La Liga is back, starting with Sevilla vs Real Betis at 4 p.m. Eastern on Thursday. After a strong start with Thursday’s clash between the local rivals, matchday 28 is, to be completely honest, not terribly compelling.
Check out High Press Soccer later this week for a close look at this weekend’s games, but for now, how about a primer on what’s still at stake with 11 games remaining in the Spanish top flight?
Can Barcelona defend their crown?
Let’s start with the title race – first-place Barcelona has 58 points to Real Madrid’s 56 — which is the most compelling of the four European leagues that will finish the season. That’s not saying a ton considering Liverpool all but wrapped up the Premier League an eternity ago and Bayern Munich is cruising in Germany. And PSG, as usual, clinched Ligue 1 in November (please don’t fact-check that).
But it’s not like Spain is the only league with a lot up in the air.
With 12 games remaining for most of the league (12 of 20 teams have played 26 of 38 games, while eight have only completed 25), Serie A leader Juventus (63 points) is just one point clear of second-place Lazio (62), but has a 71% chance to win the Italian title, again, per FiveThirtyEight. The analytics site gives Lazio just a 23% chance to unseat the perennial champs.
More importantly, at least for this article, FiveThirtyEight gives Barcelona a 62% chance to add another La Liga trophy, while estimating a 38% chance for Los Blancos. Oddsmakers agree, as they have Barcelona at -182 to win the league compared to Real Madrid at +140.
On the surface, that seems like a dramatic overreaction to the Catalans’ lead of just two (!) points. Barcelona has run away with the league seemingly every year for a while now, but it’s hard to imagine a team that dropped points to Valencia and Espanyol in January handling all 11 of its remaining opponents.
The road ahead
Speaking of the two title contenders’ remaining slates, Barcelona’s 11 remaining games appear easier than Real Madrid’s. While RM’s slate is not exactly brutal – Los Blancos do get to face the teams currently in 18th, 19th and 20th (last) place – it’s hard to argue that Barca has an easier path ahead.
A look at how many games these two have against teams in the top 7 (I’m being generous to Valencia, but each team in that group has a chance to finish top-four — more on that later), top 10 and bottom 10 shows that the Catalans have the more favorable remaining schedule.
Barcelona will face only two top-seven clubs (Sevilla and Atleti) and a total of four in the top 10, with seven (!) remaining opponents in 11th place or lower. RM has three games left vs. the top seven (Valencia, Real Sociedad and Getafe), six vs. the league’s top 10 and just five vs. the bottom half of the table.
With that in mind, maybe Barcelona at -182 makes more sense than I thought.
Barcelona, however, does have a relatively difficult stretch late this month. From June 21 through July 1 – those dates are still estimates at this point – Quique Setién and Co. are at Sevilla, home vs. Athletic Bilbao), at Celta Vigo and at Camp Nou to host Atleti. That span starts and ends with the two games this team is most likely to lose the rest of the way.
Real Madrid’s toughest sequence will likely be the back-to-back match-ups on June 18 (home, Valencia) and June 21 (at Real Sociedad).
Who will join Barcelona and Real Madrid in next year’s Champions League?
The great news is that the top-four race will be as good as, if not better than, the battle atop the table. As it stands, Spain would send Sevilla and Real Sociedad. Fortunately, though, there’s a lot of soccer to be played!
Of third-place Sevilla (47 points), Real Sociedad (46), Getafe (46), Atleti (45) and Valencia (42), only two will be in next year’s UCL.
Oddsmakers’ consider Sevilla (-167) a solid favorite to maintain their position, which makes sense. With Atleti’s track record, it would make sense for Los Rojiblancos to get a bit of love. They’re a shocking — to me, at least — -305 right now, though. Huh??
What they did vs. Liverpool was incredible, and they’re as likely as any in this bunch to find a way to finish top-four, but those odds completely ignore the way Diego Simeone’s team has performed outside those two miracles vs. Liverpool. Something like -150 would make a lot more sense.
Getafe and Real Sociedad are both great value at +200 each. Valencia (+1,100) needs a minor miracle.
Real Sociedad is in the driver’s seat at the moment and showed their quality in a narrow, controversial loss at Barcelona on March 7. This team also drubbed Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey quarterfinals in February. They’re legit, and while I’m not saying they should be, I don’t know, -305, they’re extremely enticing at +200.
As for Getafe, what can I say that I haven’t already? Despite my well-documented infatuation with this team – High Press Pod listeners know what we’re talking about – they remain a big underdog. In addition to nearly finishing top-four a year ago, this team recently smoked Ajax over two legs in the Europa League and got very little love for it.
In late February, they got a 3-0 win, a 2-1 loss and a 3-0 loss in three consecutive games vs. Valencia, Barcelona and Sevilla, respectively. Honestly, those last two results are reason for skepticism. So while I wouldn’t call Getafe a shoo-in for the top 4, I wouldn’t hesitate to invest in them at +200, either.
WHERE TO BET LA LIGA IN THE US
In the US, you can legally bet on soccer in New Jersey, Indiana and Pennsylvania.