La Liga 2017/18 Season Preview

The new Spanish season returns this weekend, so our Analyst - using underlying stats and expected goals (xG) alongside performances from last season - finds the best bets for the upcoming campaign.

 

 

2016/17 Overview

In one of the most exciting league title fights in recent years that went down to the final day, it was Real Madrid that pipped their great rivals Barcelona. A last-day victory over Malaga sealed the success, and with it Madrid’s first title since 2012. It got even better for Los Blancos though, as they went on to clinch a memorable double with victory in the Champions League final over Juventus. They became the first team to successfully defend the big-eared trophy since it was rebranded, cementing themselves in history of the competition, and making them the team to beat this season.

 

Real Madrid Champions

 

Barcelona finished their season with victory over Alaves in the Copa Del Rey final, in what was Luis Enrique’s final game in charge of the Catalonian giants. But the season belonged to Real Madrid and Zinedine Zidane, with the Frenchman rightfully getting the plaudits for the way he used his squad. Real’s city rivals Atletico finished in a distant third, while Sevilla finished fourth after a solid season. Villarreal and the two Basque rivals, Real Sociedad and Bilbao, finished in the Europa League places, with the latter securing European football thanks to Barcelona’s victory in the Copa.

 

Granada, Sporting Gijon and Osasuna all suffered relegation, with only Gijon putting up a fight. Leganes and Deportivo finished just above the drop zone and will need to improve this time around if they are to secure safety.

 

As well as the ACTUAL league table, let’s take a closer look at Infogol’s EXPECTED table which takes into account a team’s performance, not just result, in every match.

 

Final La Liga table 2016/17 including xG figures 

 

It is clear to see that Real Madrid and Barcelona were comfortably the best two teams in the league, as you would expect,  both out-performing their expected goal (xG) totals. This suggests that, either they were fortunate to score as many as they did (especially Barcelona) or they have a higher level of finishing skill – or a mix of both. The expected goal difference (xGD) suggests that Barcelona were in fact the best team of the two last season, but not by much on expected points (xPoints).

 

Both Real Madrid and Barcelona out-performing xG – higher finishing skill? 

 

Atletico Madrid and Sevilla deservedly finished in third and fourth, as they had the next best xGD. Villarreal and Real Sociedad, who finished in fifth and sixth respectively, both look to have been very fortunate over the season, especially Villarreal who out-performed their xGD by nearly 19 goals – a huge amount. This was mainly down to their defensive record, conceding 13 fewer goals than was expected.

 

Real Sociedad also ‘over-performed’ but by a much smaller margin, with their Basque rivals Bilbao being the unlucky party. Bilbao were the fifth best team in the league last season according to xGD, so were unlucky to finish down in seventh. Their process was good, so could be a surprise package this year.

 

The bottom three were all deserved of going down, but just above them were last season’s big ‘under-performers’. Real Betis and Deportivo La Coruna both had xGD that were considerably better than their actual goal difference (Betis by 10, Deportivo by 13), suggesting they were unfortunate. It was defensively that they were unfortunate, conceding a lot more goals than expected. If they maintain the same process, they shouldn’t struggle as much this time around, and should finish higher in the league.

 

Forecast League Table 2017/18

 

At The Top

Infogol data suggests that Real Madrid will retain their title this season. Their process last season was very good, and they have become a winning machine, one that doesn’t know how to lose. Though they have lost players of the high calibre of Alvaro Morata and James Rodriguez, they are arguably in a stronger position having signed young Spanish talents Theo Hernandez and Dani Ceballos, while recalling young talents Jesus Vallejo and Marcos Llorente after successful loan spells. Their squad looks as strong as ever, and they can fight on all fronts again this season.

 

Zidane’s squad looks very strong once again 

 

Barcelona can push them close again though, even after a summer of transition. Luis Enrique has departed, and been replaced by Ernesto Valverde, formerly of Bilbao. As well as this, they have seen one of the ‘MSN’ in Neymar leave for Paris Saint-Germain, a record deal which no-one saw coming. He will be a huge loss, and has left a gap that Barca need to fill as soon as possible.

 

Atletico Madrid have been under a transfer ban so have been unable to strengthen, which could mean they fall further behind Real. Antoine Griezmann staying is a boost, but this may be another season of watching their city rivals collecting trophies. Sevilla have strengthened their squad over the summer, bringing in Nolito, Luis Muriel and Ever Banega, but their big loss has been of manager Jorge Sampaoli, who is now the manager of Argentina. Former Celta Vigo manager Eduardo Berizzo is now the man in charge, and he should have a successful first season.

 

Of the rest, Bilbao haven’t signed anyone because of their Basque-only policy, but their process was good last season so will be competitive and should achieve European football again. Sociedad have weakened, as have Villarreal, so they face a battle to finish in the top six.

 

Bets

Real Madrid to win La Liga @ 10/11

Sevilla to finish in top 4 @ 11/10

 

At The Bottom

Promoted sides Girona, Levante and Getafe are all expected to struggle this season, with the step up from Segunda a big one. Levante won the second division title last season, with Girona coming a distant second. Getafe returned to the top flight thanks to winning the play-offs. Expect those three to be near the bottom. All have brought in plenty of players, with Girona’s connection with Manchester City (through Pep Guardiola’s brother) meaning they have plenty of City youngsters on-loan. Levante’s transfer dealings don’t look as impressive as the other two nearly promoted clubs, and they look the best value of the three to be relegated.

 

Celta Vigo, last season’s Europa League semi-finalists, are expected to have another tough season in La Liga, that after a 13th place finish last time out. They have seen head coach Berizzo depart, and unless they improve their process, they could again be in for a struggle.

 

Celta could face a difficult season 

 

Las Palmas are also expected to struggle this season, seeing manager Quique Setien leave to Real Betis, and one of their key midfielders Roque Mesa transferred to Swansea. Their process last season was very poor, and their xGD was the fourth worst in the division, meaning improvements are needed. They have Vitolo from Sevilla until January (as a result of Atletico Madrid being unable to sign players), and he’ll add quality to their squad but it could be a long season at Estadio Gran Canaria.

 

Bets

Las Palmas to be relegated @ 3/1

Levante to be relegated @ 13/8

 

Top Scorer

Lionel Messi picked up the Pachichi last season after scoring 37 goals in just 34 appearances. He was closely followed, as you would expect, by teammate Luis Suarez and major-rival Cristiano Ronaldo. Messi once again out-performed his non-penalty expected goals by some way, an element of luck? Or just superior finishing skill?

 

Non-penalty xG table – sorted by Goals scored (NP ActG) 

 

Luis Suarez also out-performed his expected goals, but not by as much, as he tends to take up much better scoring positions by playing through the middle. Ronaldo, surprisingly, had a season of expected performance, scoring the amount of goals he was expected to in the league, and with his five match ban to start the season, he could be best watched again this year.

 

The value in the market is Luis Suarez, and seen as though he was on the end of more/better chances than Lionel Messi last season, he is chanced to win back the Pachichi off the Argentinean. It has recently come to light that Suarez has picked up an injury in the Spanish Super Cup and will be out for up to a month, so hold off on backing him, but there may still be value in his price given he should only miss 4 games at the most.

 

Bets

Luis Suarez top scorer @ 21/10

 

Betting Overview

Real Madrid win La Liga @ 10/11

Sevilla top four finish @ 11/10

Las Palmas to be relegated @ 3/1

Levante to be relegated @ 13/8

Luis Suarez top scorer @ 21/10

 

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