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…
The opening round of fixtures is renowned for throwing up surprises, but they certainly didn’t come any bigger this time around than last season’s great entertainers Real Betis being humbled 0-3 at home by a sharp-looking Levante, who played slick counter-attacking football, aided by their well marshalled two lines of four in defence and midfield.
The abiding memory of that game will be a peach of a second goal from Levante skipper José Luis Morales, but it’s miles too soon to be writing off the Andalusian side, who appear to have re-stocked their squad well in the summer months, adding Sergio Canales on a free from Real Sociedad, plus Japanese international Takashi Inui (also on a free) from Eibar.
Were they rusty? Were they complacent? Were they unlucky?
It’s impossible to be totally sure, but they can’t be as bad again and have a golden opportunity to kick-start their season on Saturday, when they make the long journey north to face Basque side Alavés in the Mendizorrotza (5.15pm).
The Babazorros averaged just 1.05 goals per Liga game last season, and after trying and dismally failing to shut out Barcelona in the Nou Camp last weekend (3-0, including two from Messi) they could be in for another long 90 minutes here.
Of course Betis come with risks attached after such a poor opening effort, but they’ve got loads of quality and can edge this at odds of around 8/5 or slightly bigger depending on where you shop around.
Another side making changes over the summer were Real Sociedad, the San Sebastián side who have a new boss in the dugout after recruiting Asier Garitano, the man who led Leganés to two promotions in just four seasons.
He’s joined on a three year deal and has made an immediate impact, guiding his men to a 2-1 away victory at Villarreal first time out.
Their Friday night opponents (9.15pm) as they try and maintain their unbeaten record?
None other than his former side, with the fixture list giving him only a week before sending him back to the same Leganés he left on excellent terms back in May .
Garitano is on record as saying he believes “in players, not systems”, and whatever he’s doing seems to be working well so far, with an obvious rapport among the starting eleven last weekend.
For their part, his old team Leganés were unfortunate in Bilbao on Monday night, seeing only 33% of the overall possession but looking like they’d done enough for a point, only to be undone by a 93rd minute winner from Iker Muniain.
Leganés look like they’ll be solid under Mauricio Pellegrino, but don’t forget they limped to 17th last year and don’t have La Real’s depth or quality. Away win for Garitano at odds in the region of 6/5.
Finally, Valencia did really well on Monday night to fight back for at point at home to Atlético Madrid, their equaliser coming via a beauty from Rodrigo.
There’s no question they’ll be good to watch again this season, and can win away on Sunday (5.15pm) against a bang average Espanyol, who began with a risk averse 1-1 draw up in Vigo.
So there you go – three away wins please, barman.
This weekend’s best bets in La Liga:
9.15pm Fri – Leganés v Real Sociedad – Away Win
5.15pm Sat – Alavés v Real Betis – Away Win
5.15pm Sun – Espanyol v Valencia – Away Win