Football specialist James Cormack (@jamescormack_) provides us with an in-depth betting preview of the 2019/20 La Liga season and delivers us with his best bets.
2019/2020 La Liga Ante-Post Betting Preview, Odds & Tips
After two months of believing transfer rumours and pretending to be seriously interested in pre-season friendlies, competitive domestic football is back… soon. The 16th of August is the date that all Spanish football fans will be looking forward to as Athletic Bilbao host back-to-back La Liga champions Barcelona in the season opener. 2017/18 and 2018/19 saw the Catalans ease to their 25th and 26th La Liga titles, will the likes of Real and Atletico Madrid be able to put up a stiffer challenge this time around?
Barca To Three-Peat?
Whilst Real Madrid dominated the European stage, Barcelona have certainly dominated Spain. The Catalans were victorious by 14 points in 2017/18 and 13 points last season. On both occasions, Diego Simeone’s Atletico were a distant second whilst Real Madrid were simply nowhere. Ernesto Valverde hasn’t let up this summer either, signing Antoine Griezmann for £110m from Atletico as well as Frenkie De Jong for £68m from Ajax. Although I don’t really see where Griezmann fits in, the signing of De Jong is a fantastic one. The Dutchman looks to be the long-term replacement for Sergio Busquets and will immediately add some dynamism to the Barcelona midfield, a midfield of Frenkie, Arthur and Rakitic will undoubtedly be a fun watch. In addition, a deal for Neymar to return to the club looks to be a possibility and are seemingly shipping off some of the ‘deadwood’ with Malcom joining Zenit and Phillipe Coutinho being thrown at clubs. The prospect of MSN along with FDJ, Arthur, Rakitic, Pique, Alba and Ter-Stegen in one starting XI is a scary one not only for La Liga, but the rest of Europe. With or without Neymar, I do expect Barcelona to achieve what they did between 2008-2011 and go back-to-back-to-back, however, I’m expecting the two Madrid sides to make it more of a title race this time out.
Atletico have been very busy this summer, in terms of both in’s and out’s. Antoine Griezmann and his 24 G+A output last season will certainly be a big loss, but, the signing of 19-year-old Joao Felix from Benfica for £115m is one that has the potential to transform Los Colchoneros. Felix registered 18 goals and 8 assists for the Portuguese outfit last season, a season that saw him become one of Europe’s hottest prospects and convinced Atletico to spend over £100m for his services. His favoured role is similar to Griezmann’s and he reminds me a little bit of Kaka. Under Simeone, we may see Felix operate from right midfield in a 4-4-2 and have the role of supplying two target men in the form of Alvaro Morata and Diego Costa. Atleti will also have to deal with some other significant losses this season. Veteran Diego Godin has left on a free to Inter, Man City have snatched Rodri to replace an ageing Fernandinho and Bayern have taken Lucas Hernandez, one of the most talented centre-backs around, to replace Mats Hummels and a declining Jerome Boateng. In terms of replacing them, Marcos Llorente, a squad player at Real, and Porto’s Hector Herrera have been brought in provide back-up for Koke and Saul in central midfield. Another man from Porto, Felipe, will provide experience at centre-back whilst Mario Hermoso, another central defender, excelled for Espanyol last season and could pair up with Jose Gimenez to be Simeone’s first-choice centre-back pairing. Finally, I think the Kieran Trippier deal from Spurs was a good one on Atleti’s behalf. Trippier struggled in the PL last season, but, I think Spanish football will suit him. A slower pace, more time on the ball, less likely to make unforced errors and it’s easier to get forward and deliver crosses. I expect the Englishman to have a bounce-back season in Spain. Overall, with Real Madrid’s dysfunction at the moment, I see Atletico finishing second to Barca for the third season running.
