victory.

Then comes the game that takes centre stage in Matchday 12, the first Basque Derby of the season. It’s Real Sociedad vs Athletic Club under the Reale Arena floodlights, with so much on the line given that La Real come into this fixture as league leaders. Athletic Club will be determined to take three points from their rivals’ home to knock them off top spot and dent the Txuri-Urdin title challenge, as they did back in 2002/03, the last time Real Sociedad mounted a serious title challenge. This fixture is always special and this Sunday’s game should be no different.

On Monday, there are two more matches in Spain’s top flight, with Rayo Vallecano looking to keep up their 100 percent home record in the first of them. The team from Vallecas have won all five of their matches played so far in the Madrid neighbourhood, including Wednesday’s victory over FC Barcelona, and now they’ll host RC Celta Vigo this Monday evening. That’s before Levante UD vs Granada CF concludes the matchday, with both these sides entering the weekend inside the bottom four and in need of some valuable LaLiga Santander points.

Watch LaLiga Santander live this weekend on BeINSports

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Real Sociedad vs Athletic Club: A Basque derby at the heart of the title race

La Real face one of their toughest challenges yet, with Athletic determined to derail their rivals’ title challenge.

Real Sociedad have enjoyed an excellent start to the 2021/22 campaign, responding to their opening weekend defeat at Barcelona by stringing several wins together and climbing to the very top of the LaLiga Santander standings. The team from San Sebastián finished Matchday 8 and Matchday 9 in first position, announcing their title candidacy after several seasons of evolution under coach Imanol Alguacil.

This weekend, though, Real Sociedad have what may be their toughest test yet. They have the Basque derby against regional rivals Athletic Club on Sunday night, under the floodlights at 21:00 CET. It should be a special occasion in front of their home fans at the Reale Arena.

The side from Bilbao have had a good start to the season too and are just a few points behind the title challengers with a quarter of this LaLiga Santander campaign in the books. Marcelino has built a solid team in his 10 months on the job and they have only lost one match so far this season. If Athletic had turned some of their draws into victories, they too would be pushing for first position in the table.

With both Basque sides so high up the table, this will be one of the most important Basque derbies in several years. Real Sociedad fans are starting to dream of a first LaLiga Santander title since their back-to-back championships of 1980/81 and 1981/82, while Athletic Club supporters are convinced that this is the season they’ll return to Europe after a four-year absence.

Historically, this fixture has often been at the heart of the title race. The last time La Real were serious title challengers, in 2002/03, Athletic Club thrashed their rivals 3-0 in Bilbao when La Real were top of the standings, with this result ultimately costing the Txuri-Urdin and allowing Real Madrid to sneak that year’s championship by two points.

Spooling further back, to when Spanish football was dominated by these two clubs at the start of the 1980s, Real Sociedad won the league title in 1981/82 by defeating Athletic Club 2-1 on the final day of the season, before Athletic Club earned a 2-1 title-clinching derby win of their own two years later.

This weekend’s match won’t be so decisive, whatever the result is, as there is a long season still ahead. But, this might still be the Basque derby with the greatest title race implications in several years.

Athletic Club’s motivation for revenge

The players will be well used to the pressure, given that arguably the most important Basque derby ever took place earlier this year. On April 3rd of 2021, Athletic Club and Real Sociedad met at La Cartuja in Seville for the 2019/20 Copa del Rey final, a showdown that had been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. That only increased the sense of expectation for this huge derby final.

Neither team wanted to lose, but somebody had to and, with Mikel Oyarzabal’s penalty proving to be the only goal of the game, La Real won the cup to end a trophy drought that had lasted since 1987.

Athletic Club will want some revenge for that heartbreaking loss when they take on their historic foes this weekend. They actually had a rematch just days after the cup final, which finished 1-1, but now Los Leones will relish the opportunity to deal Real Sociedad’s title aspirations a significant blow.

Besides the potential for revenge, Athletic Club will want to triumph in this weekend’s derby so that they can remember the winning feeling as they haven’t tasted victory in any of the past four matches against La Real. In addition to the draw and cup final defeat of April, Athletic Club lost the previous two Basque derbies. Not since August of 2019 have they won one. For the fans in Bilbao, that’s too long.

