Saturday 12 September, 12.00pm
Real Madrid look likely to retain their title, but Dan Fitch thinks the value lies in Sevilla building on their recent success, as he previews the upcoming La Liga season...
"Julen Lopetegui’s first season at Sevilla manager could not have gone better, as they qualified for the Champions League and then won the Europa League."
Real Madrid favourites to defend their crown
Before the 2019-20 La Liga season was put on hold due to the Coronavirus crisis, it seemed as if no one wanted to win the title. Barcelona and Real Madrid were both inconsistent and yet no other club in Spain were able to put any pressure on them in the title race.
When the season returned, Barcelona remained inconsistent, but Real Madrid were a different team. Ten straight wins saw Real overtake Barca and win the title with a game to spare.
As we go into the 2020-21 season, the major question is whether Madrid are able to maintain such standards. If they can, then the [1.86] available for them to retain their title will prove to be a generous price.
The reality is that it's likely to be difficult for them to be anywhere near as consistent as they were in the final weeks of last season. Real Madrid returned after lockdown with a definitive goal and perfectly executed a plan to achieve it. At times the football was pretty pragmatic, as Madrid ground out results.
At the time of writing Madrid have made no major moves in the transfer market. The return of Martin Odegaard from his impressive loan spell at Real Sociedad is effectively like a new signing though, considering the length of time he's been away from the club.
With Champions League fixtures to fulfil alongside their La Liga games, winning every game as they were able to in the final stretch of last season, is not realistic. That means there will be an opportunity for others to challenge and Madrid's price should become bigger than it currently is.
Can Koeman resurrect Barca?
Barcelona's 2019-20 season was a disaster. They sacked two managers, threw away a lead at the top of La Liga and were humiliated in the Champions League by Bayern Munich who beat them 8-2.
Yet the club also only finished five points behind Real Madrid. They picked up more points at home than Real, so it was very much their away form which lost them the title (P19 W9 D5 L5).
With Ronald Koeman now the new Barcelona manager, improving Barcelona's away form should be his top priority. The problem Koeman has is that he has had a relatively short time to prepare for the new campaign, in a summer that has been dominated by speculation over the future of Lionel Messi.
Messi is staying and that's a good thing, even if he does want to leave. You can make an argument that at this stage Barca would be better off letting him go and rebuilding, but in the short-term, it would be basically impossible for them to lose Messi and improve, especially in the current climate that makes transfers difficult.
Koeman has been linked with a move for Memphis Depay for a reasonable price, which seems a smart bit of business. Depay would play on the left of Barcelona's attack, with Messi on the right. The big issue for Koeman is who plays as a striker with Luis Suarez departing. Antoine Griezmann is not suited to the role and is much better playing behind a forward as a number ten. Perhaps Koeman will put his trust in Ansu Fati, who certainly has the ability and skillset to play as a striker, but is still only 17-years old.
Barcelona are [2.82] to win La Liga. On one hand that looks reasonable considering how close they came to winning the title last season. On the other, Koeman has a big job to do at a time of unrest. I wouldn't recommend backing them at this stage. Barca have a tough start and there may well be teething issues as Koeman tries to find the right blend. Like Real Madrid, they'll be bigger than their current price at some stage.
Atletico and Sevilla can close gap
Third placed Atletico Madrid and fourth placed Sevilla both finished 17 points behind Real Madrid last season. The good news for them is that there is evidence that they will improve on this showing.
Like the champions, Atletico and Sevilla were unbeaten after the season returned. Real Madrid picked up 31 points post-lockdown, with Atletico claiming 25 and Sevilla 23. If these two sides can be more clinical, there's every chance that they can push Real and Barca a lot closer than last season.
With only four defeats, Atletico only lost one more game than Real, but drew far too many to be in contention. They need to jettison Diego Costa, who simply doesn't score enough goals any more and put their faith in Alvaro Morata and Joao Felix.
Julen Lopetegui's first season at Sevilla manager could not have gone better, as they qualified for the Champions League and then won the Europa League. Losing Ever Banega is a blow, but Sevilla have recruited wisely this summer. Ivan Rakitic has returned to the club from Barcelona, while Oscar Rodriguez has been signed from Real Madrid, after an impressive loan spell at relegated Leganes in which he scored nine goals in a struggling team.
Atletico are [10.0] to win La Liga, with Sevilla at [34.0]. Both could be good bets from a trading perspective. Sevilla also appeal at [1.8] to finish in the top four and at 4/1 on the Sportsbook to finish top without Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Of the other top four contenders, Real Sociedad stand out as having the best chance of qualifying for the Champions League. Sociedad were fourth when the season was out on hold, but could not rediscover their momentum when the season restarted. Losing Odegaard is unlikely to be much of a blow, having replaced the Norwegian with David Silva. Real Sociedad are [8.0] to finish in the top four.
Who will go down?
The obvious starting point when assessing who will be relegated is the teams that have just come up. In this season in particular, it seems likely that all three promoted clubs are in for a tough campaign.
Huesca were promoted as champions, but lost 14 of their 42 games. Their points total of 70 was the lowest for any Segunda Division winners since 1995, back when four less games were played each season.
Cadiz finished a point behind in second, with Elche winning promotion via the play-offs having finished sixth. Their unremarkable record was what you'd more commonly expect to see from a team finishing in mid-table (P42 W16 D13 L13).
There's not much value in backing any of these teams, so it's better to look towards the clubs that just avoided relegation last season, with a view to trading. Alaves are [6.0] to be relegated, which looks a little big for a side that only avoided the drop by three points.
They were very poor post-lockdown, claiming just seven points from a possible 33. Alaves have changed manager since the season ended, bringing in Pablo Machin in an effort to improve.
Celta Vigo came even closer to being relegated, avoiding relegation on the last day of the season by a point. Unlike Alaves, they have kept faith in their manager Oscar Garcia to turn things around. With the squad he has at his disposal, it's certainly possible, but odds of [26.0] to be relegated look massive for a club that survived by such a slim margin.
Dan Fitch 2020/21 Season P/L
Staked: 30.00 pts
Returned: 37.72 pts
P/L: +7.72 pts
Saturday 12 September, 12.00pm