Spanish football’s elite top flight, La Liga, is undoubtedly the dominant force in European football in recent times, providing seven of the last 10 finalists in the Champions League, as well as seven of the last 10 winners.
What’s more, Atlético Madrid’s win after extra time in Estonia means nine of the last 10 European Super Cups have gone to a Spanish side, in a period where a stunning 21 of the 30 available European trophies, Champions League, Europa League and Super Cup, have headed in the same direction.
Enthused by a domestic league bursting with quality and rivalry, the Sportsman’s Tom Lee, a regular visitor to Spain and its football grounds, takes a weekly look at the best bets on the fixture list…
Relieved the latest international interruption is firmly in the rear view mirror we can settle down and enjoy some domestic goodness, with surprise leaders Sevilla away to second placed Barcelona (Sat 7.45pm) the standout fixture on ‘jornada’ or matchday nine.
Hopefully the Andalucians can get something there to prolong the excitement, and if they do it’s also a gilt-edged opportunity for currently third placed Atlético Madrid to seize top spot for the first time this campaign.
Earlier on Saturday (5.30pm) Diego Simeone’s side travel east to Castellón to face an out of sorts Villarreal, at a time when Atléti are finally threatening to engage something like top gear.
After a laboured and unusually quiet start to the campaign they’re getting going now, winning five of their last six in all competitions and starting to look like their real ruthless selves.
Diego Costa is clearly carrying a bit of timber and looks like he needs a month in the gym and to stop eating doughnuts, but the defence is operating in typically parsimonious fashion (only four league goals conceded, the least of any top flight side) and Antoine Griezmann returns full of confidence after scoring twice against Germany, as well as his recent brace against Brugge in the Champions League.
Given that five weeks ago they needed a 95th minute equaliser at home to Eibar to rescue a point it’s a reassuring return to form for the Metropolitano side, one boasting arguably its best ever playing squad.
Win games like this trip to El Madrigal and they are very definitely title contenders, especially in a season where Real Madrid are lacking identity under Lopetegui and Barcelona have openly got at least one eye on the Champions League – thinking long term the 5/1 about Atléti winning La Liga for the first time since 2014 looks value.
For their part, hosts Villarreal have managed a couple of away wins (including a 3-0 triumph in Bilbao) but have generally been rotten, especially at home where they’ve scored once in four attempts to the obvious concern of Head Coach Javier Calleja, firing blanks against Girona, Valencia and Valladolid.
A full speed Atléti will fancy their chances, and look a clear pick at a general 5/4.
Some 24 hours later the 7,600 capacity Estadio El Alcoraz is the venue for bottom side Huesca against high-flying Espanyol (Sun, 5.30pm).
It’s been a bumpy introduction for the promoted side, who with -11 have comfortably the worst goal difference in the section.
In fairness, their early 8-2 defeat in the Nou Camp distorts that, but since then at the other end of the pitch they’ve found the net just once in their last five league games, something that could spell trouble against the surprisingly buoyant visitors.
The Catalans sit fifth going into this round of fixtures, and though they are infrequent winners away from home this looks too good an opportunity to pass up at odds in the region of 11/10.
It might be scruffy but hopefully they’ll have the edge on quality and can get the job done, not forgetting a victory in this most inviting looking of away trips will likely propel them even higher up the table, including above their city rivals were they to fail to win on Saturday night against Sevilla, tempting or what?!
This weekend’s best bets in La Liga:
Sat 5.30pm – Villarreal v Atlético Madrid – Away Win
Sun 5.30pm – Huesca v Espanyol – Away Win