The Way a Table Should Be

While you’re reviewing this video of just another armchair fan, which I somehow missed in January, I’d like to address the idea of how the final table is laid out by the LFP.

Basically, what happened in 2006-07 is still on the books and that’s my problem. I had been unaware of this little detail until Real Madrid came in and took the title from us (were given it by us?), but it turns out that head-to-head is the determining factor in La Liga when two teams are tied on points (read what I wrote at the time here). That means that, at the moment, Sevilla are above Real Madrid in the standings because they’ve got a 2-1 advantage over them on aggregate. In 06-07, RM beat us 2-0 at the Bernabeu and drew with us 3-3 at the Camp Nou (thanks to a spectacular Messi hat trick that really announced his arrival on the world stage), meaning they had a 2 goal advantage over us when it came time to gather points.

Basically, my point stands as it was: 2 games rarely shows the abilities of respective teams whereas a 38-match season certainly does. Anything can happen in a 38-match season, of course, but it’s all the more likely to happen in what amounts to a 2-match season. I don’t want to reproduce my prior argument in full, but here’s a snippet from my responses in the comments section:

I don’t agree with [commenter] Ganesh that goal-difference is “too trivial” because it is indicative of a season-long ability to dominate the game according to whatever kind of system you use. If you are a freely attacking squad, you should score a lot of goals, but you are open to the counter attack and will probably concede goals too. If you’re a defensive team, you will probably not score many goals, but you also won’t allow many.

As the point of the game is to score more goals than your opponents, shouldn’t that be a determining factor in who wins championships?

Basically, I take the long view rather than the short view. What happens in the immediate is, of course, very important, but no more important than what happens across the board. I find it hard to justify that two games played independently of all the other games supersedes what happens in the rest of those games. Reader Jan made a good point worth quoting:

Two matches are simply too few and too vulnerable to factors like temporary form, players missing, unjustified red cards, offside goals [or] whatever can go wrong in a match. Those type of things tend to get evened out over the course of a season. Sometimes those decisions can be in your favor, sometimes they go against you.

In the end, I think it comes down to whether or not you think head-to-head is a good way to determine a league-based system. I don’t because that’s why it’s league based rather than tournament based. Many other sports justifiably use head-to-head, but then, again, those are in one-off games that determine the winners of a tournament or, at worst, determine seeding within a post-season tournament. The BCS, of course, is the worst of all worlds in that it tries to be both subjective and objective at the same time, while factoring in head-to-head and opinions about who is better.

La Liga suffers from trying to make important games into finals, but they’re not finals. If they were finals, I would have no problem with them being decided by head-to-head. See the Copa del Rey and the Champions League knockout rounds. A final is a final, but a league match is just that, a league match. If it is retroactively made into a final, it then becomes a more meaningful match, when it wasn’t at the time.

Obviously we all must abide by the rules as they are, but that does not mean we have to except them as the right way to do things. I believe that all other leagues in the world (save the MLS, perhaps, but I know nothing about the MLS and its playoff system) go by goal differential as the first tiebreaker, then go to goals scored, then goals allowed. That sounds reasonable to me because it becomes a question not of how you performed in 5% of the league, but in 100% of the league.

Let me just say that this is not about Barcelona vs Real Madrid from 3 years ago, but rather about what happens down the table. It happens at least once a year that table positions are flipped at the end of the year because of this. It’s not okay for a title determination and it’s not okay for determining who goes to the Segunda. Or to the Europa League instead of the Champions.

Your thoughts on this?

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Written by:

Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in Germany with his wife and daughter.


  1. Andrew M.
    October 7, 2009


    sorry for their being no content, will read the post now and write something, just saw no comments!

      • OhYes
        October 7, 2009

        :-/ indeed

        thought we were putting an end to this spam?


        Yup I am pretty much in the same boat as you, Kevin. I’d rather want the tie-breaker to be related to goals as it hints at overall league form.

        head-to-head is okay, I guess. I’m not pissed off enough by it to start a revolution.

    • Andrew M.
      October 7, 2009

      interstingly enough, the official site puts RM above sevilla.

