Spain’s La Liga may not be the deepest domestic league in the world, but it’s certainly the scariest when you look at the top of the table. Arguably the two best club teams in the world – Barcelona and Real Madrid – are going to battle for national supremacy all year long, while Atletico Madrid, inarguably the best defensive team in the world, will look to run with the big boys again.
This will be the 86th edition of Spain’s top league, and the top-three favorites have won a combined 66 titles to date (Real Madrid – 32; Barcelona – 24; Atletico Madrid – 10). Can an upstart like Sevilla, the three-time defending Europa League champion, crash the party?
We’ll (start to) find out when action commences on August 19.
Barcelona have won the last two La Liga titles and three of the last four. (They finished second in 2014.) They bowed out of the Champions League surprising early last year, falling to Atletico in the quarterfinals, but will enter both competitions as the betting favorites, just like they did last year.
That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone since the frighteningly stacked roster remains largely intact. Lio Messi, Luis Suarez, and Neymar led the squad to a league-best 2.9 goals per game last season and are all healthy to start this year.
It’s going to be business as usual for the prolific Catalans as they look to run up the score on a weekly basis.
After claiming the Champions League title last season – and finishing one agonizing point behind Barcelona in the La Liga table – you might expect Real Madrid to be on par with Barca heading into the season. But the squad won’t be intact for at least the first month, missing top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo who’s still suffering from the knee injury he sustained during the Euro 2016 final.
Ronaldo’s not the only key player sidelined, either. Goalie Keylor Navas underwent foot surgery and will miss the first three weeks of the season.
Real will still field a stacked starting 11 with Gareth Bale, Toni Kroos, and Pepe all slated to be back for the first fixture. But none of the trio played in any of the team’s friendlies and may need some time to get back to full speed. A slow start from Real could put the Meringues in an insurmountable hole as they look to claim their first title since 2012.
Atletico has finished third to Barcelona and Real the last two seasons, but they won the 2014 edition and also reached the UCL final in two of the last three years. The team relied on its impenetrable defense to rack up 88 points last year (just three back of Barcelona), holding opponents to just 18 goals in 38 matches.
The defense should be just as good this year, and the offense – which actually averaged a respectable 1.7 GPG last year – could be even better; Atletico brought in Kevin Gameiro from rival Sevilla. He’ll join French stud Antoine Griezmann to give Atletico a very respectable attack.
Sevilla have only one La Liga title to their name and that came all the way back in 1944. After claiming three straight Europa League trophies, the Yellow Submarine are looking to move into the upper echelons of Spanish soccer.
They certainly brought in a manager who knows how to guide Davids past Goliaths, hiring Jorge Sampaoli who previously coached Chile to the 2015 Copa America championship. That said, without Gameiro and with Barcelona and Real as strong as ever, this doesn’t look like the year that Sevilla emerges as a legitimate title threat.
Athletic Bilbao: 150/1
Celta Vigo: 200/1
Real Sociedad: 500/1
Deportivo La Coruña: 1000/1
Deportivo Las Palmas: 1000/1
(Photo Credit: Alex Fau (Neymar) [CC BY 2.0 [http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0], via Wikimedia Commons)
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