A look ahead to the new La Liga season
With just under a week until the start of a new Spanish season, you would have thought that the fixture list would have been in place a long time ago – and if you were under that assumption, then you would have been in for a shock.
Only as late as last Friday had the appropriate governing bodies finally confirmed the start date of the upcoming campaign. The sticking point and the reason for the delays was the issue of whether or not La Liga games were able to be played on both Friday and Monday evenings – time slots that have not gone down all that well with Spanish fans, especially in the case of the latter.
However, it was finally agreed that Friday night games could go ahead, as long as Monday fixtures were not part of any schedule, and with the solution finally in place, it means that we get to look ahead to another nine months of exciting continental action.
To kick off the action, Athletic Bilbao play host to Barcelona at the San Mamés Stadium on Friday, and Ernesto Valverde’s men will be looking to get the defence of their La Liga title off to the perfect start with a win in the Basque region.
You can back the Catalan giants to win at odds of 20/29 with Sportsbet, and should you think that there could be something of a slip up on the opening night, Athletic are priced at 4/1 to win, with the draw at 59/20.
Of course, it’s not only the opening-night fixture that we should be previewing but also the runners and riders for this season’s La Liga title race, and it is going to be a conversation will include two main protagonists.
One of those will undoubtedly be the holders Barcelona and the other will be their arch-rivals Real Madrid. The club from Spain’s capital have undergone something of a spending blitz this summer, as Zinedine Zidane looks to usher in a new galáctico era.
Of the previous big names that have christened the Bernabéu turf, it seems as if Gareth Bale has been consigned to the scrapheap, and the sub-plot of the summer has been written around his future in Madrid.
His future, for all intents and purposes, looks like being played out on the golf course rather than the football pitch, with the Welsh international seemingly unloved by his manager and unwanted by any other potential suitors.
That said, with the Premier League transfer window now slammed shut, there are still three more weeks in which Europe’s biggest clubs can buy and sell players, and therefore Bale may still be in a new club’s colours come the end of the month.
However, this does come with the caveat that another club is prepared to pay the hefty wages that the former Tottenham man will command, and it is for this reason alone that Bale finds himself in transfer limbo.
One transfer that was completed earlier in the summer and was arguably football’s worst-kept secret was the arrival of Eden Hazard at Real Madrid, and with the Belgian now donning the number seven shirt, much will be expected of him this season.
The team that is almost synonymous with winning the Champions League has not yet been successful in the pursuit of Paul Pogba, and although the French midfielder still has plenty of time to make a switch, it looks as if the chances of a deal being completed are diminishing ever further.
It could well be that Los Blancos reignite their pursuit of Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen, and if the rumours are to be believed, his current employers may have to sell their Danish midfielder for a cut-price fee of £50m.
With Eriksen out of contract at the end of this new season, Tottenham’s chairman Daniel Levy will not allow him to walk out of the door on a free transfer, and although he will be loathed to sell the Dane, this looks like being the least worst bit of business that he can conduct.
If you think that Real Madrid can conduct some good business that will enable them to successfully compete for the league, then you can back them with Sportsbet to win La Liga at odds of 8/5, though that is still quite a distance off the current favourites, Barcelona.
Last season’s winners can be backed at 20/33 to keep hold of their crown, and even though they have currently been unsuccessful in their bid to bring Neymar back to Catalonia, they still have one new signing to parade – a signing that comes in the shape of Antoine Griezmann, and after a long and arduous transfer saga, the French World Cup winner finally got his move and will now link up with the likes of Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez.
His former club Atlético Madrid have not been quiet in the transfer market either and have used the funds from the sale of Griezmann to sign teenage sensation João Félix. The Portuguese starlet may only be 19 years old, but that has not stopped Atlético paying over £100m for his services, and a lot of hopes will be pinned on this youngster as he leaves his previous employers Benfica behind.
If you think that Félix and also England’s Kieran Trippier, who has signed from Tottenham, can push Atlético back to the summit of Spanish football, then you can back them with Sportsbet at odds of 12/1.
However, you will probably find slightly better value on the La Liga without Barcelona and Real Madrid market, and if you fancy them to finish best of the rest, the odds will shorten to 4/7. Admittedly, it won’t make you rich, but it can certainly be considered a wise investment across the season.
Are you ready for the return of La Liga? Visit Sportsbet, your home of continental football.
Words: Josh Dixon