Barcelona’s 14-month transfer ban for breaching rules regarding the signing of underage international players has been upheld, after FIFA rejected the Catalan club’s appeal.
Ladbrokes.com’s ‘Breaking Bets’ team reacted to the news with a 4/6 price on Los Blaugrana failing to lift the La Liga title for the second successive season, or third time in four campaigns, if you prefer.
New coach Luis Enrique managed to pack in plenty of signings during the appeal process, with a reported figure of £130m splashed out on six players, including former Liverpool striker Luis Suarez.
The disagreeable Uruguayan will be a big hit if he manages to steer clear of bans, which is no certainty, but it’s difficult to see where Barca’s squad has improved elsewhere in relation to last year, when they finished second to Atletico Madrid.
Two keepers have been acquired, but whether Marc-Andre ter Stegen or Claudio Bravo – neither of whom have won a major trophy – will prove superior to outgoing goalie Victor Valdes remains to be seen.
In midfield, sacrificing Cesc Fabregas looks more and more like the wrong move it seemed earlier this summer, after the 27-year-old’s spectacular debut for Chelsea against Burnley.
Croatian World Cup star Ivan Rakitic has come into the centre of the park after a cracking season at Sevilla, while Thiago’s brother Rafinha Alcantara is back following a loan spell at Celta Vigo last term under Enrique.
Bringing a pair of midfielders who’ll be eager for starting spots into such a settled side is risky enough, but it’s Barca’s defensive recruits that should fill the Camp Nou with trepidation for the campaign ahead.
Jeremy Mathieu, a 30-year-old French centre-half who has been good enough to earn two Les Bleus caps over a 12-season career, has been ‘snapped up’ from Valencia for £16m, five years after Barca could have signed a sprightlier version of the former Sochaux youth for nothing.
Add in £15m capture from Arsenal Thomas Vermaelen, who made seven starts for the Gunners last term despite being available for most of the campaign, and it’s clear that Carles Puyol has yet to be replaced properly.
Conversely, Real Madrid have added £100m worth of world-class talent, in James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos, to their Champions League-winning squad and are 5/6 favourites to regain the title they last lifted in 2011/12.
However, this 4/6 Breaking Bet negates the risk of a potential La Liga defence from champions Atleti, so get on while you can.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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