Familiar faces on both sides

While Real Sociedad and Athletic Club’s rivalry is one of the biggest in LaLiga Santander, there is always great respect between these teams and the players. Even if it’s still quite rare, at least at the senior level, some players even switch clubs and there will be a few participants this weekend who have experience of wearing the other colour of stripes.

In the Real Sociedad squad, starting goalkeeper Álex Remiro moved directly between Bilbao and San Sebastián in 2019, signing with La Real after his contract at San Mamés expired. He’ll know the Athletic Club forwards well and will hope to put his inside knowledge to good use.

As for Athletic Club, they pulled off a coup in the winter window of 2018 by signing Iñigo Martínez from their rivals through the triggering of the star centre-back’s release clause. That didn’t sit well with fans of the Txuri-Urdin, nor does the fact that current Athletic Club players Alex Petxarroman, Yuri Berchiche, Mikel Balenziaga and Dani García have Real Sociedad pasts too. 

This Sunday night, though, it’s all about the current colours as the blue and white stripes of Real Sociedad take on the red and white stripes of Athletic Club.

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Real Madrid and FC Barcelona fans in Malaysia, an example of fair play

Supporters of both LaLiga clubs joined together at an event in Kuala Lumpur to watch El Clásico match. 

The most exciting match of the season was experienced in a very special way in Malaysia, where Real Madrid and FC Barcelona fans gathered to enjoy the match.  The event took place at The Paddock at Hawkers Ave, and was attended by around 150 football fans from fan clubs of both LaLiga clubs. The fans watched the match on a giant screen and took part in a draw to win shirts from both teams. The match could be seen from 10:15pm local time on BeINSports.

After the restrictions caused by the COVID 19 pandemic, physical events are starting to take place and are experienced in an even more special way, because of the impossibility of being together all this time. “It was an eventful evening. Both fanclubs recorded full attendance and what a night it was. And we would like to extend our gratitude for the sponsored merchandise by La Liga. Both fanbase went along lively, in both friendship and rivalry sense. We will continue to be so, and we look forward for more joint future events,” said Faizal bin Mat zin, president of Peña madridista Malaysia. 

“We are very proud of the passion with which football and a match like this is experienced in Malaysia. It is the most exciting sporting spectacle, a total rivalry on the pitch and a total cordiality between the fans of both teams in Malaysia, an example of sportsmanship and knowing how to enjoy the spectacle of this event organised by the fan clubs of both teams, enjoying together the best football in the world”, added Adrián Prol, LaLiga delegate in Malaysia, about the activity.  

The first El Clasico of the season took place at Camp Nou, finally with the public cheering in the stadium and the most spectacular audiovisual broadcast for the whole world. The match features a 4K-HDR production, 32 cameras in total, including 10 super slow motion, 4 High Speed, 6 Super Slow Motion, 2 Cinematic Camera s(which create a cinematographic effect and act as FanCam), 2 Pole Cam (located behind the goals), 2 cameras to follow the relevant players, 1 Aerial Camera (a zenithal camera located 21 metres above the ground), 1 helicopter and a drone. The broadcast also features Live 3D Graphics (LaLiga is the only national competition in the world to use the innovative Live 3D Graphics technology to generate virtual graphics in the broadcast) and REPLAY 360º technology (which uses 38 Ultra High Definition cameras around the stadium to create volumetric 360º videos for spectacular replays).  

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LaLiga Santander Matchday 11 preview: FC Barcelona and Real Madrid set for big nights in the Spanish capital

Matchday 10 of the 2021/22 LaLiga Santander season produced a season-record goal haul as of Sunday night, including the three strikes in Real Madrid’s 2-1 ElClásico victory over FC Barcelona at the Camp Nou. And there’s no let-up in the LaLiga calendar now, with Matchday 11 set to be played in midweek across Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

The action gets underway on Tuesday evening with D. Alavés vs Elche CF, a match which pits together two sides who only just avoided relegation last campaign and are looking to make a stronger start this term. RCD Espanyol vs Athletic Club follows later on Tuesday night, with these two founding members of LaLiga to take part in their 171st league meeting.

Tuesday night is rounded off by Villarreal CF vs Cádiz CF, a fixture that stands out as one of the few matches in club football featuring two sides known for their distinctive yellow kits. Neither side has started the 2021/22 LaLiga Santander season as well as they would have liked, so this will be an opportunity to put points on the board.

