Messi’s exit will leave Real Madrid and Atletico to duel for the title, while Villarreal and Sevilla can push for the top four

Saturday, August 14th, 2021 00:00 |
Real Madrid's Welsh forward Gareth Bale (L) and AC Milan's French defender Theo Hernandez vie for the ball during an international friendly match at the Worthersee-Stadion in Klagenfurt, Austria, on Photo/August 8, 2021

Whenever LaLiga president Javier Tebas was asked about the peril of losing Lionel Messi this summer his reply was always the same: ‘The Premier League has dominated for years but how many Ballons d’Or have they had?’

His point was what makes a good league is not necessarily having the biggest names but having a proper competition; it’s no good having the best players if there is no title race.

Lionel Messi’s Barcelona exit and move to PSG has dominated the build-up to the new season

Spain’s title race, run for Europe, and battle to avoid relegation was as thrilling last season as anywhere in Europe and it should be more of the same this year. 

There is no clear favourite for the crown and it feels like a campaign in which anything could happen, so what will? 

Here’s the predicted 2021-22 league table and a someone to watch from each team.

1st - Real Madrid

There will be no Mbappe to help them do it as he enjoys a season at PSG before joining Madrid next summer but Carlo Ancelotti has enough quality to make a winning return to the Bernabeu. 

Thibaut Courtois, Casemiro, Nacho, David Alaba, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Karim Benzema is an experienced reliable spine. 

He just needs to get good seasons out of his Brazilian trio Vinicius, Rodrygo and Militao, and hope for an injury free campaign from Bale and Eden Hazard.

One to watch: Fede Valverde - The dynamic 23-year-old midfielder ought to reach new levels this season.

2nd - Atletico Madrid

They are already many people’s favourites, and that is the first problem. They are much happier being the underdog punching above their weight. 

Diego Simeone will hope that Luis Suarez can repeat his sensational season last year when he silenced all the critics after being dumped by Barcelona. 

That desire to prove people wrong was like rocket fuel. Let’s see if he can hit quite the same heights. 

Wolves’ Rafa Mir could arrive to give Suarez a hand at one end of the pitch and at the other end another top central defender would help them, especially as the excellent Jose Gimenez struggles to stay fit. 

They need more from Joao Felix too. Like Real Madrid they have a brilliant keeper and they will push their neighbours all the way.

One to watch - Rodrigo De Paul: Brilliant in the Copa America final, he ought to combine well with Marcos Llorente and Koke.

3rd - Villarreal

Unai Emery’s team have already shown their character beating Manchester United and then taking Chelsea to the limit. 

Boulaye Dia will give the magnificent Gerard Moreno support in attack and lightning quick Samuel Chukwueze ought to improve with another year under his belt. 

Centre-back Pau Torres has stayed and former Liverpool full-back Alberto Moreno looks reborn, fit again and playing further forward. 

One to watch: The 18-year-old Yeremi Pino is a great attacking prospect.

4th - Barcelona

Their biggest problem aside from the 40 goals Messi always scored for them will be the mood around the club and inside the Camp Nou. 

If things start badly then how long before supporters turn on the president for not renewing Messi, the players for not taking the pay-cuts or in some cases leaving to help pay for him? 

Ronald Koeman will soon have the shadow of Xavi looming over him. 

In spite of all that if Frenkie de Jong and Antoine Griezmann can step forward as new leaders, and Ansu Fati can come back as good as before his injury then there is hope. And they will have the wonder of Pedri. 

One to watch: Pedri

5th - Sevilla

Predicting where Sevilla finish is hard to do when you sense Monchi has far from finished in the transfer market. 

We know Chelsea want Jules Kounde but Manchester City wanted him last year and Sevilla held out for his buy-out clause and so he stayed. 

If that scenario repeats and he’s happy to stay then that’s a huge boost for them. 

Argentine right-back Gonzalo Montiel is about to join so Julen Lopetegui will have plenty of options. 

This is a five-horse race for the title and making Sevilla fifth is based on Kounde leaving. Let that serve as a disclaimer if he stays and they finish higher. 

