La Liga

When Van Gaal's Barcelona became a Dutch destroyer - La Liga in 1998/99

The seminal coach secured a second title in a row with a team based around the Oranje national side

11:00am on Friday 27th March 2020
Dan Edwards

Barcelona wrapped up their second Liga trophy in as many seasons under Louis van Gaal by a healthy 11-point margin over runners-up Real Madrid.

Van Gaal marked his territory by signing more members of Ajax’s 1995 Champions League-winning team, and the result was a free-scoring side that racked up 87 goals by the end of the campaign, with four players in double figures.

Real Madrid paid for an underwhelming transfer window with a sputtering second half to the season, only recovering to clinch second place on the final matchday.


For once, someone other than Barcelona or Real Madrid orchestrated the transfer story of the summer. Real Betis landed the electrifying dribbler Denilson from Sao Paulo for a world-record fee of £21.5m - which was the high point of his club career.

Barcelona were busy though, adding five Dutch internationals to their ranks in the shape of Frank and Ronald de Boer, Phillip Cocu, Bolo Zenden and Patrick Kluivert.

Atletico Madrid could not hold onto Christian Vieri, who returned to Serie A in a big-money move to Lazio. The Italian club also kept the chequebook open to capture Ivan de la Pena from Barcelona.

Despite winning the Champions League, Jupp Heynckes wasn’t able to keep his job at Real Madrid, and was replaced by Guus Hiddink in the summer of 1998. Elsewhere, Javier Irureta began his seven-year spell in charge of Deportivo.


After the first eight weeks of the season, the Hiddink appointment appeared to be going well with Real Madrid on top the table. However, an unexpected surge from Mallorca saw them launch a seven-week spell in first place, behind a miserly defence that would concede only 31 goals - comfortably the lowest mark in the league.

However, around the turn of the year, Barcelona worked out the kinks and suddenly couldn’t stop scoring. They spent the entire second half of the season in first place. Rivaldo’s 24 goals was the main catalyst, and laid the foundation for his Balon d’Or and Fifa World Player of the Year awards later in the year. Kluivert, Cocu and Luis Enrique also chipped in with 38 goals between them.

After two days of training under him, I thought, 'Who is this idiot?' After a week, I thought, 'He's right.' He'll always be in my heart, Louis van Gaal. He is a good person, very good trainer.Xavi

Madrid’s form slipped in the second half of the season and after Hiddink openly criticized some of his players, his position became untenable. John Toshack replaced him, but by then, defensive bad habits had already set in. Los Blancos conceded 62 goals - the second-worst tally in the league.

Celta Vigo had a firm grip on second place heading into April, but dropped crucial points in the final weeks and missed out on a spot in the Champions League with a fifth-place finish.

This was also the final year of the relegation play-offs. La Liga could not put up a fight, with Extremadura and Villarreal losing the two-legged ties to join Tenerife and Salamanca in the second division.



Barcelona were tearing up the goal charts but it was Raul who kept Madrid afloat, with his best-ever league tally of 25 goals and his first Pichichi award.



Sao Paulo to Real Betis



Real Madrid mentally checked out of the title race after a demoralising 3-0 loss to Barcelona in the second Clasico of the season on Valentine’s Day 1999. Two headers from Luis Enrique and a nifty third from Rivaldo polished off Los Blancos, who had Roberto Carlos dismissed early on.

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