La Liga is finally back. While the English Premier League as a whole makes for a more competitive watch, the Spanish league entertains like no other. Containing arguably the two best teams in the world and undoubtedly the two best players in the world, La Liga is one of a kind. It also makes for a great betting ground, with yours truly providing some insight as well as valuable picks. Barcelona managed an incredible treble last season, winning the league, Copa del Rey and UEFA Champions League. The triumph of the La Liga title was all down to a consistent run that saw them lose just once between November 30th and the end of the season. It was the opposite for Real, as before Christmas they enjoyed a twelve-game winning run and looked to have the title in the bag, but it fell apart as they dropped points and the pressure built on Carlo Ancelotti. In the end the Italian lost his job and was replaced by Rafael Benitez.
Friday 21 August
Malaga and Sevilla will open the 2015/16 La Liga season on Friday night. Malaga finished ninth last season, an improvement on an embarrassing eleventh place finish the season prior, and will be looking to challenge the likes of Sevilla for the coveted fourth spot. They have a tough start to the season against the back-to-back UEFA Europa League champions. Sevilla finished fifth, a point off fourth-place Valencia, but booked a spot in the Champions League by triumphing in the Europa. Malaga were inconsistent at home last season, winning only eight of their nineteen matches at La Rosaleda Stadium and losing on five occasions. Sevilla had the most away wins in La Liga after giants Barcelona and Real Madrid, ten, and went unbeaten in their last seven league travels. What was more impressive is that they didn’t lose a single away game in the knockout stages of the Europa League, drawing with Zenit while beating the likes of Borussia Monchengladbach, Fiorentina and Villarreal. Sevilla pulled the double over Malaga last season, winning 2-0 at home and 3-2 in this away fixture. 5/4 for a Sevilla win looks too good to pass up.
Saturday 22 August
Real Sociedad 18/10
Deportivo managed to stay alive and avoid dropping back down to the Segunda Division by the skin of their teeth last season. They managed to go unbeaten in their last four matches of the season, winning once and drawing thrice, which put them level on points with Eibar and Granada but in a superior position due to the head-to-head standings between the three sides. David Moyes’ Real Sociedad finished in a disappointing twelfth position, mainly due to their horrific away form where they managed just two victories. Both meetings between these sides were drawn last season. Both Teams To Score - No - at 8/10 looks a good pick.
Espanyol finished tenth last season to end a five season spell in the bottom half of the table. They will be confident to start the new season with a win as they host a Getafe side who finished just two places above the relegation zone. Getafe were the joint second worst defence on the road last season, conceding 42 goals whilst scoring only seventeen in nineteen travels. They lost thirteen of their nineteen away ties and one of those were a 2-0 loss in this fixture. The home win is tipped.
Atletico Madrid 1/4
Las Palmas 51/4
Diego Simeone’s Red and White Army – the only club to have conquered the dominance of Spain’s big two – will kick off their title charge in comfortable fashion by hosting one of the three promoted clubs. Las Palmas of the Canary Islands (a group of Spanish islands not far off the coast of Morocco) gained promotion to the Spanish La Liga for the third time in their history. They spent three seasons in the top tier from 1985 to 1988 prior to only two years from 2000 to 2002 before being relegated again. The Yellows finished fourth in the Segunda Division and gained promotion via the promotion play-offs. They were excellent at home but their inconsistency on the road doesn’t give them much hope of earning a point against last season’s third-place finishers. Atletico won fourteen of their nineteen home games, losing only twice. At 1/4 Atletico are a banker bet, but those looking for more value can take Atletico on the halftime-fulltime double at 7/10.
Rayo Vallecano 26/10
It’s Rayo Vallecano up first for last season’s fourth-place finishers Valencia. Los Che are once again on the rise after making a return to the Champions League places last season. They did very well to pip Europa League champions Sevilla for a place in Europe’s elite competition, beating them by just a point. They lost just five games all season, a great record for any La Liga team who has to face the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. Their home form was flawless but it’s on the road where they will need to improve this season. They won just seven of their away games, drawing eight times, but losing on only four occasions. Vallecano were inconsistent at home winning eight out of nineteen and losing nine times. This one is tough to call with these sides drawing both meetings against each other last season. They drew this fixture 1-1 and the reverse tie 4-4. I see both teams coming out the gates looking to fire which makes Both Teams To Score a good pick at 7/10.
