Last season’s La Liga was one of the most exciting in years. It was a genuine three hose race for much of the season which left many fans biting their nails right until the final whistle.

Eventually Atlético Madrid came out on top, finishing three points clear of Real Madrid and Barcelona, and taking the title away from the big two for the first time since 2003-04. Next season, however, promises to be a return to form in La Liga, with Atlético struggling to contain the might of their challengers.

Whils there is no denying from fans who enjoy a punt that Atlético Madrid deserved to win La Liga last season but there is a feeling that Real and Barca underestimated them somewhat; after years of dominance they had grown used to worrying only about each other’s results- Atlético took them by surprise. This will not happen next season and, as champions, every team will be gunning for Diego Simeone’s men, not least their defeated title rivals.

Much of Atlético’s success has been built on the tactical wizardry of Diego Simeone, a man who was able to turn a team with few resources into La Liga Champions and Champions League finalists.

As Betfair fans will know, success brings unwanted attention and Simeone is likely to be linked with a number of big jobs across Europe this summer. Rumours have already circulated that Inter Milan are interested in the Argentinian for the 2015/16 season- they are certain not to be his only suitors and Atlético may be lucky to keep him until then. If Simeone does leave then he could prove impossible to replace.

With success comes demands from existing players for more money. It has been reported that Atlético’s wage bill last season was less than half that of Barcelona and Real Madrid but their players will surely now expect parity with the bigger clubs. Given Atlético’s reported level of debt there is no way that they could possibly afford to meet wage demands and it seems likely that their stars may look to leave in order to maximise their incomes. Their leading striker Diego Costa has, for instance, already been linked with the exit.

One of the backbones of Atlético’s success in recent seasons has been the outstanding Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois who has been on loan at the club from Chelsea since 2011. Now, having proved his ability, the young keeper looks set to be recalled by his parent club, this will leave Simeone with a real problem in trying to replace him and there seems little chance that he could afford to buy someone of the 22 year old’s calibre.

Similarly, Atlético’s stars who have proven themselves on the European stage will become more attractive to other clubs and where Simeone may not previously have had to worry about warding off attention from the world’s biggest teams for his players he may now receive offers that he cannot refuse. With such a small squad, if Atlético lose many of their established players to rival clubs (or to injury) then they will simply not having the playing resources to compete with Real Madrid and Barcelona next season.

Whilst many neutrals would love to see Atlético Madrid challenging for the title again next season it is very difficult to see that happening and the smart money is on next season’s La Liga being a two horse race again.

Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti has suggested that defender Pepe could miss the Champions League final against Atletico Madrid on May 24. The defender has been struggling with a series of injuries the last few weeks. He was taken off in the Champions League quarter-final against Bayern Munich at the Allianz arena. Back then, it was suggested that he would be back in time to play in the final. Now, it has been put in serious doubt, as Madrid are likely to be without him and Karim Benzema according to Ancelotti.

The Italian, though, had positive news for the Real Madrid fans by suggesting that both Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale will be fit for the final. Once again, these two players have not been feeling well in the last few weeks. Ronaldo was named in the starting line-up against Espanyol on the final day of the season, but he was taken off in the warmup after feeling muscle strain. The injury to Pepe is likely to force Ancelotti into fielding youngster Rafael Varane. The defender has seen little action throughout the season, but he has been praised by former manager José Mourinho as the best young defender in the world.

Real Madrid’s opposition, Atletico Madrid also come into the match with several injury problems.

“They’re the two players we have doubts about. I’m a realist and as of today they can’t play. There are four days left and we’ll make our final decision. If Pepe can’t play, Varane can take his place. As for Benzema, we can understand that the player isn’t at 100%, but if he has injury problems, it’s better if he doesn’t play. If we don’t think he’s risking an injury he’ll play. Bale had a minor problem in the pre-season, but he has shown his quality and he’s in good shape,” said Ancelotti.

England could be without Tottenham defender Kyle Walker for the upcoming World Cup 2014 according to national team manager Roy Hodgson. The defender is currently injured on the sidelines, and is only expected to come back just before the end of the season.

