We’re back from the final international break of 2023 and there is a surprise name embroiled in the La Liga title race.
*Odds correct as of 10:30 on November 27
Who are favourites to win La Liga?
Despite finishing 10 points off the pace last season, Real Madrid were the early favourites to win La Liga, perhaps swayed by their movements in the transfer window. Jude Bellingham was the marquee arrival but he has started much better than many thought. The Englihsman scored 10 goals and provided three assists in his first 10 Real Madrid matches across all competitions. That’s more than Cristiano Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, Raul, David Beckham, Kaka and Karim Benzema managed!
In the league, it’s now 11 goals for Bellingham including two against Barcelona, though that was Real Madrid’s only victory in three. The other two results were draws, the latter coming against Rayo Vallecano. Real Madrid have bounced back, though, with two wins either side of the international break to sit top of the table — albeit possibly only momentarily.
Defending champions Barcelona focused on their midfield for summer recruitment, clearly happy with Robert Lewandowski in attack and their current defensive players. However, sometimes the lack of transfer movement can influence where fans think a team will place.
Barcelona opened the season with a goalless draw, just as they did last year en route to the title, before going on a winning run. They have stuttered slightly of late with three wins in their last seven alongside three draws and the Clasico defeat to Real Madrid. Last time out it was a 1-1 draw with Rayo Vallecano which saw Barcelona slip down to fourth, now four points behind Real Madrid.
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Who will finish in the top four in La Liga?
Atletico Madrid are the only other club outside of Barcelona and Real Madrid to win La Liga in the past 19 years, claiming the crown in 2013/14 and 2020/21. Last season, they were just one point behind second-placed Real Madrid and if they cannot challenge for the title, they’ll at least be backed to finish in the top four.
It was a varied start for Diego Simeone’s side, following up their opening-day victory over Granada with a 0-0 draw against Betis, and their 7-0 demolition of Rayo Vallecano with a disappointing 3-0 away loss to Valencia. Atletico looked to have put that behind them with a six-game winning stream including victory over Real Madrid, though that came to an end with defeat to Las Palmas. They bounced back with a 3-1 win over Villarreal and 1-0 victory against Real Mallorca either side of the international break to lift them up to third.
Undoubtedly the surprise package so far this season, it’s brave little Girona that are pushing Real Madrid at the top, currently second but they do have a game in hand. Blanquivermells are the joint-top scorers in La Liga with 31 goals, and that attacking firepower has given them 11 wins, one draw and just one defeat from their opening 13 games. Before the international, they moved two points clear of Real Madrid with a 4-2 win over Osasuna, and maintained that advantage with a fifth victory in a row since losing to Los Blancos. Victory on Monday will see them return to the summit. They’re also nine points clear of fifth-placed Real Sociedad. Not bad at all considering this is just their second year back in La Liga.
Despite having to change manager midseason, Villarreal managed a fifth-placed finish in La Liga last season, just seven points off fourth-placed Real Sociedad. It’s not been a good start to the new campaign though, with the Yellow Submarine winning just four of their opening 14 games, losing seven. It leaves them down in 12th, just seven points clear of the relegation zone, opening the gap slightly by beating Osasuna last time out. But they will still be included in top four conversations until it proves to be mathematically improbable.
Los Txuri-Urdin have been a growing force under Imanol Alguacil and completed the top four last season. The Basque Country club were one of only four teams in La Liga last term (alongside Real, Barca and Atleti) to concede fewer than 40 goals. There were fears Real Sociedad would have struggled after the departure of Alexander Isak but they managed with Alexander Sorloth and now have Andre Silva on loan from RB Leipzig. With seven wins, four draws and three losses so far, their start can be classified as good, stringing together back-to-back wins either side of the international break.
Real Betis were doing well in La Liga last season before a poor run of form saw them drop out of the top four before the World Cup break. In the end, they finished sixth, some 11 points outside the Champions League spots, having to settle for the Europa League. This season they must juggle their top four hopes with the schedule of the Europa League, and they currently sit seventh, with 24 points from 14. Draws have really been the story of the season for Real Betis so far, with six — only Getafe and Rayo Vallecanno (seven) have drawn more games than Real Betis in La Liga.
The Europa League champions, Sevilla finished 12th in La Liga last season, and it’s been another terrible start. After three games, Sevilla were the only team in La Liga yet to win a point, losing to Valencia, Alaves and Girona. They have, however, found their footing slightly, to jump up to 12 points from 13 matches, only seeing a three-game unbeaten run end to Barcelona. That was the start of a seven-game winless run, though, with five consecutive draws including one against Real Madrid followed by defeat to Real Sociedad.
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La Liga 2022/23 relegation battle
At the other end of the table, Celta Vigo are something of a surprise name in the relegation zone, winning just one of their 14 games so far this season. While they haven’t troubled the top teams for a while, Celta Vigo had made themselves comfortable in La Liga once more, following their narrow relegation escape in 2019/20. But they are back battling at the bottom, with 24 goals conceded and eight defeats.
Almeria are the only La Liga side yet to taste victory this season, drawing three and losing 11 of their opening 14 games. They have the worst defence, conceding 37 goals which counteracts the 16 they have scored. It’s now six defeats in a row since their last point, picked up in a draw against Granada.
Speaking of Granada, they were expected to be battling against the drop this season, so it’s no surprise to see them here. Granada have won one of their 14 games so far, losing nine, and have leaked 33 goals, which is a shame as they’re scoring well with 19 goals. No point putting them in if you can’t keep them out.