La Liga: Will Barcelona make it three titles in a row?
As La Liga resumes after its covid-19 lockdown, Barcelona will have to fend off Real Madrid’s challenge to win the league
La Liga restarted on 11 June, with Sevilla’s match with Real Betis in “The Great Derby" in Seville. But for most fans, the league will really begin when Barcelona and Real Madrid play their games on 13 and 14 June, respectively. Barcelona, the defending champions, are favourites to retain the title, despite undergoing a change in managers in January. However, arch rivals Real Madrid are only two points behind, and all teams have 11 games each to play.
Much like the Premier League, La Liga is planning all the remaining matches on consecutive days. So far, however, only fixtures till 18 June have been confirmed. The matches will be played behind closed doors but broadcasters might recreate crowd noise for live telecasts.
The resumption of the league has major financial implications as well. La Liga president Javier Tebas had earlier indicated that clubs would lose €1 billion (around ₹8,480 crore) in broadcast revenue and prize money if the 2019-20 season wasn’t completed.
The main story of the remainder of the season is the two-horse race to win the league. Real Madrid are well-placed to seize the initiative should Barcelona falter. Sevilla, Real Sociedad, Getafe and Atlético Madrid will be vying for the other two Champions League spots.
Barcelona manager Quique Setién has said the Catalans might have to win each of their remaining fixtures to finish with three championships in a row. He will be boosted by the return of striker Luis Suárez, who was slated to miss the rest of the season owing to injury, before the pandemic lockdown. The time away means he will be ready and fit to play on 13 June, in the match against Mallorca.
Despite being on top, Barcelona have looked a very disjointed side this season. Their former coach, Ernesto Valverde, was sacked in January despite the team being league leaders at the time. Valverde, who had won two league titles in a row with Barcelona, was deemed not good enough. Although Barcelona have continued to win under Setién, they have been far below their best, still relying on the brilliance of Lionel Messi, the league’s top scorer with 19 goals.
Real Madrid have been equally inconsistent under manager Zinedine Zidane. Prior to the lockdown in March, Madrid had won just one of their last four matches, a 2-0 victory over Barcelona. That run of games had included two defeats to Real Betis and Levante and a draw with Celta de Vigo. Their hopes of overtaking Barcelona now depend on the return of star player Eden Hazard.
Hazard broke his ankle and had to undergo surgery in February but he’s back in the reckoning for the 14 June match against Eibar. In an interesting twist, Madrid won’t be playing the remainder of their home games at the imposing Santiago Bernabéu but at their training ground as the stadium is undergoing renovation work. Playing in a 6,000-seater ground will only add to the surrealness of the proceedings.
FIRST PUBLISHED12.06.2020 | 02:02 PM IST