This would allow him little time to get his fitness back up to 100%. As a result, Hodgson is expected to look at various alternatives to be the backup for Liverpool defender Glen Johnson, who will be the first choice at the World Cup. Johnson was struggling with injuries during the first half of the season.

Back then, Walker was a regular part of the flying Tottenham team that were chasing a top four finish. Things have changed dramatically in the second half of the season, as Tottenham have been struggling for any sort of consistency. They are out of contention for the top four with three matches left and the absence of Walker has been a major reason. His attacking threat coupled with the speed that he provides has been absent. Meanwhile, Johnson has been able to establish himself firmly in the Liverpool team that is challenging for the title.

Due to this current situation, Hodgson says that it is looking unlikely that Walker would be part of the World Cup 2014, though belgie zuidkorea odds makes Walker evens to make the squad.

“We haven’t been told for certain that he will be out for the next six to 10 weeks but we are concerned that it has been a long time he has been out. During that time he has not been able to do any training with the rest of the team as far as I know. I know he has had another injection. We are waiting to find out whether that helps. He has not been fit for a long time,” said Hodgson ahead of his team selection.

Atletico Madrid striker Diego Costa has hinted that he could be heading to Chelsea in the summer after helping to knock Jose Mourinho’s side out of the Champions League.

The Blues appeared to hold the advantage after drawing 0-0 in the Spanish capital in last week’s semi-final first leg but Atletico produced a superb display at Stamford Bridge as they came from behind to win the second clash 3-1.

After Fernando Torres’ deflected shot had given the Premier League side the lead, Atletico equalised and grabbed the crucial away goal just before the interval when defensive frailties in the home defence allowed Adrian to net despite mis-hitting his shot.

The La Liga leaders dominated the second half and deserved their place in the final which came courtesy of Costa’s spot-kick, after he had been upended inside the penalty area by Chelsea substitute Samuel Eto’o, and Arda Turan’s 72nd-minute effort.

Koke also hit the woodwork in the opening minutes as Atletico set up an all-Madrid final on 24th May in Lisbon following Real’s demolition of last season’s winners Bayern Munich in the other semi-final.

Costa, who is one of the favourites with bet365 to score the opening goal in the Champions League final, said after the win in London: “Chelsea in my future? We’ll see, I know there are offers for me. I feel well here at Atletico. Let’s see.”

The 25-year-old, who was born in Brazil but represented Spain in a friendly international victory against Italy in March, has been in scintillating form for Atletico this season.

Costa has scored 35 times in 41 Champions League and La Liga appearances for Diego Simeone’s side so far this season and is one of the most sought-after players in the world.

Chelsea manager Mourinho has bemoaned his attacking options throughout this season and is widely expected to bring in at least two new forwards in the summer having lost patience with Samuel Eto’o, Fernando Torres and Demba Ba.

He allowed Romelu Lukaku to spend this season on loan with Everton and the 20-year-old Belgian has impressed for Roberto Martinez’s side, scoring 13 Premier League goals in 29 appearances.

Last season, while on loan with West Brom, he found the net 17 times in 35 league matches and is expected to be given his chance by Mourinho next season.

Meanwhile, Simeone accepted that Adrian’s goal just before half time on Wednesday proved to be the turning point in the two-legged semi-final.

The first 135 minutes of the semi-final had been extremely tight, but the Spanish side went on to dominate the second half at Stamford Bridge on their way to recording a well-merited victory.

Former Argentina international defender Simeone said: “I’m happy. Our first goal was important and the start of the second half was very good.

“We understood that we had to move the ball quickly between Tiago and Mario Suarez and then to the sides so we could break their defence. At 2-1 we meant business.”

Dortmund went close to pulling off one of the great Champions League comebacks last night when they beat Real Madrid 2-0 in Germany.

Unfortunately for last year’s runners-up they fell short on aggregate as they went down 3-2 over the two legs.

Marco Reus scored both goals in the evening for Dortmund as they beat the Spanish giants at home for the second successive season to reward Betfair backers.