      • Eduard
        October 7, 2009

        they would do that wouldn’t they…guess who else did that?ESPN, no shame what so ever.

  2. ElShowDeJason
    October 7, 2009

    I agree. I hate head-to-head.

    The whole “anything can happen” in football certainly applies to one or two games

    But over 38 games anomalies will get lost in the numbers.

    When crowning a champion I would rather look at a stat that encompasses 38 matches, not 2

    • ElShowDeJason
      October 7, 2009

      haha… I shoulda read the article first, as my comment adds nothing that wasn’t said already 🙂

  3. Helge
    October 7, 2009

    Definitely the goal difference is a more fair criteria to determine the ranking of two or more sides with the same amount of points. It’s no coincidence that most, or actually all European top leagues except of La Liga, use GD first. The head-to-head criteria is less reliable and it’s also very confusing if, on the very last day of the season, suddenly the whole table gets mixed up (because most websites don’t take the head-to-head comparison into account…).
    Even in the UCL, as long as it is group stage, which ressembles a mini league, the goal difference counts first. So, RFEF / LFP has a lot of subjects to work on (refereeing, this topic to name the most important), but I actually don’t read much about any new ideas in Spain which is kind a sad. There are obvious points to ameliorate, but they don’t act (or I miss(ed) it).

  4. yogi
    October 7, 2009

    I tend to disagree on this topic though. Well, the main criteria is points table and if two teams are tied, it means that they have played well through the season. Next option could be head to head or goal differential. Goal differential is good as it would give advantage to more attacking team but would that state that it can find out the best team?

    For me, head to head is fair as it decides which team is better from two who have been equally good over season. It shows you how well u played against your direct challengers.

    To be fair, i don’t think goal differential is wrong but i also think that head to head is correct as well.

    • Necro Spaaw
      October 7, 2009

      um no it would not give an advantage to a more attacking team since goal differential is not only goals scored but concieved also, so it evens up. chelsea and barcelona can have about the same difference, chelsea playing defensively, thus concieding less and barca scoring more for example.

  5. Colby
    October 7, 2009

    What are everyone’s thoughts on the one game playoff system to decide a tie? Or maybe a two-legged playoff? I may be wrong, but I think that’s how it’s done in Argentina. And even though it’s baseball, the Tigers-Twins game certainly had enough drama for me. I personally prefer the one game playoff to either goal differential or head-to-head.

    • October 7, 2009

      That’s true, Colby, I forgot about, um, Mexico and all of South America. There are a myriad of different league formats around the world; I didn’t mean to forget them, promise. I’m just not that smart so I didn’t think of things like the Brazilian league (which is insane in its own right).

      I prefer the pure league format that most (if not all) European leagues have. I think it’s a fairly good system and I’m not in favor of adding more “one-off” matches. I like the idea of a European Super League, in fact, as opposed to the tournament-based competition like we have. I think that introduces too many variables. And yes, I understand that’s exactly what some people like.

      Some people want each match to have more variables, but I don’t. I want them to be all the same, with the same meaning, and the same weight on the final standings. To me, if one or two matches are weighted more heavily than others, it diminishes the value of those other matches and mean we should, indeed, move to a play-off system. I don’t like playoffs (I mean, I love March Madness, but that’s because it pits teams that never play each other in a wild scrum of awesome, which is the opposite of the regular season in NCAA basketball) because I think the diminish the value of the regular season–the 2007 Patriots deserved to be champs, but were beaten by the Giants in a one-off game where anything can happen, meaning their final tally was 18-1, while the Giants were 10-6 and were a wild card into the playoffs. Yay for them that they made it a dramatic and fun Super Bowl, but boo to the reality of who had the better season.

      I understand people disagree about this, but I think it’s more a question of what you’re looking for. I like La Liga more because it’s a league that lasts all year. The CL, of course, is fun on an individual game basis, but isn’t as great, for me, as the league.

  6. nick
    October 7, 2009

    I actually prefer head-to-head. I’m glad that it’s used in the group stages of the World Cup and Euro tournaments too.

