Following a big win for Real Madrid this weekend, they’ve opened up a five-point lead at the top of La Liga. Can anyone stop them extending their record to 36 Spanish top-flight titles?
We’re now 240 games into the 2023-24 La Liga season, with just 37% of the campaign left to go. The Spanish top flight is now taking shape, with genuine contenders for European qualification spots now formed and a battle at the bottom for survival taking place. This makes it an ideal opportunity to check in on how the Opta supercomputer projects the rest of the season playing out.
It’s been a good campaign in La Liga for fans of goals, with the current goals-per-game average of 2.64 the highest in the competition since 2017-18. The top two sides Real Madrid and Girona have contributed 52 each, with their totals the most in the competition ahead of Barcelona (50).
This weekend saw those two sides at the summit of the Spanish top-flight table meet in the capital, with Madrid running out 4-0 winners in a dominant performance. That made it 18 league games unbeaten for Carlo Ancelotti’s side, which is their longest run in La Liga since September 2021 (25 games).
They last tasted defeat in La Liga on 24 September versus rivals Atlético Madrid, and since their following game on 27 September they have dropped just eight points (W14 D4) and won six points more than any other side.
Such is their excellent form, the Opta supercomputer sees little chance of anyone challenging them to the title with just 14 matchdays to go. Madrid – league winners for the last time in 2021-22 – won the title in 97.5% of the 10,000 current season simulations by the Opta supercomputer. That’s their highest projected chance of title success all season and more than double their pre-season projection of 47.7%.
Much of the difference from pre-season to now in the seasonal predictions can be explained by Barcelona’s poor campaign.
They began 2023-24 as reigning champions and second favourites in the La Liga title race by the Opta supercomputer at 25.9%. However, winning just 51 points from their opening 24 games – 11 points fewer than at this stage last season – those chances now stand at just 0.4%, meaning that across the current 10,000 season simulations by the supercomputer, they ended up coming back to win the title just 400 times. Even that feels generous when considering their current state. Head coach Xavi has already announced he’ll depart the club in the summer, with numerous replacements linked to Barcelona for this summer.
The biggest success story of the season in Spain has undoubtedly been Girona. They may have lost to Real Madrid this weekend and now trail them by five points at the top of the La Liga table, but they look set to qualify for the UEFA Champions League next season. There is currently a 10-point gap between themselves and fifth-place Athletic Club.
Before a ball was kicked in La Liga this season, the Opta supercomputer simulated the campaign 10,000 times and saw Girona finish 11th place on average. They didn’t win the league title once across those simulations, and only finished inside the top four places 0.9% of the time. That prediction is obviously looking foolish now.
Part of the City Football Group, Girona have benefitted from some smart recruitment, but a lot of their success comes from having an excellent man in the dugout – Míchel. Their current chance of winning the title is only 1.9%, and that dream looks over for now, but they can console themselves with a 97.1% chance of UCL football in 2024-25. That’ll see them become the 14th different club to represent Spain in the competition since it rebranded in 1992.
Spanish clubs haven’t been too great in European competition overall this season, and that means it looks unlikely La Liga will be awarded an extra spot in the UEFA Champions League next season via their UEFA coefficient. This means that fifth place won’t be enough for a place in the competition and makes finishing within the top four even more important.
Other than the aforementioned three clubs – Real Madrid (100% chance), Girona (97.1%) and Barcelona (87.8%) – the fight for UCL football next season looks to be between two clubs. That battle is currently heavily weighted in Atlético Madrid’s favour (83.9%) rather than current fifth-place side Athletic Club (29.0%).
Those projections could have been a lot different had Athletic Club not failed to beat bottom-of-the-league Almería on Monday night – the UCL hopefuls only managed to draw 0-0 in a disappointing result for Ernesto Valverde’s side, when a win could have taken them level on points with Diego Simeone’s team. Still, their current projected chance of finishing inside the top four is much higher than the Opta supercomputer prediction from pre-season (6.1%).
At the bottom, Almería have been historically awful this season. Their seven points after 24 games is the second fewest won by a team in the Spanish top flight after 24 games of a season – only Sporting Gijón in 1997-98 (six points) have done worse.
As a result, they are as good as down in the Opta supercomputer’s eyes, with a 99.8% chance of being relegated this season. Granada are only six points ahead of them and seven points from safety, therefore being given a 94.0% chance of dropping into the second tier for next season. With 13 points from 24 games, this is their worst ever La Liga campaign across their 27 seasons as a top-flight club.
The third and final relegation spot is only slightly more complicated according to the Opta supercomputer. Cádiz currently occupy 18th place in the table and they are being given a 72.8% chance of relegation as it stands. Celta Vigo aren’t safe, though, with them only three points above Cádiz. The supercomputer gives them a 16.0% chance of relegation at the moment. Other outside contenders include Mallorca (7.3%), Rayo Vallecano (3.8%), Sevilla (3.7%) and Alavés (1.5%), while something would have to go dramatically wrong for Villarreal (0.9%) to be dragged in.
It was Alavés (41.7%) who were the pre-season favourites for relegation, so their current 10-point lead over 18th-place Cádiz should be applauded, while Las Palmas were the second favourites for the drop before the season began (41.5%). They are having a great season so far, placed in eighth and are now outside contenders for European qualification in one of the top six spots of the league come the end of 2023-24 (4.8%).
How Does the Opta Supercomputer Model Work?
• Opta’s League Prediction model estimates the likelihood of teams finishing in each position in the competition. We can therefore see how successful a team’s season is likely to be, whether it’s their relegation or title chances.
• The model estimates the probability of each match outcome (win, draw or loss) by using betting market odds and Opta Power Rankings. The odds and rankings are based on historical and recent team performances.
• The model considers the strength of opponents by using these match outcome probabilities and simulates the remaining fixtures in the competition thousands of times. By analysing the outcome of each of these simulations, the model can see how often teams finished in each league position to create our final predictions.