Real had the opportunity to score an important away goal early into the tie in the second leg. Fabio Coentrao’s cross was handled by Lukask Piszczek inside the box resulting in a penalty for the visitors. However, Angel Di Maria’s effort was saved by Roman Weidenfellar to keep his side alive.

Reus reduced the deficit to two goals when he took advantage of some poor defending from the nine-time winners of the European competition to delight first goalscorer punters with Betfair.

13 minutes later, Reus doubled his tally to give a Dortmund a good opportunity to become only the second side in the history of the Champions League to overcome a three goal defeat in the first leg of a tie.

Real improved in the second half and had chances of their own through Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema, however, Weidenfellar was in good form to keep them out.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan came closest to levelling the two-legged tie on the night which would have forced extra-time, but the Japanese international was kept out by the post.

Real are second favourites in the outright market to win the trophy in Lisbon and will learn their opponents for the semi-final in Friday’s draw.

The Madrid club are still in contention in La Liga too where they are third but only three points off the top of the table. Rivals Barcelona are the favourites to land the domestic crown once again.

MADRID EXCEL

Real Madrid’s latest matches have seen them claiming a 3-0 triumph against Levante in the Spanish League and overcoming Schalke 04 with a convincing 6-1 victory during the 1st leg of their Champions League fixture.

The recent series of positive results has allowed Real Madrid on claiming the top spot in La Liga and making their way into the next stages of the Champions League and the even surprised Pepe who stated his appreciation about the performances that his teammates have been making in the last few weeks.

“To be honest, I didn’t think a game like that was possible at this stage of the competition, but we put in a strong performance from the very start and all the goals were well worked. The lads up front did really well, but it wasn’t just them, it was a great performance from the whole team,”

“We’re all physically fit, mentally strong and have the composure to win games like these. That’s what makes the difference at this level.”

The Portuguese defender later went on talking about the chances that Real Madrid has on not only winning the Spanish League but the Champions League and the Copa del Rey as well.

“We need to believe we can win a tenth title. We are working towards that but the truth is we are doing just as well in La Liga as we are in the Champions League. We also have the final of the Copa del Rey to play. We are doing well and we are in our best period of the season.” Pepe told the Spanish media.

Pepe made his way to Real Madrid in 2007 for a price tag of €30 million and ever since arriving to the Santiago Bernabeu he has been a consistent performer for the Spanish club.

RAMOS IMPRESSES

Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti has said that he has been extremely happy with the performances of centre backs Sergio Ramos and Pepe in 2014.

Real Madrid did not have the best first half to the campaign after they dropped six points behind leaders Barcelona. However, they have made up a huge points difference in the early part of 2014. This has been largely built on the strong defensive partnership between Ramos and Pepe, which has received the praise of manager Ancelotti.

Since the last time Real Madrid won the league in 2011-12, they have not been top of the table. They did so during the weekend after a 2-0 win over Granada, which also became the record for the most number of consecutive victories by any team in the Spanish league. Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo scored the goals in this victory, but praise was given to the centre back pairing after yet another clean sheet. Despite being top of the table, Ancelotti said that the target remains to win the Champions league this season.
Real Madrid are chasing the elusive 10th European trophy. The club holds the record for having the most number of European titles, which stands at nine. AC Milan closely follow the Spanish Giants with seven titles.

“I have to thank all the players for the record. As I have said many times, my players work very hard to retrieve the ball. In 2014 games, Pepe and Ramos have been perfect. The workrate of everyone has been very good though. We didn’t recover possession well in the first half. We improved in the second half and it was easier to attack. The most important thing is the balance we have at the moment; it’s the key. We defend and attack very well,” said Ancelotti after the win.

PEPE BACKS RONALDO

The FIFA Ballon d’Or award will be given out on January 13 with Franck Ribery, Lionel Messi and C.Ronaldo being the top candidates on winning the trophy but according to the Portuguese defender of Real Madrid, the player that deserves it more is C.Ronaldo.

