La Liga

When Ronaldo left for Italy, but Barcelona still ruled - La Liga in 1997/98

7:05pm on Thursday 26th March 2020
By
Dan Edwards

Barcelona won their first Liga title in three seasons at a canter, finishing nine points clear of Athletic Bilbao.

Louis van Gaal led the Catalan club to a domestic double in his first season at the helm, with the team spending all but five weeks at the top of the table. They did all this despite a philanthropic defence that shipped 56 goals in the league alone - with only three teams doing worse in that regard.

CHANGES

The summer transfer market was headlined by Barcelona, who saw Ronaldo leave for Inter Milan at the peak of his powers for a world-record fee of £25m after a sudden breakdown in contract negotiations.

However, the Brazilian spark was not lost at the club, with Rivaldo and Sonny Anderson joining from Deportivo and Monaco respectively.

Atletico Madrid also ensured that the striker market wasn’t a one-way channel to Serie A with the high-profile signing of Christian Vieri from Juventus. Not to be outdone, los Blancos secured the crafty signing of Fernando Morientes on a free transfer.

Meanwhile Athletic Bilbao splashed the cash on Roberto Rios to the tune of £10.80m - a record for a Spanish player.

Van Gaal’s appointment at Barcelona saw Bobby Robson move upstairs to essentially become the club’s director of football. Elsewhere, Madrid made a managerial appointment of their own, bringing in Jupp Heynckes from Tenerife.

SUMMARY

Barcelona spent the first 12 weeks in the lead, but a resurgent Madrid overtook them in November, just in time for their first meeting of the season at the Bernabeu. In one of the more memorable Clasicos of the past few decades, Barcelona regained their authority over the league with a 3-2 win. Giovanni was set up for the winner by Luis Figo, who would also score a belter in the return fixture against his future club, which ended 3-0 to the Catalans.

Under Luis Fernandez, Bilbao, despite only managing 52 goals all season, managed to finish in second thanks to a breakout campaign from Joseba Etxeberria and strong performances from Ismael Urzaiz and Jose Mari Garcia.

Real Sociedad rode the form of their bruising forward Darko Kovacevic all the way to third, their best league finish in 10 seasons. However, they were denied a spot in the 1998-99 Champions League after Madrid beat Juventus in that year’s final. Los Blancos themselves never left the top two for most of the season, but dropped points in their final three games to slump to fourth, which would cost Heynckes his job.

Vieri scored 24 goals in as many games for Atleti, but the capital club could do no better than seventh and a place in the Uefa Cup.

This season was also notable for events at the other end of the table. Sporting Gijon 0-0 draw with Zaragoza made them the first Liga side to be relegated in March, ending their 21-year stretch in the division. They finished with 13 points from 38 games, making them statistically the worst-ever side in Spain’s top flight by a comfortable margin.

TOP GOALSCORER

CHRISTIAN VIERI - 24 GOALS

In his lone season at Atletico Madrid, the Italian striker netted 24 times, finishing comfortably ahead of the Barcelona pair of Rivaldo and Luis Enrique.

MOST EXPENSIVE TRANSFER

RIVALDO

Deportivo to Barcelona

€21m

KEY MOMENT OF THE SEASON

Luis Figo playing an instrumental role in both Clasico victories for Barcelona, dooming the club that he would join in a firestorm of controversy only a seasons later.

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