One to watch: Striker Youssef En-Nesryi just gets better and better.

6th - Real Sociedad

Keeping David Silva fit will be key, Real Sociedad’s results fell off a cliff last season every time he was out and he was out too often. 

This will be another development season for them with Olympic silver-medalists Martin Zubimendi, Mikel Oyarzabal, and Mikel Merino all getting even better. 

One to watch: Alexander Isak, so much talent needs to add more goals this season.

7th - Athletic Bilbao

There were signs last season when Marcelino that he was really going to get a tune out of his new team. 

Mean trumpet player Asier Villalibre remains the best of limited options at centre-forward. They will be strong, fit and well organised. 

One to watch: Oihan Sancet, attacking midfielder being moulded by Marcelino into a top second striker.

8th - Celta Vigo

Argentine coach Eduardo Coudet came in during last season with the mad idea of playing only Renato Tapia in front of the defence and everyone else on the attack. And it worked. 

Coudet really caught the eye and he can take them to another level this season with Iago Aspas leading from the front. 

One to watch: Javi Galan, flying full-back signed from relegated Huesca was La Liga’s second best dribbler last season (and you know the first best has now left the competition).

9th - Valencia

It won’t be easy for Jose Bordalas to impose the ideas that saw him get humble Getafe into the Europa League on Valencia. 

But if he can get the best out of Uruguayan centre-forward Maxi Gomez and he’s given a little time then he ought to improve on their struggling campaign last season. 

One to watch: Jose Gaya ought to thrive under new coach.

10th - Getafe

Michel is back at Getafe and will want them playing very different football. 

Sure they beat Ajax in Europe but with the ball in play for only 42 minutes of the game. 

The transition will not be easy though. As with Valencia patience will be needed. 

One to watch: New signing JJ Macias, the Mexican poacher is a real box of tricks

11th - Osasuna

With Chimy Avila back fit up front the red machine from Pamplona has someone who could turn enough draws into wins to give them a decent season. 

One to watch Chimy Avila

12th - Real Betis

It could be a tough campaign for Manuel Pellegrini. He worked a minor miracle last season but now there are Europa League fixtures to fulfil and no signs the squad is going to be strengthened significantly. 

One to watch: Borja Iglesias - the Panda is full of confidence after a much better second campaign.

13th - Espanyol

Newly promoted and with Raul de Tomas ready to top score for them once more. 

The last time their coach Vincente Moreno was in the top flight he couldn’t save Mallorca. He should do better this time. 

One to watch: Raul de Tomas

14th - Levante

Paco Lopez’ team almost reached the cup final last season with Jorge de Frutos impressing in his debut campaign and Jose Luis Morales running riot up front. 

Hard for them to push on but they should stay up. 

One to watch: Jorge de Frutos

 15th - Granada

The greatest coach in their history Diego Martinez is gone and they are big boots for Robert Moreno to fill. 

They are disappointed to lose Yangel Herrera back to Manchester City. It could be a tough year. 

One to watch: Luis Milla

16th - Cadiz

Did well to stay up last season and now they have their famously feisty fans back in the stadium. 

One to watch: Centre-back Victor Chust on loan from Real Madrid.

17th - Mallorca

Came up last season having gone down the season before having come up the season before. 

Can they stop the yoyo effect? It will be difficult. 

One to watch: Real Madrid loanee Kubo is back for a second season on the island.

18th - Elche

Another team that just pulled away from trouble last season. 

They have Kike Casilla on loan from Leeds and he will probably have a busy campaign. 

One to watch: Raul Guti, their midfield metronome showed huge promise last season.

19th - Alaves

It was a tough campaign last season and it could be another struggle especially if they lose striker Joselu in the window. 

One to watch: Winger Facundo Pellestri on loan from Manchester United.

20th - Rayo Vallecano  

Promoted via the play-offs they will struggle but if they do go straight back down it will not be without a fight and plenty of goals at both ends. 

One to watch: the livewire Alvaro Garcia was excellent last season.

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