La Liga: The State Of Play
With Atletico five points clear of Real and tied with Barcelona atop the table, today on the blog ChalkOnTheBoots takes a look at the current state of play in La Liga betting.
The Relegation Battle
It’s the sort of event that in recent terms has required a degree in mathematics to calculate the various permutations. In 2012, the final place was decided in the final few minutes of the final games. In 2013 the matter was again decided in the final game of the season. It’s in no way melodramatic to say that we are dealing with small details when it comes to relegation from La Liga.
With the tendency to go right to the wire, it may seem strange to pinpoint October as potentially being pivotal in this year’s battle. Just as there is no prizes handed out in October, it’s safe to say that no team has ever been relegated in October either. Indeed in the two seasons described above, only one of the sides that was relegated in each season was actually in the bottom three at the end of October. The others were safely ensconced in mid-table.
Yet it’s difficult to avoid the view that October is shaping up as being a key month for two clubs at the wrong end of the table and for vastly differing reasons that could see prices fall like leaves from the trees as Autumn sets in.
The Boys from the Barrio
There’s not many clubs like Rayo Vallecano nor are there many managers like Paco Jemez. The club with the lowest budget in the league that play in a ramshackle stadium in a working class suburb of Madrid with a belief in a possession based game coached by the man who would rather lose than sacrifice his principles and abandon his footballing beliefs. Jemez famously criticised Celtic for a negative approach against Barcelona "My face would fall off with shame if we played like Celtic did against Barcelona". That Rayo subsequently lost the game 5-0 is almost irrelevant to a degree. Never has the Spanish phrase of morir con las botas puestas been more appropriate. Rayo died with their boots on that night. They played the game on their terms.
And now, given the troubles that bottom placed Rayo Vallecano already find themselves in, hard choices would normally need to be considered. Don’t expect Jemez to alter his stance however. Rayo manager Paco Jemez complained bitterly prior to last weekend’s defeat at Valencia that the side shoot themselves in the foot at any opportunity. And as if to prove him right, the players duly obliged by conceding a last minute winning goal to Jonas. The players now have an opportunity to rectify that matter.
The 8th placed finish from last season has probably raised expectations artificially. The side will always face a fight to retain a seat amongst the big boys table. Rayo face Real Sociedad this weekend with the possibility of exploiting any Champions League hangover from the Basques. Thereafter, games against Almeria (odds on favourites for the drop), Valldolid and Osasuna await.
The shambolic defensive problems at the club are the constant focus for the detractors of Jemez. In seven league games, 21 goals have been conceded. That ignores the fact that at this point last season, 23 goals had been conceded. Playing such a pro-active attacking game with a high defensive line will always take time for players to adjust and with much of the playing squad changing from season to season, adaptation time is especially relevant for Rayo. The boys from Vallecas problems, however, lie at the other end of the pitch. Diego Costa returned to Atleti. Michu went to Swansea. Baptistao went to Atleti. Piti went to Granada. The quality has always previously existed to overcome the defensive aberrations that are always a possibility with Rayo.
Against the sides that are likely to be scrapping to avoid relegation and given the importance of the head to head record in Spain, the prospect of not collecting any points in these games is unimaginable for Rayo. None of these opponents are prolific scorers and a solitary goal could be sufficient in each game to take the points.
Rayo remain a generous 2.38 to get relegated and as much as their adventurous and cavalier style is praised, this is a crucial period for them. Last season Jemez sorted the defensive problems out and Rayo started moving in the correct direction. There were signs that he was doing so again in the narrow 1-0 defeat away to Valencia. The generous price should not be considered. The boys from the barrio will get things sorted.
Current La Liga Relegation Odds - Odds as at 3rd October 2013.
The Battle For The Top 4
It’s been a difficult season thus far for Unai Emery and Sevilla. Despite losing a number of key players during the summer as the club sold numerous players and gathered in over 90million Euros in the process, the club reinvested wisely. With a squad with the experience and quality of the likes of Beto and Rakitic adding to the potential offered by the likes of Moreno from la cantera and new signings such as Kevin Gameiro, hopes were high. The side would challenge for a Europa League place at the very least. Whisper it, but there was even talk of Sevilla being an outside bet for 4th place in some quarters.
Yet the club now finds themselves in 14th place and being written off. A solitary win against Rayo is their only victory from the first seven league games of the season. The fixture list has been unkind to Sevilla but baffling tactical decisions by Emery such as withdrawing your only striker with the score level against Valencia and almost 30 minutes still to play don’t help either. The inherent conservatism that engulfed Valencia during Emery’s tenure still persists. Their odds of finishing fourth have slumped from 12.00 at the start of September to a best 17.00 as the side struggle. If Sevilla are to emerge and begin competing, October is the month in which they have the ideal opportunity to do so. The Andalusians face Real Madrid at the end of the month (their recent performance against FCB despite the defeat should buoy them for that game) prior to which they face Almeria, Valladolid and Osasuna. Three relegation candidates in a row and the potential for nine points for Sevilla. Emery cannot continue to be so conservative. When key moments present themselves, they must be seized.
The other contenders for fourth place all face far more awkward months ahead. With Athletic, Valencia and Villarreal playing each other, something has to give. Squeeze in another round of European competition for Valencia and Real Sociedad and suddenly the door is ajar for Sevilla to make ground on the pack. The deficit of eight points could be quickly whittled down in October. Sevilla will be there or thereabouts come the end of the season and a good October will see that price tumble.
Current La Liga Top 4 Odds - Odds as at 3rd October 2013.
Without The Big Two
If one club in Spain is the living embodiment of their manager, that club is Atletico Madrid. As time passes, despite the obvious truth in that statement, it does quite do the side justice anymore. Atleti now offer so much more. The determination, work rate and discipline shown by Atleti has been present since the beginning of Simeone’s reign but the technical proficiency continues to improve. The tactical acumen of Simone has improved substantially too as he identifies and reacts to problems on the pitch. The troubles experienced by the likes of Sevilla and Valencia coupled with the form of Atleti has seen their odds of the best placed side outside the big two being slashed from 1.40 to 1.12 as los rojiblancos look to be certainties to finish at least third.
With fixtures against Celta, Espanyol, Real Betis and Granada all being eminently winnable, the opportunity is there for Atleti to solidify their position at this early stage in the season. Whilst it’s very unlikely that they could win their first 11 league games, the side shows no signs of losing just yet. A team that is able to compete technically with opponents, a coach who can outmanoeuvre opponents tactically and a winning mentality has proven to be a highly efficient combination. They simply don’t give in, being prepared to dig in when required and scrap their way to victory.
Current La Liga Without Big Two Odds - Odds as at 3rd October 2013.
Atleti remain a lengthy 17.00 to win La Liga. Simeone repeatedly tells anyone who will listen that his side cannot win La Liga. That Atleti cannot compete due to the huge financial resources at the disposal of the big two. Yet despite his words, the problem is Atleti are competing on the pitch. And as long as they continue this fine vein of form, expectations will grow irrespective of the lengths Simeone goes to dampen them.
A good October and Atleti’s price will drop again. They most likely will not win the league but the option exists of backing and then trading out when the price falls.
Current La Liga Winner Odds - Odds as at 3rd October 2013.
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