    • Jose25
      October 7, 2009

      Only the Euro uses head-to-head, and that meant that 3 teams (out of 8) were mathematically qualified after having played two games.

      The World Cup uses goal differential.

      My opinion on the topic? Well… I tend to agree from a statistical point that 38 games is better than one. But you’re also rewarding teams just for absolutely demolishing the smaller teams.

      If goal differential is at all close–which is likely, as the teams have the same number of points–, it could seriously come down to Barca letting off the gas toward the end of the season, resting key players ahead of Champions League matches, once that league match had been won (thus getting by with comfy 2-0 wins).

      On the other hand, the team we could be tied to at the end of the season wouldn’t have had to rest those players because they were, let’s say, prematurely eliminated from the Champions League for the sixth season in a row. They wouldn’t have needed to rest players and could comfortably bang in the goals against bottom quarter teams.

      That thought doesn’t sit well with me. The H-2-H determinant also helps to lend more weight to the matches among the top four (including el Clasico).

      I’m split, but I can argue either way.

      • Helge
        October 8, 2009

        “let’s say, prematurely eliminated from the Champions League for the sixth season in a row.”

        haha 😀

        by the way, one of their players – Guti – said in an interview with Marca that he likes Guardiola and indirectly admitted that Barca is the better team (right now). At least, he’s honestly 😉

  7. Tutomate
    October 7, 2009

    I like Head to Head. Because to me in such a case where teams are tied in points, it would be there performance againts the other top team that matters most. Because what if they scored 1 more goal againts Xerez who didn’t park the bus againts them but did againts us and then we play EE twice beat them 4-0 but they win the Title because of the extra goals againts Xerez(1) Tenerife(2), Zaragoza(2).

  8. poipoi
    October 7, 2009

    Each thing, head-to-head and and goal difference, helps the best team in a different way. The first is more long term and the second is more immediate but still significant, it’s the winner of the two teams facing each other. I prefer the second, it makes both clasico’s better 😉 … even though it took a liga away from us not long ago in such a disgusting way 🙁

    What would happen if EE ends with the same amount of points as Barça, a higher goal difference and looses against us both home and away?

    btw… I believe the rest of Europe counts the goal difference, is that right?

  9. Stowe
    October 7, 2009

    I agree completely with your points Isaiah. The league IS about season long achievements, not the achievements of 180 minutes. and the BCS is the worst way to decide anything (even though ~12 games makes things more complicated than 38)

  10. Miguel
    October 7, 2009

    a banquillo reference in la liga loca. good shit isaiah.

    “The biggest winner from this crazy Castle Greyskull kerfuffle is La Liga Loca, which may soon be spared from having to write about football – a fairly dull process – to get down and dirty in some sauce and scandal which has been so desperately lacking so far this season.”

    off topic. you guys think the smell of putrefaction @ acmilan has anything to do with this?

  11. Corrine
    October 7, 2009

    this girl i know saw a guy with a mancity tracksuit and training bag on the train monday, and only realized it was PAPA SYLVINHO after she got home. sylvs takes the train like a normal folk! and i guess not a lot of people in england recognize him, or maybe they’re just more respectful with privacy. but dude, she saw SYLLVVINNHHOOO and had no idea! i’m not even sure if he’s played for them yet

  12. jnelson
    October 8, 2009

    I think the most important thing is if you’re going to use H2H as the tiebreaker, don’t list goal difference next to the standings and then rank the teams according to that. Damn you lazy bastards!!! Everyone, let’s go trolling, like true glory hogging armchair fans

    Speaking of armchair fans…
    the Kobe Bryant video reminds me of an article somewhere showing a lineup of some of the U.S.’s top athletes if they played futbol. Lebron James and Kobe Bryant would be dope on a soccer field.

    • Tutomate
      October 8, 2009

      I second that let’s go troll the Guti song Everyone with me!

      Guti, Guti, Guti, explative, explative, explatiiiivveee!

