The top four in the final La Liga standings of ’17-18 were, in order: Barcelona, Atlético Madrid, Real Madrid and Valencia.
Last year, despite how upside down things got at the Bernabéu, the final four was the exact same.
With their be any late-season intrigue to who secures UCL spots this go around? Oddsmakers understandably expect Barça, Atleti and RM to maintain their collective stranglehold on the top three. It’s not hard to see why: no team outside that trio has finished in the top two since Villarreal in ’07-08.
And if ever there were a year for someone outside that trio to step up, it was ’18-19. Despite their catastrophe of a season – one in which they fired two managers – Los Blancos (with 68 points) still finished seven points ahead of Valencia (61). To put that in perspective, the Spanish top-flight’s third-place teams in ’17-18 (Real Madrid, 76 points) and ’16-17 (Atleti, 78) were both substantially more successful.
But enough about last year.
Should Barcelona (off the board), RM (-10,000) and ATM (-835) be this heavily-favored to finish in the top 4? Based on recent history – of those three and of everyone else in the league – I can’t see why not.
The race for fourth
If odds are anything to go by, it’s a – stop me if you’ve heard this before — two-horse race between Valencia and Sevilla for fourth place.
Valencia (+10,000 to win the league, +150 to finish top-four) is a slight favorite over Sevilla (+15,000, +250). The team with the next-shortest odds is Athletic Bilbao, but they’re a massive long shot at +50,000 to win and +650 to finish top-four. Valencia is my pick, mostly because Sevilla seemingly didn’t do enough this offseason to make a massive jump after last year’s underwhelming total of 59 points.
Valencia has finished fourth in three of the past five seasons (’14-15, ’17-18 and ’18-19). There are a few big questions for the reigning Copa del Rey champs. Will they be the team that finished so strong a year ago, or the one couldn’t score enough to win in October, November and December? I think it’s more likely that they continue their form from late last year, when they also advanced to the Europa League semifinals before falling to Arsenal.
The bigger issue for me is whether this team can play well domestically while also pursuing European glory in the Champions League. I don’t think they have the firepower to make it out of UCL group play, but if they do, balancing Champions League knockout play with the Spanish league will be a big challenge.
It’s also going to be fascinating to see what happens if this team encounters significant adversity. The relationship between Manager Marcelino and Sporting Dir Mateu Alemany – who are on the same page — and Owner Peter Lim is not great, to put it lightly. Could a swoon or slow start result in a coaching change?
Also, what the hell is going with Rodrigo Moreno? The forward is one of his team’s best offensive pieces, but his days with the club appear to be numbered, as he is seemingly headed to Atleti. Unless he isn’t. The latest, from Marca, tells us that not even Marcelino is sure what’s going on. That’s another situation to keep an eye on. As his coach readily admitted, Rodrigo’s exit would complicate things for a team that is already limited offensively.
In the end, I think we’re looking at a third straight year with the same final four in La Liga, but I think it will be Atleti in second, followed by RM, then Valencia.
For our full take on the top three, check out the 2019-20 La Liga Title Odds. The takeaway, though, if you’re feeling lazy, is that Atlético at +1,400 (which makes no sense based on this summer) is a great bet.