MARK O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his thoughts and best bets ahead of the 2015/16 La Liga season.
La Liga 2015/16 | Outright Winner
Ten of the last 11 La Liga titles have been won by either Barcelona or Real Madrid with Atletico Madrid’s wondrous win at 100/1 in 2013/14 the only occasion the superpowers duopoly has been broken. The bookies believe the destination of the 2015/16 title will again be decided by the giants of Spanish football with the defending champions chalked up as short as 8/11 (Betway).
Should we be banking on Barca at such miniscule odds? Of course not. The last four La Liga seasons have seen the odds-on favourite fail to take top spot and in what’s likely to be one of the best competitive title races in recent memory, they offer next to no value despite their treble-winning success last time out.
To begin with, the squad’s thinner and weaker following the departure of Pedro and exit of Xavi after 24 years of service. The influence of the two World Cup winners is bound to have an adverse effect in leadership and experience and whilst Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal will bolster the ranks in January, the current crop do look short on numbers.
It’s also worth noting that key players such as Lionel Messi and Neymar were involved in the Copa America during the summer and have barely had a break from football over the past two seasons. Will they be mentally and physically prepared for another nine-month slog with Real and Atletico biting at their ankles? We can only hope so.
The duo alongside Luis Suarez plundered an incredible 81 La Liga goals between them and there can be no doubt that Barcelona boast the world’s most incredibly front three. But what happens if there’s an injury or suspension? Suddenly that squad looks a little fearsome.
Luis Enrique was praised for his tactical tweaks last season as he adapted Barca into a more direct side – win the ball back and feed the trio as quick as possible. But the Catalans played on instinct, on improvisation and their individual brilliance rather than any major plan or philosophy in place.
Defensively their stats were superb but rarely did they ever look at ease, comfortable or convincing when under pressure and it’s worth pointing out too that Real finished just two points adrift of the champions. Only three sides have claimed back-to-back titles this millennium and they’re just a few of my nagging doubts surrounding the current odds-on favourites.
Real are 7/4 with Bet365 and that’s a big price for a squad dripping in talent. Modern football is viewed with such a short-term attitude that makes most believe Madrid will be watching on as Barca walk their way to top spot. But before Christmas 2014, Carlo Ancelotti’s team were marching to glory on all fronts.
Things turned sour in the New Year and Carlo was given the boot after an unforgivable trophy-less campaign but the same group of players are ready and available to go again. Rafa Benitez’s is now in the hot-seat and although not universally welcomed by Los Blancos supporters, should ensure the capital club are more disciplined and astute, especially on their travels.
Rafa will need to amend a record that’s seen him go 11 years without landing a league triumph as well as missing out on the top-two since 2008/09. But Benitez is already making his mark, switching Real to a 4-2-3-1 and releasing Gareth Bale into a free role and giving Cristiano Ronaldo his left-wing spot he asked for.
Madrid will play on the counter-attack more often and should those defensive tweaks see the side tighten up defensively then Real will go the distance. At 7/4 they’re an outstanding price and bar the Benitez factor, it’s hard to steer you away from a punt on 2014 Champions League winners.
But wait… the best bet to win La Liga just has to be Atletico Madrid. Rated a 22/1 chance with Betfred, the Mattress Makers offer outstanding value. Diego Simeone’s committed his future to the club until 2020 and having already guided the side to a league title and Champions League final, those 22/1 quotes are just plain daft and disrespectful.
Last summer Aleti went to post as defending champions at 14/1 but a marvellous summer in the transfer market has seen the squad bulked out with a number of outstanding signings. Miranda, Mario Mandzukic and Arda Turan have left the Vicente Calderon but I’d argue none of three departures would have a major impact on the current campaign.
Jackson Martinez, Luciano Vietto and Yannick Ferreira Carrasco should address the lack of pace in forward areas whilst Felipe Luis’ return and Stefan Savic’s capture compliment a defence that’s already held together by Uruguayan centre-halves Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez. Koke will marshal the midfield with elegance and bite and the prospect of seeing Martinez and Vietto alongside Antoine Griezmann in attack should excite all neutrals.
The young squad are ambitious, aggressive and most importantly, they’ll be coached superbly. There’s a clear identity about how Atleti will approach games, every player will know what job is required and there’s an incredible resilience and doggedness to the squad that makes them awkward and nasty opposition.
You might scoff at the suggestion but I’ll bet your house that both Barcelona and Real Madrid are looking over their shoulders at the challenge from Simeone’s side. La Liga’s not a two-horse race, La Liga is competitive and Atletico really can make a mockery of their 22/1 odds by clinching a second title in three seasons. Don’t worry, I don’t expect you to join me.
Best Of The Rest
Sorry guys, I’ve ran out of time here but here’s a few other bets that are well worth considering…
- Without Barcelona/Real Madrid – Atletico Madrid (8/11 888 Sport)
- Relegation – Levante (4/1 Bwin)
- To Finish Bottom – Eibar (4/1 888 Sport)
- Lowest Scoring Team – Eibar (9/1 888 Sport)
La Liga – Atletico Madrid to win (22/1 Betfred)