European football: Sky Bet verdict
Get the top tips and opinions from the Sky Bet traders for the new season in Spain, Italy, Germany, France and Holland.
Sky Bet have all five of the divisions priced up for the 2014/15 season and we’ve got the views of Jess Gill, Paul Lowery and BarryJohn Nelson on the upcoming action.
Read on for some top tips!
Can Atletico Madrid hold off the challenge of Barcelona and Real Madrid to retain the La Liga title?
Jess Gill: I think Atletico Madrid were the best team last season and rightly deserved the title. They’ve lost the key players to Chelsea in the summer but have bought in some real good talent in Mario Mandzukic and Antoine Griezmann. They’ll have another strong season but I just don’t think they’ll have enough to go all the way this time around, due to Real Madrid and Barcelona using their financial might during the transfer window. I expect another close three horse race with Real Madrid pipping the other two to the title.
Paul Lowery: I really like Real Madrid this season. Atletico have lost their talismanic striker in Diego Costa and I don’t fancy Mario Mandzukic to pick up where Costa left off. Real on the other hand now have the potential to return to the galactico era with a front six to be feared. Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema being fed by James Rodriguez, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric is a frightening thought! I think Barca are in a rebuilding stage and I think they lack the defence to win them another league title.
BarryJohn Nelson: Diego Costa and Thibaut Courtois were such a huge part of Atletico’s success last year it’d be easy to write them off but in some ways I think they have come back from pre-season even stronger. They have retained La Liga’s finest central defensive partnership of last season in Diego Godin and Miranda, Mario Mandzukic is a world class replacement for Costa and he will be ably supported by the already proven La Liga talent of Antoine Griezmann. Add to that the shrewd signings of Miguel Angel Moya and Jan Oblak in goal, Guilherme Siqueira at left-back and the bizarre but welcome resigning of Tiago in midfield and all of a sudden they look at least as strong as they were when they held off the mighty Barcelona on the final day of last season. Unfortunately their Madrid neighbours have also been busy signing the stars of the World Cup. Real Madrid should have added La Liga glory to their Champions League/Copa del Rey haul and I just can’t see them making the same mistake again. They have a string of world class players who won’t even make it to the bench and that depth should see them make amends for last year’s failings. It feels strange to discuss a La Liga season without focusing on Barcelona’s chances but despite signing Luis Suarez they are right in the middle of a transition period and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them finish third.
Luis Suarez and James Rodriguez are two of the big-name arrivals to Spain this summer. Can they challenge Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo for the top goalscorer prize?
Jess Gill: I don’t think any player could challenge Messi and Ronaldo, they’re simply in a league of their own. I do think if Suarez was eligible to play right from the start of this season he could score a lot of goals and I’d certainly back him to be the third highest goalscorer. Rodriguez has shown in the World Cup that he is a great goalscorer but in this Real Madrid side he won’t be the star man and may have to play in a less attacking midfield role. I personally think Gareth Bale in the top goalscorer without Messi and Ronaldo market at 8/1 is a good bet, I think he’ll have a really good season building on what he achieved last year.
Paul Lowery: Not in my opinion. Rodriguez will likely play the provider role for the main man Ronaldo and Suarez will miss too much action. He was able to take advantage of the fact that Sergio Aguero misses a lot of game and also his seniority over Daniel Sturridge this time last year to claw back the deficit. Messi and Ronaldo don’t miss many matches and don’t play second fiddle to anyone, and should make their head starts count.
BarryJohn Nelson: No, Suarez is giving up too much a head start and Rodriguez is just not prolific enough. That said, Suarez may allow another new arrival to sneak up into the frame by eating into Messi’s total. Mario Mandzukic will be Atletico’s main outlet up front and if he settles quickly could easily get himself 30+ goals.
Give us a best bet for the La Liga season?
Jess Gill: I like Sevilla to finish in the top four at 5/2. They finished last season really strongly, with a manger who knows how to finish in the top four consistently. I reckon Athletic Bilbao will struggle to manage both La Liga and Champions League, I also think Valencia are going through a transition period and will struggle to find consistency. Sevilla have bought in some really good loan signings and will set their sights on qualifying for the Champions League after Europa League glory last season.
Paul Lowery: I mentioned it earlier but I’ll just keep it simple and say Real Madrid to win La Liga. They are the best team in all areas of the field with the squad depth to match.
BarryJohn Nelson: With Ronaldo and Messi competing more than ever with their team-mates for goals, Mario Mandzukic to sneak in as top goalscorer just pips Atletico to win La Liga as my best bet. Bet each-way and you have a great chance of a place at 20/1.
