La Liga 22/23 Season Preview

The La Liga 2022/23 season is under way and there is plenty to be excited about. With Xavi Hernandez entering his first full season in charge of Barcelona, there is hope that a summer spending spree will allow them to compete for the title. Real Madrid, the defending champions, will have something to say about that, though.

Elsewhere the battle for Europe promises to be hotly contested, with Real Sociedad, Valencia, Real Betis and Sevilla among the potential contenders for a top-four finish. At the bottom, three teams will go down to the Segunda Division but as many as eight could be involved in the relegation battle.

Oh, and if that was not enough to get you excited, how about the probable tussle between Karim Benzema and Robert Lewandowski for the top scorer prize? La Liga just got interesting again.

Schedule and key dates

The La Liga season began on August 12 and runs until June 4, with a lengthy break scheduled between November 10 and December 31. This is in order to make space in the calendar for the 2022 World Cup, which is taking place in the European winter because it is too hot to play football in Qatar in June and July.

In the table below, you can find some of the biggest fixtures in the 2022/23 La Liga season – including selected meetings between the traditional big three, plus various derbies from across the country.

Atletico Madrid vs Real Madrid 18 September 2022
Real Madrid vs Barcelona 16 October 2022
Real Betis vs Sevilla 6 November 2022
Villarreal vs Valencia 31 December 2022
Atletico Madrid vs Barcelona 8 January 2023
Real Sociedad vs Athletic Bilbao 14 January 2023
Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid 26 February 2023
Barcelona vs Real Madrid 19 March 2023
Athletic Bilbao vs Real Sociedad 16 April 2023
Barcelona vs Atletico Madrid 23 April 2023
Valencia vs Villarreal 3 May 2023
Sevilla vs Real Betis 21 May 2023

Favourites to win the title

Real Madrid are the defending champions in Spain. They strolled to the title last season, topping the table uninterrupted from the middle of November until the end of the campaign. In the end Carlo Ancelotti’s side finished 13 points clear of the chasing pack, despite the fact they were also competing in the Champions League right until the end. Their triumph in that tournament made last season one of Madrid’s best ever – no mean feat given they are the most successful side in the history of European football.

Madrid will hope that stability and continuity gets them over the line this season. Their starting XI is largely unchanged from 2021/22. Antonio Rudiger has come in at the back following his free transfer from Chelsea, while Aurelien Tchouameni should get plenty of minutes in midfield following Casemiro’s move to Manchester United. Eduardo Camavinga will sometimes get the nod ahead of Tchouameni in the starting XI, but Toni Kroos and Luka Modric are automatic picks.

So too are the likes of Karim Benzema, Thibaut Courtois, David Alaba and Vinicius Junior. Madrid have a settled side, and with Ancelotti in his second spell in charge at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, los Blancos hope that they will simply pick up from where they left off last season.

Barcelona will almost certainly be their closest challengers. In contrast to Madrid, they have had a busy summer: despite being in €1.3 billion worth of debt, the Blaugrana have splashed out more than €150 million on Raphinha, Robert Lewandowski and Jules Kounde, as well as adding Andreas Christensen and Franck Kessie on free transfers.

They have funded this splurge by essentially selling off future revenue streams, a risky strategy that could backfire in the long term. In the more immediate future, Barcelona’s squad is sufficiently strong that they should be able to challenge for the La Liga title in Xavi Hernandez’s first full campaign at the helm. However, it may take a few months for a new-look team to gel.

Top-four contenders

Atletico Madrid won the title in 2020/21 and will hope to do so for the third time in the Diego Simeone era. It will not be easy, however. Atletico were 15 points off the pace last time out and they have not done a great deal of strengthening in the summer transfer market, largely due to financial constraints.

Atletico’s defence was much less water-tight than usual last term, and they will struggle to keep up with Barcelona and Real Madrid in the goalscoring stakes. A title tilt will probably be beyond the club from the capital this campaign, but it would be a major surprise if they did not finish in the top four and qualify for the Champions League.

Sevilla filled the one spot left behind Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid last season. Their form dipped alarmingly in the second half of the campaign, though, and the concern is that they could be overtaken in 2022/23. Julen Lopetegui has a tendency towards cautious tactics which was Sevilla’s undoing on several occasions last season. They will need to be much better in attack if they are to secure another top-four finish.

Real Betis, Sevilla’s arch-rivals, will be aiming to challenge for the Champions League too. Manuel Pellegrini might be in his late 60s, but he proved last season that he still has what it takes to thrive at the top end of Spanish football. The Real Betis boss has created a coherent collective that can beat any other team in La Liga on their day.

Look out for Villarreal in the top-four battle. Unai Emery’s side may have finished seventh last term, but that was in large part because their attention was diverted to a run to the semi-finals of the Champions League. Emery has a talented team at his disposal which, together with his tactical acumen, will expect to be there or thereabouts in the race for the Champions League.