On Wednesday, there are two early games at the timeslot of 7pm CEST. One is RCD Mallorca vs Sevilla FC, as Julen Lopetegui’s men look to continue their strong start to the season against the newly promoted islanders. The second fixture also involves a team that just came up from LaLiga SmartBank: Rayo Vallecano welcome FC Barcelona to the neighbourhood of Vallecas in the Spanish capital. Rayo coach Andoni Iraola has built a fun and effective squad at Rayo, and they actually come into this match one point ahead of Ronald Koeman’s Barça in the standings.

At 8pm CEST on this busy Wednesday night of Spanish football, two of the country’s biggest clubs come together in Real Betis vs Valencia CF. After the former started this season slowly and the latter started well, their fortunes have changed and now the Verdiblancos are up to fifth, while Valencia haven’t won in six.

Wednesday night throws up one final game, as football returns to the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu at 9.30pm CEST after almost a month of Real Madrid playing on the road. They’ll face high-flying CA Osasuna on their homecoming, which is a game to be wary of since the Rojillos have won all four of their away matches so far this campaign.

Three more games follow on Thursday, starting with LaLiga Santander leaders Real Sociedad and their trip to Spain’s north-western coast to face RC Celta. This is a fixture La Real won 4-1 last season and they’d love a repeat of that scoreline this time out.

Granada CF vs Getafe CF pits together two recent Europa League participants who now look to be facing an early-season relegation battle, before Matchday 11 concludes with Levante UD vs Atlético de Madrid. Even though Atleti won the title last season, Levante proved to be a bogey side for Simeone’s men, winning 2-0 at the Wanda Metropolitano and drawing 1-1 at the Ciutat de Valencia. Come this Thursday (9.30pm CEST), Atleti will try to do what they couldn’t manage last season and get some points on the board against the Valencians.

Watch LaLiga Santander live this midweek on BeINSports

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This Week in LaLiga…

What has been going on in LaLiga this past week? From the first ElClasico of the season to a brand-new contract for one of world football’s biggest rising stars, here’s all you need to know.

Real Madrid triumph in El Clásico

Real Madrid came out on top in the first ElClásico of the 2021/22 season, winning 2-1 in a thrilling contest at the Camp Nou. David Alaba’s first goal for Los Blancos was timely and brilliant, before Lucas Vázquez and Sergio Agüero traded stoppage time goals for the 2-1 final score. This is the fourth ElClásico win in a row for Real Madrid, the first time this has happened since 1965.

Sevilla win an eight-goal thriller

Sevilla vs Levante kicked off Sunday’s action with an end-to-end match that produced eight goals, the home side winning 5-3. There were seven different scorers in the game, with only José Luis Morales, Levante captain and all-time top scorer in LaLiga Santander, netting more than once.

A weekend with 35 goals

From start to finish, this was a weekend of goals in LaLiga Santander. 35 goals went in over the first nine fixtures of Matchday 10, with every team netting at least one except Cádiz CF, who lost 2-0 to D. Alavés. This is already the highest scoring round of the 2021/22 season, with a Monday night fixture between Getafe CF and RC Celta still to come.

Real Sociedad stay top of LaLiga Santander

Still at the top of the standings are Real Sociedad, who earned an impressive 2-2 draw away at Atlético de Madrid on Sunday night. The Basque side’s ‘Two Alexanders’ scored the goals, with one for Sørloth and one for Isak, before a Luis Suárez brace levelled the scoreline for the defending champions.

A European win for La Real too

Real Sociedad also earned a positive result in Europe in midweek, defeating Strum Graz 1-0 away from home in the Europa League. In the same competition, Real Betis played out an entertaining 1-1 draw with Bayer Leverkusen.

Spanish victories in the Champions League

In the Champions League, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Villarreal defeated Shakhtar Donetsk, Dynamo Kyiv and Young Boys respectively, while Sevilla drew at French champions Lille and Atlético narrowly lost a close thriller to Liverpool.

Ansu Fati’s new Barcelona contract

Ansu Fati has signed a new contract with Barcelona, committing to the Catalan club until 2027. This is great news for the Blaugrana, who have great expectations for one of world football’s best young talents. Coming just a week after Pedri agreed his own new deal, this latest contract extension is something for Barça fans to smile about.

