An Arsenal supporter and occasional match-goer, Liam has been involved in football journalism for a number of years and joined the Spotlight Sports Group in 2018. He is studying for a degree in German and Spanish, can speak French too and is particularly interested in the Bundesliga and La Liga.
After a trophy-laden 17 years with the club, Lionel Messi parted with FC Barcelona this summer and it feels as though La Liga is entering a new era going into the 2021-22 campaign.
And now the six-time Ballon d’Or winner has departed the Camp Nou, Barca’s title prospects look significantly weaker.
La Liga outright winner prediction: Atletico Madrid at 11/4
Atletico can again pip El Clasico clubs to top spot
The Catalan giants have been contending with off-field financial issues in the build-up to the new campaign but have nonetheless recruited well with Sergio Aguero arriving for free, Memphis Depay joining from Lyon after a superb season in Ligue 1 and Emerson and Eric Garcia brought in to supplement the defence.
And with young star Pedri going from strength to strength in midfield, Barca looked like a decent bet in the La Liga outright market prior to Messi’s departure.
Now the diminutive Argentinian has left, though, the mood around the club could take time to stabilise and with Aguero already sidelined for the start of the season, there is a lot of pressure on Depay to perform.
For that reason, Barcelona are worth swerving for the title and their El Clasico rivals do not look much better.
Real Madrid have lost key players of their own in this transfer window with captain Sergio Ramos also calling time on his long tenure to join Paris Saint-Germain while the heir to his throne Raphael Varane has moved to Manchester United.
David Alaba is a smart signing but arguably not on the level of Ramos and they have otherwise been quiet on the transfer front, despite failing to secure a single piece of silverware last term.
Midfielders Luka Modric (35) and Toni Kroos (31) are not getting any younger while in the final third Eden Hazard continues to be ineffective and plagued by injuries.
Karim Benzema was sharp last season but overall Real do not have the makings of champions and Atletico Madrid are worth chancing to win successive top-flight titles for the first time since 1951.
In Diego Simeone, they have a top manager who has committed himself to the club and, although they have been fairly quiet in the transfer market with Rodrigo de Paul their only notable piece of business, they have kept the bulk of the group together.
Atletico won 26 of their 38 fixtures on their way to the title last season and their watertight defence remains their greatest asset as they shipped only 25 times in the 2020-21 campaign. They are a great bet to win the title.
La Liga top goalscorer prediction: Memphis Depay at 5/1
Memphis Depay can shine for depleted Barca
While Barcelona’s prospects as a team look bleak this season, the club’s situation could prove to be fertile ground for forward Depay to develop.
The Dutchman failed to make it at Manchester United but rebuilt himself at Lyon, scoring 20 goals and laying on 12 assists in the French top flight last season.
Even before Aguero’s injury news was revealed, Depay was always looking as though he would be the focal point of the club’s new attack and with service from the likes of Antoine Griezmann and Pedri and no Messi to steal the show, he could be in the running to finish as La Liga’s top scorer.
La Liga top 4 prediction: Real Sociedad at 9/4
Real Sociedad can go from strength to strength
Real Sociedad finished 15 points adrift of the top four last season but still placed fifth and have kept together their key players over the summer.
Alexander Isak, who shone for Sweden at Euro 2020, has committed his future to the club with a new contract while Mikel Oyarzabal and Ander Barrenetxea are only getting better.
Add to that experienced names such as David Silva, Nacho Monreal and Asier Illarramendi and Real Sociedad look as though they have the recipe for success.
They were top in mid-December last term and more ruthlessness in the final third can help them turn some of their 11 draws last season into wins.
Sevilla will surely be in the mix again but face the prospect of losing key defender Jules Kounde this summer and at the prices, Real Sociedad are a decent selection to finish in the top four.
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