Sunday 23 August
Athletic Bilbao 52/10
Athletic Bilbao won a first trophy in 31 years as a 1-1 draw with Barcelona at the Nou Camp secured the Spanish Super Cup with a 5-1 aggregate victory. Bilbao won the first leg 4-0 but Barcelona threatened a comeback with Lionel Messi's close-range finish. However, Barca defender Gerard Pique was sent-off after the break and Aritz Aduriz struck late on to seal it for Bilbao. The visitors had Kike Sola sent-off late on but the celebrations for Bilbao had already begun. It was ultimately a disappointing display for Barcelona who, despite plenty of possession, failed to threaten often enough. After Barcelona's humiliating defeat in the first leg, Athletic Bilbao knew Luis Enrique's side would be determined to make amends and started a much better team. The reigning European champions lined up with Messi, Luis Suarez and Pedro in attack but the visitors had done their homework and the trio were well marshalled throughout. Whenever Messi had the ball, at least two players crowded around the Argentina international and his inability to get into the game left Suarez isolated. Neymar is unlikely to return to the matchday squad after suffering from mumps. However, Barca still have enough firepower to cope here and Luis Enrique would have done his homework after failing to beat Bilbao twice in a row. The Catalans triumphed here last season, winning 5-2. They also hosted Bilbao in the Copa del Rey final beating them 3-1 and won their league fixture at Camp Nou 2-0 against Los Leones. For Barca to fail a third time will be almost impossible, back Messia and Co. to come out with the three points.
Sporting Gijon 10/1
Real Madrid 1/4
Real Madrid are coming off an embarrassing season by their high standards. It ended with popular manager, Carlo Ancelotti, being sacked, as the club went from the euphoria of winning La Decima to rolling in a pit of despair as their archrivals Barcelona won the treble. However, at the start of every season, there is optimism for what lies ahead, and with a squad and history like Real Madrid's, there is every reason to be hopeful. One thing Madrid fans have to be hopeful about is the tutelage of new manager Rafael Benitez. His selection is a bizarre one as his recent record with some of Europe’s top clubs has been average at best. He could be without Karim Benzema and Pepe here, who are injury doubts after picking up some pre-season knocks. Madrid lack a quality replacement to spearhead their attack, but Benitez has the superpowers of Ronaldo and Bale who will gladly take the centre-forward role. Sporting Gijon finished second, only two points behind Real Betis to gain promotion back to the La Liga after three seasons in the second tier. Due to financial constraints they have had to add only a few new signings to bolster their squad. This match looks to go only Madrid’s way and they are a banker bet at 1/4. To get more value, back Real to win on the halftime-fulltime double available at 7/10.
Celta Vigo 11/10
Levante and Celta Vigo meet on Sunday evening in what looks to be a tightly contested encounter. Levante were flirting with relegation all season but managed to escape the drop by two points. They were one of La Liga’s worst defences and conceded thirty goals at home, scoring only twenty. Celta Vigo were the better side of the two last season and proved that by pulling the double over Levante with a 3-0 home win and a 1-0 victory in this fixture. The away win is tipped to prevail once more.
Second tier champions Real Betis get their season underway at home against one of La Liga’s feared teams. Villarreal finished last season in sixth place and will be looking to challenge for a top four spot this time. It took Betis just one season to return to the top flight and they return with some good experience which will boost them in the fight for survival. Betis won this fixture 1-0 two seasons back and managed a 1-1 draw at Villarreal. They also won this tie in the 2011/12 season. Villarreal have not won here since 2008, losing twice and drawing once. Betis are tipped to hold the Yellow Submarines to a draw.
Monday 24 August
Two of last season’s luckiest teams are pitted against each other in La Liga’s traditional Monday night fixture. Both sides finished last season with 35 points along with Deportivo. Granada had the worst goal difference of the three but due to La Liga’s head-to-head rule to separate teams tied on points, Eibar were relegated to eighteenth place. However, Eibar also had some good fortune as Elche were kicked out of the league after failing to pay their taxes for a consecutive season as well as not paying their players for large parts of their two-year stint in La Liga. Both meetings ended in draws last season but Granada are tipped to make the most of their home ground advantage this time.