Real Madrid are looking in good shape to retain their La Liga title in the 2017/2018 season and are rightfully favourites, but why look there when there is other value to be had elsewhere? Freelance footballer writer Simon Harrison takes a look at the specials markets for the season ahead.

New-look Sevilla could give Atletico reason to worry

Eduardo Berizzo has marched in as new Sevilla boss, after the year-long managerial stint of Jorge Sampaoli came to a disappointing end, and arrives with plenty of LaLiga experience, coupled with the knowledge gained from guiding Celta Vigo to the semi finals of the Europa League last season.

Ever Banega has returned to the club from Inter Milan, with Nolito rejoining his former Celta boss in Seville too, and Los Nervionenses appear to have built their foundations sturdily for the season ahead. Steven N’Zonzi is apparently a want-away figure in midfield, but the likes of Luis Muriel, Jesus Navas and Guido Pizarro ensure that Berizzo should be spoiled for choice in terms of his midfield and attack. Simon Kjaer and Sebastian Corchia, meanwhile, have been signed for bargain prices in defence.

Sevilla appear to have a well-balanced squad, and their first six months under Sampaoli showed that they have the quality and spirit to mount a serious challenge to the top three. Given that Atletico Madrid have been forced to tread water this summer during their transfer ban, Los Nervionenses’ momentum and new arrivals might be enough to make life very difficult for Diego Simeone’s men, making their 8/1 odds to win La Liga (without Barcelona and Real Madrid) look like very good value.

Girona face uphill struggle in first-ever top-flight campaign

Girona, meanwhile, face a rather different challenge for the season ahead. For so long the play-off nearly men in Spain’s second division, the Catalan club will play their inaugural season in the top flight this time around, and have a network with Manchester City to aid their cause. The likes of Alex Garcia, Douglas Luiz, Pablo Maffeo and Marlos Moreno already arriving from England on loan shows their intent, but to gel so many young players together in a short space of time is tough.

There should be value, therefore, in Girona to finish in the bottom three come the end of the campaign, with odds of 4/5 being offered. Goals will be hard to come by for the newly promoted side, regardless of the purchase of Christhian Stuani from Middlesbrough, and they should find it tough on the road too. It will be a great occasion for the fans, having finally reached the promised land, but putting up a competitive battle against the drop will be the biggest of asks.

Back Messi to claim his 5th Top Scorer Accolade

Neymar’s departure from Barcelona has pushed even more responsibility on Lionel Messi’s shoulders, but the Argentine star should be more than capable of dealing with the expectations during Ernesto Valverde’s first season as Blaugrana boss. Last campaign, he found the back of the net 37 times in 34 La Liga appearances, and such figures should be attainable once again.

Messi will likely be given license to drop deep and exploit pockets of space in and around the opposition penalty area, and has age on his side in terms of being able to play in plenty of consecutive matches. While Cristiano Ronaldo’s minutes must be managed by Zinedine Zidane, Valverde should be much more confident that his star forward can handle the rigours of La Liga without too many injury problems.

The Argentina international is the current favourite at , but it is not without reason. Messi is vital to Barcelona kicking on from a disappointing 2016/2017 campaign and the club as a whole will feel slightly scorned after watching Real Madrid get over the line to lift the league title. Even if he doesn’t have the same quality of supporting cast after the sale of Neymar, the 30-year-old has more than enough personal guile to make things happen with a slaloming dribble or one swing of his boot.

If you throw in the fact that Cristiano Ronaldo has suffered a false start to his league campaign after being dealt a four-match domestic ban, Messi looks the smart way to go this season.

Simon’s Tips:

Girona Bottom 3 Finish 

Sevilla to Win La Liga W/O Barcelona and Real Madrid 

Lionel Messi to be Top Goalscorer 

Odds are correct at the time of posting

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