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Are Atletico Madrid a better bet than Real Madrid to challenge Barcelona this season?

La Liga returns to our screens this weekend, casting betting eyes towards another eagerly anticipated title race.

For anyone predicting a seismic departure from the form books, Valencia are 100/1 with Bet365 to win the league, while Sevilla are 200/1 and Villarreal are 250/1 with Ladbrokes.

The undoubted favourites, however, are Barcelona, by no means unappealing at 4/6 with Bet365 and William Hill. Ernesto Valverde’s men possess all the ingredients to defend their title: Andres Iniesta’s exit has been counter-balanced by the notable arrivals of Arturo Vidal and Malcolm, while Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele should grow in stature at Camp Nou.

Crucially, Lionel Messi is still a Barcelona player – unlike Cristiano Ronaldo’s situation with Real Madrid.

Ronaldo’s move to Juventus this summer is just one reason why Bet365 and William Hill price Real Madrid at 2/1. Zinedine Zidane, the coach who won three successive Champions Leagues with Real, has been succeeded by Julen Lopetegui. Lopetegui’s Spain record was impressive and he will now manage many of the same players. At club level, though, a trophyless spell at Porto was as good as it ever got.

For Gareth Bale enthusiasts, a price rarely so high represents a good opportunity. But a lack of big-name attacking signings (goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois being their highest-profile purchase) leaves Real in temporary limbo.

At 7/1 with Ladbrokes, Atletico Madrid are a better-value bet to challenge Barcelona. Barca and Real have shared 13 of the last 14 championships, but Atletico’s 2014 league win proves they can break the mould, as does this week’s Uefa Super Cup, where Diego Costa bullied Real’s defence throughout.

What’s more, Gelson Martins, Thomas Lemar, Rodri and Nikola Kalinic have further bolstered Diego Simeone’s already strong squad. Most importantly, Atletico have kept talisman Antoine Griezmann. The World Cup winner could have joined Barcelona this summer; his decision not to could prove historic.

By Tim Poole
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