The Big Two vs. the Big Clubs

So outside Barcelona and Real Madrid, it’s probably fair to say that the four biggest and most successful clubs in Spain are Athletic Bilbao, Atlético Madrid, Sevilla, and Valencia.

Athletic, along with Barcelona and Madrid, have spent every season since the league started in 1929 in the first division. Valencia have spent 78, Atlético 76, and Sevilla 69.

Collectively, these four have won the league 24 times of the 28 times neither Real Madrid nor Barcelona won it. They’ve come in runners up 25 of the 38 times neither Madrid nor Barcelona did. They make up 3-6 in the table of total games won through their history in the league, despite Sevilla having spent 9 less seasons in the first division than Espanyol.

Their ranks include the only Spanish teams outside of the big two to ever make it to the UCL final and to win the UEFA Cup/Europa League.

These are hugely, hugely dominant teams. Yes, Madrid and Barcelona tend to overshadow them, but these are four remarkably consistent clubs with real staying power. 

So how have they done against the big two lately?

Well, it’s kind of an interesting story.

I’m going to present this by points dropped, because I think that tends to be how we all think about Barcelona and Madrid, anyway.

Season Barcelona Real Madrid
12-13* 0 5
11-12 6 2
10-11 2 0
09-10 4 6
08-09 5 8
07-08 7 6
06-07 10 7


If you’ve noticed that in the last few years, the points the big two drop against the other four are getting fewer, good – that’s what I wanted you to notice. If not, you’ve presumably noticed it now.

I included 06-08 to give you a sense of how it’s changed, but now we’re going to concentrate on the Pep era and the Mourinho era.

Again, these are by points dropped.

Era Barcelona Real Madrid
Pre-Mourinho (08-10) 9 14
Mourinho (10-12) 8 2
Total 17 16

For some reason or another, Madrid’s patterns definitely shifted when Mourinho came onto the scene. They went from dropping 14 points to Athletic, Atlético, Sevilla, and Valencia in two seasons to dropping absolutely nothing… until the end of last season.

In the spring, Valencia visited Real Madrid, and for the first time in two years, Real Madrid dropped points to a big La Liga club that wasn’t Barcelona.

To go two years without dropping points to any of the clubs challenging for Europe is significant on couple levels.

First, it makes the league seem unbalanced and almost a little boring. Even big fans of La Liga will undoubtedly say that it’s much more entertaining when you sit down for a game between Madrid and Atlético feeling like it could be a real contest.

Second, it adds something to the race for Europe. Last year, Atlético missed out on the Champions League because they were unable to take a single point off the big two, and Málaga could.

Yes, you could also say that if only they’d managed to pick up another couple points in another games, and that’s true – but the point that Málaga got off Madrid and the point that Atlético ended up being unable to get off Barcelona when they hosted the Catalans were jointly and directly responsible for Atlético’s missing out on the Champions League.

So Valencia breaking that streak of Madrid’s was a pretty big deal.

Most people didn’t really notice it, though – it was just a brilliant game and added some intrigue to the title race for a little while.

As someone who loves numbers and facts and data crunching, however, I did notice it, and I wondered whether this would be the beginning of the end of that impressive run.

Given that Madrid have now dropped 5 points in three of their games against those four (one of whom is very poor this season, but…) and have yet to play the fourth, it certainly seems like it.

Even if Madrid beat all four teams in every game they have left, they will have dropped more than double the points this season that they dropped in two years.

It seems significant to me, anyway.

A few other interesting facts:

– Barcelona’s Achilles heel in the Pep(/Emery) era has been Valencia. They’ve dropped 6 points in their last four visits to the Mestalla.

– In the last six months, Valencia have become a massive thorn in Madrid’s side as well, forcing them to drop 4 points at the Bernabeu.

– Before Mourinho, Madrid were routinely losing a game a season to Sevilla. Once Mourinho arrived, that stopped… until this fall. (Please note: I am not saying that this was all Mourinho’s doing. Sevilla have been having a lot of problems lately.)

– Despite their European success, Atlético have a hard time taking points off the big two lately – they haven’t managed it since 09-10, and they’re alone in that among all the big teams.

This may be the sort of number crunching that only I find fascinating. If that’s the case, I’m okay with that.