He told reporters at a press conference: “Cristiano is the only player who deserves the Ballon d’Or because it’s an individual prize. He is having a great season and a great year.

“It’s the most important thing. Spain won the World Cup four years ago and no Spanish player won the Ballon d’Or. Hopefully he continues helping us as he usually does. Ronaldo always is happy for staying with us again. I hope everything goes well. We want him to help Real Madrid and achieve his own personal marks this year.”

Pepe is a player that throughout his career has received mixed reviews from coaches and players from which he has worked together with. Fabregas complained about the Portuguese defender as the former Arsenal player said that he almost took his legs away when they played during a Clasico back in October of 2013.

“They lost and are looking for an excuse. I should have had a penalty. Pepe took my legs away, but it was not awarded”. Fabregas said.

But other players consider Pepe to be a valuable asset with Raphael Varane having praised Pepe and thanking him for teaching the Frenchman on how to become a better player since arriving to the main team of Real Madrid’’.

“One player who gives me a lot of advice at Real is Pepe. He’s taught me never to give up. He always gives 100 per cent on the pitch and he tries to instil that winning mentality in me’’. Varane stated.

CITY WANT PEPE

The manager of Manchester City, Manuel Pellegrini, will probably be looking to secure the services of the Real Madrid defender Pepe again during the upcoming mid-season transfer window. Pellegrini had tried to do that during the pre-season transfer window as well, but, he hadn’t succeeded.

Manchester City hasn’t lived up to the expectations in the ongoing Premier League so far. Their defense, in particular, has looked pretty fragile and that’s because their main defender and skipper Vincent Kompany has been largely unavailable.

Pellegrini’s main focus this January will be to strengthen the defense of his team and the man who is still believed to be at the top of his list is Pepe. There have been a few reports that Madrid is looking to give Pepe a contract extension, but, if City goes to them with a good offer in January, they might change their mind and let the 30 years old Brazilian leave.

Pepe had signed for Madrid 6 years back. Los Blancos had bought him from the Portuguese club FC Porto after paying a transfer fee of 30 million Euros.

During Pepe’s tenure at Santiago Bernabeu so far, Madrid has lifted the La Liga trophy a couple of times and in both those campaigns, the Brazilian centre-back was the standout performer for them.

Pepe has played under the guidance of Pellegrini when the latter was in charge at Madrid during the 2009-10 Season. The tuning between these two was believed to be pretty good and one should not be surprised if Pellegrini eventually manages to land Pepe at the Etihad Stadium this January.
Pepe has played all his football outside England so far. After spending the first few years of his senior career in Portugal, he had made a move to Spain in July 2007.

REAL NET WIN

Real Madrid managed a 4-1 win over Getafe during the weekend, which helped them keep pace with table leaders Barcelona. One of the most high-profile absentees from the match was Gareth Bale, who had to pull out from the starting line-up after suffering a thigh injury.

He was initially set to make his home debut by starting the match, but as he was preparing, he suffered this injury. Manager Carlo Ancelotti then included summer signing Isco as his replacement. It was a good match for the home team because they won comfortably against a good team.

They managed to open the scoring through defender Pepe. However, it was winger Cristiano Ronaldo who stole the limelight with two goals to his name. After the match, Ancelotti was not concerned about the injury suffered by Bale because he thinks that it was not very serious. Bale has not been involved in pre-season for Tottenham or Real Madrid due to the protracted transfer saga. He was not fit to start the match against Villarreal recently, but he was included due to the pressure from the club. Bale repaid the faith of the club by scoring on his debut, but it looks like he’ll be out for a few weeks.

“He had a small problem when he was warming up. It’s not an injury. He just didn’t feel comfortable. He is disappointed because he was very excited to play. I don’t know if Bale can play on Wednesday because it’s difficult for a player to be ready in three days. I think Bale will be ready for Saturday’s match. We are working to improve Bale’s fitness because he didn’t have a good pre-season,” Ancelotti told the club’s official website. His goal against Getafe means that Isco has scored five goals in his six league appearances this season.