Euro 2016 hangover?
The dust may have only just settled on Portugal’s surprise European Championship victory, and here we are at the beginning of another season. With the Premier League and Ligue 1 already up and running, this weekend marks the return of two other competitions of world-renown – the Spanish La Liga and Italian Serie A.
With such a short turnaround since France 2016, many of Europe’s major stars would be forgiven for finding themselves slightly undercooked for the start of their domestic campaigns, but with Barcelona and Juventus taking last season’s honours with only 10 defeats between them, slow stats are almost impossible to overcome, as Real Madrid found to their detriment last time out. For this reason, teams looking to push for end-of-season glory must be expected to hit the ground running, and fatigue caused by summer exploits (even in the attainment of glory in Cristiano Ronaldo’s case) will not be deemed as a sufficient excuse.
The usual suspects in La Liga
In La Liga, it is a case of the usual suspects. Barcelona will start the campaign with a settled squad but boast the additions of Portugal midfielder Andre Gomes (the biggest La Liga arrival at €35m from Benfica) and French defenders Samuel Umtiti and Lucas Digne – the latter pair will be expected to bolster a defence that looked short at times last season. Real Madrid, meanwhile, will begin a campaign for the first time under the stewardship of Zinedine Zidane, who led Los Blancos to glory in last season’s Champions League. Alvara Morata returns from his sojourn at Juventus to rival Karim Benzema, who is expected to miss the start of the season through injury. Vanquished finalists Atletico have strengthened by bringing in Kevin Gameiro from rivals Sevilla, as well as Nico Gaitan from Benfica and Sime Vrsaljko from Sassuolo. Europa League winners Sevilla have sought to replace Gameiro with Franco Vazquez, brought in from Palermo alongside a further eight arrivals, and complete their new look campaign without Unai Emery for the first time in four years, bringing in Argentine Jorge Sampaoli as the Paris-bound coach’s replacement.
Last season’s surprise package and Champions League hopefuls Villarreal have also raided Serie A to bring in Roberto Soriano and Nicola Sansone from Sampdoria and Sassoulo respectively, although the Yellow Submarine will need to cope with the loss of inspirational defender Eric Bailly who has moved on to Manchester United for a reported €38m, and young midfielder Denis Suarez who has gone to Barca. Valencia, meanwhile, will hope for a less turbulent season than last which saw no fewer than four bosses take charge of Los Che. Portuguese midfielder Nani is the only significant addition to the squad.
In Serie A, meanwhile, it has been a case of the rest watching on while Juventus, winners of the last five Scudettos, shaped their squad at the expense of others. Juve’s two nearest rivals from last season, Napoli and Roma, saw their best players poached by the Old Lady from Turin, who had the world-record fee from the Paul Pogba sale to Manchester United to strengthen, seemingly to the detriment of their closest rivals. Gonzalo Higuain, last season’s record-breaking Serie A top goalscorer, has swapped the Stadio San Paolo for Juventus Stadium for an Italian record €90m, while Roma’s inspirational playmaker Miralem Pjanic joined for €30.4m. Mehdi Batia, from Bayern Munich, and Dani Alves, from Barcelona, are other notable additions to Massimiliano Allegri’s squad. Napoli have sought to replace the irreplaceable with the signing of young Polish striker Arkadiusz Milik from Ajax, and have added compatriot Piotr Zielinski to bolster a midfield which has also seen the arrival of national team hero from the summer, Emanuele Giaccherini. Roma have signed an eye-watering 13 players either permanently or on loan, including Mo Salah and Stephan El Shaarawy, while Inter may have only signed two, but boast Italy International Antonio Candreva among that duo. Milan have three new low-key additions, while Torino have moved to bring in Adam Ljajic from Roma. Notable movers from La Liga include Ciro Immobile to Lazio, Ever Banega to Inter, Rodrigo De Paul to Udinese and Christian Tello and Thomas Vermalaen on loan to Fiorentina and Roma respectively from Barcelona.
Despite the loss of Pogba, the title looks Juventus’ to lose, especially having weakened their nearest rivals, who will seemingly compete alongside Inter for the Champions League places which only extend to third position.
Selected Odds for 2016/17 season
La Liga – To Win Outright
Barcelona – 1.72
Real Madrid – 2.50
Atletico Madrid – 11.00
La Liga Top Goalscorer
Lionel Messi (Barcelona) – 2.75
Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) – 3.00
Luis Suarez (Barcelona) – 3.00
Serie A – To Win Outright
Juventus – 1.40
Roma – 7.00
Napoli – 8.00
Serie A – Top Goalscorer
Gonzalo Higuain (Juventus) – 1.53
Paulo Dybala (Juventus) – 9.00
Mauro Icardi (Inter) – 13.00
All odds courtesy of Bet365 and correct as of 17.00 GMT on 19/08/16
By: Steve Paget