Cádiz’s young star commits to a long-term deal too

At Cádiz, they’re celebrating a contract extension too. 17-year-old midfielder Álvaro Bastida has put pen to paper on a new deal that will run until 2026, which is great news for the Andalusian club as Bastida is one of the top talents to have emerged from their academy in recent years. Already, despite his young age, Bastida is part of the first-team setup.

A new deal for Fidel

Another player to sign a new contract this past week was Elche winger Fidel. The 31-year-old, who first joined the club in 2012 and who is a club captain, has agreed to a two-year extension that means his deal now runs until the summer of 2024.

Midweek action across LaLiga Santander

There’s no let-up in the LaLiga calendar, with Matchday 11 being played in midweek across Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. There are some fascinating games scheduled, such as Real Madrid’s home match against an Osasuna side with just two points fewer, or Barcelona’s visit to a Rayo Vallecano side who sit one point ahead of them.

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Looking back over a long and trophy-laden career that included lifting six LaLiga Santander titles, former Barcelona captain Carles Puyol says the key to his many achievements was to always give 100%.

Now a LaLiga ambassador, devoted father and social campaigner, Puyol was a fearsome defender of the cause of both Barcelona and the Spanish national team for over 15 years.

Asked for some advice to the youngster who made his Barça debut back in October 1999, Puyol laughs that he might maybe have taken things a bit easier, before recalling that it was his commitment and professionalism that ensure such a successful career.

“I would advise myself to be a bit more careful, not so rough,” the now 40-year-old says with a smile. “But that was the way I was, how I understood the sport, to always go at 100%, and not worry about the risks when I was carrying an injury. But I’m happy with how it went, and if I had not been that way for sure it would have gone differently.”

Born in 1978 in the small Catalan town of Puebla de Segur, Puyol entered Barça’s famous La Masia academy aged 17. He went on to win 23 trophies with his only club, including six LaLiga Santander titles and three Champions Leagues, as well as the Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 trophies in 100 appearances for Spain. But he says the main motivation for playing was always a pure love of the game.

“For me to be able to play football was a gift,” Puyol says. “I’ve been very lucky as I did it for almost 20 years. Every morning I woke up with a smile, happy to go training. I was one of those players who loved to train and tried to enjoy every day, every session, every game.”

Puyol says that as a young player he learned the importance of training well and eating well from forward-thinking Blaugrana teammate Luis Enrique, later a LaLiga Santander winner as Barça coach and currently Spain national manager.

“I knew that the body and physical conditioning was very important,” he says. “These days players look after themselves a lot more. But I always had it very clear right from the start. My example was Luis Enrique, who always looked after himself a lot. I learned a lot of things from him.”

Already four years into retirement, Puyol says he still looks after himself well, while feeding his competitive streak with games of the popular Spanish racket sport Padel.

“These days I’m a bit more relaxed, although I still like to eat well,” he says. “Sometimes if I have a game of ‘padel’ we’ll have a beer after the third set.”

Puyol has two young daughters with his partner Vanesa Lorenzo, a model, author and yoga expert, and says that since retirement in 2014 he’s been able to really appreciate family life.

“It’s also true that for my whole career, except the last few months, I wasn’t a father,” he says. “Now that I have children, not playing football means I get a chance to enjoy my daughters.”

He still keeps busy professionally, traveling the world to communicate the values he learned during his time as a player.

“I am focused a lot now on my personal brand,” Puyol says. “I travel all over the world as an official LaLiga ambassador and I also work with UEFA, FIFA, Laureus, give speeches at conferences and work in partnership with some brands.”

The same commitment which Puyol put into almost 600 games for Barça over 15 seasons with the first team is now channelled into helping drive positive social change.

“The power which football has is enormous,” Puyol says. “Football moves the masses. Those of us involved in football must be aware of the power we have to help. We also have a responsibility to return to society all that society has given to us.”

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LaLiga and world football braces itself for the first ElClasico of the season

Free scoring stars Ansu Fati, Memphis, Karim Benzema and Vinicius Jr will lead the lines in the long-awaited return of ElClasico at Camp Nou. 