Can anyone stop Juventus making it four Scudettos in a row?
Jess Gill: Roma have had a really impressive transfer window, bringing in a lot of experience and quality. It seems they really want to push on this season to try and win the title. Juventus have had some unrest behind the scenes with the manager leaving and a lot of the players being rumoured to leave the club. I don’t feel Massimiliano Allegri will be a good fit at Juventus, which could really help Roma overtake them and claim top spot. I think Roma at 9/4 to win the title could be a good bet, especially with two places each-way at 1/3.
Paul Lowery: If anyone can put a run together this year then Juventus are vulnerable. They have lost Antonio Conte as coach and appear to be very much at a ‘stick or twist’ stage of their dominance. Roma are making the right noises and are spending a lot of money trying to finish on top, and I think they stand the best chance of dethroning the current champs. Neither Milan side are a threat anymore and I’d oppose both of them to finish in the top three.
BarryJohn Nelson: This one has split opinions on the desk. Personally I think it’s a season too soon for Roma to wrestle the crown away but some of the guys believe it could be the Giallorossi’s year. What we all agree on is there was a big overreaction to Antonio Conte’s departure from Juventus, Massimiliano Allegri may not be particularly well known on these shores but he is a highly respected coach with a proven track record of success in Italy. Speculation over the futures of Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba contributed to Juve drifting in the market but as the days tick by it looks unlikely that a club of Juve’s stature will part with any major names before the transfer window closes. I can see Serie A being as uncompetitive again this season. More interesting to me is the battle for third and the final Champions League spot. It looks a fight between Napoli, Milan, Inter and Fiorentina with Napoli justifiable favourites. However if Mario Gomez can rediscover his lethal scoring touch after a long injury lay-off and somehow retain the services of World Cup star Juan Cuadrado (or at least reinvest any funds from his sale), I fancy Fiorentina to surprise a few people.
Which side do you fancy to surprise in Serie A this season?
Jess Gill: I quite like Fiorentina to surprise a few people this season. They did well last season, even with some injuries to key players. They have a lot of good players in the side and will be desperate to qualify for the Champions League. A lot will hinge on Juan Cuadrado, but if he does stay I think they will be a force in the Serie A and 14/5 to finish in the top three could be a really good bet.
Paul Lowery: I’d take a flyer on Genoa to break the top six. They have struggled awfully in recent times but it’s not too long ago since they were on the fringes of European football places as a consistent force. They have brought in striker Alessandro Matri who is capable of a 15-20 goal season which could slingshot them up the table to compete for a Europa League spot.
BarryJohn Nelson: Aside from Fiorentina, I really like Genoa this year. New signings Alessandro Matri and Mauricio Pinilla could form a solid partnership up front and the acquisitions of Iago Falque from Spurs and Tomas Rincon from Hamburg adds a bit of flair and steel to the midfield. I would expect them to be mixing it up in the top half and maybe even pushing for Europe. On the other end of the scale I don’t like AC Milan and could see them underperforming again this season. Sacking Clarence Seedorf was an odd decision and for all his talent Mario Balotelli has shown time and again he is not a man you can rest your hopes on. The best bet is Genoa at 20/1 to finish in the top six.
Bayern Munich are heavy odds-on favourites in the outright market. Where’s the value in the Bundesliga?
Jess Gill: I think the value in the Bundesliga will be in the top goalscorer market. Robert Lewandowski is rightly the short favourite but there’s a lot of good strikers in the league who could have some each-way value. My pick would be Klaas-Jan Huntelaar at 10/1 with each-way terms 1/4 for the first three places. I think Schalke will have a good season, aiming for a top three finish and his goals will be vital for them to achieve this.
Paul Lowery: I think with Bayern being so short you have to look to alternative markets such as top scorer. Dutch striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is an every week starter for Schalke. He got 12 in 17 starts last season which would be easily enough to net you at least a place for an each-way bet if you extrapolated those numbers over the course of a season.
BarryJohn Nelson: It can be difficult to dig out a bet in leagues with such short favourites but I like Mainz to again overperform. Thomas Tuchel quit at the end of last season and his replacement Kasper Hjulmand hasn’t exactly got off to a flying start (they have been knocked out of the German Cup and the Europa League already!) but I think the lighter fixture load will be invaluable come the end of the season. Shinji Okazaki is a class act up front and really found his scoring touch last year. If he can kick on again I can see them improving on seventh this time around. He is key to their success and the safest way to back Mainz is probably to back Okazaki e/w for top goalscorer. At a big price of 25/1 I don’t think there is a lot of downside.
