After Covid-19 brought the sporting world to a dramatic halt in March, nobody was sure of when normality would resume. We’re no closer to knowing when fans will be allowed to back into stadia but we do know when football will be back on our screens.
France’s Ligue 1 decided quickly to scrap the season and will be returning in August for the 2020/21 season, with PSG being crowned champions. Germany’s Bundesliga returned several weeks ago, with no problems so far. The English Premier League is due to return on June 17th and Serie A on June 20th. Spain’s La Liga is next up however and returns tonight.
Spain will welcome back their top division with a huge derby as Sevilla welcome local rivals Real Betis to the Sanchez Pijuan Stadium, although fans will not be allowed to attend. 109 games will follow in the preceding 38 days as they look to bring the season to a close on Sunday July 19th.
Things were left in a tight situation. At the top of La Liga, Spain’s two heavyweights are out ahead of the rest with Barcelona two-points ahead of their fierce rivals thanks to Real Madrid’s defeat away at Real Sociedad in the last match-day before the break. Barcelona’s squad however may take a beating with the upcoming schedule. Quique Setien has just 18 senior players to choose from in his Liga squad, while players like Ivan Rakitic have their futures up in the air. To add to those problems, Lionel Messi has struggled for fitness since the side returned to training and is a doubt for the first fixture back with a thigh injury.
The Catalan side will be desperate that he can recover quickly to guide them to another Liga title, but with the Argentine turning 33 next month it’s a tough ask. Luis Suarez is 33 now too and Antoine Griezmann has hardly hit the ground running since his controversial move from Atletico Madrid last summer. Dembele’s injury problems also mean he’s hardly one to be relied upon, which could see the burden fall on Messi despite his fitness woes.
In Madrid, the mood is slightly different. Their squad is fresh and fit and they have enough options all over the field to cover and rotate through the schedule. While the mainstays of the squad are ageing – Modric and Ramos are 34, Benzema is 32, Bale will be 31 by the end of the season etc – players like Eden Hazard and Marco Asensio have regained full fitness during the break. They will need to push Barcelona all the way to get Zidane another Liga title but they are most certainly favourites at this stage despite the deficit.
The other side of Madrid have had an off campaign. Atletico have struggled more than usual for goals, while their defence has been leakier than usual following last year’s departures of Diego Godin, Juanfran and Gabi. Despite being in sixth place in La Liga, they managed to knockout reigning European champions Liverpool in their final game before the break took place, besting Jurgen Klopp’s men both home and away. Record-signing Joao Felix has struggled to adapt to Simeone’s style of football while also picking up a lot of injuries so far. He even picked up another injury when the club returned to training. But Atleti will be hoping he can regain the form that convinced them to spend €126 million on him from Benfica and fire them into the Champions League places for next season’s tournament (whenever that is).
Sevilla, Real Sociedad, Getafe (!) and Valencia are all competing with Atletico for the final two spots in Europe’s premier competition with the former occupying those positions currently.
Sevilla’s campaign has been in large thanks to the goalscoring performances of Lucas Ocampos. The forward has 10 league goals this season, a team high and has chipped in with two assists too. Luuk De Jong and Ever Banega have been very good for Julen Lopetegui also, helping the side be physical in attack while also retaining possession in the midfield. Ex-Manchester City and Porto midfielder Fernando has been excellent at breaking up the play too, showing some of the form that caused Man City to sign him in the first place.
Sociedad have been one of the most exciting sides in the division. Real Madrid loanee Martin Odegaard has started living up to his teenage hype, turning in performances of the highest quality and firing them up to fourth in the league with four goals and five assists. Alexander Isak has proved to be a fine deputy for Willian Jose up front, netting 7 goals to Jose’s 10 this season. The main man this season though has been Mikel Oyarzabal on the wing. The young Spaniard has scored 8 goals and got 6 assists this season and shown why he is so highly rated. Everything goes through Odegaard and Oyarzabal and Sociedad will be hopeful the break hasn’t stopped their momentum and they can continue to push for the last stretch of the season and into the Champions League for the first time since 2013/14.
At the other end of the table, relegation is still a big thing too for many sides. Just 9 points separate 11th placed Osasuna from the relegation zone, meaning every game will have something on the line.
At the foot of the table is Espanyol, a side who many believed to be too good to go down at the start of the campaign. With just 20 points all season though, they’ve given themselves a mountain to climb to remain a top division side come next season.
La Liga may be the only one of the Top 5 with a genuine title race and relegation battle to return and will therefore almost certainly be the most entertaining league to watch upon its return.