Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid have a lock on the Spanish Primera Division medals having finished 24 or more points ahead of fourth-placed Villarreal last term.
Realistically, that leaves just one UEFA Champions League spot up for grabs in the Spanish Primera Division and one thinks that Athletic is well positioned to finish in front of every side other than the big three because it has a stable squad and it finished last season in good form.
While Athletic’s Basque-only policy means that it is long odds ever to win its ninth Spanish Primera Division title, using just players with ties to the region does mean that the Lions enjoy less turnover than most of their rivals.
Athletic is overpriced at odds of +500 with Bet365 to be one of the Spanish Primera Division’s top four teams given the doubts about most of its rivals in the race to be the next best after Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Stability and Athletic’s numbers in the second half of last term’s Spanish Primera Division – the Lions went 10-4-5 in their final 19 league matches, collecting five points more than any team except Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid over that period – mean that Bet365 is being a bit disrespectful in listing them at longer odds than half a dozen sides. Athletic should be closer to +200 than +500 .
The consensus among bookmakers is that Sevilla is the Spanish Primera Division team most likely to join Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid in the top four. Sevilla, though, has undergone major changes during the close season, including transferring key player Kevin Gameiro to Atletico Madrid and replacing Paris Saint-Germain-bound manager Unai Emery with former Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli. Sevilla was the only Spanish Primera Division side not to win on the road last term and it remains to be seen how Sampaoli’s all-out-attacking style works in one of the world’s top domestic tournaments. One admires Sampaoli but one would prefer to lay rather than back Sevilla in the circumstances.
The changes at Villarreal have been almost as seismic as those at Sevilla, with the Yellow Submarine’s on-the-field losses including Eric Bailly to Manchester United and Denis Suarez. Sports director Antonio Cordon has left Villarreal for Monaco and it would be fair to say that he was a major reason why the Yellow Submarine recruited astutely for 17 years, picking up numerous bargains from Latin America.
At least Villarreal finished fourth in last term’s Spanish Primera Division. Some bookmakers are rating Valencia ahead of Villarreal even though the Bats ended up on the bottom half of last season’s ladder. And, without wishing to be unkind, serious Spanish Primera Division contenders do not announce Nani as their biggest signing of the summer.
Finally, Celta finished just two points behind Athletic and an additional two points off Villarreal in last season’s Spanish Primera Division but the Sky Blues have sold their star performer, Nolito, to Manchester City and, therefore, they should struggle to mirror their recent achievements.
Athletic’s first Spanish Primera Division game is at home to one of the league’s relegation favourites, Gijon, on Sunday. And Athletic’s Spanish Primera Division schedule is good in that it will visit just one of its seven most highly rated foes – Real Madrid – before the first week of February.
Athletic Bilbao to Finish in the Top Four
La Liga 2016/17