The transfer saga of Gareth Bale looks to have been a major distraction for Real Madrid in pre-season. This summer they’ve been taken apart by Bayern, were 2-0 down to Arsenal after 24 minutes (did win on pens) and were beaten 7-3 by their Madrid rivals. They’ve looked dysfunctional for the past 12 months and the Bale saga epitomises the mess at Real at the moment. Despite doing some good early business in the transfer window, I’m struggling to see how they can mount a stiff title challenge this season. Last season was a disaster for Los Blancos, it was a campaign that saw two managerial departures, a dismal third-place finish and a humiliating defeat to Ajax at the Bernabeu that saw them eliminated from the Champions League at the first knockout stage. The Ronaldo hangover was real. Incredibly, Real managed to only score 63 goals in La Liga last season, a woeful record when you look at the season’s prior; 94 (17/18), 106 (16/17), 110 (15/16) and 118 (14/15). To solve this issue, Madrid brought in Eden Hazard from Chelsea and Luka Jovic from Frankfurt. Both had fantastic records last season; Hazard with 31 G+A’s in the PL alone whilst Jovic, a cold-blooded killer in-front of goal, scored 17 in the Bundesliga. It’ll be interesting to see how Zidane fits Hazard, Vinicius, Rodrygo, Benzema, Jovic and Bale into his system. Will he use a 4-4-2 to allow Jovic to pair up with Benzema or does he use his favoured 4-3-3 and drop one of the strikers in favour of a more creative midfielder. There’s no doubt that this Madrid squad is much more talented than it was last season, the additions of Ferland Mendy and Eder Militao in defence are very good bits of business, but, I’m struggling to see past the dysfunction at the club at the moment and there’s also a question whether all the new signings will gel at the Bernabeu. There’s now talk of Neymar joining the club before the September 2nd deadline, but I don’t see that deal happening. I also think they need a more dynamic, athletic midfielder, a Pogba, Ndombele, Havertz type of player as the likes of Kroos and Modric get a year older. Therefore, I see them finishing third this season, but, if everything clicks, then I wouldn’t be surprised if Zidane gets this Madrid team competing for the title.
Getafe were the surprise package of last season, missing out on a top-four spot on the final day to Valencia. Despite them being a tempting 16/1 to get into top four this season, I’m going to rule Getafe out of the race. So, who are the other candidates? For me; Valencia, Betis, Sevilla, Sociedad and Bilbao are the most likely to clinch that final Champions League spot. I like what Valencia have done in the transfer window and they’re probably my favourites to get fourth spot. Maxi Gomez, who scored 13 goals for Celta Vigo last season, has joined on the cheap (£13m) whilst they’ve traded goalkeepers with Barcelona meaning Jasper Cillessen has joined the club with Neto going the other way. The Copa del Rey holders have got great balance and have match-winners within their ranks, the likes of Goncalo Guedes, Rodrigo and Carlos Soler were key for Los Ches last season and Guedes is a player that I’ll be looking out for to have a big year in 2019/20.
Sevilla will be a very interesting watch this season, mainly because this is Julen Lopetegui’s chance at redemption. In the past year or so, Lopetegui scuppered Spain’s chances of winning the World Cup by resigning days before the tournament and was sacked as Real Madrid boss after 2 ½ months in charge. Under Pablo Machin, Los Hispalenses finished 6th with a good goal-scoring record and an average defensive one. They’ve bolstered up their central defence by bringing in Jules Kounde from Bordeaux and Maximilian Wober from Ajax, both young talents who will provide competition for Joris Gnagnon and Simon Kjaer. In attack, they’ve added Israeli striker Munas Dabbur who had a fantastic record for Salzburg last season, scoring 37 in 48 games (all comps). The experienced Luuk De Jong has also been added to the squad from PSV. De Jong and Dabbur will likely provide back up for the exceptional Wissam Ben Yedder upfront, unless Lopetegui utilises one of them as a winger, probably Dabbur. A front-three of Ocampos (who the bought from Marseille), Ben Yedder and Dabbur is a very dangerous one and this Sevilla is one I’m excited to see next season.
