With the second international break of the season bringing a pause to the action, we at Opta Analyst decided it was a good time to delve into the stats and facts behind the opening two months of the campaign in La Liga.
From record-breaking starts to clubs already playing catch-up, and young stars taking the league by storm to an old-timer going back to where it all began; read on for the facts that tell the story of the season so far.
1. Jude Bellingham has scored eight goals already for Real Madrid in La Liga; no Madrid player has netted more in their first eight league games at the club this century.
Everyone knew Jude Bellingham was exceptionally talented before his pre-season move to the Santiago Bernabéu, but it’s fair to say most are seeing a whole new side to him now. Playing as more of a 10 than before, he’s already scored as many league goals this term as he did over the entirety of 2022-23 at Borussia Dortmund (eight).
Cristiano Ronaldo only scored seven times in his first eight La Liga matches for Madrid, while Robert Lewandowski is the one player this century to reach eight goals in fewer games (nine goals in six games for Barcelona) than Bellingham.
2. At 16 years and 38 days (on 20 August), Lamine Yamal became the youngest player to start a La Liga game in the 21st century when named in Barcelona’s line-up against Cádiz.
This fact is just the tip of the iceberg. Barça prodigy Lamine Yamal broke the record set by Málaga’s Fabrice Olinga (16 years, 112 days) in 2012 when he started at home to Cádiz, but he’s broken a few others as well.
He was 16 years and 45 days old when he set up Gavi’s opener in the 4-3 win at Villarreal, becoming the youngest player this century to get an assist in La Liga. Then, he smashed another of Olinga’s (16 years, 98 days) records on 8 October when scoring in the 2-2 draw with Granada, making him the league’s youngest goalscorer in the 21st century (16 years, 87 days).
La Masia has struck gold again in the form of this exciting winger.
3. At 18 years and 24 days on 1 October, Real Betis’ Assane Diao became the youngest player to score in each of his first two La Liga starts in the 21st century, surpassing Markel Susaeta’s record (19y 275d) in 2007 for Athletic Bilbao.
Yamal isn’t the only talented youngster causing a stir. Betis’ Senegal-born Assane Diao, a Spain youth international, has broken into the first-team at the Benito Villamarín this season and impressed with his raw technical talents, leading to transfer links with the likes of Liverpool already.
He may have only played three times in La Liga, but he’s already got a couple of goals in his first two starts; the first a stunning 25-yard strike against Granada, the second a well-placed close-range finish away to Valencia.
The 18-year-old is definitely one to watch.
4. Girona were top of La Liga for the first time ever ahead of Matchday 8 and went into the international break with 22 points after nine games, their biggest haul at this stage of a top-flight season.
They were knocked off top spot by Real Madrid ahead of the international break thanks to a 3-0 defeat to Carlo Ancelotti’s side, but the Catalans remain second, a point ahead of Barcelona.
Of the last 12 teams to amass 22 points at this stage of a La Liga season, only one side – Sevilla, fifth in 2014-15 – have failed to finish the campaign in the top three. Girona, who’d never been in the top flight before 2017-18, could be bound for Europe.
5. Atlético Madrid recorded their biggest away victory in La Liga history at the end of August when they demolished Rayo Vallecano 7-0 in Vallecas.
They may not be getting the attention of Real Madrid, Barcelona or even Girona, but Atlético Madrid have quietly had a very solid start to the 2023-24 season. The high point until now was the crushing win at Rayo, who have never suffered a heavier home defeat in the top flight.
Atlético are fourth in La Liga, two points behind Barça but with a game in hand, and they’ve won each of their past five games in all competitions.
6. Sergio Ramos is back at Sevilla having left in 2005 for Real Madrid. There were 18 years and 20 days between the last appearance of his first spell and his second debut.
After coming through the youth ranks during something of a golden era for Sevilla’s academy, Ramos went on to have a ludicrously successful career with Real Madrid and Spain, establishing himself as arguably one of the greatest defenders ever.
Despite this, his relationship with his hometown club Sevilla and their supporters over the years has been complicated at the best of times, and utterly toxic at worst. But he made a somewhat surprising return home after leaving Paris Saint-Germain as he looks to build bridges.
He’s played four times since returning; Sevilla have won one of those games, and he scored an unfortunate own goal against Barcelona last month that ultimately settled the match 1-0 in the Catalans’ favour.
7. Sevilla lost their first three games of a La Liga season for the first time in their history and have amassed their third-worst points total after eight matches.
It’s been another difficult start for Sevilla, who began 2023-24 with three consecutive league losses. They’ve since managed to collect eight points, but only in 2002-03 (seven) – their second season back in La Liga – and 2022-23 (six) have they had fewer points after eight games.
This was also the first season since 2016-17 that Sevilla failed to win any of their first three away league games, and José Luis Mendilibar ultimately lost his job for their disappointing start following the 2-2 home draw with Rayo Vallecano, despite steering them clear of relegation and defying all expectations to win the UEFA Europa League last season.
Former Valencia and Atlético forward Diego Alonso, most recently Uruguay coach at the 2022 World Cup, has been appointed to take over.
8. Almería haven’t won any of their first nine La Liga matches this season; of the last 10 teams to go winless over their first nine games in a campaign, only two have escaped relegation.
It’s been a peculiar start to the season for Almería, who will justifiably feel the current La Liga table does them a disservice. Nevertheless, they’re bottom and looking destined for a relegation battle.
Almería haven’t won any of their first nine games this term – since the commencement of the 2011-12 season, they’re the 11th team to get off to such an inauspicious start. Eight of the previous 10 ended up getting relegated, but Almería were actually one of the two sides to recover as they finished the 2013-14 campaign a point above the bottom three.
As for the perception of misfortune, when using expected goals (xG) and xG against from their matches this season to determine their expected points, Almería should be nine places higher than they are. Celta Vigo and Deportivo Alavés might feel similarly aggrieved judging by the graphic below.
9. Bryan Zaragoza has scored five goals in La Liga already this term. Only one player has netted more in the first nine games of a season for a promoted team as far back as Opta have this data (2001-02).
He’s been one of the revelations of the season in La Liga. A talented and tricky young winger, Bryan Zaragoza has enjoyed a thrilling introduction to the top flight, and now international football.
The 22-year-old scored twice in Granada’s 2-2 draw with Barcelona before the international break; the first a powerful finish across Marc-André ter Stegen, the second a clever poked finish after turning Jules Koundé inside-out.
His reward was a late call-up to Spain’s senior side, for whom he made his debut in last week’s 2-0 Euro 2024 qualifying win over Scotland.
Those goals against Barça took him to five for the season, a tally that only Mate Bilić (six) for Sporting Gijón in 2008-09 has bettered during the first nine matchdays for a promoted club since 2001-02.
10. La Liga matches in 2023-24 are the longest on average across the top five leagues, but they have the lowest ball-in-play percentage among the elite competitions.
Ball-in-play time has become a very widely discussed metric over the past year or so, especially this season with football’s lawmakers, the International Football Association Board (IFAB), bringing in new directives designed to reduce time wasting.
The idea is to maximise how much of the regulation 90 minutes is actually taken up by football, rather than waiting around for goal-kicks, throw-ins and the like. As such, matches are lasting longer than ever before, and La Liga games are – on average – the longest among the top five leagues this season.
That doesn’t mean La Liga fans are getting the most bang for their buck, however. In fact, the Spanish top flight has the ball in play for 53.5% of the match on average, the lowest of the top five leagues in 2023-24.