La Liga vs Champions League – What’s The Difference?

There are a number of football competitions that are highly popular worldwide.

The Spanish La Liga and the UEFA Champions League are among the most popular leagues throughout the world.

So what are these competitions and how do they differ?

Here’s what you need to know:

The difference between La Liga and Champions League

La Liga is a double round-robin tournament where the top 20 Spanish football clubs compete during the football calendar. Meanwhile, the top 32 clubs from the major European Leagues participate in the Champions League, which features a group stage and knockout round leading to the Champions League Final.

Number of teams involved

La Liga is the top division of Spanish football and consists of the top 20 clubs in Spain. 

Whereas, the Champions league comprises the top 32 teams in European football.

However, this only measures the number of teams in the main competition. There will be quite a few teams that were involved in the qualifying rounds which do not make the cut.

Origin of the teams

La Liga only consists of Spanish clubs that are members of the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF).

Meanwhile, the Champions League consists of the top teams that come from the different UEFA countries. Currently, there are 55 member countries that are in UEFA.

To qualify for the UEFA Champions League, your team has to originate from a member country of UEFA. Otherwise, you will have to play in the continental competition where your country is from. 

This gives a wide variety of teams that feature in the Champions League. One such team is FC Sheriff Tiraspol, which originates from Moldova.

Frequency and duration of the competition

Both competitions occur on a yearly basis, as part of the club football calendar. La Liga starts in August, which is the same as most other top leagues in Europe. The last match will be played in May.

La Liga matches are played almost every week, apart from international friendlies and weekends reserved for cup competitions.

Meanwhile, the Champions League usually runs a span of around 11 months, usually between June to May. This is because each group stage matchday is played every alternate week.

Due to the congested fixture schedule for European clubs, each matchday is usually a few weeks apart. This could be why the Champions League takes an extra month compared to La Liga.

Format of competition

La Liga follows a double round-robin league format. Each team will play against the other 19 clubs in the league. 

For the Champions League, it contains a group stage, and then a knockout round. The top 2 teams from each group will progress to the knockout round of the Champions League.

If you’re wondering what happens if the top teams have the same points in the group stages, you can check out this article to find out more.

The knockout round is similar to most cup competitions, such as the FA Cup and the Copa del Rey.

The Champions League contains 2 legs for each knockout round. This means that the teams will play both at home and away.

This is because the knockout rounds of the Champions League are played at the home stadium of both clubs. This ensures that there is no ‘unfair’ advantage of only one team playing in their home ground.

In this way, there is an equal chance for both teams to perform well in front of their fans!

Number of matches

In La Liga, each team plays 38 matches, one at home and one away game against the rest of the 19 teams of the league.

For the Champions League, the number of matches you play depends on how far you go into the competition.

Here are the number of matches you’ll play in total if you reach the final from the Group Stages:

RoundNumber of Matches
Group Stages6
Round of 162
Quarter Finals2

As such, the maximum number of matches a team can play is 13. If a team gets knocked out in the earlier stages, they will play fewer matches.

Squad Size

For the Champions League, the squad size rules are more explicit.

The first list (List A) has a maximum of 25 players, where 8 of them have to be homegrown players. Meanwhile, the second list (List B) consists of players who are born on or after 1 Jan 1995 as well as other requirements. There can be an unlimited number of players who are registered on List B.

You can read more about the ‘homegrown’ rule in the Champions League and other competitions in my guide here.

La Liga has a slightly smaller squad size at 23.

Qualification for competition

To qualify for La Liga, your team will need to be in the top 20 football teams in the Spanish football pyramid. If they are starting at the bottom of the pyramid, they will need to get promoted to the different tiers, and ultimately reach La Liga.

The top 2 teams of the Segunda División (tier 2 of Spanish football) will automatically qualify for La Liga. The third promotion spot will be decided in the promotion play-offs, where the 3rd-6th placed teams will compete in this mini-competition.

However, you may want to note that ‘B’ teams can’t be promoted to La Liga if their senior team is already in the league!

For the Champions League, there are teams that automatically qualify for the tournament. This can be based either on their league position, or their performance in the UEFA competitions.

If you win either the Champions League or the Europa League, your team will automatically qualify for the tournament.

Loan player rules

The loan player rules are sort of similar for both competitions. For both Ligue 1 and the Champions League, there are no rules that mentioned that loan players cannot play against their parent club.

This actually has happened quite a few times, particularly in the Champions League.

One of the more notable ones was when Philippe Coutinho played for Bayern Munich, against his parent club (Barcelona).

He came off the bench to score 2 goals and produce 1 assist against Barcelona!

Rewards for winning the competition

Here are the rewards a team will receive when they win either competition:

La LigaChampions League
Prize MoneyHigherLower
Qualification for next
season’s Champions League
Qualificationfor Super CupSupercopade EspañaUEFA Super Cup

When comparing between the 2020/21 prize money that the winners received in La Liga and the Champions League, the La Liga winners received much more (€158 million vs €19 million).

Furthermore, the winners of both La Liga and the Champions League will be guaranteed automatic qualification to the UEFA Champions League group stages.

In terms of the Super Cup competitions that they play, the champions of La Liga will play against the Copa del Rey winners in the Supercopa de España.

Meanwhile, the Champions League winners will play against the Europa League winners in the UEFA Super Cup.


Here is a summary of the comparison between these 2 competitions:

La Liga Champions League
Number of teams2032
Origin of teamsSpanish TeamsEurope
Frequency AnnuallyAnnually
Duration9 months11 months
FormatDouble round-robinGroup Stage + knockout rounds
Number of matches38Maximum 13
Squad size2325 (17 homegrown)
QualificationTop 2 teams fromSegunda División
Playoffs between3rd to 6th place
League position and ChampionsLeague / Europa League winners
Loan player rulesCan play against parent clubCan play against parent clubs
Prize moneyHigherLower
Qualification for next season’s Champions LeagueYesYes
Qualification for Super CupSupercopade EspañaUEFA Super Cup


Both La Liga and the Champions League are important football competitions that happen during the season.

La Liga will allow you to enjoy domestic football, while the Champions League may be more entertaining as the teams in the competition are some of the best in Europe and UEFA countries!

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