2011/12 Primera Liga Preview
Spanish Primera Liga Preview by Mark Young
What seems to be the constant fight for domination between Real Madrid and the European Champions Barcelona kicks off once again this weekend. Two of the biggest clubs in world football will fight for home land superiority but below that there are teams that want to chase both of these down.
The odds clearly suggest who the title is between with the market being classed as win only this season. Barcelona are 8/15 and are clear favourites with Real Madrid starting the season at 13/8. The difference in class between the top two and the rest is suggested when third favourites, Valencia are priced at 50/1, Sevilla at 66/1 and Villarreal and an Aguero-less Atletico Madrid both at 80/1. The value may well be elsewhere this season unless you really fancy Real Madrid at big stakes.
Real Madrid have strengthened this summer but are still looking for a striker with only Gonzalo Higuain and Karim Benzema the recognised faces in this department. Fabio Coentrao was the biggest name in at the Santiago Bernebeau. Hamit Altintop and Nuri Sahin moved from Bayern Munich and German Champions Borussia Dortmund respectively. Raphael Varane, the young French centre back was also through the door. There is no doubt about the quality of the Real Madrid squad but they are looking a bit short up front. A brand new centre forward may give the squad the polished look that Mourinho will want, speaking of the "Special One", the Spanish FA have announcedthat he will face charges over the infamous poking of the eye incident involving Barcelona assistant coach Tito Vilanova, in the second leg of the Spanish Supercopa. Although Mourinho may have taken the pressure off his players by acting out this schoolyard attack, he has undoubtedly increased the pressure on himself, with many of the Bernabeu hierarchy reportedly angered by his actions. This set of players for Real this season, will no doubt have to be mentally strong to take over Barcelona.
The Catalan's themselves have not been the busiest of clubs this summer but have strengthened considerably in the last couple of weeks with the signing of the returning son, Cesc Fabregas. After countless years of promise followed by no deal, Fabregas finally put pen to paper on a reported £30m deal at the Nou Camp. One deal that coach Guardiola managed to conclude earlie in the summer is that of former Udinese and Chilean star Alexis Sanchez. The speedy front man or winger will bring a different dimension to Barcelona's play and there is no sign that they are going to get weaker. The ineffective Bojan has moved on to pastures new, in Rome and Sanchez will be a brilliant player for Barcelona, in the potent three pronged attack. He has something different to offer to the attack that could be mixed up, allowing David Villa and Pedro to get a rest throughout the season.
Jose Mourinho's side start the challenge of catching up with Pep Guardiola's magicians with a home game against Atheltic Bilbao and are 1/6 to start the season with a victory. Barcelona have, on paper, a tougher first game. Newly rich Malaga play host to the champions and the home side, with new acquisitions will be looking for a good performance. Barcelona lost to Hercules early last season and although not much can be taken from that, Malaga will fancy their chances. The double chance of Malaga or Draw at 15/8 appeals but going against Barcelona is very difficult at the worst of times.
Malaga have been taken over and have millions to spend. Whether they are going to build brick by brick, one season at a time or they want it all built in a day is left to be discovered but early signs suggest the new owners may well be of the patient kind. The signings brought in since the January take over include Ruud van Nistelrooy, Julio Baptista and even a £20 million plus transfer of Villarreal's Santi Cazorla are real signs of intent. Both van Nistelrooy and Baptista have had cracking pre season's but only time will tell whether former Real Madrid manager, Manuel Pellegrini's team have the strength in the first eleven and in depth to battle the big two so soon. They have got a chance to challenge the top two without breaking in there so backing Malaga without Real Madrid and Barcelona at 7/2 could appeal. Valencia head that market at 5/2 but with question marks over the futures of players like Juan Mata this could be a little on the short side.
Two of the three newly promoted teams into La Liga are favourites to go straight back down. Granada at 4/7 and Rayo Vallecano at 8/11 are not expected to cause many teams, many problems but the same was said of Levante last season and they managed to defy the odds and stay up. Saying this, they are third favourites for the drop at 11/4. Real Betis are the biggest odds of a newly promoted side to go down at 6/1 but they have a solid set up and with Achille Emana, the powerhouse in midfield they do have genuine class in their ranks.
One of the most popular pre season bets is within the top goal scorer market and Spain is no different but like the league itself there is quite rightly two stand out favourites for the Pichichi. Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi head the market and after the last two seasons with phenomenal records it is no surprise. The value belongs to those that score the bulk for the teams below the top two. Each Way value is to be had with Giuseppe Rossi at 20/1, Roberto Soldado of Valencia at 25/1 and Ruud van Nistelrooy at 33/1. Fernando Llorente is also a good shout at 25/1 if he stays in the country. There is also a market for top goal scorers without Ronaldo and Messi. Soldado, again looks a good price at 7/1 and even more so van Nistelrooy at 16s. If the Dutch legend can find his scoring boots early on and he stays relatively injury free, it could be a return to the old days. He will play most of Malaga's games up front with Julio Baptista and 16/1 without Messi and Ronaldo will get a good run this season.