LaLiga 2021-22: Can Barcelona reclaim the title without Lionel Messi?
Barcelona are without Lionel Messi, while Real Madrid don't have Sergio Ramos... can either stop Atlético Madrid in 2021-22?
LaLiga is arguably harder to call than ever before heading into 2021-22 – Barcelona no longer have Lionel Messi to guide the way and Real Madrid have seen significant upheaval, so surely the smart money is on defending champions Atlético Madrid?
Diego Simeone's men won the title in 2020-21 after watching Barça and Madrid trade success for seven years and look in good shape given they've not lost any major players. But can you really write off the 'big two'? Well, you shouldn't, according to Stats Perform predictions.
The Stats Perform League Prediction Model, created by Stats Perform AI using Opta data, has analysed the division ahead of the new season to assign percentages to potential outcomes for each club.
The model estimates the probability of each match outcome (win, draw or loss) based on teams' attacking and defensive qualities, which considers four years' worth of results, with weighting based on recency and the quality of opposition. The season is then simulated 10,000 times to calculate the likelihood of each outcome.
Without further ado, let's look at what could occur over the 2021-22 LaLiga season.
Ancelotti delivers the goods
Carlo Ancelotti's back at the Santiago Bernabéu, and so – it seems – will the Spanish title. The Stats Perform model calculates Madrid have a 42.3 per cent chance of taking the crown back from their local rivals.
In fact, if the model proves accurate, Atlético may not even finish in the top two, as their 18.7 per cent chance is a fair bit smaller than Barça's 30.4 per cent likelihood of winning LaLiga.
However, it's worth pointing out that, because the model is based on historical data points and results, the Barcelona that appears here is one that has had Messi in the team for past 17 years.
It's entirely reasonable to expect Barça to see a significant drop-off given they'll no longer have the greatest player of all time on their books – as such, a 30.4 per cent chance of winning the title might actually be quite generous.
The big four?
The 2020-21 season was the tightest LaLiga title fight in recent memory. Although Atlético were 11 points clear at one point, with five matches left there were just three points separating first from fourth.
In that respect, it was the closest title race LaLiga had ever seen in a 20-team campaign (1987-1995, 1997-present) and the least predictable since 2006-07, when Madrid, Barça and Sevilla could all win the league on the final day of the season.
Sevilla's challenge ultimately faded before that stage in 2020-21 but they've managed to keep Julen Lopetegui, their coach, and their squad is largely unaltered for the time being.
The prediction model makes them fourth favourites for the title (6.8 per cent) and far better placed to take the final Champions League spot (69.4 per cent) for the third year in a row than their likeliest challengers Villarreal (36.2 per cent).
There was a 15-point gap between fourth and fifth last season – this is the closest to a 'big four' Spain has had in years.
Four tipped for relegation tussle
Rayo Vallecano, Real Mallorca and Espanyol were the three to come up from the Segunda last season. While most people would ordinarily point to the promoted sides as the most likely to be relegated, the prediction model disagrees.
It gives Mallorca a 30.7 per cent likelihood of going straight back down, and Espanyol are at 17.6 per cent – neither of those are among the bottom three, though Rayo (45.9 per cent) are seen as the second favourites to head back to the second tier.
But it's Elche (57.9 per cent) who are the clear front-runners in this regard, and then it looks agonisingly close for the third and final relegation spot.
According to the predictor, it's likely to be neck-and-neck between Deportivo Alavés (41.1 per cent) and Cádiz (41.9 per cent).
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