La Liga 2018-19 season preview

La Liga 2018-19

The La Liga season kicks off this weekend and for the first time in nine years, will not be overshadowed by the Cristiano Ronaldo v Lionel Messi debate.

After a club record 450 goals, CR7 has headed to Juventus, leaving question marks over Real Madrid’s chances, while Argentinian star Messi will be hoping to rediscover his form with Barcelona after a tough World Cup.

At the other end, Huesca make their first foray into the top flight and will likely be battling alongside old faces and fellow promoted sides Real Valladolid and Rayo Vallecano at the bottom of the table.

It all adds up to what looks set to be another thrilling campaign of Primera Liga action.

Consistent Barca to retain title

After missing out in 2016-17, Barcelona got their hands back on the title last term and are only likely to get better in Ernesto Valverde’s second season in charge.

The Blaugrana are 1.74 favourites to be top of the standings at the end of May and appear to have added well, with Brazilian maestro Arthur looking like the Second Coming of Andres Iniesta in pre-season.

Adding depth with Malcom in attack and Clement Lenglet in defence also seemed wise, while Arturo Vidal will provide his trademark intensity in midfield and will be crucial in the big games.

The two biggest of those matches will come against Real, who after winning a fourth Champions League in five years in May, have lost talisman Ronaldo and coach Zinedine Zidane.

Julen Lopetegui has taken over and the pressure is on him to succeed after the controversy that marred his appointment and cost him the chance to coach Spain at the World Cup.

The 51-year-old’s brief looks to be to blood youth into an experienced team, with 26-year-old Thibaut Courtois their oldest acquisition, although there is a feeling there is more to come in the summer market.

2.30 for them to defend their title seems a bit short for what is expected to be a transitional season and it could be Barca’s to lose, with 12.00 Atletico the only team who have any chance of causing an upset.

Los Colchoneros have improved and will also be more likely to relish playing at the Metropolitano this season.

Beating Real in the UEFA Super Cup will have boosted their belief, but Diego Simeone’s side have faltered on the road in recent seasons and in a roundabout way, may now be better suited to a real Champions League push.

More of the same for the top four

It would be a surprise if the top four is not comprised of Barca, Real, Atletico and Valencia, with Los Che the only team worth any value in the top-four betting at 2.75.

Marcelino’s arrival at the Mestalla was well-timed following a tumultuous decade and his side are likely to only improve in his second season in charge.

The permanent signing of Geoffrey Kondogbia looks a good piece of business, while Michy Batshuayi and Kevin Gameiro will add further firepower to an already handy strike force.

Of those chasing, Sevilla are a tempting option at 3.50 although they will need to settle early under Pablo Machin, but the neutral in this writer fancies a bit of Athletic Bilbao.

10.00 for a top-four finish looks a big price for a team without European football to deal with and despite their obvious limitations when it comes to their famous transfer policy, have added well with the likes of Yuri Berchiche from Paris Saint-Germain. Cristian Ganea could also prove an interesting buy after signing from Romanian football, while Iker Muniain is back after his knee injury.

It remains to be seen who will replace Kepa Arrizabalaga in goal, but new boss Eduardo Berizzo has a point to prove after being dumped by Sevilla.

Another Golden Boot beckons for Messi

Despite Ronaldo’s presence, it has been Messi who has won the last two Pichichi awards for top goalscorer, taking his career tally to five.

His more central role under Valverde means anything different is unlikely and a sixth success would see him draw level with Telmo Zarra on six Golden Boots.

Barca team-mate and 2015-16 winner Luis Suarez could be his nearest rival, while Gareth Bale’s regular role under Lopetegui could see him match his previous scoring exploits before being marginalised at the Bernabeu.

The current La Liga is filled with solid scorers rather than top-class goal-getters, even Atletico with Diego Costa and Antoine Griezmann, and Messi makes sense in this market.

Huesca have their work cut out

Huesca are this season’s new boys to the top flight and are inevitably the 1.60 favourites to go straight back down.

Recent years have seen Eibar, Leganes and Girona all buck the trend of the underdogs going straight back down and they have recruited heavily in a bid to avoid an early return to Segunda.

Loans have mainly been the order of the day, with Pablo Insua and Xabier Etxeita likely to add steel to Leo Franco’s defence. The boss himself knows La Liga well, having enjoyed spells with the likes of Mallorca, Atletico Madrid and Real Zaragoza.

Goals look like they could be an issue though for the Aragonese outfit and much will depend on Gonzalo Melero, who netted 16 last term, while Samuele Longo has joined on loan having been in the goals for Tenerife in 2017-18.

It could be a season of struggle for Huesca and the same could be said for both Rayo and Valladolid.

Valladolid are back in the big time after four years away and are another who could find life difficult in the opposition box. Allowing Jaime Mata to leave on a free transfer for Getafe looks like a crime, especially after he netted 36 goals in all competitions last term.

Again their price of 2.75 may be a touch short for punters, but the 3.10 for Vallecano is more tempting.  They look to have recruited a bit of a motley crew, with Gael Kakuta (remember him?) returning after a decent loan during the 2014-15 season.

Since then he has spent time in Spain, France and China and, at 27, will need to fire at the Vallecas.

Rayo’s defending is poor but so are others and Espanyol have been treading water for a while – they are 6.00 for the drop, while Pablo Machin’s departure from Girona could prove troublesome at 5.00 for the Catalans to finish in the relegation places.