This Sunday’s clash (4.15pm CEST) will be the first ElClasico with a capacity crowd since the start of the pandemic.

The first ElClásico of the season is just around the corner, with FC Barcelona set to take on Real Madrid at Camp Nou this Sunday at 4.15pm CEST. Notably, this will be the long-awaited first meeting between these sides with supporters in the stands since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, ever since Vinicius and Mariano fired Los Blancos to a 2-0 home win in front of a packed Santiago Bernabeu back in March 2020.

Real Madrid come into this encounter on the back of two consecutive ElClasico wins. The first was almost exactly a year to the day since this weekend’s clash, winning 3-1 at an empty Camp Nou in October 2020. After Fede Valverde and Ansu Fati had produced early fireworks with strikes inside the opening 10 minutes, goals from Sergio Ramos and Luka Modrić saw Real Madrid collect all three points.

Six months later they met again under a downpour at the Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium, with Real Madrid edging a thrilling battle 2-1 as Karim Benzema and Toni Kroos’ first half goals proved too much for the Blaugrana, even if they pulled one back through Óscar Mingueza and pushed for an equaliser until the final minute.

Those wins have made it three ElClásico victories in a row for Real Madrid, who hadn’t won back-to-back-to-back matches against their historic rivals since 1978. They haven’t won four in a row since 1965 but will be looking to achieve exactly that when the ball gets rolling this Sunday.

Ansu Fati and Memphis vs Vinícius and Benzema

Barcelona and Real Madrid will be led up front by Ansu Fati & Memphis Depay and Vinícius & Karim Benzema, respectively. The four have started the current LaLiga season like a house on fire, proving themselves to be among the elite group of forward in world football right now. Memphis has already notched four goals in his first ever season in Spanish football, while Vinicius has hit five and laid to rest any doubts about his claims for a starting spot in Carlo Ancelotti’s side. Karim Benzema has scored nine in just eight appearances, showing no signs of slowing down, while Ansu Fati has immediately dazzled following his return from long-term injury, firing in great goals against Levante and Valencia in just a few weeks. By the time Sunday’s match comes around, the 18-year-old will be close to full fitness and be looking to make his mark on the game.

Injury concerns for Barça

All signs point to Koeman being unable to call on three key players this weekend. 18-year-old sensation Pedri, who recently signed a new-long term deal at Camp Nou until 2026, is suffering with a persistent thigh injury and won’t be rushed back for the game – sensibly, bearing in mind the number of games he has played over the last calendar year and the fact that he played through the summer, first at Euro 2020 and then at the Tokyo Olympics.

Also likely to miss out are centre-back Ronald Araujo, who picked up a hamstring injury on international duty with Uruguay, and Ousmane Dembele, who is back in training but yet to play this season after surgery in the summer.

18 years later… Koeman and Ancelotti meet again

Keep an eye on the tactical tussle this Sunday. Ronald Koeman has experimented with different systems already this campaign, oscillating between Barça’s traditional 4-3-3, 3-1-4-2 and 3-4-2-1. Carlo Ancelotti, meanwhile, has implemented a more attacking style of football since taking over the Real Madrid job in the summer – and Los Blancos have scored the goals to vindicate his decision.

The Dutchman and Italian have some parallels to their careers. Both won the European Cup as players, and league titles with multiple clubs as coaches. They met on one occasion during their playing days in a goalless draw between the Netherlands and Italy in 1990, and then took each other on four times as coaches when Ajax and AC Milan met in back-to-back Champions League seasons in 2002/03 and 2003/04. One draw and three AC Milan victories means Koeman is still looking for his first managerial win over Ancelotti, and where better to break that duck than in ElClasico, the biggest club match in world football.

The 183rd LaLiga Santander Clásico

This Sunday’s game will be the 183rd meeting between these two clubs in Spain’s top division, with Barcelona and Real Madrid having met in every single one of the 90 LaLiga Santander seasons to date, with neither side having ever been relegated from the country’s top tier.

Real Madrid edge the overall record thanks to their three recent victories, having now won 75 of the 182 previous league meetings, while Barça have triumphed 72 times alongside 35 draws. To say this rivalry has been finely balanced over the year would be an understatement.

Watch ElClasico live this Sunday on BeINSports at 10:15pm

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