Real Betis have also been involved in a transfer saga this summer. A saga that ended with Giovanni Lo Celso joining Spurs on deadline day (UK). Despite the brilliance of Lo Celso, a poor second half to the season saw Betis finish 10th in 18/19 and the end of Quique Setien as the Beticos boss. Nabil Fekir was signed from Lyon, seemingly as Lo Celso’s replacement, and I think this deal could be one of the signings of the summer. Fekir was valued at around £50m after an impressive 2016/17 season and the Frenchman was also productive last year, registering 16 G+A’s in Ligue 1. Somehow, Betis were able to secure his services for £18m, an absolute bargain. Junior Firpo, a left-back who impressed for Betis last season and Spain at the U21 European Championship’s, has left for Barcelona in the past couple of days to be Jordi Alba’s successor for the next decade. The departure of Firpo and Lo Celso are big losses, but they showed promise last season and if Fekir can match or even exceed Lo Celso’s productivity this season, they could sneak into that final Champions League spot. However, I think they’ll need to invest well with the three weeks they have left if they are to challenge the likes of Valencia and Sevilla (ST and LB needed).
My dark-horses for this season are Real Sociedad and I’ll tell you why; Martin Odegaard. Everybody has presumed that this guy is a flop, a nobody, but, for Vitesse last season, Odegaard was fantastic and he displayed his unique talent on a regular basis. The Norwegian is innovative, creative, explosive and impressive out-of-possession. In Imanol Alguaci’s favoured 4-2-3-1, Odegaard could operate anywhere behind Willian Jose and I would like to see him in a no.10 role with the talented Mikel Oyarzabal and 17-year-old Ander Barrenetxea occupying the wings. Alexander Isak has also joined from Dortmund, the 19-year-old striker is a natural goal-scorer and enjoyed a fine spell on loan at Willem II last season. Isak will be an able back-up to Jose for a side that didn’t score too many in 2018/19. Although I’m excited by this Sociedad side, I don’t think they’re sure enough at the back to make the top four, but, with the talent they have going forward, I’m going to back them to make the top six.
Athletic Bilbao are a club that has never been relegated from the Spanish top flight. A traditional club that can only sign Basque-born or Basque-nurtured players, Bilbao enjoyed a bounce-back season in 18/19 with an 8th place finish, improving on their 16th place finish two seasons ago. Inaki Williams was once again their main man last year, scoring 13 goals and setting up four whilst 33-year-old Raul Garcia also enjoyed a fine season, finishing the campaign with 12 G+A’s. However, they did score the least out of all the teams that finished in the top 10 last season and their failure to bring in someone who may take the burden of Williams gives me the impression that they’ll struggle to really improve and I see them ending up between 8th-12th.
Overall, when you look at the squads as they are now, Valencia is the strongest and I expect them to finish fourth once again this year. I think Sevilla have the potential to score a lot of goals, but, I fear that they’ll fail to find somebody who had the creativity of Pablo Sarabia, who has left for PSG. As I’ve said, Sociedad are my dark-horses and will be exciting to watch this season. Isak and Odegaard should add another 15 goals from last season’s tally whilst Oyarzabal can only get better. Real Betis are under new management and with Nabil Fekir they could potentially over-achieve this season, but, I think 6th is the ceiling for them as they currently lack a good no.9. Finally, Bilbao won’t be too dissimilar from 18/19 where they came 8th, I don’t think they’ll be a big threat to make the top four.
Alavés To Struggle?
Since returning to the top flight in 2016, Deportivo Alaves have exceeded expectations in La Liga; finishing 9th, 14th and 11th. Last season, they spent 24 weeks in the top six before a late-season collapse saw Babazorros El Glorioso finish in the bottom half. The departure of manager Abelardo could be a huge blow, the ex-Spanish international did a fantastic job at the Mendizorrotza with limited resources, but, he refused a new deal at the club and his departure was announced with a few weeks left in the season. The man to replace him is Asier Garitano, a manager who had success at a club with similar financial strains as Alaves in the form of Leganes but struggled in his most recent managerial venture at Real Sociedad, lasting just 19 games in San Sebastian. His success at Leganes will give the Alaves faithful hope that Garitano could fill the void left by Abelardo, but, I fear he could have some unrealistically high expectations in Vitoria with Alaves having punched above their weight over the past couple of seasons.
