LaLiga Returns! – How are the key battles shaping up?

Rayo Vallecano penalty

Seven weeks on from the conclusion of matchday 14, LaLiga returns from its hiatus with a full round of fixtures to conclude 2022, starting on Thursday 29th December. You’d be forgiven for having forgotten the state of play in all the key battles with a dramatic World Cup taking centre stage over the past month, but here’s a recap of how LaLiga 2022/23 is shaping up.

We already appear to have a two-horse title race, but things are very close with many teams involved in the battles for Europe and safety. We’ve analysed each of the three main races with the best odds taken from betting sites in Spain ahead of matchday 15.

The Title Race – Real Madrid vs Barça

PositionTeamPointsTitle Odds
1stBarcelona378/13
2ndReal Madrid357/4

We may only be barely a third of the way through the season but the title race already appears to have shortened to a field of two. It feels safe to rule 2020/21 champions Atletico Madrid out after a poor start to the season and 3rd place Real Sociedad are 9 points off the top two.

With Barcelona and Real Madrid both looking strong, everything points towards a really competitive title race that could go to the wire. While Los Blancos did win the only Clasico meeting so far this season, Xavi’s side have been almost flawless in LaLiga aside from that. Excluding the 3-1 defeat at the Santiago Bernabeu, Barça have dropped just two points this season and have only let in two league goals.

Real Madrid meanwhile have found clean sheets harder to come by and suffered a shock 3-2 defeat away to local rivals Rayo Vallecano in their penultimate game before the World Cup. However Carlo Ancelotti will be confident that his side’s experience and recent track record of winning major trophies will be the deciding factor come the business end of the season.

The Battle for Europe

PositionTeamPointsTop 4 Odds
3rd – UCLReal Sociedad265/2
4th – UCLAthletic Club247/4
5th – UELAtletico Madrid244/9
6th – UECL*Real Betis245/1
7thOsasuna2325/1
8thRayo Vallecano2250/1
9thVillarreal219/4
10thValencia1940/1
*Depending on the winners of the Copa del Rey, 6th may be good enough for the UEL with the UECL place potentially going to the 7th best team in LaLiga. 

The race for the other European positions is shaping up to be one of the most interesting in years. Sevilla and Atletico Madrid have tended to join the “big two” as Spain’s Champions League representatives in recent years but there appears to be at least one UCL spot up for grabs this season with the Andalusians currently languishing in the relegation zone.

Real Sociedad and Real Betis have largely continued in the same vein as the last two seasons with Imanol and Manuel Pellegrini continuing to work wonders with those two sides. La Real will be particularly happy to be in 3rd given the injury problems they’ve had to deal with so far this season but they’ve got long-term absentee Mikel Oyarzabal back in full training now which should aid their push following the restart.

The pressure is starting to build on Diego Simeone at the Metropolitano with Atletico enduring a really poor campaign to date with speculation growing that this may be Cholo’s last season in the red and white half of Madrid. Following European elimination, they have no major distractions now, so it’s still likely that Atleti will ultimately finish in the top four, although they could also face competition from Athletic Club who have made a fine start to life back under the guidance of Ernesto Valverde.

Villarreal were also strongly tipped to make the top four this season. After Unai Emery’s departure for Aston Villa, it’s fair to say the appointment of Quique Setien has not gone down well with followers of the Yellow Submarine. The former Betis and Barça boss made a dreadful start with his players struggling to adapt to his possession-heavy approach but we should see more from Villarreal now Setien has had what was effectively a mini pre-season to work with this squad. We’ll also get our first glimpses of a revamped Estadio Ceramica which is yet to host a game so far this season because of redevelopments.

Osasuna and Rayo Vallecano have also made excellent starts to the season and could be outside contenders for Europa or Conference League qualification. The latter will soon be bolstered by recent signing Raul de Tomas who will be available to play from January onwards. Valencia are also hoping to get into the mix after an encouraging start for Gennaro Gattuso following a significant summer squad overhaul with a host of young players coming in.

The Bottom Half – Plenty of Relegation Candidates

PositionTeamPointsRelegation Odds
11thMallorca1920/1
12thReal Valladolid175/1
13thGirona169/2
14thAlmeria163/1
15thGetafe1411/4
16thEspanyol123/1
17thCelta Vigo1210/1
18thSevilla1112/1
19thCadiz118/11
20thElche41/20

At the bottom of LaLiga, Elche have already sacked two coaches this season and have been cut adrift with 7 points separating them from Cadiz in 19th. Those are the two clear favourites for the drop and while there is certainly still hope for Cadiz, the newly appointed Pablo Machin is left with an almost impossible task at the Estadio Manuel Martínez Valero.

As for the third relegation place, it’s almost impossible to call right now. You would expect Sevilla to ultimately pull clear of any trouble while Mallorca are looking solid and have already built up a significant 8 point advantage on the drop-zone. However just about anyone else in the bottom half could be in danger.

The newly promoted trio of Real Valladolid, Girona and Almeria have all started quite well and currently occupy 12th-14th places. Of the three, Almeria have perhaps been the least convincing with quite an inexperienced squad that has struggled badly away from home, however 4 straight wins at the Power Horse Stadium has given Rubi plenty to build from.

Beneath those three teams, Getafe, Espanyol and Celta Vigo have altogether more reason to be dissatisfied with how things are going so far. Both Quique Sanchez Flores at Getafe and Diego Martinez at Espanyol are under pressure to start well following the resumption otherwise their positions could potentially come under threat. Celta Vigo meanwhile have already made a coaching change with Carlos Carvalhal replacing Chacho Coudet last month.

Spanish football writer
About Mark Sochon 1777 Articles
Mark is a freelance writer based in Madrid, writing mostly about Spanish football. His work has been published by the likes of Guardian Sport & World Soccer. Contact: marksochon (at) hotmail.co.uk

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