LaLiga 2021: The last 12 months in review
It was the end of an era in LaLiga in 2021, as Atletico Madrid won the title and Lionel Messi departed Barcelona.
Real Madrid also bid farewell to an icon of their own, with Sergio Ramos departing for Paris Saint-Germain after failing to agree a new contract.
As a new year begins, we review a dramatic 12 months in Spain’s top flight.
January: Atletico in control
Two points clear at the summit at the start of the year, Diego Simeone’s side were in complete control of proceedings by the end of the month.
Five wins from as many games stretched Los Rojiblancos’ lead to 11 points. Barcelona also posted a perfect record in January, climbing from fifth to second.
Real Madrid, meanwhile, endured a stuttering start to 2021, drawing 0-0 at Osasuna before going down 2-1 at home to Levante.
No one had it worse than Gaizka Garitano, though. The year was just three days old when the Athletic Bilbao boss was replaced by Marcelino.
February: Three-horse race
Real got their act together in February and won four straight — kickstarting an 18-game unbeaten run through to the season’s end.
Barcelona were imperious too, only dropping points at home to newly-promoted Cadiz, who had exceeded all expectations in mid-table.
However, things were not going as smoothly at Atletico.
Denied victory just three times in the first half of the season, El Cholo’s side dropped points against Celta Vigo before drawing and losing to Levante in consecutive games.
March: Barca hit the goal trail
Real Madrid did their bit to halt rivals Atleti’s progress at the start of the month with Karim Benzema’s 88th-minute equaliser securing a point at the Wanda Metropolitano.
That was one of two draws for Atletico in March as they scored just four times and collected eight points.
Barca, meanwhile, were the coming force. Ronald Koeman’s men hit 12 goals across three games in the month, crushing Huesca 4-1 and Real Sociedad 6-1.
Elsewhere, Villarreal picked up priceless wins over Eibar and Cadiz having gone eight without victory, while Sevilla won El Gran Derbi, edging out Real Betis 1-0.
April: Tough at the top
Having looked like the only sides capable of winning the title, Atletico and Barcelona faltered — collecting just 16 points between them, with the Blaugrana losing El Clasico before going down to Granada.
Sevilla took full advantage, winning five from five, while Real Madrid went unbeaten to manoeuvre back into contention.
Suddenly, a two-horse race had become a four-way contest.
May: Champions again
Seven years after their 10th LaLiga title, Atletico Madrid clinched their second championship under Simeone.
Their victory was an achievement of staying power, with their stunning first half of the season — built on a typically stoic defence — crucial in the final reckoning.
In the space of eight days, Barcelona had imploded, spectacularly.
First drawing 0-0 against Atletico, before blowing a two-goal lead at Levante three days later to draw 3-3. A 2-1 loss at home to Celta Vigo finished Koeman’s men off.
Atleti did it the hard way on the final day, coming from behind with Luis Suarez — unceremoniously dumped by Barca the previous summer — scoring the winner at Real Valladolid.
That result relegated the Blanquivioletas, who were joined by Huesca and Eibar in the Segunda Division.
June: Deja vu for Real
Carlo Ancelotti walked out on Everton to rejoin Real Madrid six years after being sacked, despite delivering La Decima, the Club World Cup, Super Cup and Copa del Rey in his first spell at the Bernabeu.
Perennial chaos club Valencia also made a change in the dugout with Voro — now in his sixth spell as caretaker or interim coach — making way for Jose Bordalas, who left Getafe by mutual consent.
Elsewhere, former Spain coach Robert Moreno succeeded Diego Martinez at Granada, after a 10th-place finish for the Andalusian minnows.
July: Big-name bargains
Reality began to bite for cash-strapped Barcelona, who unveiled three free transfer signings — but were blocked from registering any by LaLiga, until they brought their wage bill under control.
Manchester City pair Sergio Aguero and Eric Garcia were joined in limbo by ex-Lyon captain Memphis Depay, who was reunited with former Netherlands coach and long-term admirer Koeman.
Meanwhile, Real Madrid completed the capture of Bayern Munich stalwart David Alaba on a free transfer, replacing outgoing captain Ramos who had been unable to agree terms with Los Blancos after 16 trophy-laden seasons.
August: Messi says goodbye
It was the end of an era at Barcelona as Messi was forced to leave after spending his entire professional career at Camp Nou.
With Barca’s wage bill spiralling out of control, the Blaugrana could not re-sign their iconic No10 — who became a free agent after 21 years, 672 goals and a club-record 35 trophies with the Catalans.
Within days, Messi had reunited with former Barcelona team-mate Neymar at Paris Saint-Germain.
Another victim of Barcelona’s fire sale was Antoine Griezmann, who rejoined Atletico Madrid on loan with a compulsory £35million purchase clause — a considerable discount on the £107m he cost the Catalans.
Despite the turmoil, Barcelona started well, picking up seven points in August, along with five other clubs including Real Madrid and reigning champions Atletico.
September: Barca struggles start
Koeman’s side could not defy gravity for long. By the end of September, they were languishing in sixth, outside of the Champions League places after draws with Granada and Cadiz.
Real Madrid took full advantage to reach the summit, with thumping wins over Celta Vigo (5-2) and Mallorca (6-1).
Across the city, Atletico, who conceded just 10 goals in the first 19 games last season, had kept just two clean sheets and ended September with a shock 1-0 defeat at Alaves.
October: KO for Ronald
Embattled Barcelona boss Koeman was finally sacked on October 27, following a 1-0 loss to surprise package Rayo Vallecano.
Damaging losses to Atletico Madrid — with Suarez, inevitably, scoring once more — and Real Madrid in the season’s first Clasico had put the Barca icon on the brink before Rafamel Falcao delivered the fatal blow.
The rise of Los Franjirrojos had been one of the stories of the season. Powered by the goals of their 35-year-old former Atletico and Porto frontman, Rayo climbed to fifth as the month ended.
November: A legend returns
Strongly linked with the job when Joan Laporta became Barcelona president for a second time, club icon Xavi was appointed as Koeman’s successor.
The former Al Sadd coach won his first game, edging out Espanyol 1-0 thanks to a Depay penalty, but the size of the challenge facing the former midfielder was clear.
At the top, Real Madrid continued to set the pace with three wins from three in November, including beating Sevilla 2-1 with a stoppage-time winner from Vinicius Junior.
Rivals Atletico were four points back in second, with Real Sociedad level on points in third.
December: Title race over?
Despite a quiet summer, Real Madrid continued to make light work of LaLiga by dropping just two points from a possible 15 in December.
The pick of their results was the 2-0 win in El Derbi Madrileno, which followed an equally impressive victory at surprise challengers Real Sociedad.
With Atletico ailing, Sevilla finished the year as Real’s nearest rivals but, significantly, were still eight points back in second after three wins and a draw in December.
For Barcelona, a single win — against lowly Elche — was indicative of the struggles ahead for Xavi, compounded by the sudden retirement of Aguero due to a heart condition.