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Wednesday January 23 2019
Barcelona strong favourites in La Liga title race

Barcelona are the strong favourites for this season's La Liga title and only Atletico Madrid look capable of stopping them, writes Kieran Thomas.

The 2018-19 La Liga campaign has been a joy to watch so far with surprise title contenders, dazzling football and of course VAR controversy.

At the time of writing, there are only 16 points separating Rayo Vallecano in the 3rd relegation position and Real Madrid in 3rd place.

In the English Premier league, the gap between the same positions - Cardiff in 18th and Tottenham Hotspur in 3rd is double that of La Liga with 32 points separating the sides.

There have been some shocks too, with Leganes’ 2-1 victory over leaders Barcelona and Real Madrid’s 1-0 defeat at Alaves.

In isolation, the title race has cooled of late with FC Barcelona starting to pull away, currently holding  a five-point lead over Atletico Madrid, in second.

There have only ever been nine winners of the Spanish top flight, with the so-called big boys Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona holding a combined 68 titles.

There are then a further 19 titles shared between, Real Betis, Sevilla, Deportivo La Coruña (all 1), Real Sociedad (2), Valencia (6) and Athletic Bilbao (8).

Furthermore, since Valencia’s 2004, only Atleti’s triumph in 2014 has temporarily halted the domination of Barca (nine league titles) and Madrid (four), so you’d be forgiven for thinking this trend will continue.

However, it is still all to play and Karamba have all the markets for this season's eventualities for so let’s take a look at the top four in more detail.

FC Barcelona (Current position: 1st)

The Catalans have lost just twice in the league all season, and currently lead the pack in terms of goals scored with 51– a mammoth 19 more than joint-second highest scorers Levante and Celta Vigo.

Barca also secured rivalry bragging rights with a 0-4 away victory against Espanyol and the 5-1 home triumph in El Clásico over Real Madrid.

To help them get over the line the league leaders have invested in two players so far this month with Jeison Murillo and Kevin Prince Boateng brought in to provide much needed cover for Ernesto Valverde's side.

They started the season as favourites, having won the title last year too, and their excellent domestic form hasn't seen that change. Indeed, the only real shift in the betting market has been Barca's odds shortening, as Madrid's grew longer with their early-season struggles. With the final third of the season approaching, Barca's odds are as short as 1/10 to retain the title.

Atletico Madrid (Current position: 2nd)

Diego Simeone’s side have lost fewer games than leaders Barca this season – their sole defeat a 2-0 reverse at Celta Vigo early in the season.

There is no surprise that Atleti have the best defensive record in the league, conceding just 13 goals. That solid back line, coupled with the ever-reliable Antoine Griezmann, scoring nine and assisting seven so far, averaging a goal every 192 minutes.

Atleti face Barcelona in April for what could be a pivotal clash in the title race. A win there would cut Barca's lead and perhaps give Atletico a momentum boost heading into the final weeks of the campaign, but it remains to be seen if they'll be in touching distance of the Catalans by that point. A best price of 12/1 prior to that fixture indicates just how much of an outsider Cholo's team are, although they do lead the betting in markets that take Barca out of the equation. Los Colchoneros are no better than 1/7 to win La Liga without Barca or Madrid.

Real Madrid (Current position: 3rd)

Real Madrid lost Cristiano Ronaldo last summer and failed to adequately replace him, despite being linked with a series of other stars including Chelsea’s Eden Hazard.

Vinícius Júnior was sent to Castilla and had to wait for a run of games and Mariano Diaz wasn’t the answer. Despite going unbeaten in their first five league games, Los Blancos won just one of their following six games. Julen Lopetegui was replaced by Santiago Solari and despite results picking up, performances certainly haven’t.

A recent 2-0 victory over Sevilla, sent a message to the top two sides, but with a ten-point gap between them and Barca its unlikely to see Real win the league for the first time since 2016/17.

Sevilla (Current position: 4th)

The last side considered to be in the title race are Sevilla. At one stage it looked as though Spain’s oldest sporting club solely devoted to football could win their first title since 1946. Los Rojiblancos have fallen off a cliff in recent weeks winning none of their last four league games.

All four of the title contenders will have the belief that they can triumph come May, but with a long way to go and a gap still to be closed, it’s in Barca’s hands as things stand. 

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