Content Editor at Free Super Tips, Alex was born in the shadow of Old Trafford and is an avid Man Utd fan. After graduating from university he combined his love of football, writing and betting to join FST and now closely follows goings-on in all of the top European leagues.
The new Spanish football season is here and it marks the first time in nine years that La Liga kicks off without both Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese star’s move to Juventus remains the biggest deal involving a Spanish club in a summer that has perhaps been more notable for the transfers that haven’t gone through as those that have.
Antoine Griezmann performed a pretty big U-turn by staying at Atletico Madrid rather than joining Barcelona, who have failed to land any of the true stars of the world game. Real Madrid will feel they’ve done good business by signing Thibaut Courtois but rumours that either Neymar or Kylian Mbappé would end up swapping Paris for the Spanish capital have so far proved false and they will struggle to convince any English clubs to dispense with star assets now the Premier League transfer window has closed.
However there is still plenty of intrigue heading into the new season which sees no fewer than nine clubs in the Spanish top flight commence life under new management.
La Liga Winner – Barcelona
Defending champions Barcelona are the favourites to win the title again and they are worthy of that tag. They won the league with ease last term, finishing 14 points clear of 2nd placed Atleti and a huge 17 ahead of eternal rivals Real Madrid. Were it not for a shock defeat at Levante on the penultimate weekend, they would have gone the entire league campaign unbeaten so it’s a very strong position from which they are coming from.
While it’s true Barcelona were rarely brilliant last term and a little too dependent on Leo Messi, there’s reason to believe they could find another gear this time around. There’s no reason to expect Messi will be anything other than the stand-out player in this league again and he should have far more in the way of support. Philippe Coutinho made a fine start to his Barca career and already looks completely at home at Camp Nou and should be a major source of goals and assists over the next nine months. Ousmane Dembélé’s Super Cup stunner will have done him the world of good after an injury-ravaged first season and he should be a bigger influence this time around too. Meanwhile they appear to have addressed one of the few areas of weakness by bringing in Arturo Vidal who should provide some more steel and energy in midfield which could be key in the tougher games.
It’s hard to see how anyone other than Barcelona or the two big Madrid clubs can win the league. However it’s also difficult to see Real matching Barca’s consistency with what will be essentially the same team that flattered deceive in the league last term minus the departure of their best player. The defending European champions can still beat anyone on their day but this may be more of a transitional season under Julen Lopetegui as they head into the post-Ronaldo era and they will need the likes of Isco and Gareth Bale to stand up and be counted from the off if they are to keep pace with the Catalans.
Atletico Madrid appear to be a decent value bet given they can be backed at odds as long as 10/1 to win the title, a huge price given Diego Simeone’s men have had an excellent summer by holding onto Griezmann whilst investing heavily in the likes of Thomas Lemar. They did after all finish above Real Madrid last term in what could have been a difficult first season at their new stadium, particularly following on from a transfer ban which prevented them fielding any new players until January.
However they also have the feel of a club that is rebuilding to perhaps peak in a year or two rather than this one. A midfield trio of Saul, Koke and new signing Rodri could take to the pitch for both club and country for many years to come but it’s debatable whether they are good enough yet to fire Atleti to another title in a league which has been won by teams with 90 or more points in each of the last 9 seasons. The only time Atleti reached that figure was in 2013-14 when they won it with exactly 90 points and that was a season when both Barcelona and Real Madrid had below-par campaigns.
Read more – Barcelona seal Malcom deal
To Finish in the Top Four – Valencia
OFFICIAL: Valencia have signed striker Kevin Gameiro from Atletico Madrid for €16m. pic.twitter.com/Zq6pJ5Ma5l
— TransferNewsCentral (@TransferNewsCen) August 13, 2018
Valencia were outstanding last season as they put some dark times behind them to clinch 4th place and return to the Champions League. Balancing European football with domestic action will be the challenge this term but they’ve already made some smart purchases to add depth to their squad.
Up front, the captures of Michy Batshuayi and Kévin Gameiro give them four very good options in attack and there will be real competition for places there. Crucially they’ve also turned Geoffrey Kondogbia’s loan deal into a permanent move while they appear to be on the brink of doing likewise for Gonçalo Guedes. Those were arguably their two most important players last term in a season where they finished a huge 12 points clear of Villarreal in 5th. Versatile Daniel Wass is another smart signing from Celta Vigo and they look to have both the starting eleven and squad to seal another top four finish not to mention one of the best coaches in La Liga.
Top Goalscorer – Leo Messi
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) May 9, 2018
No real surprises here, particularly in a season when Leo Messi will no longer be in competition with Cristiano Ronaldo. Despite another difficult World Cup, Messi will slot seamlessly back into life at Barcelona and he’ll be aiming to finish as the division’s top scorer for the sixth time and third straight season.
In the last nine campaigns, Messi has scored at least 26 goals in La Liga in every one and there are just very few players who you could feasibly see getting close to that number. His closest rival last term was Ronaldo with 26 while teammate Luis Suarez got 25 but has shown more signs that his powers are starting to wane than his strike-partner.
Messi is simply the best player in this division by a long way and there’s no reason why he won’t have another sensational campaign in front of goal.
Read more – Serie A outright Tips
Top Goalscorer Without Messi – Gareth Bale
Gareth Bale is certainly one man to watch though in what could be a career-defining season for the Welshman. He won’t admit it publicly but Bale would have been delighted to see Zidane leave with Bale struggling to get in the team last season despite a few moments of undisputed brilliance.
With Ronaldo out of the picture, Bale has suddenly been propelled from fringe player to the man who could lead Real Madrid’s title charge. With Karim Benzema struggling to convince and no senior strikers signed, we may even see Bale in the number nine role for much of this campaign, which will only aid his chances of having a prolific season in front of goal. He averaged a goal every 113 minutes in La Liga last term and has looked sharp in pre-season so there looks to be value in backing Bale to score plenty of goals this season.
To Be Relegated – Real Valladolid
Newly promoted clubs have tended to do well in La Liga in recent years with the likes of Getafe and Girona doing brilliantly last term to secure top half finishes. However it’s hard to see any repeat of that this time around. Top flight debutants Huesca are the red hot favourites to go down and will do well to beat the drop but there’s not much temptation to back them for relegation at odds as short as 8/13.
What is surprising though is that fellow new-boys Real Valladolid aren’t a similar sort of price. On paper they are every bit as bad as Huesca. For starters, Valladolid only scraped into the top six in the Segunda Division last term before emerging from the play-offs and crucially they have lost their star player on a free transfer this summer. Jaime Mata netted 33 goals in the second tier last term, 9 more than any other player and that was only just shy of 50% of his team’s goals.
Mata is a huge loss and he hasn’t really been replaced with midfielder Rubén Alcaraz their only permanent signing so far for less than £1 million. Defensively they weren’t great last season and could be torn apart by top flight teams so it’s hard to see Valladolid avoiding an immediate return to the Segunda.
To Be Relegated – Espanyol
Espanyol have a similar problem to Valladolid in that they’ve sold their only reliable source for goals. The Barcelona club only netted 36 times last term and Gerard Moreno got 16 of them. He has since left for Villarreal while two of their three signings so far this summer were players that were at the club on loan last term and didn’t exactly set the world on fire.
Much depends on Borja Iglesias, the striker signed to replace Moreno. He was very good in the Segunda Division with Zaragoza but it’s a big step up and if he doesn’t hit the ground running, it could be a really difficult season for Espanyol. Their new coach is Rubi, who guided Huesca to promotion last term but his record in the top flight is less than convincing and this could be the year when Espanyol can no longer maintain their steady mid-table existence.
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