5 things to look forward to as Spanish PM confirms La Liga return next month
- Spain prime minister Pedro Sanchez has today confirmed that La Liga can resume as early as June 8.
- I analyse five things to look forward to, as the 2019-20 La Liga season is set to be completed over the coming months.
After weeks of speculation, Spain prime minister Pedro Sanchez today confirmed that La Liga will be free to resume the 2019-20 season from June 8.
Original plans suggest resuming later that week on June 12, as this update means we'll have an eventual conclusion to a compelling season with plenty of storylines to be completed.
Without further ado, here's a look at five things to look forward to as Spain's top-flight will resume early next month:
A slow-burning La Liga race between Barca and Real
Neither side have been consistent this term, particularly in domestic competition.
Barca have already suffered five La Liga defeats in 2019-20, while Real relinquished top spot after a surprise 2-1 away defeat by Betis on MD27 - their third of the campaign.
This was just a week after Zinedine Zidane's men won 2-0 during the season's final El Clasico on March 1, undoing all their hard work during a frustrating evening in Seville.
It rather typified what has been a slow-burning title race to date and one that looks set to only intensify in the final few weeks of this La Liga season, perhaps sometime in July.
Barcelona boast two more wins and a superior goal difference, albeit marginal given Los Blancos' defensive improvements since the start of 2020.
Lionel Messi's comments earlier this month are sure to fire up his Barca teammates, who look to retain their crown as Spanish champions against an unpredictable Real side that must relish applying pressure on their arch-rivals every matchday going forward.
Battle for fourth with Sociedad, Getafe, Atletico and more
Getafe have surprised everyone by overachieving so far this season, so questions will be asked as to how this enforced break affects their momentum going forward.
Level on points with fourth-placed Real Sociedad who are powered by Real Madrid loanee Martin Odegaard, plenty of eyes will be on them and their other Champions League-chasing rivals - including Liverpool's conquerors Atletico.
Diego Simeone's men sit sixth and lead Spain's La Liga with a whopping 12 draws from their 27 games, are notoriously difficult to beat and their five-match unbeaten run may continue into the business months of the campaign as they have a winnable schedule.
Only four points separate fourth and seventh-placed Valencia, bringing me to my next point...
Assessing the middle of the pack teams
Although it's unlikely any of the mid-table teams can mount a serious challenge for the European qualification places, the La Liga standings speak for themselves.
Villarreal and Granada are level on 38 points in eighth and ninth respectively, but only four points separate Athletic Bilbao, Osasuna and Betis below them from 10-12th.
Bilbao will miss the presence of their legendary forward Aritz Aduriz, forced into a premature retirement during his final season. They won successive La Liga games before the break, having struggled during a ten-match winless run dating back to December prior.
Betis and Nabil Fekir tend to raise their game against top opposition, as evidenced by their impressive displays against the league's top two - but have been wildly inconsistent this term.
Newly-promoted Osasuna got off to a good start this season and were unbeaten in their first five La Liga games. Despite losing nine top-flight games already, they haven't dropped too far towards the relegation places and a 1-0 win over Espanyol on March 8 means with a tricky schedule to complete, they're nine points and six places away from a relegation scrap.
A tight, hard-fought relegation tussle
Espanyol, Leganes and Mallorca currently occupy La Liga's three relegation spots, but things can drastically shift with as much as one win in some cases. Eibar and Celta Vigo are hovering above the drop zone and have both struggled for regular points this term.
That in itself will provide the division's low-scoring sides with renewed confidence that consistent results and a more steady defensive display will propel them away to safety.
It's easier said than done, especially after a three-month hiatus where match sharpness and team cohesion are harder to cement as rivals resume competitive action again, but there's no alternative. No team has lost more La Liga games this term than Mallorca's 16, yet the newly-promoted side sit 18th and are closest to avoiding relegation at the time of writing.
However, Espanyol have underachieved massively and face the most favourable schedule out of the trio in their final 11 games. Having finished seventh in 2018-19, they are rooted bottom of La Liga this season and will be keen to rectify that next month.
11 of Leganes' 14 La Liga defeats were before Christmas, so they have improved since then. Too easy to beat and struggling for goals, their top goalscorer Martin Braithwaite joined Barca while next top marksman is highly-rated young Real Madrid loanee Óscar Rodriguez.
Can Real respond after dip in form before the break?
Although they were victorious in El Clasico, Real Madrid had suffered a significant dip in form during the weeks leading up to the suspension of play.
So just like Barcelona, perhaps this enforced break came at the right time for them.
They lost 2-1 in their UCL last-16 clash against Manchester City, while defeats to Levante and a last-gasp Celta Vigo equaliser in February saw them dropping yet more crucial points in the La Liga title race. Before that blip, they hadn't lost in La Liga since October 19.
This stat rather reiterates their defensive improvements:
Then came the Betis loss, where Rubi's side took the game to them without playing particularly well - Real were sloppy, sluggish and looked out of ideas.
Next month, they cannot afford to return in that vein. Games vs. Valencia, Real Sociedad, Getafe and Villarreal are among their final 11 fixtures, so while they appear to have a favourable schedule, also entertain sides with something to play for and a point to prove.