Has there been any indication in the opening two rounds of games that defending champions PSG can be stopped?
Jess Gill: No I don’t think they can be stopped. PSG had a hiccup in their first league match of the season but I think their side is far too strong not to win Ligue 1 this season. Monaco have really struggled in their first two matches, I don’t expect them to be very competitive this season with the loss of James Rodriguez and having to compete in the Champions League. St Etienne have got off to good start and could be the team to get closest to PSG this season.
Paul Lowery: PSG slipped up in their opening match away at Reims but simply put there is nobody to challenge them. Their closest rivals last season were Monaco, who appear to be on a downward spiral.
BarryJohn Nelson: None whatsoever. They are even further ahead of the rest than they were last year. David Luiz drew a few sniggers after his World Cup performances but in truth he is a great addition to a squad that has to start looking at more than domestic success. The only realistic challenge could come from Monaco and they haven’t exactly adjusted to life without James Rodriguez, losing both of their opening games. If the rumours of Falcao’s possible exit prove true I think Monaco could really struggle to hold onto second spot.
Holland’s top-flight is now being televised live on Sky Sports. Give us a selection to provide interest throughout the campaign?
Jess Gill: It’s hard to look past the Ajax or PSV in the Eredivisie this season, with Feyenoord losing a lot of key players during the summer. I think Ajax are rightly favourites after last season but they have lost captain Siem de Jong to Newcastle. I think PSV have a lot of good players in their squad and could really push Ajax all the way again this season. PSV to win the Eredivisie at 5/2 looks a big price providing they can keep hold of Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum.
Paul Lowery: Ajax are so impressive that I really can’t look past them for the title. However you won’t find much appeal in their current odds. I’d be looking for teams to get with during the season, and two of the mid-table sides I like to cause a few upsets along the way are Groningen and Den Haag. Groningen crashed out of the Europa League in the qualifiers but this won’t do them any harm on the domestic front. Den Haag play on an artificial pitch and are building an exciting young side. They have a young striker called Mike van Duinen who knows where the net is and could soon be playing at a higher level.
BarryJohn Nelson: I love this division, they’re taught to play the right way and it results in goals, goals and more goals! Even though Ajax have won the last four titles it’s still pretty open and there’s always a chance of a shock. A bet on PSV in the outright market at 11/4 will not only give you a great chance of a winner but also the perfect excuse to tune in every week to one of the most exciting leagues in Europe. Memphis Depay and club captain Georginio Wijnaldum are coming of age now and I believe they can send PSV to the title.
All of Europe
Sky Bet have all of Europe’s top leagues covered. Give us a best bet from anywhere across the continent?
Jess Gill: I think Porto will run away with the Portuguese Superliga this season. Benfica have lost nearly all of their key players from an impressive 2013/14 campaign, whereas Porto seem to have kept the majority of their squad. They’re 10/11 to reclaim the title which is a short price but I still think there is some value there.
Paul Lowery: Depressingly I seem to have tipped up the favourite in every league with the exception of Italy! I’m going to have to put a double up for Ajax and Real Madrid to win their respective leagues, which pays just less than 5/2 with Sky Bet currently.
BarryJohn Nelson: I mentioned Fiorentina’s domestic chances earlier but if the challenge for a Champions League spot goes awry they could re-focus their attentions on the Europa League. Borja Valero is a cultured midfielder that can open up a defence at will and Mario Gomez is one of the most dangerous strikers in the world. They are clearly a club with ambition and provide value in Europe League outright market at 20/1.
Finally, where should our euros be going this weekend?
Jess Gill: I think it should be going on Celta Vigo at 19/20 to get off to a good start against at home against Getafe. They had a really impressive season last time, whilst Getafe did well just to stay in the La Liga. I think Celta will be pushing for Europa League place this season and they’ll need to win home games against the likes of Getafe to achieve that.
Paul Lowery: Tune into Ajax v PSV on Sky Sports 5 on Sunday to watch the best two teams in the Eredivisie do battle. There should be plenty of goals and I’d go for Ajax to win & both teams to score.
BarryJohn Nelson: Come September they could be spending euros in Scotland so I’m going to take the opportunity to tip up my hometown club. Inverness have looked solid in their opening games and they utterly dominated away at Motherwell on Saturday. I think they will provide a stern test for Celtic this weekend and would not be surprised if they took all three points.