La Liga

Valencia reclaim title from Real Madrid - La Liga 2003-04

With Barcelona in a transition period and Madrid failing to produce, Rafa Benitez's men took advantage

12:00pm on Wednesday 1st April 2020
Martin Macdonald

Two seasons previous, Valencia won their first Spanish Primera Division title for 31 years, largely due to the appointment of Rafa Benitez. The first half of the decade following the Millennium proved to be a head-to-head between the two outfits, and in the 2003-04 campaign Los Che made it two wins in three years to pip the club from the Spanish capital.

Los Blancos put up a fairly dismal title defence, and despite having the talents of the Galacticos, they could only muster up a fourth-placed finish behind Deportivo, Barcelona, and the eventual champions, Valencia.


Prior to the season kicking off, the transfer window proved to be a tale of two transfers. David Beckham, having fell out with Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, had his eye on a trip to Spain and it seemed like Barcelona was the likely destination. However, the Englishman performed a U-turn and ending up joining Real Madrid, which prompted Barca to go for their second choice - the enigmatic Ronaldinho from Paris Saint-Germain.

Madrid and Barca put all their eggs in one basket with the two transfers, as no other expensive acquisitions of note were made, although Edgar Davids and Ricardo Quaresma did arrive at Camp Nou, with the Dutchman coming on loan from Juventus.

There were some high-profile exits from La Liga. Claude Makelele joined the Roman Abramovich revolution at Chelsea from Madrid, and Jose Antonio Reyes also moved to London with Arsenal. Barca made a rival club stronger when they sold Juan Roman Riquelme to Villarreal.

New Barcelona club president Joan Laporta opted to go for a relatively inexperienced head coach in the form of Frank Rijkaard, but the former Dutch international would start a revolution of his own with the Blaugrana.

Carlos Queiroz was selected as Madrid boss even though former boss Vicente del Bosque won La Liga the previous campaign.


Both Real Madrid and Barcelona started off their season with victories against Real Betis and Athletic Bilbao respectively. Madrid, in the defence of their title, defeated the Andalusian side 2-1 thanks to goals from new signing Beckham and Ronaldo. It was a stuttering start for Valencia, who only recorded a 1-1 draw against Valladolid at the Mestalla.

In the first half of the campaign, Barca put themselves on the backfoot by losing five matches before January including a Clasico defeat to Madrid in which Patrick Kluivert’s goal was cancelled out by Roberto Carlos and Ronaldo.

Los Blancos only lost two matches in the first half of the season, but one of them did come against Valencia with Mista and Ricardo Oliveira scoring in a 2-0 result at the Mestalla. Los Che defeated Barca before January too in a hard-fought 1-0 win.

After the turn of the year Barcelona turned up the heat and won nine matches in a row from the end of January through to the middle of March, with Ronaldinho showing the kind of form which justified his price tag. With Valencia continuing to set the pace, however, they would not get higher than third until the second-last game of the season after being down in seventh in January.

Real Madrid’s season hit a catastrophic stumble towards the end of the campaign as they lost an incredible seven out of their last 10 league matches including the Clasico in which Xavi and Kluivert scored to seal a 2-1 win for the Blaugrana at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Even though Queiroz’s men had the top scorer in the league in Ronaldo and also scored the most goals over the course of the season with 72, the drop in form ultimately cost them their title defence as well as the Portuguese his job.

Valencia just kept getting results under the tutelage of Benitez, who drilled his side to concede just 27 goals - much less than Madrid and Barcelona and less than Depor, who finished third.

Barcelona ultimately surrendered the title by losing two of their last three matches against Celta Vigo and newly promoted Real Zaragoza, which proved all the more frustrating considering Valencia claimed the title after losing their final two games.

Zaragoza enjoyed a superb season after being promoted from the Segunda Division as, propelled by the goals of one David Villa, they won the Copa del Rey and qualified for the UEFA Cup.

It was a campaign to forget for Valladolid, Celta, and Murcia, who all suffered relegation.



The winger netted career-best 12 goals for Valencia that campaign, but it was his partnership with Mista up top which really propelled Los Che to the title.



The Brazilian wizard gave the Camp Nou faithful something to shout about again, but luckily for the Barcelona fans, the best would be yet to come.



Deportivo may have finished third, but it was their remarkable run to the semi-final of the Champions League which earned Irureta this award.



A ray of light in a dismal domestic season for Real Madrid as the former Ballon d’Or winner struck 24 times in La Liga.



Manchester United to Real Madrid



Fourteen minutes on the clock in the Camp Nou and Ricardo Oliveira bounces on a bouncing ball to fire a terrific volley past Victor Valdes, putting Valencia 1-0 up against Barca. Rafa Benitez set up his team to defend the lead, which they did, giving them the blueprint and confidence to make the top spot their own.

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