Relegation candidates

The three promoted clubs are invariably tipped to struggle, and that could be the case again this season. Girona only just scraped into the play-offs in the Segunda Division but then came out on top in the end-of-campaign tournament, beating Eibar over two legs before overcoming Tenerife in the final. It was an impressive performance for a team that finished 13 points adrift of the automatic promotion spots.

Girona are owned by the City Football Group, a network of clubs set up by Manchester City’s owners from Abu Dhabi. They have had a busy summer and clearly do not intend to just make up the numbers in the top flight. Their squad contains a good blend of youth and experience, while the head coach Michel is a class act. However, Girona should not get ahead of themselves: a 17th-place finish would represent a successful season.

Almeria and Real Valladolid were promoted alongside them. Like Girona, Almeria have a wealthy benefactor in Saudi billionaire Turki Al-Sheikh. That has allowed them to keep hold of the bulk of the squad that helped them to win the Segunda title last time out, including talented striker Umar Sadiq. However, it remains to be seen whether they have enough overall quality to finish above the dreaded dotted line.

Real Valladolid will probably be involved in the basement battle too. They have had a relatively quiet transfer window but will hope that their recent La Liga experience helps them to stay up. The club’s president is Brazilian legend Ronaldo, who will not want to be back in the Segunda in 2023/24.

Other potential relegation candidates include Cadiz, Elche, Real Mallorca and Rayo Vallecano. The first two teams look to be the most vulnerable. Cadiz finished 17th last season and only survived thanks to late rally. As for Elche, they have not done enough to improve their squad over the summer. Standing still at this level is akin to moving backwards, so this could be a long, hard season for the Alicante-based outfit.

Major transfers

The headline summer arrival to La Liga is that of Robert Lewandowski, who joined Barcelona from Bayern Munich for a fee of €45 million. The Poland international is arguably the greatest striker of his generation with a goalscoring record to envy. He has showed no signs of slowing down in his 30s: in his final three seasons at Bayern, Lewandowski scored 153 goals in 133 games in all competitions.

 The former Borussia Dortmund man will undoubtedly make Barcelona more of a threat in the penalty area, but it will be interesting to see the extent to which Xavi Hernandez is willing to build his team around the 34-year-old Lewandowski.

Lewandowski is joined at the Camp Nou by Raphinha, without whom Leeds United would surely have been relegated from the Premier League last season. The Brazil international is a regular starter for his country and will bring goals and assists to his new employers. He is a tricky dribbler with a wand of a left foot, and it will be fascinating to see how he links up with Lewandowski in particular.

Over at Real Madrid, there is huge excitement over Aurelien Tchouameni. The former Monaco man is still only 22 years old, and Carlo Ancelotti will no doubt look to carefully manage his minutes this season. Tchouameni was wanted by several major clubs from around the continent, so Madrid are delighted he chose the Bernabeu for the next step in his burgeoning career.

There have been plenty of eye-catching transfers not involving Spanish football’s big two. Axel Witsel should help to stiffen up Atletico Madrid’s midfield following his switch from Borussia Dortmund; he might not be the flashiest player but the Belgium international is a fine holding midfielder.

Isco has finally left Real Madrid after several seasons as a back-up player. The creative midfielder has joined Sevilla, a club that should benefit from his guile and invention in the final third. Followers of the Spain national team will hope that Isco can make an impact on his new team before the World Cup begins in November.

Players to watch

Just like Robert Lewandowski, his main rival for the top scorer award this season, Karim Benzema seems to be getting better with age. The France international has taken centre stage at Real Madrid since Cristiano Ronaldo left the club in 2018, and he is relishing his new leadership role.

Benzema is the favourite to win the Ballon d’Or later this year thanks to his exploits last term, and he is the man that Madrid will once again look to for goals as they seek to retain the title. Benzema is not a static frontman, though: his elite link-up play and selfless running helps to bring the best out of his attacking team-mates Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo.

When you watch him play football, it is hard to believe that Pedri is still a teenager. The Barcelona midfielder combines superb technical ability with smart decision-making, appreciation of space and football intelligence, a mix which makes him one of the best players in La Liga already. Xavi Hernandez knows a thing or two about midfield play, and he is always effusive in his praise of Pedri.

Joao Felix has struggled to live up to expectations since his move from Benfica to Atletico Madrid, but there is a belief at the club that this could be his season. The Portugal international has not yet got into double figures for goals at Atletico, but with Luis Suarez having departed there is a chance for him to become his team’s talisman.

In terms of importance to their club, few players in La Liga can beat Gerard Moreno or Iago Aspas. The former is Villarreal’s key man, and an injury-hit campaign in 2021/22 is one of the reasons the Yellow Submarine did not get closer to a top-four finish. Aspas has at times single-handedly carried Celta Vigo in recent years, including by contributing 42 per cent of their league goals last season.


Real Madrid should be able to hold off the challenge of Barcelona in the title race, although it will be much closer than last season. Third place is well within the grasp of Atletico Madrid, while Villarreal perhaps have the edge in the battle for the final Champions League qualification spot. At the other end of the table, Real Valladolid, Cadiz and Elche are widely expected to struggle.

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