LaLiga: When did Real Madrid and Barcelona last finish outside the top 4?
Real Madrid and Barcelona have been going at it in LaLiga since time immemorial. Two of the greatest clubs in Europe have had contrasting paths to the very top of Spain's top flight and their paths are often interwoven in their rich history.
So much so that one cannot survive without the other. The rivalry is what makes LaLiga one of the most watched leagues in the world. Los Blancos vs Los Blaugrana. There are no neutrals when El Clasico is on - the most popular match in club football today.
Together, the two clubs have won the LaLiga title a combined 58 times since the league was founded in 1929. Real Madrid have won the league 33 times while Barcelona have lifted the trophy 25 times. The only other club to even reach double figures is Atletico Madrid (10 titles).
With such great history also comes a great responsibility to win trophies. For these two clubs, finishing the season without major trophies is considered a failure. Even the domestic cup - the Copa del Rey - is a tier two trophy that isn't enough to satisfy the fans and their ambition.
So it comes as no surprise that these two arch-rivals must always finish among the top two positions in the league. A Top 4 spot is a must because missing out on the UEFA Champions League would be the biggest failure in the club's history now that they are the two strongest sides in the country.
Amidst all the glory and successes over the decades, there have been certain seasons when the clubs failed to live up to expectations. The Top 4 wasn't as important as it is today. Back then, not all teams qualified for the European Cup.
When have Real Madrid finished outside the Top 4?
But even Real Madrid, who are the most successful team ever in the competition with 13 titles, failed to finish in the Top 4 on a number of occasions. Since the LaLiga came into being Real Madrid have finished outside the Top 4 a total of 14 times.
The most recent 'failure' was the 1999/2000 season when they finished fifth. Despite Vicente del Bosque having a squad with players such as Michel Salgado, Raul, Iker Casillas, Ivan Helguera, Fernando Morientes, and Guti, along with new signings Steve McManaman and Nicolas Anelka, Real struggled between October and February.
At one point they were down in 17th place after 14 rounds of LaLiga. It was only with 15 games to go did they pick up the pace and finish fifth - a respectable position in hindsight considering they were in the bottom half of the table for nine weeks.
They even lost in the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey to Espanyol. However, Real Madrid did win the Champions League that season with a win over Valencia in the final to appease the fans.
When have Barcelona finished outside the Top 4?
Barcelona have also had their ups and downs in LaLiga over the past 90 years. They won the inaugural LaLiga title in the 1928/29 season but they had to wait another 16 years before they got their hands on the trophy once again.
In all, Barcelona have failed to finish in the Top 4 a total of 13 times in LaLiga. But the last time they missed out on the Top 4 was way back in the 2002/03 season. Since that anomaly of a campaign, they have won the league title nine times.
During former club president Joan Gaspart's final year at the helm, Barcelona finished sixth - their worst finish in 15 years. He didn't even last the season; stepping down due to the team's poor form. It was only the following summer when Joan Laporta came in and transformed the club into a European superpower over the next few years.
Coach Louis van Gaal did not last the entire season either. With Barcelona in 12th place and only three points above the relegation zone, the Dutchman stepped down in January. His fallout with Rivaldo had seen the squad weakened as the Brazilian star moved to AC Milan - where he immediately won the Champions League that season.
Barcelona had many stars and upcoming players such as Frank De Boer, Xavi, Carles Puyol, Patrick Kluivert, Javier Saviola, Juan Riquelme, Marc Overmars, Luis Enrique, and Andres Iniesta. But Van Gaal just couldn't get them to play well together, with the club finishing with 11 draws and 12 defeats to end up in sixth place - 22 points behind champions Real Madrid.
When did both clubs finish outside the Top 4 at the same time?
For this, we need to go much further back. And it was at a time when the European Cup was still not even formed.
The 1943/44 season was the last time both Real Madrid and Barcelona failed to finish in the Top 4.
It was the 13th season of LaLiga (the Spanish Civil War saw no football played between 1936 and 1939) and the eventual champions were Valencia. The other teams to finish in the Top 4 were Atlético Aviación, Sevilla, and Oviedo, with Castellón finishing fifth.
As for Barcelona and Real? They finished sixth and seventh respectively with 28 points each - 12 points behind champions Los Che (back then a win was two points).