There’s a familiar look at the top of La Liga this season, but of the two old rivals, Barcelona looks the better bet to land the title ahead of Real Madrid.
Looking across the main sports online betting sites, bookmakers expect this season to be a shootout between Barcelona and Real Madrid. The two are locked together across many books, though one or two have Barcelona slightly shorter in price. There is a big gap back to the rest, with Atletico Madrid priced at +1000 or higher and Real Betis and Villarreal available at +5000.
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After their dominant performance last season, Real Madrid is aiming for a repeat, but there are clear indications that they won’t have things all their way this time.
Last year, Barcelona’s financial problems, the turmoil around the departure of Lionel Messi, and the appointment of Ronald Koeman meant that the Catalan giants made a slow start to the campaign and were never able to catch up. At the same time, Real’s other traditional rival, Atletico, went through an uncharacteristic period of low confidence. While Atletico is again struggling, Barcelona is keeping pace with Real in the league and will pose a serious challenge throughout the campaign.
The other issue for Real is that so much hinged on Benzema last season, and there have been no major signings in the summer to offer him substantial support. Real appear to be operating because their current approach worked last season, which could be dangerously close to complacency.
The 2021/22 season was one that Barça fans will be keen to forget, but under Xavi, they enjoyed a much better second half to their campaign, and this summer, money has somehow been found to drastically overhaul the squad. To some extent, their net spend of €118 million reflects the size of the gap that they had to close with Real, but it also indicates that they are going for success in the short term.
Jules Kounde, Marco Alonso, and Hector Bellerin have strengthened the Barcelona defense. Still, the most eye-catching signings were those of Robert Lewandowski – a European striker of the same status as Benzema – and Raphinha from Leeds United in the Premier League.
Barça now has arguably the strongest group of forwards in Spanish football, and the early signs are promising. After an opening day draw, they won four in a row, with an aggregate score of 15-1, a run that has included victories over European contenders Real Sociedad and Sevilla. Barcelona is back in business, and as they continue to improve, they can overtake their great rivals, Real.
Only one team has managed to break the Barcelona-Real Madrid dominance in the last 18 seasons: Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid. If you’re looking for La Liga challengers, that’s a good place to start.
Atletico has one of the most exciting talents in world football in Joao Felix, but so far, he has not reached the consistency levels exhibited by stars of comparable ability such as Neymar or Messi, and that needs to change if Atletico is to mount a serious challenge. There is also a suspicion that the club has slipped further behind their two main rivals, having spent a little over €16 million on transfers this summer, and their sluggish start, including a defeat to Villarreal, does not look encouraging.
Outside of the big three, there is not much to choose from. Sevilla has made a poor start, and Julen Lopetegui is already under pressure. Real Betis and Villarreal are both better bets if you can find odds on a Top Four finish, but there is very little prospect of either team challenging the top two.
Messi’s departure ahead of last season opened the door for Benzema, and he duly capitalized, top scoring with 27 goals to win the Golden Boot for the first time.
This time around, things are likely to be a lot tougher, not least because he faces a strong challenge from Lewandowski. After five rounds of La Liga fixtures, the Polish star had already scored six times, double the three Benzema had managed, which explains why Lewandowski is such a short price.
Still, there is a long way to go, and it is worth looking at some of the other contenders in the Golden Boot race. Iago Aspas did remarkably well last season to finish second behind Benzema despite playing for Celta Vigo, who finished mid-table. Still, he was a long way behind, and he simply won’t get the chances his rivals at the bigger clubs will have.
Alvaro Morata is a serious contender, but Atletico’s defensive style of play does not lend itself to prolific goalscoring. Under Simeone’s coaching, no Atletico player had ever won the Golden Boot, even when the club won the title in 2014 and 2021.
That leaves few options, but Benzema’s fellow striker, Vinicius Junior, could be worth considering. He was widely praised for his improvement last season, and after five rounds of La Liga, he has scored one more than Benzema, suggesting his odds are too high.
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For more than a decade and a half, Teri Geis has carved a niche in the world of betting. Her writing has graced the pages of some of the industry's heavy hitters, including the likes of Betfair, ESPN, and Sporting Life. With her extensive understanding of sports betting, readers can now peruse her insightful reviews, features, and previews here on this website.