Real Madrid won a first La Liga title in five years when they finished three points ahead of fierce rivals Barcelona last season. They went on to win the Champions League and will be keen to cement their domestic dominance by defending their title in 2017-18. But they will face intense competition from Barcelona. Here we analyze the leading contenders and their chances of winning the league next season:
Zinedine Zidane’s side were underdogs last season but we tipped them to win it due to the influence of the legendary Frenchman, who has fostered a strong and harmonious dressing room. This time around they are the favourites, best priced at 10/11 with Bet365. They have a wonderful team and nobody comes close to midfield. Toni Kroos, Casemiro and in particular Luka Modric lit up the Champions League with some amazing performances, besting the superb midfield of Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid, among others. And in Cristiano Ronaldo, they have a real superstar. He has lost a yard of pace but reinvented himself as the deadliest poacher ever seen, with imperious movement, exemplary finishing ability, and a surprising aerial prowess. They deserve to be favourites, but at such short odds, it is not tempting to back them.
Barcelona set outrageously high standards, so last season’s campaign – in which they finished three points behind Real in the league, fell at the quarter-finals in the Champions League and won the Cup – was an unmitigated disaster. Luis Enrique fell on his sword and has been replaced by Ernesto Valverde. He takes over a side that scored more goals than Real last season and conceded fewer, so it is not exactly a big rebuilding job that is required of him. But he really needs to strengthen the midfield. This is what let Barca down last season when they failed to get a foothold in certain key games. Xavi has never really been replaced, and nor has Dani Alves on the right, so expect reinforcements. Nobody will be seething quite like Lionel Messi. With Ronaldo now a shoo-in for the Ballon d’Or, he will draw level with Messi on the all-time list of who has won the most World Player of the Year awards. Messi will be desperate to regain the upper hand, and he is expected to launch an assault on La Liga, ably assisted by Luis Suarez and Neymar. If Barca can get the ball to this trio more, the title is Barcelona’s. A new manager always galvanizes Barca, and Valverde should have a similar effect. At evens with Stan James, Bwin and Bet Stars, Barcelona looks the best outright option for La Liga.
Having said that, it is definitely worth putting a small stake on Atletico, who are all the way out at 35/1 with 10Bet. If anyone can stop Barca and Real it is Atletico, who won the league in 2014 and always finish in the top three and have also reached two Champions League finals in recent times. They have a transfer ban but will retain a strong side and they will be a threat. They also look a great option when odds are released for who will win it “without Real Madrid and Barcelona”. Sevilla are a decent side but will struggle to break into the top three.
The fact that Sevilla are fourth favourites and all the way out at 200/1 tells you everything you need to know about Spanish football. The fourth favourites in the Premiership, Tottenham, are 9/1. It is a much more competitive league, while the big teams have a stranglehold on La Liga and if they ever lose it is a huge surprise. Expect Barcelona and Real, and possibly Atletico if they can hang in there, to finish streets ahead of the rest. There are no huge spending upstarts to worry about, like RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga, and the elite clubs should have it all their own way again. At the other end of the table, the chaotic Las Palmas look a decent shout to be relegated, as do newcomers Girona, while Athletic Bilbao and Villarreal have a good chance of making the top six