La Liga Season Preview | Soccer Betting Picks

La Liga Season Preview | Soccer Betting Picks article feature image

Tim Clayton-Corbis/Getty. Pictured: Inigo Lekue.

Spain's La Liga opens this weekend with another tight race at the top between two hated rivals, Barcelona and Real Madrid. While it may be captivating from a fan's perspective, it's quite boring from a season-long betting standpoint since both are sitting around +100 to win the title. That means we will have to go elsewhere to some different markets to find value.

La Liga is somewhat stacked at the top with Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Atletico Madrid, but beyond that it's a free for all in the middle of the table with any number of teams vying for that fourth place spot. We've seen one of the usual top four candidates, Sevilla, fall all the way down the table, which creates a decent betting opportunity in the markets of top four and top six.

A quick note before we get started. The markets on sportsbooks for leagues outside of the Premier League are really limited and with the title odds being unbettable, we are really only left with a few markets to try and find value. Let's start with a unique market to kick us off.

Winner Without Barcelona or Real Madrid

Athletic Bilbao (+900 via bet365)

The club from the Basque country has been knocking on the door of the top four consistently for a number of years now. Last season they put up amazing underlying metrics but fell short finishing in eighth place, though they were more deserving of finishing in fifth.

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As you can see above, Bilbao were one of the best defensive teams in La Liga last season, allowing only 0.97 xG per 90 minutes. That was only bested by Real Sociedad and Barcelona. Athletic Bilbao play a very unique style in that they stay compact in a 4-4-2, but press incredibly intensely with their forwards to try and win the ball high up the pitch. It worked to tremendous success last season because they lead La Liga in high turnovers with 375. Not only did they lead La Liga in high turnovers, but they also had the best final third to penalty box entry conversion rate allowed, just showing how versitile and solid their defense is.

In terms of transfer market activity, Athletic Bilbao did lose their best defender Iñigo Martínez to Barcelona, but they kept the rest of their squad in tact. Both Nico and Inaki Williams are still at the club after combining for 0.87 xG + xAssists per 90 minutes. They also have one of the most promising talents and a name to watch this season in attacking midfielder Oihan Sancet. He had a 0.48 xG + xAssist per 90 minutes last season at the age of 22 and is commanding a 30 million transfer value per

You look around at some of their competition and become more optimistic. Atletico Madrid didn't put up great underlying metrics last season and haven't really done much in the transfer market, Real Sociedad are losing a couple key players and had basically the same xG differential as Bilbao, Real Betis and Sevilla didn't have anywhere close to the metrics Bilbao did and Villarreal lost a few key players as well.

Bilbao are vastly undervalued in this market. They also have the added benefit of not playing in a European competition, which means they can give their full focus to La Liga. So, I like the value on them at +900 to finish behind Barcelona and Real Madrid.

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Cadiz (+138 via bet365)

You want to talk about a team that was lucky to stay in La Liga last year? Cadiz were that team. They finished with a -19.9 xG differential, which was third-worst in La Liga, so they really should have been relegated.

When talking about relegation, we want to back teams that have the highest potential for things to go very wrong and teams that have no prospect or business of staying up.  Granada, Las Palmas and Alaves are your newly promoted teams. Granada and Alaves have been mainstays in La Liga for quite some time and only spent a season in the second division. Las Palmas put up the best underlying numbers in the second division last year with a +0.74 xGD per 90 minutes.

Since expected goals started being widely tracked in 2018/19 for lower divisions, new promoted teams see on average a 27% decrease in their expected goals per match and a 17% increase in their expected goals allowed. After factoring in the newly promoted teams, this would be the projected xG per match for the bottom eight teams in La Liga.

As you can see, Cadiz are the lowest projected team because of how bad their underlying metrics were last season. It sounds pretty simple, but if you can't defend in a low block like Cadiz but allow 1.62 xG per 90 minutes and you're not effective in transitional opportunities, then relegation is only a matter of time.

The Cadiz offense, which was already bad is going to take a massive hit too as Théo Bongonda was sold in the summer to Spartak Moscow and Cadiz have not brought in any replacements. Bongonda led Cadiz with four goals and three assists and had a 0.38 xG + xAssist rate per 90 minutes. Nobody else on Cadiz that played over 10 90s had over a 0.30 rate last season.

Cadiz have very similar characteristics to a team that the bottom completely fell out last season in Elche. This team should be the favorite to go down, so I like the value on them at +138 to go down.

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