This page is not intended to teach you the
rules of soccer or the strategies teams employ, you can find
hundreds of other instructional websites for that, rather this page
explains how the various leagues a European football team plays in,
and how each work. In other words, this page is truly for the
fútbol beginner and explains the very basic of league play, cup
play, and the European Champions League. I will be using the
2008-09 FC Barcelona team for our example as they are the only team
in history to win all 6 major competitions in a single calendar year.
Also, our focus will be on European football…the United States has
Major League Soccer (MLS) but their league play is different from Europe’s as they
have a playoff system at the end of the season to decide the champion. In other parts of the
world they have different formats as well, but since the best
players in the world play in Europe we are going to focus our
attention on those leagues. Obviously there are many countries in
Europe and each have their own league, I will use the big four,
England, Spain, Germany, and Italy for our lesson.
The 3 trophies...
Regardless of the country in Europe, all
football teams are trying to win 3 trophies, the league, the cup,
and the Champions League. A few teams in history have won all 3
trophies in a single season…that’s called a “Treble”. In 2009 FC
Barcelona won the Treble (League, Cup, & Champions League) and then
they did something no team had ever done before…they won the Super
Cup in Spain, Europe, and the Club World Cup in the same calendar
year. I know…I know…I said teams are trying to win 3 trophies and
then in the same paragraph I dropped 3 more trophies on top of that.
We’ll get to that later…the last 3 trophies never come into play
unless you’ve won either the league, the cup, or the Champions
league. Consider them bonus trophies.
League…most points win
FYI - Each country has its own name for their respective league.
The big 4 leagues are as follows:
Although they have different names for each
league, the rules and structure are the same. If you noticed above,
Germany only has 18 teams in their league versus 20 teams for the
other 3 countries…no big deal…it doesn’t change the format or point
system. The point system is simple, 3 points for a win, 1 point for
a draw, and 0 points for a loss. All four leagues work the same…you
play each team in the league twice, once at home and then away.
There is no playoff or sudden death in league play, whoever has the
most points at the end of the season is declared the champion. If
at the end of the season there is a tie on points then it’s decided
by the head to head results between the tied teams, and if that
doesn’t settle it then it goes to the goal differential (goals
scored minus goals conceded). That’s how Spain decides it
anyway…other leagues may break the tie on the goal differential 1st
then the head to head as a 2nd tie breaker. In the 08-09 season FC
Barcelona ended up with 87 points and the 2nd place team Real Madrid
ended with 78 points. That means in week 36 Barcelona won La Liga,
it was mathematically impossible for Real Madrid to catch up on the
points, however the season continues until all 38 games are played
regardless of when the champion is crowned. In the 06-07 season the
league went through all 38 games with Real Madrid and Barcelona tied on points at 76 apiece.
The head to head went to Madrid...in the first match Madrid won 2-0, and despite
a hat trick by Messi in the 2nd match the scoreline ended at 3-3, thus
Real Madrid won the head to head and the league. That was a hard pill to swallow!
FYI – in league play, club teams in Spain, England, Germany, or any
other European country for that matter do not play teams in other
countries, just as the Dallas Cowboys will never play the Winnipeg Blue Bombers
from the Canadian League in an
NFL game...that is unless the Blue Bombers officially join the NFL.
The Champions league…group stage and then on to the
For anyone who took an interest in the last World Cup you’ll notice
that the Champions League is set up almost identical to the World
Cup format. That is, 32 teams are paired into groups of four (A
through H) and the top two teams advance into the sudden death
rounds. The big difference is that instead of playing one game
between each opponent in the group stage and in the knockout rounds,
the teams play each other twice...home and away. The two game system
means that “away” goals become more valuable than a goal scored at
home. Here’s an example of the “away rule” in action.
When you look at this it appears both teams are even, both games
ended in a tie and both teams scored a goal in the 2nd game.
However, because Barça scored its goal away and Chelsea did not have
an away goal, Barcelona was declared the winner. This is what
happened in the 2009 semi final Champions League match that sent FC
Barcelona through to the final game against Man. U. The
championship is determined by one game…the Final. 90 minutes of
regulation, if no winner is declared then two 15 minute extra
half's are added, and if that doesn’t settle it then it goes to
penalty kicks. This competition is played only between teams in
3) The Cup
…Win or go
home and let the minnows swim
Of the 3 trophies European football teams compete for, the Cup is
considered to be of low importance. Many of the big clubs
don’t play all of their big star players. That’s not to say the big
star players don’t play in Cup matches, in fact in the 08-09 season
Lionel Messi (the greatest player in the world) played in nearly
every match for the entire 90 minutes. The Cup allows smaller
clubs, referred to as “minnows”, to play against the bigger clubs
like FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. In the 09-10 Spanish Cup, the
billion dollar club Real Madrid were eliminated by "giant-killers"
3rd tier team Real Union. The cup is a sudden death tournament,
each country may do it a little different in format, in Spain it is
played as a round robin, that is they play two games both home and
away. (England does 1 game unless there is a tie then they
play 2 games) The away rules just like in the Champions league
apply in the Spanish Cup. The final does not have a round robin,
whoever wins is the champ.
