Atletico Madrid look to win back-to-back league titles for the first time since 1951
La Liga Santander is back in action on August 13 when Valencia host Getafe. Later that weekend current champions Atletico Madrid will travel to Celta Vigo, their city rivals Real Madrid will go to Alaves, Barcelona welcome Real Sociedad and Sevilla are at home to Rayo Vallecano. Last season, Diego Simeone's Atletico side once again broke up the Real/Barca monopoly by winning their first title in six years and they'll hope to make history by retaining the title - something they haven't done for 70 years. Real Madrid and Barcelona are both experiencing serious financial meltdowns right now but are always expected to compete at the very top of the table. Sevilla seem to be locking down that fourth Champions League qualification spot, having finished comfortably above their rivals the past two seasons with games to spare. Can Julen Lopetegui's side take another step forward and mount a serious challenge for the title? Some of the best sports betting sites have made their feelings clear about who is in the best position to win the Spanish top flight next season.
Barcelona (6/4 joint favourites)
Barcelona are in crisis. A La Liga imposed salary cap of around €200m has hamstrung them in a way that we haven't quite seen before. They have officially signed the likes of Sergio Aguero, Memphis Depay and Eric Garcia on free transfers but they as of yet can't register them. This is because their wage bill will exceed the cap if they do, and unlike those UEFA FFP rules which clubs regularly flout and receive a minor fine for, these are applicable beforehand. They simply will not be able to field those players if they aren't registered and they can't be registered until they reduce the wage bill. The new arrivals can train with the team but won't be able to participate in La Liga matches. To remedy this the club has already sold Junior Firpo to Leeds, Carles Alena to Getafe and Jean-Clair Todibo to Nice but these types of signings are a drop in the bucket. In the coming weeks they are desperate to offload far higher earning players like Antoine Griezmann, Philippe Coutinho and Samuel Umtiti.
How these departures will affect the quality of their playing squad is unknown, but based on the performances of the team last year, it's hard to see how losing the likes of Griezmann will improve things. They will of course then be able to introduce those new faces and that should freshen things up but they will really have to hit the ground running to have a spectacular effect. The squad could well be seen as one on the same level but with some different pieces in place. Will that squad be good enough to go and win the title? It certainly could. They only finished seven points behind Atletico last year so a slight improvement would even be enough to move them neck-and-neck and that's assuming that Simeone's team will reach the same heights next year. While Barcelona are in a bit of a pickle, they are of course one of the favourites to win La Liga, as they probably always will be.
Real Madrid (6/4 joint favourites)
Carlo Ancelotti has returned to the Bernabeu for a second stint in charge. His first spell was very successful as, among other things, he ended the club's wait for La Decima when they captured their 10th European Cup. It's fair to say though that his appointment wasn't a particularly exciting one. It's yet another case of Los Blancos going backwards and recruiting a former boss for a second time and one who's star may be beginning to wane. A rather disappointing spell at Everton doesn't excite fans too much about his arrival in Madrid. He is a legend at the club and will surely be afforded the little patience that the fans of that club can muster during his opening months in charge but if he doesn't get things right fairly quickly, that sympathy will run out.
The Italian will find a squad which, while still containing a lot of talent, is creaky in many areas. With iconic centre back Sergio Ramos leaving on a free and Raphael Varane said to be joining Manchester United, he may need to bed in an entirely new centre back pairing. Ancelotti will find that the three most important players for Madrid are still Modric, Kroos and Benzema - all aged 31-35 - despite the very long list of great players the club has chosen to get rid of since he's been away. The likes of Achraf Hakimi, Theo Hernandez, Marcos Llorente and Mateo Kovacic have gone away and won domestic and European titles elsewhere and become some of the best players in the world. Those names could be in his squad right now but they've been sold and replaced with the likes of Eden Hazard, Luka Jovic and Rodrygo who've produced very little. They are still favourites in the eyes of many because of the world class players they do have but Ancelotti will have a lot of work to do to get the best out of a somewhat disjointed and misfiring squad.
Atletico Madrid (10/3)
The situation on the other side of Madrid is a lot more settled. El Cholo and his team don't have quite the same financial woes as their counterparts. They are in around €500m of debt but that's normal in top level football. Los Rojiblancos will have their own salary restrictions from La Liga to deal with but it should be a much less catastrophic situation. There are rumours of Antoine Griezmann returning to the Wanda Metropolitano in exchange for the beloved Saul Niguez. They have already brought in the much talked about Rodrigo De Paul from Udinese days after he won the Copa America with Argentina. They aren't expected to lose many star players. Unlike some of their rivals in Europe, they will have a steady ship with a captain who's been there forever, a title winning squad with probably a couple of star additions. It's quite surprising therefore to see Atleti decidedly behind their two rivals in the betting odds. If ever they were going to win back-to-back titles in the modern era, they couldn't ask for a better time than now.
Julen Lopetegui has done a great job since arriving in Andalusia. He's took Sevilla to two consecutive fourth place finishes, achieved in style. They've comfortably finished above the likes of Villarreal and Real Sociedad leaving gaps of over ten points on both occasions. As long as they don't lose too many of their key players during this unique, post-Covid transfer market, they should push on and look up the table at their rivals. Last season they were 15 points clear in fourth and finished only 2 points behind third place Barcelona. They've consolidated their position as a Champions League club and now, with a little bit of smart investment, they might fancy their chances of pulling off a shock title win. If Leicester can do it, Sevilla can do it. At 16/1 they are far from being favourites to win a second ever Spanish top flight crown, but they should at least be pushing the big three all the way.
*all odds provided by Bet 365
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