Previewing the new La Liga season
With the players' strike resolved, Spain begins its top-flight season this weekend, a week later than expected. The opening round will be capped by defending champion Barcelona hosting Villarreal on Monday (3 p.m. ET on ESPN3.com and ESPN Deportes). Here's a preview of the season, powered by the Soccer Power Index.
• To no one's surprise, Barcelona or Real Madrid won the title in all 10,000 SPI simulations. Barcelona is a 68.9 percent favorite to triumph, with Madrid at 31.1 percent. SPI considers these teams the two best not only in La Liga, but also in all of the top four European leagues (Spain, England, Germany and Italy).
• The primary reason for Barcelona's commanding margin is a superior defense. Barca and Madrid have roughly the same offensive rating, but Barcelona conceded 12 fewer La Liga goals last season, which largely contributes to a defensive rating that is 0.2 better than Madrid's, meaning that Barcelona is expected to concede roughly eight fewer goals than Madrid over the full 2011-12 La Liga season.
• A Barcelona title would be its fourth straight crown and mark the first four-peat since Barcelona accomplished the feat from 1990-91 to 1993-94. Real Madrid is the only club to win five straight La Liga titles, doing so twice, from 1985-86 to 1989-90 and 1960-61 to 1964-65.
• Valencia is projected to finish third and is the only other club with Champions League odds over 35 percent. Valencia is the sole team aside from Barcelona and Madrid to win La Liga in the past 11 seasons, emerging victorious in 2001-02 and 2003-04.
• The other Champions League berth is wide open, with every single club finishing in the top four in at least one simulation. Realistically, SPI sees six other teams with at least a 10 percent chance at Champions League play. By contrast, in SPI's preseason EPL projections, 12 of 20 teams finished in the top four at least once, and eight different clubs won the league.