Just like the leagues, the Cup has a different name in each
respective country. Here are the big 4 Cup names:
|Copa del Rey
That's it...that is what all European football clubs are playing
for. Q - When does the season start and end, how do you play
in 3 leagues at the same time, what times are the games televised in
the United States and what network carries them?
The league seasons starts towards the end of August and runs through
the end of May while the Champions League and Cup play starts around
September and October and also ends in May. League games are played on the weekends
while the Champions League and Cup matches are mid week games.
The 9 month season can be quite grueling on the players as they have
to play 2 games a week for many months...at least they hope so.
If a team is playing a bunch of matches, mid-week and on the weekends in
April and May that means they are still playing for a league title
but are also competing in the Champions League or the Cup...or
perhaps all three.
In the US you can watch the Spanish League (La Liga) on GolTV, ESPN,
& ESPN Deportes. Games normally start anytime from noon up to
3:00 PM central time (CST). (In Spain it's around 7:00 to
10:00 PM) Every FC Barcelona game is televised in the US.
The Champions League games are mid week (Tuesday or Wednesday) and
usually start at 1:45 CST. I will tell you this, if you've never
watched an FC Barcelona game on GolTV then you're missing out. The 2
commentators on GolTV are Ray Hudson & Phil Schoen...Ray Hudson is
nothing short of brilliant. He is the most over the top sports
broadcaster of all time...a must see.
Quotes of Ray Hudson:
El Classico, May 2, 2009 - Barça
down 1-0 in the 17th minute Messi passes to Henry and we're all
"Good ball...Magic...(goal scored
) there's the bounce back
I was telling you about, we all know it, the DNA of this team is richer
than Northern Dancer...it's absolutely royal. Wonderful by
Thierry Henry...there's the look of a warrior but with a touch of a
belly dancer...you take a look at this again, it's a sublime little
slot home finish...the ball over the top by the magical Messi...the
ball rubs for Thierry Henry, he ways all the options, he takes the
earth's rotation into account...then he slots it home."
El Classico, May 2, 2009 - score is 1-1 in the 20th minute - Xavi
feeds to Puyol ...header, Goal
"Xavi needs no help...he needs help
like a fish needs a bicycle"
Comment about Freddy Adu
"A blind man on a galloping horse can see his talent. He's a
little Faberge egg"
Comment on Barca's Bojan
"I'm telling you man, this kid could be the best thing on two legs
since Sophia Loren"
May 2007, week 35 in La Liga with the
title on the line, Real Madrid scores a goal in 2 minutes of
stoppage time to win the game
"Heartbreak turns into sheer delight...orgasmic jubilation.
Iker goes ballistic, this goal heavenly, if you doubted this wasn't
destiny...believe it now"
Sorry...got so carried away with the Ray Hudson quotes I forgot
about the other trophies
# 4, 5, & 6...win
any major trophy and you get the opportunity for another trophy
Because Barça won all the trophies in
2009, a Treble (the League, Champions League, & the Cup)
they qualified to play in 3 more title opportunities. Here's how it
works. All these matches are finals, meaning it's a single
game...winner is crowned champion. As in the case with most
soccer finals, it's 90 minutes of regulation, two additional 15
minute half's if there is no winner...if still no winner it goes to penalty
The Spanish Super Cup - played between the winner of La
Liga (The league) and the winner of the Copa del Rey (Spanish Cup). Since Barça
won both the league and the cup in 2009, they played the same team
they played in the finals of the regular Spanish Cup...and won again
to be crowned the Spanish Super Cup champions.
The European Super Cup - Barça
won the Champions League...but there is a lower tier Champions
League called the Europa League, teams that didn't make the cut to
the big tournament. That does not necessarily mean they are
inferior teams, some of the largest clubs in Europe have been
relegated to the lower tier in any given year...including Barça.
(4 time Europa League winners - a record) In this game the
Champion of the Champions League play the Champion of the Europa
Leage. Oh...did I mention, we won that game as well?
The Club World Cup - This match is between all the
Champions of the world. It spans 6 continents, Europe, Africa,
Asia, South America, North & Central America & the Caribbean, & Oceania.
It's basically 6 Champions League winners going head to head.
For the lower ranked teams there is a playoff system to advance to the
quarter final round...all games are single elimination in this
tournament. European teams never have to go through the playoff
system, instead they are entered
straight into the semi finals...understandable considering
European teams have the best players in the world. The 2009 Barça
team won the semi final game and advanced to the final round where
they made history by winning their 6th and final trophy of the 2009
season. This was the first time FC Barcelona won the Club
World Cup trophy.
You are now an expert on European football...it's all about the
league, the cup and the Champions League.