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La Liga 2013/14 Preview: Atletico still best of the rest

Brothers in arms: Diego Simeone and David Villa have joined forces at Atletico Madrid

"No money, hardly any wins in 2013 and a reputation in tatters"

Back Levante Relegation 2013/14 @ 7.06/1

Tobias Gourlay moves beyond the Big Two to look at what might happen further down the La Liga table to some of Spain's ordinary Josés

Atletico Madrid finished third last season, ten points clear of fourth-placed Real Sociedad. Coach Diego Simeone has signed a long-term contract with the capital's second club and, with David Villa to fill the Radamel Falcao-shaped hole up top, they look well set to be the Winner W/O Barca & R Madrid 2013/14.

Atletico's closest rivals from last season have all lost star players: Illarramendi's gone from Sociedad, who have a new coach; Soldado's quit Valencia, who have also changed boss; and Malaga have let Isco go.

Sevilla, whose strong late-season form suggested they might be a coming thing under Unai Emery, have been stripped of their topscorer, Alvaro Negredo, and his chief assistant, Jesus Navas, by Manchester City. 

None of those teams have found proven replacements like David Villa. More good news for Atletico fans: they've kept hold of on-loan Chelsea stopper Thibaut Courtois for another season.

Last term Simeone co-ordinated third place with runs to the last 32 of the Europa League and the final of the Copa del Rey. While Sevilla and Betis (seventh last season, but now denuded of playmaker Benat) grapple with European football for the first time in a few years, Atletico have shown they can balance at least a couple of competing demands.

Their victory over city rivals Real in the Cop del Rey final reduced a big psychological barrier to rubble and the Mattress-makers are a team to jump into bed with this season.

Valencia missed out on a Champions League place by a single point in June and are favourites to round out this season's top four. After spells with Hercules and Valladolid, incoming coach Miroslav Djukic has little top-half-of-the-table experience. If he's happy to disregard the Europa League and go all out to reclaim a place at the top table, Los Che have as good a chance as any. But will he disregard the Europa League? In an era when the Spanish title is out of the question, La Liga coaches should not pass up too many shots at silverware.

Blooming Basques

Athletic Bilbao might have more upside. It's definitely the start of something in the Basque Country: 'el loco' Marcelo Bielsa is gone; the grand old San Mames stadium has shut its doors; and Benat has arrived from Betis.

With Fernando Llorente and European football not in his hair, Ernesto Valverde - who might have been at Barcelona now, if he hadn't committed early to Bilbao - will concentrate on maximising the domestic potential of his talented squad. Look for prices around 12.011/1 and 2.56/4 in the Top 4 Finish and Top 6 Finish markets.

If they are not forthcoming, think about the Season Match Bet with local rivals Sociedad. Just wait to see whether Sociedad make it past Lyon and into a draining Champions League campaign before piling into Athletic.

Sinking Frogs

No money, hardly any wins in 2013 and a reputation in tatters. New Levante boss Joaquin Caparros has lots to do if he's to keep the Frogs out of trouble.

There was a time earlier this year when Levante were going well in the Europa League and contending for a place at Europe's second-top table again this season. That time passed quite quickly in February, from which point they won only two of their final 17 games.

Caparros has done well to recruit six new players since then, bearing in mind he has a transfer kitty of €0. The stain of last season's match-fixing allegations runs deep, however. Influential players like Javier Barkero and Sergio Ballesteros have moved on and, even if the squad does not have to stretch to European football, their relegation odds look generous.

Recommended Bets
Back Atletico Madrid Winner W/O Barca & R Madrid 2013/14 @ 2.26/5
Back Levante Relegation 2013/14 @ 7.06/1

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14 August 2013

Spanish Football

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