  13. skyislm
    October 8, 2009

    espn-soccernet’s la liga page still does not show 2008/2009 champions in their list of past champions. any idea how to remind them?

  14. Roja-N
    October 8, 2009

    Im fully in support of the H2H decider as much as i hate losing the 06-07 liga title for the simple reason that i would be pissed if we beat EE in both games and then lose out on the title to them due to their superior goal difference from wins agains insignificant teams

    • JMoynihan
      October 8, 2009

      I think you’re comment has a lot of merit. I think many of us cules would be arguing this system if we had been shafted in this manner as you’ve described it.

      I was pissed when we lost the title because of H2H, but I would have been even angrier if we beat them straight up, 2 for 2, and then lost the league to goal differentials because it would be easy to claim that we were the superior side.

      It goes both ways, and thus why this debate will truly never have an absolute solution outside the one reached by La Liga.

  15. lovelymofo
    October 8, 2009

    It just so happens I just came back from watching that specific arm-chair fan play in a pre-season match. Saw a few people wearing Barça jerseys. See, I do support the local talent.

    Anyway, I would rather it go by goal differential and if that’s tied, then look at head to head results.

  16. BarçaFan
    October 8, 2009

    So there’s no more confusion, the head-to-head goal factor only kicks in AFTER the teams have met in La Liga twice, obviously once at home and then away. So that’s why the official table is not changed since RM has +13 goals and Sevilla has +10. So that’s why Sevilla is not on second place, yet… 🙂

    • October 8, 2009

      Right, obviously, but Sevilla IS in second because they have the better head-to-head record. Not that it matters until the last points are decided.

  17. Cesc Blanc
    October 8, 2009

    I prefer the direct games over normal goal average because if you beat your opponent twice but still lose out because they scored say 5 goals against say Xerez and you only 3, well, then that sucks even more.

    But my most preferred option would be a 1 or 2 game final(1 game..neutral venue, 2 games over 2 leg like Cup tie) game between the two teams tied to determine who wins it. That’s how Serie A used to solve it back in the days when the league was the best in the world. I guess they still do it like that.

    • October 8, 2009

      Little did we know, indeed. Though the Arsenal fan who was first to comment on that article is a genius.

      • jnelson
        October 8, 2009

        Wow, spot on with the transfers Isaiah. We lost almost all the old defenders you listed and got Abidal. And what about Chivu? Perhaps he would have been a good pick, seeing as he has held his ground at Inter and put in a hell of a game against us.

        So where is this Arsenal fan now? Certainly not trolling this blog…

  18. Blow-Granite
    October 8, 2009

    I dont care either way. But if it is this way… bring on the El Classico!!! I wanna see somebody “Blow” the EE goal with a cannon ball shot.

    • Blow-Granite
      October 8, 2009

      We should just have a poll as to who that cannon ball shot will come from.

      1. Yaya’s Laser leg shot – smack the ball so hard it takes the defender with it into the goal
      2. Argy Bargy – Left footed shot from 20 yards to the goal’s top left corner
      3. Ibracadabra – Bullet header into the top middle of the goal
      4. Henry – Right footed shot from 25 hards to the right top corner
      5. Ghostface – Screamer first time shot
      6. Machine Man (Xavi) – shot on ground to the left bottom corner of the goal
      7. Dani – Thomas the Tank engine – 35 yard screamer
      8. Captain Caveman – Cannon ball header
      9. KeeeiiiTa – first time left footer from 30 yards – to the left top corner of the goal.
      10. Pique taking the ball all the way from the back line and running with it into the goal and through it into the stands to celebrate with the fans – and in the process kissing the barca badge on his shirt and tripping over the camera man!!!

  19. john
    October 8, 2009

    Head to Head – for the primary reason that it adds more significance to the matches when title contenders play. I acknowledge Isaiah’s argument that no league matches should mean more or less than any other, and assume he means point-wise, and agree that’s a rational stance on the subject. But it’s La Liga, so far from rational, and I personally want the stakes to be as high as possible every time Madrid and Barcelona play. I’m not offering up logical arguments here, I’m shameless advocating spectacle.

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