Analysing from a statistical perspective: Who’s winning La Liga and making top 4?

La Liga is the best league in the world. Whether your team is playing or not, many glue their eyes on the TV to watch one of the most watched football leagues in the world. While many have made their bets and have decided whose going to win, let’s analyse the trends of La Liga winning teams and who is going to win.


The duopoly

FC Barcelona

With the signings of Lenglet, Malcolm, Vidal, and others for depth, and with Cristiano Ronaldo departing Real Madrid, FC Barcelona look like firm favourites to win La Liga. With the squad depth they have and the quality of players, Barcelona can challenge on all fronts, as Ernesto Valverde will be hoping to secure a league and Champions League triumph, which was lasted achieved in 2015.

With Ronaldo leaving Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid strengthening, Barcelona’s closest competitors for this season will probably be Atletico de Madrid, who recently defeated Real Madrid in the Super Cup, and have top class players in virtually every position.

Real Madrid

There are many things that Real Madrid lack that FC Barcelona has, the main one being certainty. Despite signing Vincius Jr and Thibaut Courtois for large fees, and the appointment of former La Roja manager Julien Lopetegui, Real Madrid don’t seem as strong as they used to be.

Real Madrid struggled in pre-season, including losing to Manchester United, but the issue that lies with Los Blancos is signing a world-class striker. Karim Benzema has been the main man at Real Madrid for almost 10 years now, but only managed to 12 goals in all competitions. Gareth Bale has been tipped as the one to step up in the absence of Ronaldo, but he’s been injury prone. Furthermore, while Lopetegui managed to do well as La Roja manager (failing to lose a single match), he struggled at Porto, recording a 68.83% win rate. Should Real Madrid seriously consider competing on all fronts, they need to sign a world class striker and to sign a back-up right back.

Breaking the duopoly

Atletico Madrid

Having won the UEFA Europa League in May and the UEFA Super Cup recently, things are on the up for Atletico de Madrid. With the club managing to keep hold of its star players while signing the likes of Thomas Lemar, Gelson Martins, Santiago Arias, and more, Atletico de Madrid look like a very well balanced team now.

Atletico de Madrid like to play a 442 with slow compact, defensively oriented football, with strong emphasis on defensive protection. At the moment, Atletico’s squad is filled with quality, and with the signings of Lemar and Martins, Atletico Madrid enter the season filled with optimism. With the addition of Lemar and Martins, who both like to stay wide, Atletico have addressed an issue that they had last season, and that was width. The last time Atletico Madrid won the league, they had Diego Costa up top scoring the goals, and as his first full season back approaches, Atletico Madrid could mount a serious title challenge to counter the duopoly of FC Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Valencia CF

For the first time in a while, Valencia are back where they belong. Having secured a top 4 finish and signing the likes of Daniel Wass, Michi Batshuayi, and Cristiano Piccini, Valencia have the squad depth to try to go far in the Champions League, while once again securing a top 4 finish. With poor recruitment in previous summers, including buying most of Jorge Mendes’ plalyers, Valencia have finally worked out the do’s and don’ts of the transfer market, buying good players for undervalued players, while getting hold of a quality striker in Michy Batshuayi.

With Rodrigo, Soler, Mina, Batshuayi, and others, Valencia just need to secure a permanent move for youngster Gonçalo Guedes, who has stated his intentions to return to Valencia, and to get a starting spot. Should they sign Guedes on a permanent basis, Valencia not only have quality in the short term, but they have also set themselves for the long term.

Breaking the ceiling

Villareal

Having secured European football once again, and signing Santi Cazorla, Villareal can prove to be a team that can mount a top 4 challenge and “break the ceiling”. However, while the teams around them have strengthened themselves with better players, top 4 may prove to be too challenging of a task for Villareal, and without Samu Castillejo, there’s a lack of quality coming from the flanks.

Real Betis

It’s simple. Always watch Betis. Whether they win or lose, Betis are the team to watch if you want to support an underdog side that plays an attractive brand of football. With Quique Setien at the helm, who managed to do wonders with Las Palmas, Real Betis will be playing European football this season, and on top of that, have added some quality signings. With the signings of Takashi Inui and William Carvalho, Betis have added strength to the midfield. Yet, the issues is not about their quality, but rather about consistency. Betis can either be so joyful to watch or so excruciating painful. They can either be one of the best attacking sides in La Liga or the team that just struggle to defend. Despite signing Marc Bartra on a permanent basis, Betis have already opened the season with a heavy 3–0 loss at home at the hands of Levante.

Should Betis repeat the achievements of last season, they would need to strengthen at the back and find some sort of consistency and stability.

Sevilla

Even though past managers and past players have left and Sevilla have managed to do well in La Liga, this is probably one of the worst Sevilla sides in years. Having sold Clement Lenglet to a large sum to FC Barcelona and Stevan N’Zonzi to AS Roma, Sevilla enter without some of their players and only a handful of players of which you could call “quality”. With new manager Pablo Machín, Sevilla will hope to put last season’s failures behind them and enter with a sense of hope and optimism that they can make top 4. However, quality remains the issue. With Sevilla on a tight budget and with Monchi no longer at the club, Sevilla may struggle to buy young, cheap players from undervalued leagues that will immediately improve the side before the window shuts.

What the statisticians say

According to FiveThirtyEight, before the season begun, FC Barcelona were the team most likely to qualify for the Champions League with a 91% chance, and the most likely to win the league with a 41%.

Despite achieving a strong 6th place finish last season and securing Europa League football, Real Betis have the slimmest chance of making top 4, with chances so slim that they have a higher chance of getting relegated. (14% chance of relegation and 10% chance of top 4)

According to the statisticians, here’s how the top 6 will finish:

  1. FC Barcelona
  2. Real Madrid
  3. Atletico Madrid
  4. Valencia
  5. Sevilla
  6. Real Sociedad

But, as always, there’s been a factor of unpredictably, and things can dramatically change. Before the World Cup, FiveThirtyEight and all the big banks ran many simulations suggesting that Germany, Brazil, and even Spain were joint favourites to win the World Cup, however, all of them failed to even reach the final. Furthermore, they also got their predictions for the past La Liga season wrong. They predicted the following standings:

  1. Real Madrid
  2. FC Barcelona
  3. Atletico Madrid
  4. Athletic Bilbao
  5. Sevilla
  6. Villareal

While FC Barcelona and Atletico Madrid did make top 4, FiveThirtyEight failed to predict the achievements of Valencia and Real Betis, while failing to account the failures of Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao.

Accounting past data, summer signings, and whose looked the most convincing so far, here are my predictions:

  1. Atletico Madrid
  2. FC Barcelona
  3. Real Madrid
  4. Valencia
  5. Real Betis
  6. Villareal

I know what you may be thinking: Are you out of your mind, Atletico Madrid winning the league????? But, everyone loves an underdog story, and with the Atletico Madrid squad being stronger than ever, they could win the league this season.