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Stuart Dalgleish 26th Aug 2009 - 8:21

Atlético the way to go in battle of ‘best of the rest'

With the La Liga outright market looking a closed shop here I look at which teams can win the league without the ‘big two' of Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Goals, goals, goals!

That's what you get with Atlético Madrid (5/2 without the ‘big two' and 16/1 to win the league outright), the other Madrid team scored a massive 80 of them last season - with their outstanding front two of Pichichi winner Diego Forlán (who's 10/1 to repeat that trick by finishing top scorer this season) and Sergio Agüero (14/1) responsible for smashing in nearly a half century of them.

Uruguayan ace Forlán was a laughing stock during his time in England where he took over 25 games to get off the mark for Manchester United, a move to Spain has reignited his career though and now he is one of the hottest properties in Europe after scoring 117 goals in 223 games for Villarreal and Atlético - finishing last season with 12 goals in eight matches.

As well as Forlán and Agüero (who scored 17 times last season), Los Colchoneros have got players all over the park that can contribute to the goals for column - Maxi Rodríguez weighed in with six goals from midfield, Simão bagged seven from the wing.

There could be work to be done defensively as while they have an experienced back line of; Antonio López, Mariano Pernía, Johnny Heitinga and Pablo Ibáñez, they'll be playing with a new keeper as Leo Franco and Grégory Coupet have both left for pastures new, Sergio Asenjo and Roberto Jiménez will be fighting it out for a place between the sticks.

Sevilla are also 5/2 joint favourites with Atlético in this market and have a good squad, still maintaining the nucleus of the side which had cup success under Juande Ramos.

Major contributors from that era Dani Alves and Christian Poulsen have departed, but the likes of Freddie Kanouté (16/1 to finish top scorer) and Luís Fabiano (also 16/1) have been retained and with Álvaro Negredo added to the strike force from Almería they should score more than enough goals to compete with the big boys.

One of Sevilla's main strengths from last season was their excellent defence, with French pair Sébastien Squillaci and Julien Escudé particularly impressive in restricting opposition goals to just 39 - the second best record in the league behind Barcelona, holding midfielder Didier Zokora's arrival from Tottenham will only further enhance their fine defensive qualities.

Villarreal are next in the betting at 4/1 without the big two (25/1 for the outright) but I'm not so sure they'll be as solid this season without the stewardship of Manuel Pellegrini, who has left to take the poisoned chalice that is the manager's position at Real Madrid.

Ernesto Valverde has taken his position at El Madrigal and has quite a legacy to live up to, while no major trophies were won in the Chilean's time in charge he transformed The Yellow Submarines from mid-table nobodies to European regulars in just five seasons.

On a comparatively small budget Pellegrini bought in the likes of Giuseppe Rossi (25/1 to be top scorer) Robert Pirès and Joseba Llorente (33/1) who've all had immediate impacts at the Castellón outfit.

Santi Cazorla adds trickery and pace from the wing and is part of an impressive midfield which also features fellow Spanish international team mate Marcos Senna.
If Cazorla is the same player he was before his injury and he and Pirès can create enough chances for the likes of Rossi and Llorente then Villarreal could be there or thereabouts but they don't look as appealing as Sevilla and Atlético.

Out of the other teams you'd have to say Valencia (5/1 without big two, 40/1 outright) should be in with a shout but a lot depends on their finances.

While a deal has been brokered that secures their future for now, if star players and Spanish internationals David Villa (11/2 to finish top scorer) and David Silva (50/1) depart then, putting it bluntly, they've got no chance.

Villa was outstanding last season scoring 28 goals in 33 games as Valencia finished sixth, without those goals they almost certainly wouldn't have qualified for Europe, thus underlining his importance to their credentials as challengers at the top of the table.

Outside of these four sides there doesn't appear to be another worthy challenger in this market. In the betting the other teams are at 14/1 or longer, of course one of the long shots could come in but it looks unlikely at this stage.

The La Liga season starts on Saturday and all season long we will be offering a wide range of markets both before the matches kick-off as well as while it is taking place via out Live In-Play service.

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