A new La Liga season is upon us and the main story will be whether Barcelona can wrestle back the crown from Real Madrid, or will José Mourinho’s men make it back-to-back triumphs. Elsewhere, we will see a strong battle for the Champions League and Europa League places involving the likes of Valencia and, despite a turbulent summer, Málaga.
Here’s a look at the main candidates for success...
The reigning Champions were machine-like last season in their pursuit of the crown that they believed belonged upon their heads, and they won’t want to let it go easily. There has been little activity in the market, although Luka Modric’s transfer saga is drawing to a close. José Mourinho is clearly happy with the squad's nucleus and will instead look to fine tune the few flaws their system had. Cristiano Ronaldo, Gonzalo Higuaín and Karim Benzema will again look to blast through every defence put in front of them to deliver another title, of which they’re 1.80 to win.
Best Bet: Cristiano Ronaldo to score between 26 and 35 league goals is found at 3.20
They've lost their title, their Champions League crown and their leader Pep Guardiola. But under the guidance of Pep’s confidant Tito Vilanova, Barcelona now enter a promising new era. Complacency, fatigue and perhaps a lack of variation hindered the Catalans last season but they will be looking to make amends immediately. Jordi Alba, a revelation for Spain at Euro 2012, will take up the left-back role. Elsewhere, a certain David Villa returns from injury, while that guy Messi is still around, and has only just turned 25.
Best Bet: David Villa is back and is raring to go, so back him at 3.50 to net between 16 and 20 league goals.
A new coach, more new players and another big name player departure: Valencia will once again set out with the vague ambition of interupting the Madrid-Barça duopoly. Right now though, that seems impossible, and instead they’ll simply look to reduce the gap and cement 3rd place. Roberto Soldado will be a threat toany defence, and he remains at Mestalla.
Best Bet: Excluding Barcelona and Real Madrid, to finish the highest Valencia are at 2.40.
The story of the summer in Spain, but for all the wrong reasons. Once the celebrations of their highest ever league finish and Champions League qualification died down, disaster struck. The river of money, pumped in by Qatari owners, had stopped flowing and Málaga had to asset strip. Santi Cazorla, their best player, went to Arsenal while powerful striker Solomon Rondón went to Rubin Kazan. Rumours still persist about the future of the club and threaten to eclipse efforts on the field.
Best Bet: Málaga to finish with less than 54.5 points are 1.85 (They finished with 58 last season).
Atleti have long been known for changing coaches regularly, but this time they’ve found the right man in Diego Simeone. His appointment early last season inspired the club in the Europa League and also produced stronger performances domestically. This time he knows the squad better and will want to achieve even more. Valencia will be in their sights, and with the likes of Falcao, Arda Turan and Adrián remaining they will be strong contenders for the Champions League places.
Best Bet: Atleti are 1.80 to finish in the top four.
Your two best players announcing their departures is not the ideal way to start your season. But with Javi Martinez off to Bayern Munich and Fernando Llorente set to follow him out of Bilbao, that's the situation facing Marcelo Bielsa's side, who now look set for freefall. As such, their fantastic 2011/2012 campaign will now be difficult to repeat. To recover Bielsa will need to find another way of playing that gets the required results. Last term's third most influential player Iker Muniain will stay at the club, and look to develop at the intimidating San Mamés.
Best Bet: Athletic are 1.85 to finish with less than 57.5 points this season.