Also, they’ve lost a couple of key men for the upcoming season. Jonathan Calleri, Alaves’ top scorer last season; Jony, who had 15 G+A’s last season and Borja Baston, Alaves’ second-highest scorer, were all on loan in 18/19 and will not be returning to the Mendizorrotza this season. They were the third lowest scorers in La Liga last season and now, the burden will be on a 30-year-old Lucas Perez and Joselu, both Premier League flops, to get their goals this season. I think they’ll struggle this season and could well end up being relegated.
Who Else Is In Danger?
Two of the sides that have come up from LaLiga 1|2|3 are the two favourites to go straight back down this season. Real Mallorca, who finished 5th in the Segunda Division but qualified through the playoffs, are odds-on to go down at 10/11 whilst Granada are at 7/5 with some bookies. Osasuna, who won the Segunda Division in 18/19, are at 11/5 to face the drop whilst Valladolid, who survived the drop by four points last season, are third favourites to return to LaLiga 1|2|3 at 15/8. Overall, I don’t think there’s much value in this market, I think Mallorca are certain to go down when you look at their rather uninspiring transfer window so far, but, I don’t think it’s worth taking this bet on at 10/11. For me, Osasuna could be the surprise package in La Liga this season. They won the Segunda Division comfortably last year, finishing 11 points ahead of second-place Granada and have retained most of their squad for the upcoming season. They’ve also added the likes of Adrian Lopez on a free transfer, Ruben Garcia from Levante (this time permanently) and Marc Cardona from Barcelona which gives them depth in attacking positions. I think the Adrian deal could be one of the signings of the summer in La Liga as well. Los Rojillos are an experienced La Liga side with a manager in Jagoba Arrasate that had immediate success in Pamplona. They should certainly have the squad to stay up, if not push for a place between 10th-13th.
Alaves are the side I’m going to tip to go down at 9/4 (explanation above).
With the transfer window open for another three weeks in Spain, it’s possible that we could see Neymar back in La Liga and that may have been a player I would’ve backed in this market. However, I can only go with what’s in front of me and I think there’s some value to be had for top scorer this season. Lionel Messi is, of course, massive favourite to win his 7th Pichichi Trophy and his fourth in a row. You can back Messi at 8/11 whilst next favourite, Eden Hazard, is waaaaay back at 10/1. Luka Jovic is an interesting one, the Serb, as I’ve mentioned, is a cold-blooded killer in front of goal and is at 22/1 with a couple of bookies with most having him in the single digits. Ante Rebic’s celebrating when Jovic was one-on-one with Kepa at Stamford Bridge last season sums the striker up and I think he may be a candidate for the top scorer this season. The only issue is whether he’ll play enough, he’s competing with Karim Benzema for the no.9 role in Zidane’s Madrid side and with all the talent they have in wide positions, I think Zidane will opt for a 4-3-3 rather than a 4-4-2 meaning Jovic could initially struggle for minutes. Nevertheless, his ability in front of goal and the fact you can back him at 22/1 means I’m going to have a punt on him.
The bet I fancy is Diego Costa at 33/1. The 30-year-old struggled with injury last season and it limited his goal output, scoring just twice in La Liga. However, I can see the ex-Chelsea man thriving with the personnel he’s got around him this season. The loss of Antoine Griezmann means Atleti will play even more direct and I expect the attacking emphasis to be in wide areas with Thomas Lemar and Joao Felix, both strong crossers of the ball. At Chelsea, we got accustomed to seeing Costa scoring similar types of goals; from crosses (in the air and on the ground) and running onto passes in-behind the opposition backline. With Correa, Lemar and Felix wide and Llorente, Saul and Koke central, I’m expecting a return to form for Costa, scoring plenty from Felix crosses and Koke through-balls.