While Barcelona and Real Madrid faced strong competition from teams such as Deportivo La Coruna, Valencia and Real Sociedad in the early years of the 2000s, the two traditional Spanish powerhouses have utterly dominated La Liga in recent seasons. Since Valencia’s title win in 2003-04, not a single team other than Barca or Madrid has been crowned Spanish champion, with Villarreal in 2007-08 the only club even to break into the top two.
Unsurprisingly, encounters between the Blaugrana and the Blancos have consequently gained significance as the Primera Division turned into something of a two-horse race. Popular belief is that league titles are won against the so-called smaller teams rather than versus direct rivals, but there’s little doubt that the games between Barcelona and Madrid do play a big role in the title race. What is the exact relationship between the outcome of the Clasicos and the final league standings, though?
In 2004-05 - the year that highlights the start of Barca and Madrid’s hegemony - both sides won one encounter each as the Catalans eventually claimed the title. However, had the Santiago Bernabeu side done the double over its rival, the club would have been the one celebrating at the end of the season as it finished just four points behind Frank Rijkaard's men.
The following season, the Blaugrana successfully defended their crown, while also boasting a superior head-to-head record versus Madrid after bagging all three points away from home and a draw at Camp Nou. The 12-point gap between both clubs at the end of the season means that the Bernabeu side would not even have won La Liga had it beaten Barca twice.
In 2006-07, Real Madrid managed to dethrone Barca and did so in one of the finest ways possible. Both teams were level on points after 38 games, but Madrid’s better head-to-head handed the club the title as it collected four points from two matches.
Things were far less tight the following campaign, with Madrid finishing the season 18 points clear of third-placed Barca following victories both home and away.
Barcelona would regain La Liga again in 2008-09 after two wins over Real Madrid, including a memorable 6-2 rout at the Bernabeu. Nevertheless, things could have been different had Madrid done better in the Clasicos as the team's nine-point deficit at the end of the season would have been a three-point lead if the club had emerged victorious on both occasions.
The Blaugrana again finished ahead of their rival one year later and the direct encounters between both the two would once more turn out to be crucial, with Barca ending just three points clear of Madrid after wins at Camp Nou and the Bernabeu.
The Catalans made it three in a row in 2010-11 with a four-point lead over Madrid after 38 games, largely due to the games against their biggest rivals. An impressive 5-0 home win was followed by a 1-1 draw in the capital, meaning the Blancos could have won the title if they had done better in the Clasico.
Two seasons ago, Real Madrid would bring home the title again at last as the club collected an impressive 100 points against Barcelona’s 91. As both teams won one direct encounter each, the outcome of the Clasico eventually did not have any direct influence on the title race.
The 2012-13 season was something of an anomaly. Barca was crowned champion, despite the fact that Madrid held the advantage over its rival after a draw in Catalunya and a 2-1 win at the Bernabeu.
The main conclusion that can be drawn from all of the above is that there does seem to be a relationship between the outcome of the Clasico and the title race.
On six out of nine occasions, the team that proved to be the stronger of the two in the direct encounters would go on to be crowned champion - a whopping 66.7 percent. Only once has the Clasico winner failed to emerge victorious in La Liga – a mere 11.1 percent - the head-to-head in the remaining two seasons ending in a tie.
What’s perhaps even more interesting, though, is that in 55.6 percent of the last nine seasons La Liga could have had a different champion if the outcome of the matches between Barcelona and Madrid had been different.
The lesson to be learned for Gerardo Martino and Carlo Ancelotti ahead of Saturday’s game at Camp Nou? If you want the Liga title, you better win the Clasico.
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